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Sunday, July 11, 1999 Published at 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK

UK Politics

Widdecombe loses hunt role

Fox hunting: Labour party wants to ban the sport

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe will not be allowed to speak on the issue of fox hunting for the Conservative party after she condemned the sport.

Writing in The Observer, Miss Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone and The Weald, accused hunt supporters of polarising Britain by characterising the dispute as one between town and country.

Her comments are bound to raise the hackles of some senior Tory Party members who are vigorous pro-hunt campaigners.

[ image: Ann Widdecombe: Fox hunting is
Ann Widdecombe: Fox hunting is "cruel" and "rightly doomed"
Denouncing the sport for the first time since she was promoted to her new role two weeks ago, Miss Widdecombe denounced fox hunting as "cruel" and "rightly doomed".

"The town-versus country claim is irresponsible, for it attempts to polarise the public and divide Britain into two. My constituency covers both town and country, and I find plenty of opposition to hunting in the rural groups," she said.

"A meet may be a splendid and traditional sight but I find no place for it in a modern, humane society."

Her comments come at a time when the Labour Party is preparing to unveil proposals to ban fox hunting in the next few weeks.

Different views

But Tory leader William Hague wasted no time in announcing that Miss Widdecombe would no longer be speaking for the party on fox hunting.

Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "Ann Widdecombe has had long-held views on these things. We respect differences of views in the Conservative Party.

"There will always be a free vote on this in the Conservative Party although most of the members of the party including me will be objecting most strongly to such legislation," said Mr Hague.

Miss Widdecombe's deputy, David Liddington, will now take on the role.

Hunt for votes

The issue of fox hunting is back on the political agenda following this week's comments by Prime Minister Tony Blair on BBC One's Question Time.

He said everything was being done to give the issue of banning fox hunting space in the next session of Parliament, due to begin in the autumn.

Mr Blair's move to ban the sport surprised MPs as he had not previously backed such moves.

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