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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK

UK Politics

How hunting ban went to the dogs

The bill to ban hunting with dogs ran out of time

Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge to end fox hunting is not the first time Labour has tried to ban the sport.

Worcester MP Mike Foster introduced a private member's bill in Labour's first year to ban the hunting of wild mammals by dogs.

Mr Foster was among the new intake of 1997 and came top of the private members' bill ballot in his first year.

He chose a bill to ban hunting with dogs - despite pressure from party whips not to do so.

Labour's election manifesto had promised a free vote to ban hunting.

[ image: Mike Foster: Topped the ballot]
Mike Foster: Topped the ballot
But this was a weaker commitment than the one contained in the 1992 manifesto that said it would set aside government time to end the sport.

In its second reading in November 1997, the bill received a vote of 411 to 151 in its favour.

The majority of 260 exceeded the government's majority of 197 as the bill crossed party divides.

A "middleway" group of MPs also emerged, who were in favour of retaining hunting, but based on codes of practice and licensing arrangements.

The five-hour Commons debate was heated and on occasions bitter, with impassioned speeches both for and against a ban.

But in March the following year the bill was killed off in the report stage after filibustering by opponents caused it to run out of time.

Hours of debates

On one occasion, only one of 13 groups of detailed amendments were competed after five hours' bitter wrangling.

In the debate on 6 March 1998, the former Agriculture Secretary Douglas Hogg tabled 100 amendments to try and delay the bill and Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, spoke for more than 30 minutes.

From the beginning, it was known that no private members' bill that does not carry all-party support can get through the Commons unless the government allows it extra time.

At the time, the government said it would not grant extra time to Mr Foster's bill as this would allow the bill to reach the House of Lords.

The bill's progress in the Lords would have seen the opposition take up so much time filibustering the bill that serious manifesto commitments, such as devolution, would have been lost.

[ image: The countryside march was mobilised]
The countryside march was mobilised
But many believe the government was cautious about being seen to be backing yet more "nannyish" legislation, restricting individuals' rights to do as they choose.

The government had recently pursued a cigarette advertising ban, a complete handgun ban and child curfew orders.

They were also fearful of a rural backlash, given the massive increase in Labour's rural seats.

The Countryside March followed swiftly in March 1998 when 200,000 demonstrators marched in London.

Ministers such as Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw were believed to have been particularly sensitive to Labour being caricatured as an urban majority inflicting its opinions on the rural minority.

During the bill's short progress through the Commons, Mr Foster received hate mail and threats while his family were given police protection.

He said the government had always been honest with him about the time allotted to his bill and refused to be downcast when failed to become law.

He said at the time: "Even if my bill does fail, hunting with dogs is doomed. It will not last this Parliament."

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