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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK

UK Politics

Hunt ban pledge raises hackles

The issue of blood sports arouses passionate debate in the UK

Pro-hunt campaigners have criticised a new pledge by the prime minister to ban fox-hunting.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: "Countryside campaigners are threatening to fight all the way"
The government is to publish its proposals on hunting hopefully before the Commons recess at the end of July, a Downing Street spokesman said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told BBC One's Question Time programme that everything possible was being done to ensure it had space in the next session of parliament, which is due to begin this autumn.

Failing that, space would be found in the following session, Mr Blair added.

The BBC's Richard Wilson: "The opposition will make it hard for this bill to proceed"
But the Countryside Alliance, which is committed to resisting a hunting ban, has said rural areas would be hit hard.

A spokesman said the power of the people would overcome that of the state. "If time is found for a new fox hunting bill, expect another noisy fight."

It was also revealed that the Scottish Parliament may have to introduce legislation of its own for a ban to be imposed in Scotland.

Douglas Ross of Countryside Alliance Scotland: Mr Blair's words are "like Nostradamus's prophecy"
Douglas Ross, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance in Scotland, said: "Hunting has been in Scotland since the 1750s and it has a secure future.

"I think it's the height of arrogance at two minutes to midnight on the BBC's Question Time to announce a package that would destroy rural Scotland and dustbin 16,000 jobs."

'Moral imperative'

But Mike Baker, a spokesman for the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal, which represents the League Against Cruel Sports, the RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, described Mr Blair's remarks as "great news".

He said: "The government has really taken note of what the overwhelming majority of people in Britain believe is a strong moral imperative for the government."

Prime Minister Tony Blair: "We will try if we possibly can to make space"
Mr Blair's comments followed the delivery of a petition, which called for the banning of hunting with hounds and was signed by 42,500, to the Commons on Thursday.

Earlier, hunt supporters gathered outside Downing Street to warn that a field-sports ban could hit hundreds of jobs.

No 'class war'

Labour peer Ann Mallalieu and 14 other members of the rural community of Exmoor in Devon handed in a survey suggesting that banning hunting would cost 400 jobs in the area and lose the local economy £5.5m a year.

Mike Foster MP and Baroness Malallieu discuss fox hunting
Baroness Mallalieu told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is, I am afraid, an attack on people. I heard a Labour MP say the other day, 'This is not about foxes. It is about who runs Britain, us or the Tory toffs'.

"It is a terrible misconception that the people who enjoy hunting, the people for whom it is a way of life and a culture, are rich nobs. They are not.

"Down here on Exmoor, it is the whole community. The economy would be devastated, the people would be devastated."

But Mr Foster, the Labour MP who a year ago withdrew his Private Member's Bill to ban fox hunting because it was running out of time, replied: "This is not an outbreak of class war. This is a cross-party political push to end an unacceptable form of cruelty and barbarism in the name of sport.

"How can Baroness Mallalieu say it is acceptable to chase a stag to the point where its body is disintegrating or to chase a fox and have it disembowelled, while it is still alive, by a pack of dogs?"

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