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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 15:14 GMT
Fox hunting ban looks inevitable
Fox hounds
MPs again voted for a hunt ban on Tuesday
A ban on fox hunting in England and Wales now looks inevitable after MPs rejected a last-ditch compromise.

The Commons voted by 321 to 204 to reject a deal that could have allowed regulated hunting of foxes to continue.

MPs had already rejected a Lords amendment to allow licensed hunting of foxes, stags and hares.

The vote means that the Hunting Bill returns to peers and if they reject it again the Parliament Act looks set to be invoked to force it through.

In the often heated Commons debate that preceded the vote on Tuesday, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael urged people to respect the will of the Commons.

Parliament is the highest court. There is not a superior court. If [the pro-hunt lobby] want to spend their money, good luck to them
Tony Banks MP

"It is time to fulfil what is a manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue," he said.

Tony Blair favoured Ogmore MP Huw Irranca-Davies's compromise amendment to allow licensed hunting of foxes to continue.

But his spokesman denied the prime minister was just seeking cover from pro-hunt anger.

The Tories also backed Mr Irranca-Davies' amendment if only "through gritted teeth", in the words of party spokesman James Gray.

Delay

He warned that if hunting was banned "the people of the countryside will neither forget it or forgive it".

The Hunting Bill returns to the House of Lords on Wednesday.

If there is no agreement before this session of Parliament ends on Thursday, the Commons speaker is expected to say the conditions needed for the Parliament Act to be used have been met.

Conservative leader in the Lords Lord Strathclyde said the parliamentary debate had reached its "end game".

Mr Michael criticised peers' blocking tactics but said they now "had an opportunity now to respond to another common sense proposal the government has put forward, which is to delay a ban until July 2006".

Backlash?

But some pro-hunt peers prefer a "kamikaze" option of rejecting any delay so a ban would come into force next February.

Tory spokesman Tim Yeo said the delay was being touted because the government "was quite rightly fearful of the backlash in many parts of the country against this infringement of civil liberties".

He told the BBC the issue could "play very badly for Labour in the general election".

Mr Michael said such an attitude would be "perverse" and suggested some pro-hunt supports were trying to provoke problems in rural communities.

He indicated the government could bring back fresh legislation in the next session of Parliament to ensure the ban is delayed by 18 months.

Legal challenge

The BBC has learned the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance has already written to Attorney General Lord Goldsmith giving notice it will challenge the legality of the 1949 Parliament Act if it is invoked.

There are also plans to take the issue to the European Courts of Human Rights on the grounds a ban unfairly denies people trade.

Once a ban goes through, pro-hunt campaigners intend to exploit any loopholes or even openly defy the law. They could also mount political campaigns against Labour MPs in marginal seats.

Simon Hart, president of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said: "This is not the end of our campaign - it is just the beginning of the next stage."

The director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Phyllis Campbell-McRae, said: "Banning hunting will put Britain back at the forefront of animal welfare worldwide.

"It has been a long, hard campaign, won by the determination of tens of thousands of people in urban and rural communities who are dedicated to protecting animals from senseless and appalling cruelty."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How pro-hunt campaigners react to the latest vote



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