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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 09:05 GMT
Minister denies fox-hunting deal
Regulation may have support among the hunt lobby
A former first minister of Wales has denied reports the government has been seeking a compromise deal over the future of hunting with dogs.

Cardiff MP and Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael has the task of drawing up the government's response to the free vote on the issue being held on Monday and a similar debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Possible timetable
18 March: MPs given "indicative" votes
Before Easter: ministers' proposals
November: Bill proposed in Queen's Speech
Autumn 2003: Ban could be in place

In Monday's vote, MPs will give their verdict on three controversial options: an outright ban, a system of licensed hunts or maintaining the status quo.

Mr Michael said he will listen to all arguments and see how the two Houses of Parliament vote before putting forward his proposals.

He denied he was trying to negotiate a "third way" on the issue, following speculation he was trying to broker a deal to allow fox-hunting to continue, although under licence, while another blood sport, hare coursing, is banned.

Alun Michael, Rural Affairs Minister
Alun Michael will draw up plans after the vote

Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Mr Michael said: "I have a lot of ideas because I have listened to a lot of people.

"But what we promised in our manifesto was to enable Parliament to have a free vote and then I will make a statement in the light of those two debates, suggesting a way forward."

Welsh farmers leaders have repeated their claim that the activity is vital to control foxes at lambing time.

But their argument is rejected totally by anti-hunt campaigners.

More hunts

According to evidence submitted to the government's Burns inquiry, there are more hunts to the square mile in Wales than any other part of Britain.

Hunts have insisted they provide a vital service to farmers particularly at lambing time.

But opponents have rejected that as simply an excuse for a "bloodthirsty pastime".

Despite devolution, this is an issue which will be decided at Westminster.

A National Assembly for Wales inquiry into hunting has yet to report back.

Although they do not have any say in the decision directly, Assembly Members do hope to be able to influence the debate.

MPs have already voted in favour of a ban twice, and are expected to repeat that decision during Monday's "indicative" vote.

BBC Wales's Roger Pinney
"According to the Burns inquiry, there are more hunts per square mile in Wales than any other part of Britain."
The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"There is much talk now of going for 'the middle way'"
The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Nobody expects the Commons vote to differ from the last time"
BBC Wales's Roger Pinney
"The arguments for and against hunting are well reheased"
See also:

18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
MPs vote on hunting's future
17 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett backs hunting compromise
03 Mar 02 | UK Politics
'Hunting compromise impossible'
16 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Downing Street denies hunting deal
28 Feb 02 | Scotland
Chase continues over hunt ban
26 Feb 02 | England
Protest at hare coursing cup
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