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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 10:30 GMT
Q&A: Banning hunting
A hound on a hunting demonstration
The hunting bill is entering its final stages
A ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales was forced into law in November - with it due to come into force in February. But that may not now happen. Here's a guide to what has been happening.

What is hunting?

Fox-hunting, the main focus of the debate, has been around for about 300 years in Britain. It generally involves groups of riders on horseback working with a pack of trained hounds who track down and kill foxes.

What do pro-hunters say?

Hunt enthusiasts say the pursuit is necessary to control foxes, hares, deer and mink. They argue the animals are killed quickly and without undue suffering. They argue a ban infringes their human rights and also say it will be a bitter blow to the rural economy.

What do anti-hunters say?

Opponents have been campaigning for a ban for decades and say the practice is appallingly cruel and is unnecessary for pest control.

How many hunts are there?

There are about 200 packs of hounds registered in the UK - the Burns Inquiry said the equivalent of between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time jobs depended on hunting.

So, is hunting banned yet?

A ban was forced into law in November, to come into force in February. The House of Commons wanted a ban, the House of Lords did not. The speaker announced the Parliament Act would be used to make hunting illegal.

What is the Parliament Act?

It is the measure which allows MPs to override peers' opposition. It is very, very rarely used. The Lords can delay law plans for a year but if they reject an identical bill in two successive parliamentary sessions, the Parliament Act can be used to push the legislation onto the statute books. It had only been used three times before.

When would a ban start?

February 2005, as peers did not agree to MPs' call to delay a ban until 31 July 2006 to give hunts and rural businesses time to adapt. Pro-hunt peers have said the delay was just an attempt to avoid protests ahead of a election.

Are hunt supporters planning to challenge a ban?

Yes - the Countryside Alliance has already said it will go to the High Court to challenge the use of the Parliament Act as soon as a ban gets royal assent. Its lawyers will argue the 1949 Parliament Act was illegal because it was itself forced into law using the 1911 Parliament Act. The alliance is also taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights. It also says if it's inital case is lost, it will seek an injunction to halt the ban pending the legal case being pursed up the appeal courts.

Will this stop the ban?

If the court challenge is successful yes. If the court challenge fails then it seems likely that hunting will be allowed for at least another season, as the government has let it be known that it will not oppose the injunction - a move which opponents say is motivated by the desire to avoid protests during the run-up to the planned May 2005 election.

So, will it be an election issue?

Yes. Hunt supporters plan to campaign against anti-hunt MPs in marginal constituencies at the next election. Some landowners are expected to stop cooperating with the government on issues such as letting the army use their land. Many hunters have said they would defy any ban and face the consequences.

What's the prime minister had to say about all this?

Tony Blair committed the government to giving Parliament time to consider the ban proposals when he told BBC Question Time in 1999 that hunting "will be banned". He said in November most people would have preferred a compromise. He voted to allow some licensed fox-hunting.





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