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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 06:45 GMT
Welsh MPs back hunting ban
Regulation may have support among the hunt lobby
Welsh MPs have voted overwhelmingly to ban hunting with hounds.

Around three-quarters of the 40 MPs from Wales voted for a ban in England and Wales in the House of Commons last night.

A ban is already in force in Scotland.

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

Meanwhile, Wales's four Plaid Cymru and two Liberal Democrat MPs voted for a middle way system - to allow hunting with dogs to continue but under stricter licences.

Labour's newest MP, the member for Ogmore, Huw Irranca-Davies, agreed with them.

This was the third time MPs had voted in favour of a ban, as the seesaw battle between the two houses of parliament continues.

The debate moves back to the House of Lords on Tuesday, which is expected to oppose a hunting with dogs ban.

On Monday, ahead of the Westminster debate, former Welsh First Secretary Alun Michael denied reports the government has been seeking a compromise deal over the future of the activity.

The UK Rural Affairs Minister and Cardiff South and Penarth MP has the task of drawing up the government's response to the free vote on the issue.

MPs were giving their verdict on three controversial options: an outright ban, a system of licensed hunts or maintaining the status quo.

Huw Irranca-Davies MP
Huw Irranca-Davies: Middle-way
Prime Minister Tony Blair voted for a ban on hunting with dogs - but abstained on the remaining options.

Mr Michael 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.

"I have a lot of ideas because I have listened to a lot of people," Mr Michael told the BBC.

"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.

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

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

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".

BBC Wales's David Cornock
"The vote was a blow to hunt members who watched last night's debate."
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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