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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Peers mount new bid to save hunts
Hounds
Some pro-hunt peers want the licensing option revived
MPs and peers are on a collision course over fox-hunting in England and Wales after the House of Lords voted for licensed hunts instead of a full ban.

The Commons has already overwhelmingly backed a ban and could force it onto the statute books next month.

Peers ignored that threat as they voted by 322 votes to 72 - more than four to one - for the compromise suggested by ministers but rejected by MPs in 2003.

No 10 says Tony Blair backs a deal but many MPs oppose the "Middle Way" plan.

'Waste of time'

In the long-running and fierce public debate on the issue, the House of Lords has blocked previous attempts to outlaw hunting with dogs.

If they reject the same Bill proposing an outright ban again, the Parliament Act could be used to override Lords opposition.

In 2002, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael proposed allowing registered hunts to continue if they passed tests on cruelty and on whether they were needed for pest control.

He dropped that plan amid opposition from MPs, but now peers want broadly to reinstate his version of the Hunting Bill as they start the three-day committee stage.

It is you [peers] who are putting us on course for the potential deadlock and therefore potential use of the Parliament Act
Lord Whitty
Environment Minister

There are a range of amendments tabled to bring about the change, but the first vote on Tuesday established the main principle of registration.

Proposing the move on Tuesday, Labour peer Lord Donoughue said it would "remove a crude ban which is being put before this House... an attack which in my view removes the civil liberties of country people."

He insisted the registration scheme was a "constructive compromise".

Deadlock?

Earlier, Labour MP Tony Banks, who was opposed to licensed hunting when it was first proposed last year, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "To go back to it now is clearly a waste of time, and quite clearly it's the last throw of fairly desperate people.

"But in the end the matter that is really at issue is whether the elected house [the Commons] will prevail over the unelected house [the Lords].

"Whatever they come up with today, if it's less than a total ban, it will be unacceptable to the House of Commons."

HAVE YOUR SAY
Just let the Lords amendment go through and let's get on with more important issues
David, England

As the Lords debate got under way, Environment Minister Lord Whitty urged peers not to go back to registration, an offer which had already been overwhelmingly rejected by MPs.

"If not it is you who are putting us on course for the potential deadlock and therefore potential use of the Parliament Act," he said, arguing that ministers had tried and failed to mediate.

Pointing to the original Bill allowing licensed hunts, he said: "The government in the past has tried to be a bit of a mediator and we failed."

He also argued the changes did not precisely restore Mr Michael's proposals, and did not include a full ban on deer hunting.

Anti-hunt campaigners said it was unreasonable for peers to approve the changes when they knew they were opposed by MPs.

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "In a desperate attempt to retain their grotesque sport, pro-hunt peers are attempting to portray themselves as being politically reasonable."

But Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart welcomed Tuesday's vote, saying the hunt community was ready to accept fair laws.

"The only people now blocking a sensible, evidence-based resolution are Labour backbenchers," said Mr Hart.

The issue is due to return to the House of Commons in mid-November.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
What the compromise would mean for hunting




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Daily Mail Blair heads for clash with his hunt hardliners - 2 hrs ago
The Sun Fox-hunting's 'gone' - 7 hrs ago
Independent Peers defy MPs by voting for hunting to go on under licence - 8 hrs ago
TelegraphPeers on collision course with Commons - 8 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Peers defiant in vote for hunting under licence - 9 hrs ago
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