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Last Updated: Friday, 19 November, 2004, 00:46 GMT
Hunt ban forced through Commons
Hunting in Oxfordshire
A hunt ban has reached its final parliamentary fence
Commons Speaker Michael Martin has invoked the Parliament Act meaning a ban on fox hunting will be in place by February 2005.

He told MPs the Act was being used for only the fourth time since 1949 - a move sparked by peers who earlier rejected a ban on hunting with dogs.

The bill was then given Royal Assent bringing to an end years of wrangling.

Legal action and demonstrations are now predicted in the run up to the general election, widely expected next May.

Mr Martin told MPs: "I am satisfied all the provisions of the Parliament Act have been met."

As well as fox hunting, deer-hunting and hare-coursing with dogs will now be outlawed in England and Wales.

Earlier Conservative shadow environment minister James Gray condemned the proposals as a "rank bad bill", which would be impossible to police.

They [peers] have behaved like turkeys voting for Christmas
Alun Michael
Rural Affairs Minister

Using the Parliament Act in such circumstances was "unprecedented", he argued.

Mr Gray said passing a ban with no delay would send a hidden message to the countryside: "a message which reads 'Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war'."

But RSPCA director of animal welfare, John Rolls, said the bill was a "watershed in the development of a more civilised society for people and animals".

The Tory leader in the Upper House, Lord Strathclyde, said the ban threatened the "livelihoods of thousands" and "drew a knife across centuries of tradition in our countryside but will not lead to a single animal being spared a violent death".

The pro-hunt Countryside Alliance has already written to Attorney General Lord Goldsmith saying it will challenge the legality of the 1949 Parliament Act in the High Court as soon as a ban gains royal assent.

The alliance is also planning to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.

Election campaigns

Alliance chief executive, Simon Hart, said its lawyers believed it had a good case.

Landowners could also stop cooperating with the government, he told BBC News.

And he warned anti-hunt MPs with majorities of less than 5,000 they would face a determined campaign at the next election.

Fox hounds
Hunt opponents say a ban is needed against "appalling cruelty"

"What the last few days and few weeks have done is recruit several thousands of people to campaign to get out of Parliament the sort of people who put prejudice before principle," added Mr Hart.

Rodney Austin, senior law lecturer at University College, London said there was no possibility of the courts challenging legislation passed under the Parliament Act.

But he told BBC News the human rights case had a "slightly better" chance of success.

Compromise shunned

Tony Blair had favoured a deal proposed in the Commons on Wednesday to allow licensed hunting of foxes to continue.

On Thursday, he told reporters action would now transfer to the courts.

"But I think probably, despite the very passionate views on either side of this debate, the majority of people would have preferred to have seen a compromise accepted," he added.

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, 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 hunt supporters reacted to news of the ban



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