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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK


UK Politics

Hunt ban faces delay

Hunting ban: No pre-election pledge

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Government moves to ban fox hunting will have to wait for reform of the House of Lords and may not come before the next election, the leader of the House of Commons has said.


Margaret Beckett: "It's a complete waste of time to ban hunting until you have reformed the Lords"
In an interview with BBC News Online, Margaret Beckett said there was no way the current upper chamber would allow a bill to ban hunting to get onto the statute books.

And she bluntly refused to promise there would be government time for such a bill before the next general election.

Mrs Beckett insisted the prime minister and the government was still determined to outlaw hunting with hounds.

Fox hunting
But she said ministers had to be realistic and face the fact that there was such a huge lobby against the move amongst hereditary peers that it would stand no chance of becoming law.

Her comments, following recent remarks by other ministers, will add to fears that the government is not ready to push through legislation in the near future - and probably not this side of the next general election.

'Waste of time'


Margaret Beckett's response to the question: Can you promise a ban on hunting before the election?
Mrs Beckett said she understood the desire to get the law on the statute books, but added: "It would be a complete waste of everybody's time to try and get a bill against hunting with hounds if you had not changed the House of Lords.

"We are in the process of reforming the House of Lords but we haven't done it yet and it has been made very plain by a large number of particularly hereditary peers that they are even more opposed to the abolition of hunting with hounds than they are the abolition or reform of the House of Lords.

"It is an issue that arouses great passions and the government not only does not have a majority in the House of Lords, we are in a minority so that makes it extremely difficult to get legislation through."


[ image: Protesters hit conference]
Protesters hit conference
Ministers were "very mindful of the strong feelings about the subject," she said, adding: "a lot of work and a lot of thought is being given to whether and how you can get it".

No pledge


The BBC's Laura Trevelyan: "The leader of the house of commons has re-ignited the row over fox hunting"
But asked if she could promise the anti-hunt lobby a bill before the next general election she said: "No I can't tell them that."

Not only did ministers never announce what was going to be in a forthcoming Queen's Speech, but nobody had any idea when the next election may be. "So I can't tell them when such a bill might come forward," she said.

A news agency report later quoted unnamed government sources as playing down Mrs Beckett's remarks, insisting that with reform of the Lords now imminent, legislation could still be on the statute book by the time the country goes to the polls.

"There is nothing that Margaret has said that precludes legislation before the end of this Parliament," the source was quoted as saying.

The first stage of Lords reform is expected to come into effect later this year and will leave 92 hereditary peers in a temporary upper chamber. Lord Wakeham will later make his recommendations on the second, and more radical, phase of the reform.

But there are fears that the government will delay implementing any second phase and the interim Lords could last for decades.

And there are concerns that even the first phase may be delayed by continued wrangling in the upper chamber.

Mrs Beckett clearly believes that legislation on hunting cannot be taken to the Lords before phase one has been completed.

But her comments also raise the question of how the government would react if the interim chamber also contained a large majority against anti-hunting legislation.

Biggest obstacle

Prime Minister Tony Blair surprised MPs when he recently suggested he would make parliamentary time available for legislation before the next election.

The issue has sparked mass protests led by the Countryside Alliance, with more than 16,000 taking to the streets in Bournemouth during the Labour party conference.

The alliance's Pamela Morton welcomed Mrs Beckett's remarks, although she said that the government still seemed bent on outlawing their sport.

"She has probably injected more realism in this after Mr Blair's dismissive arrogance over the Bournemouth march," she said.

However the anti-hunting Tory MP Roger Gale accused Mr Blair of going back on his promise of legislation.

He said: "He has gone high-profile on this himself and now, at the back of the conference, suddenly his hatchet girl is required to say: We may have said it but we don't actually mean it."





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