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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Blair under pressure over hunting
Hound
Are hunts' days numbered?
The campaign to bring about a hunting ban before the next election is being stepped up by MPs from all parties.

Labour's Tony Banks, the Tories' Ann Widdecombe and Lib Dem MP Norman Baker are calling for an early reintroduction of the government's Hunting Bill.

"Without immediate action, the government will continue to face...the loss of public trust," Mr Banks said.

The MPs will be pressing their case at the launch of a report by anti-hunters called Time to deliver the ban.

By failing to concentrate on real priorities ... MPs are making themselves and the government look ridiculous
Countryside Alliance

It comes as a Commons motion calling for the reintroduction of the Hunting Bill has reached a record 250 signatures.

The motion, tabled by Labour ex-ministers Gerald Kaufman and Tony Banks, is signed by 25 parliamentary private secretaries and "looks forward to seeing a ban on hunting on the statute book by the end of this parliamentary session".

'Out of touch'

The group has been spurred on by a report produced by Campaigning to Protect Hunted Animals (CPHA) - a group encompassing the RSPCA, International Fund for Animal Welfare and the League Against Cruel Sports - which believes a ban could be in place by November this year.

But the Countryside Alliance said the latest attempt to secure a hunting ban showed how "out of touch" Labour MPs, in particular, were with public opinion and their own supporters.

The case for a ban on hunting is about more than animal welfare now, it is about the right of the House of Commons which has voted for a ban on countless occasions
Norman Baker

A spokesman said results of an NOP poll published last week suggested that just 1% of Labour supporters thought the government should be concentrating on hunting.

"By failing to concentrate on real priorities, especially at a time when there are so many pressing domestic and international issues, MPs are making themselves and the government look ridiculous," he said.

The last government hunting bill proposed a new licensed system that would have allowed some fox hunting but outlawed hare coursing and stag hunting.

Pledge

But MPs backed an outright ban - prompting a stand-off with peers.

Tony Blair pledged to "resolve" the issue before the next election after a bill to ban fox hunting did not appear in the Queen's Speech, which sets out the government's programme for the Parliamentary session.

Labour's 2001 general election manifesto promised a free vote to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the long-running issue.

Opponents of a ban have been warned not to breach the law by continuing to hunt if the practice is eventually outlawed.

The CPHA's report "Time to deliver a ban" states that "the government must act now to reintroduce the Bill so that the Parliament Act can apply.

Speedy legislation

"Its Commons stages could be completed in just one day before it passes to the Lords where, if it were rejected, it would automatically receive Royal Assent in November 2004."

Mr Banks, a long time opponent of hunting, said: "I am continually amazed that in today's modern and so-called civilised society, people still congregate in parts of England and Wales to chase an animal to exhaustion before killing it with dogs.

"Furthermore, they do so in the name of sport and in the knowledge that it is perfectly legal."

Miss Widdecombe said: "The message to the government today is clear and simple: there can be no further delays, now is the time to get on with the job and ban hunting with dogs."

March

Mr Baker added: "The case for a ban on hunting is about more than animal welfare now, it is about the right of the House of Commons which has voted for a ban on countless occasions to ensure that its will is upheld and that hunting is banned once and for all."

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of IFAW and speaking on behalf of the CPHA, said Parliamentary expectation of a ban was "higher than ever".

The pro-hunting lobby has been vociferous in its opposition to what it sees as an attempt to end a traditional British way of life.

In September 2002 more than 400,000 people converged on London for a Countryside Alliance organised march to highlight the needs of rural communities.




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