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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK

UK Politics

Head to head: Fox hunting

Fox hunting provokes a passionate response. The demonstrators who descended on Bournemouth this week see it as a vital part of country life. Opponents claim it is barbaric. Here the two sides explain their views.

By Paul Latham of the Countryside Alliance

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Today 16,000 rural marchers at Labour's Party Conference in Bournemouth will today tell the government 'Don't destroy our jobs'.

The demonstration was triggered by the prime minister's comments on BBC 'Question Time' in July, when he stated that the government would seek to abolish hunting "as soon as possible".

Research conducted by the Produce Studies Group shows that such a ban would threaten the jobs of at least 16,000 people employed through hunting and associated trades and activities - 70% of them in rural areas.

Sixteen thousand marchers will therefore take to the streets of Bournemouth to form a graphic illustration of just how many livelihoods would be destroyed.

Starting in Meyrick Park at 11.30am, the protest will be led by a 'Tolpuddle' dray from the Union of Country Sports Workers - the UK's newest Listed Trade Union - and will pass by the Conference Centre before returning to the Park for keynote speeches. The campaign slogan, 'Rural Britain Deserves Better', was chosen to remind the government of its 1997 election slogan - when it declared "Britain Deserves Better".

The Bournemouth demonstration will deliver right to the heart of government the message that it is failing to listen to its rural communities, most palpably on the hunting issue.

Despite the shabby political attempts to smear the Countryside Alliance's name over the last few days, the march today will get back to the real issue - why is this government considering a ban on hunting that will threaten the jobs of 16,000 people, without putting forward a jot of evidence to support its position?

Our supporters have shown at the Countryside March and Countryside Rally that they are the largest and most peaceful protesters seen in this country.

We have been working closely with the Dorset Police to ensure they are protected from extreme animal rights and anarchist groups who are planning a counter-demonstration.

We will be asking the government, Labour MPs and conference delegates to recognise that isolating whole communities in the countryside - particularly through such draconian measures and with no prior consultation - is not only unjust but is contrary to the traditions and record of the Labour Party.

We will keep on demonstrating until Labour recognises that rural Britain deserves better from this government - not least on the hunting issue where a ban would seriously harm rural livelihoods, communities, conservation and, most importantly, the freedom of British people to choose their way of life.

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By Charlotte Morrissey of the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals and the RSPCA

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A new MORI poll shows that more than 70% of people in Britain back Tony Blair's pledge to ban hunting with dogs. Polls show time and time again that people think it is totally unacceptable to chase and kill wild mammals in the name of sport.

The defenders of hunting may attempt to paint this issue as an economic or civil liberties argument but at the end of the day it is about cruelty to animals. Every year thousands of animals are chased and killed - sometimes even disembowelled - all in the name of sport. Many more are hunted by gangs using terriers and lurchers.

Hunters use a variety of claims to justify their sport. One of their central claims is that foxes are significant pests which need to be controlled. If this is true why do they encourage foxes to breed on their land? There surely can't be enough foxes in the countryside if hunts up and down the country feel the need to stock up on or encourage "pests".

It is true that in certain local circumstances foxes can be a problem but this does not justify the general persecution of the fox population. If an individual fox causes a nuisance, shooting by a trained marksman is the most humane, selective and common method of control.

Claims by hunters that 16,000 jobs will be lost if hunting is banned simply cannot be properly substantiated. Independent research by Dr Neil Ward of the University of Newcastle found that less than 1,000 full-time jobs are directly linked to hunting.

He also suggests that the rural economy could be boosted by a growth in blood-free sports such as draghunting as a result of a ban on hunting with dogs. He says: "A ban on hunting with dogs would remove the barrier of moral opposition to mounted hunting and could foster innovation and wider participation in draghunting and bloodhounds."

Earlier this week the RSPCA helped to launch a new cruelty-free but traditional draghunt in which an artificial scent is followed instead of a live animal. The RSPCA believes that the New Forest Draghounds, which uses redundant hounds from other hunts, will provide a model for the future of hunting.

It will show that rural jobs can be saved, dogs can continue to be kept in packs and the tradition of the sport can be retained without any cruelty to animals. Every aspect of the hunt will operate to strict RSPCA veterinary guidelines covering the care and retirement of the hounds.

The hunters' assertion that banning hunting is an infringement of civil liberties is ludicrous. Perhaps the best illustration of the absurdity of this argument is to consider how things would look if such logic had been accepted by earlier governments. If this were the case, bear baiting, cockfighting and badger baiting, all once popular spectator sports in Britain, would never have been outlawed and people would be free to beat or starve their pets without fear of prosecution.

We warmly welcome Tony Blair's commitment to ban hunting with dogs and we will continue to campaign until legislation is introduced to ban these cruel and unnecessary sports.

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