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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Outbreak delays hunting bill
The bill has been dogged by controversy for years
A decision by the Scottish Parliament on whether to ban fox hunting has been delayed because of the foot-and-mouth crisis and the impending general election.

The Rural Development Committee said it would postpone completion of its stage one report into the proposed ban.

The Labour MSP for Glasgow Cathcart Mike Watson, who introduced the Bill, and several committee members felt pushing ahead would be "inappropriate".

Committee convener Alex Johnstone, the Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, said: "The committee has a mind of its own as I'm sure you are aware.

Mike Watson
Labour MSP, Mike Watson proposed the bill
"But certainly there are members who are hostile to spending too much time on the Bill during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

"There are also background pressures suggesting a stage one report during an impending general election might be counter-productive."

Mr Johnstone said Mr Watson had also told him it might be "inappropriate to push on" with the general election pending and the foot-and-mouth "still in its crisis phase".

The committee was due to finalise its stage one report into the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill during a private session in Edinburgh on Tuesday.

Parliamentary procedures

Under parliamentary procedures, once the report is voted on it will go before parliament to be debated before moving on to the next stage, if it is passed.

Mr Johnstone said: "The committee will continue to work on the report.

But he explained that committee members would only be seeking to assist the parliamentary clerks in drawing up the report.

He said: "It's simply to assist the clerks in progressing that report. I doubt there will be any drive to get the report through."

He said that if foot-and-mouth had not developed, the stage one report would have been considered over a month ago instead of being delayed.

Certainly there are members who are hostile to spending too much time on the Bill during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Committee convener Alex Johnstone
He added: "We probably would have had a report to publish by now if it had not been for the pending general election and the foot-and-mouth crisis."

The Wild Mammals Scotland Bill has been the centre of furious debate and controversy since it was first proposed two years ago by Labour MSP Mike Watson.

Almost immediately, opponents complained to the Scottish Parliament's Standards Committee that anti-hunting groups had helped Mr Watson to draft the Bill.

But that argument was rejected by the committee, which deemed he had done nothing wrong.

The Bill then survived a legal challenge in the Court of Session from three members of the Scottish Countryside Alliance who said its introduction would harm their livelihoods.

Presiding judge, Lord Johnston ruled that the courts could not interfere in parliamentary business.

The issue was kept on the agenda earlier this year when supporters of fox hunting staged a demonstration outside of the Labour Party's conference in Glasgow.

They have pledged to fight the progress of the Bill every step of the way.

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See also:

18 Jan 01 | Scotland
Hunt vote 'will assist' Scots ban
18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Pro-hunt activists vow to fight on
18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hunting: How they voted
17 Jan 01 | Scotland
Fox vote fuels Scots MPs row
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