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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"New ammunition to those who want to see hunting banned"
 real 28k

Monday, 12 June, 2000, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
MPs to decide on hunt ban
A hunt
Hunting supports between 6,000-8,000 jobs
Home Secretary Jack Straw has confirmed that the government is to bring forward a bill on hunting with dogs.

The government is, and remains, neutral on the merits of whether hunting with hounds should be banned

Jack Straw
Under the bill, which will cover England and Wales, MPs will be given a free vote on a number of options ranging from preserving the status quo to an outright ban.

Most MPs are expected to back a complete ban, but which way the House of Lords will vote is uncertain.

During his announcement, the home secretary insisted that the government remained "neutral on the merits on whether hunting with hounds should be banned".

Mr Straw told the House of Commons that he expected to have a free vote on the issue early in the next parliamentary session, due to begin in the autumn.

Job losses 'can be absorbed'

The Home Secretary's announcement coincided with the publication of the Burns inquiry report into the effects of a ban on hunting.

The Burns report
6,000-8,000 jobs depend on hunting
National economy would be little affected by a ban
For some hunting is a cohesive social force
For others it is disruptive and intrusive
Hunting 'seriously compromises' foxes
Foxes are more humanely killed by shooting
The home secretary outlined the main details of the report, which will be denated in July, to MPs.

He said the report found that between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs depended on hunting, but that the rural economy could absorb their loss in the long term.

The pro-hunting lobby had said that 16,000 jobs were at risk.

During Mr Straw's statement, pro-hunt protestors staged a noisy protest outside parliament, bringing traffic to a standstill.

They handed in a 400,000-name petition to the Houses of Parliament and drove a tractor into parliament square.

The inquiry, conducted by Lord Burns, also found that the end of fox hunting would have little effect on controlling the numbers of foxes in lowland areas although the reverse would be the case in highland areas.

Turning to the animal welfare aspects of hunting, the inquiry was satisfied that being chased by a pack of hounds "compromises the welfare of the fox".

Jack Straw: Wants MPs to study the Burns report
Tory home affairs spokesman David Liddington told MPs that Labour's decision to bring forward legislation on hunting proved that the party was distracted from the important issues facing voters.

He was speaking in place of the shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, who opposes fox hunting.

Mr Liddington said: "Has not the home secretary's statement demonstrated for once and all that the priorities of this government are no longer the priorities of the British people."

Speaking for the Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes welcomed the report.

Turning to the implications for jobs if a ban was introduced Mr Hughes said: "If jobs are inappropriate in support of a particular activity then they may have to change."

The anti-hunt campaigner and Labour MP Gordon Prentice called the home secretary "a hero" for his announcement.

He said he would be withdrawing an amendment from the countryside bill to ban hunting, ending the threat of a major Labour backbench rebellion on the bill.

'Breakdown of law and order'

Labour backbencher Mike Foster, whose private member's bill to ban hunting was talked out, asked the home secertary to use the Parliament Act to force a ban through if one was voted for by the Commons and opposed by the Lords.

Supporters of hunting have already threatened to fight any ban.

The Countryside Alliance said that thousands of jobs would be lost and that communities and families would be divided over the issue.

Speaking before Mr Straw's announcement spokesman Matthew Askew warned a ban would see, " a breakdown of law and order in the countryside".

The private member's bill to ban hunting with hounds in Scotland is at the consultation stage in the Scottish Parliament.

Labour's Mike Watson, who introduced the bill, said MSPs would be given only two options, "yes" or "no", when it goes to a vote early next year.

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See also:

12 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Hunt ban unlikely before election
11 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Minister voices hunt bill fears
10 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Inquiry into fox rearing claims
09 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Labour MPs welcome hunting pledge
09 Jun 00 | Fox hunting
Banning fox-hunting: A timeline
16 Sep 99 | Fox hunting
Three centuries of hunting foxes
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