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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 14:06 GMT
'Let courts decide on hunt ban'
Hunting in Oxfordshire
The ban on hunting is due to be implemented in February
It is up to the courts to decide whether the ban on hunting with the dogs should be delayed, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael told MPs.

The ban is due to start on 18 February but pro-hunt protesters plan to seek a delay as they mount a court challenge.

Mr Michael confirmed the government would not oppose the move but was confident the challenge would fail.

He was responding to Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, who warned ministers not to connive with pro-hunt groups.

Uncertainty?

When it goes to the High Court on 25 January, the Countryside Alliance will argue the 1949 Parliament Act, used to pass the ban in the teeth of Lords' opposition, is invalid.

Answering a Commons question, Mr Michael said the government expected the challenge to fail.

The alliance says it would then try to take the case to the Court of Appeal - and seek an injunction to delay the ban in the meantime.

"I don't know what view the court will take, but we neither oppose nor support such an application if that stage is reached," he said.

Mr Michael said he wanted to quash claims of hunt supporters that there was uncertainty.

He said: "We confidently expect to have our view that the Act is valid upheld.

"We expect the case and any appeal, to be dealt with quite quickly and no one will then have any reason for any doubt whatsoever or for believing that they might be justified in undertaking activity which is in fact illegal."

Human rights challenge

The minister said the government was also relaxed about a possible injunction as MPs had voted for the ban to come into force at the end of July 2006.

It had been peers who had insisted on the "kamikaze" option of implementing the law three months after it received royal assent.

Mr Michael also stressed the government would oppose attempts to strike down the ban through the European human rights laws.

He denied claims that such a challenge would delay the ban further - saying it could be judged in the British courts.

"We do not have such a challenge as yet, but a challenge to the Scottish legislation [to ban hunting] failed and we would not expect a different outcome here," he added.

'Grubby ploy'

Anti-hunt campaigner Sir Gerald said: "We are sick and tired of two voices coming from the frontbench on this issue.

"The House of Commons has expressed its will. We do not want any fiddling or messing about.

"We want this act of Parliament now to come into force without the government conniving with the Countryside Alliance to prevent it."

Conservative frontbencher James Gray condemned as a "grubby political ploy" Downing Street's decision before Christmas to tell reporters it would not oppose an injunction.

Ministers only wanted to avoid an outcry in the run up to the general election, he claimed.




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