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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Most Labour MPs support a ban"
 real 28k

Gordon Prentice MP, sponsor of private member's bill
"What is needed is a government bill"
 real 28k

Lord Strathclyde, Con leader, House of Lords
"The Lords does what it does best, which is to scrutinise legislation"
 real 28k

Friday, 9 June, 2000, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Labour MPs welcome hunting pledge

Hunting with dogs could be banned under the bill
Labour backbenchers have welcomed signals that the government is to renew its pledge to ban hunting, but say the move is overdue.

Home Office sources say Home Secretary Jack Straw will announce to Parliament on Monday plans to publish a bill to give MPs a variety of options on hunting in England and Wales - ranging from preserving the status quo to bringing in an outright ban.

But supporters of fox hunting have promised a "consistent and prolonged" campaign to prevent a ban, and already the Countryside Alliance is considering mounting further marches in London to protest at the government's move.


The government fears fallout from countryside voters

Mr Straw has received the report of an inquiry into hunting conducted by Lord Burns, which looks at the impact of a hunting ban on rural jobs, and will make a reponse on Monday at the same time as announcing plans for a Bill.

Election winner?

Backbenchers have been putting increasing pressure on Labour ministers to act on the issue.

The government was said to have feared political fallout with voters in the countryside and the potential opposition of the House of Lords.

But now Labour is expected to press ahead with a commitment to end hunting with dogs in time for the next election.

This would give the government a strong campaigning line, while at the same time bringing it in line with public opinion and the views of its own backbenchers.

It would also give Labour an issue with which to take on the House of Lords, one of the "forces of conservatism" Tony Blair spoke of in his party conference speech last year.

The majority of peers are opposed to a ban, and any Bill would face a rough ride in the House of Lords.

Backbench pressure

The Labour leadership has felt the pressure from senior backbenchers, including the chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party, Clive Soley, who sent the prime minister a letter calling for an urgent meeting to discuss hunting.

Also, 85 Labour MPs have backed an amendment to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, which, if passed, would ban fox hunting.

Prominent anti-hunt MP Gordon Prentice has welcomed the government's move.

"It would come to the Lords with all the legitimacy of a government bill, and it would be a free vote as well, it wouldn't be a whipped vote.

"And I think it would take courageous peers of the realm to overturn that kind of vote from the House of Commons," he said.

Options

The government hopes that putting a range of options before MPs will also make it harder for the House of Lords to object to the bill.

The Bill will be along the lines of the Sunday Trading Act, on which MPs were given a number of options on which to vote.

The options are likely to range from an outright ban, through referenda on local bans to no change.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Richard Burge said the government was not giving people time to consider the Burns report.

He said: "What we want is a sensible and sane debate on the facts and decisions made by Parliament based on evidence and not prejudice.

"If that is not achieved, then I think the resolution of rural people, in the context of a massive decline in rural life, is even stronger than in 1998."

About 250,000 people joined a pro-hunt rally in London in 1998 when a Private Member's Bill to ban hunting passed a second reading in the Commons.

Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who is the joint chairman of the Middle Way Group, a cross-party body which has been proposing a compromise solution to the hunting debate, was alarmed by the home secretary's move.

"My worry is there's so much emotion and so little logic being applied to this issue that people will simply vote for the strongest ban, unless there is a safeguard to force a rational consideration of the Burns recommendations."

Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a commitment to ban hunting on the BBC's Question Time programme last year.

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See also:

09 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Leading hunt 'breeds foxes'
11 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Hunt ban moves closer
09 Jun 00 | Fox hunting
Banning fox-hunting: A timeline
16 Sep 99 | Fox hunting
Three centuries of hunting foxes
16 Sep 99 | Fox hunting
Fox hunting: Cut to the chase
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