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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Minister meets hunting protesters
Alun Michael
Alun Michael says he has listened
Pro-hunt campaigners have met the minister who cancelled two official events in two days because of protests.

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael pressed ahead with plans to speak at the Association of National Park Authorities in Exeter on Wednesday.

A delegation from the Countryside Alliance met Mr Michael at the event and complained he had reneged on his promises to them over hunting laws.

Mr Michael said the parliamentary deadlock over the issue had had to end.

MPs voted last week to ban hunting with dogs. The Bill must now go to the House of Lords.

Mr Michael withdrew from two events on Sunday and Monday after police advice about the protests.

Police watch protesters outside Mr Michael's meeting
Protesters say the minister has broken promises
He decided not to take part in walks to celebrate new right-to-roam walks on Sunday.

And on Monday police advised him not to attend the launch of the Friends of The Jurassic Coast organisation in Weymouth, Dorset, on Monday when 200 protesters gathered.

Mr Michael denies the countryside is a "no-go area" for ministers and says he is still fulfilling his duties.

Safety fears

He stresses he attended the first part of his Dorset trip, at Durdle Door on the Purbeck Coast, but cancelled his visit to Weymouth when police said it was difficult to supervise an event on a quayside.

His concerns were for the safety of other people at both cancelled events, he said.

There were only two protesters waiting when Mr Michael arrived in Exeter but more gathered later, complaining the minister had altered his timings.

We cannot go on with the amount of parliamentary time being taken up year after year after year ... and nothing happening
Alun Michael
Rural Affairs Minister

Countryside Alliance South West director Alison Hawes led the five-strong delegation to meet Mr Michael.

At a joint news conference after the meeting, she said: "We came here to day because the minister made many promises to country people that he would base any future legislation on principle and evidence.

"Mr Michael has broken his promises to country people and we wanted to hear why... I'm afraid today we still did not hear any satisfactory answers."


The minister countered that it was MPs who had voted through the legislation.

He insisted the government had listened, saying: "We can hear but we don't necessarily agree.

"It's the protesters who wanted to protest during the course of my visit. It's a House of Commons matter now."

Mr Michael said it was a pity a less polarised solution had not been reached but Labour had to honour its manifesto pledge to reach a conclusion on the issue.

"We cannot go on with the amount of parliamentary time being taken up year after year after year, large majorities [of MPs backing a ban] and nothing happening," he said.

Last week there was a large pro-hunting protest in Parliament Square, during which five hunt supporters invaded the Commons chamber.

Alun Michael, minister for rural affairs
"People who are concerned about hunting have a focused view on that alone"

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