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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK

UK Politics

Fox hunting's north-south divide

Pro-hunt activists have criticised Tony Blair

The Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie says the issue of a ban on fox-hunting north of the border will be for the Scottish Parliament to decide - not Westminster.

It raises the possibility of Scotland having a different policy from that in England.

However, many MSPs are strongly opposed and it seems likely a free vote in the Scottish Parliament will ban fox hunting, possibly before England.

[ image: David McLetchie: Scottish Parliament will decide]
David McLetchie: Scottish Parliament will decide
The Scottish Executive has no plans for legislation, but a ban could be pushed through on a private member's bill.

Mr McLetchie said that he would vote against a ban and expected many of his party's members would do the same.

"We want to establish that Blair won't dictate there will be a UK bill. It will be up to the Scottish Parliament, if it so chooses, to debate this matter," he added.

The Countryside Alliance in Scotland said Tony Blair's pronouncement on late-night BBC television took no account of the impact on jobs and rural communities.

Douglas Ross, of the Countryside Alliance, said any effort to ban fox hunting, which was now "more popular than ever", would be fiercely resisted.

Ban 'not inevitable'

Mr Ross said: "It's a bit like Nostradamus's prophecy 'the end of the world is going to happen'.

Douglas Ross: "A threat to Scottish rural communities"
"Foxhunting has been going in Scotland since the 1750s and it has a clear future."

Mr Ross said Mr Blair could not take it for granted that hunting would be banned.

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

[ image: Scotland has nine mounted packs]
Scotland has nine mounted packs
Mr Ross asserted that Scotland's nine mounted packs, four hill packs and 28 fox destruction clubs "are very much part of Scottish life".

And he warned: "Last year some 300,000 supporters marched in the streets of London and I think the message for the prime minister is, if you continue to destroy rural Scotland you ain't seen nothing yet."

The Chairman of the Buccleuch Hunt in the Borders, Alan Murray, said: "I can think of many more barbaric things that happen in this country that should be governed long before issues in the countryside.

Alan Murray: "Fox hunting has a big following in Scotland"
"Farmers are custodians and managers of the land. They welcome fox hunting as a control method.

"It's also a part of the countryside that would disappear forever and I wonder what's going to replace it."

But Animal Concern said it was delighted the government seems to be keeping its election promises.

Spokesperson John Robbins said he was confident the Scottish Parliament would initiate its own legislation and impose a ban within the next year.

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Executive said that while it had no plans for legislation on the issue at present it would be up to MSPs to decide.

Hunting debate

Dumfries Labour MP Russell Brown, who supported a Bill last year to abolish hunting with dogs, said the hunting debate has never been dormant.

Russell Brown: "Many MSPs have already been lobbied"
He revealed that pro-hunt groups are already lobbying members of the Scottish Parliament who were elected in May.

"I'm aware that many of my colleagues, who have been newly elected to the Scottish Parliament have had their postbags filled already by people who very much support fox hunting," said Mr Brown.

It would be up to MSPs to decide whether or not they wished to allow pro-hunt lobbyists to dictate the agenda, he added.

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