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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
MPs vote to ban hunting with dogs
Protesters in Parliament Square
A mass protest was held in Parliament Square
MPs have voted to ban hunting with dogs despite mass demonstrations and the debate in the House of Commons being interrupted by protesters.

The Bill's third reading was passed by 339 votes to 155 after Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael insisted the will of the elected chamber would prevail.

The government has said the bill will be pushed through if peers oppose it.

The Conservatives' rural affairs spokesman James Gray accused Labour of having an "Islingtonian outlook".

Peers warned

But any ban will not come into force until July 2006 after a suggested amendment to the Bill was passed by MPs by 342 votes to 15.

The government originally wanted to delay the enforcement of the ban until November 2006 to enable people working in hunting to readjust and for dogs to be rehomed.

The Bill has its first reading in the House of Lords on Thursday, but will not be debated by peers until next month.

During the debate, Mr Michael urged the Lords to behave democratically.

And he reiterated the government's intention to use the Parliament Act to push the bill through if it was rejected by peers: "I still hope that peers will engage with the Hunting Bill this time around.

"If they fail to do so the only way in which the matter can be properly resolved at this stage is for the will of this House to prevail under the provision of the Parliament Act."

With the world in the state it is in...people will not understand Labour's warped priorities
James Gray
Tory spokesman

He also urged hunt supporters not to defy any ban on the grounds that the use of the Parliament Act meant it was "unfair".

"That argument turns democracy on its head," he said.

"The rightness or the wrongness of a particular piece of legislation is always subject to argument in this House and our parliamentary processes are the means with which these issues are argued through in the legislative process.

"The Parliament Act is part of that legislative process and part of the structure of our democracy - used sparingly, used only under provocation."

But Conservative environment, food and rural affairs spokesman Mr Gray said: "I think the nation and the world as a whole will be looking at our procedures with some amazement and some horror.

'More cruel'

Mr Gray said: "With the world in the state it is in, with the million patients waiting for treatment on the NHS, with the Middle East and Iraq in turmoil, with Beslan and Darfur so much in our minds, people will not understand Labour's warped priorities and their fixation with the issue of banning hunting with hounds."

The ban would probably lead to an increase in the numbers of foxes being killed, he told MPs.

But they would be killed by poisoning, gassing, snaring and shooting which were "a great deal more cruel" than hunting, he warned.

Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, one of the leaders of the group seeking a compromise solution, said the stalemate between the two Houses was an indication there was something "seriously wrong" with the Bill.

"The pro-ban lobby can win the vote today but they cannot pretend that by stifling the debate and ignoring the existence of alternative views they have won the argument," said Mr Opik.

'Elongated debate'

During the debate, James Paice for the Tories said the ban risked criminalising people who were usually thought to be valued members of the community.

Any hunting ban would be delayed to allow workers time to readjust

But Environment Minister Elliot Morley said the issue was a moral one.

"It is a nonsense to suggest it's an attack on rural society," he said. "It's a nonsense to suggest that every person who lives in the country supports hunting."

Labour former minister Gerald Kaufman said hunting had been the subject of "the fullest and most elongated debate" he had experienced in the Commons.

Backing the ban was "a vote against cruelty and callousness", he added.

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