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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 18:12 GMT
Hunting compromise fails to please
Hunt dogs in Eryri, north Wales
The hunting issue has divided the countryside
Criticism from both sides of the hunting camp has greeted the announcement by UK Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael that there will not be a complete ban on hunting with dogs.

A Welsh anti-bloodsports group accused Mr Michael, the MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, of "shying away" from the real issues of hunting.

Mr Michael announced a compromise solution on Tuesday afternoon, which will introduce a licensing system banning some hunts but allowing others.


The Government has been frightened off by the few hundred thousand Tories and misfits who marched through London earlier this year

Ralph Cook, Wales Alliance Against Cruel Sports

Deer hunting and hare coursing would be banned outright under the bill, but an independent registrar's office would assess whether any particular fox hunt was cruel and therefore should be banned.

Rabbiting, shooting, fishing and falconry would be unaffected.

Mr Michael said decisions would be made on the least cruel and most effective way of dealing with foxes.

He told BBC Radio Wales: "It is not a compromise - the proposals deal sensibly with a controversial issue.

"I want to resolve this issue."

But the leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly, Nick Bourne, said it was the wrong priority for the government to be focusing on.

He said: "Farms the length and breadth of Wales are still in crisis.

'Attack'

"This latest attack on the rural way of life is not only an ignorant strike across the face of our rural communities, but also takes away attention and work from the priorities that need to be addressed, such as the health service."

Organisations lobbying for a total ban across the board have expressed their concern at what they see as a half-way move by Mr Michael.

Ralph Cook, chair of the Wales Alliance Against Cruel Sports, accused the minister of "fudging the issue" - for reasons of political expediency rather than animal welfare.

Hare coursing
Hare coursing is set to be outlawed

And he said Mr Michael's plans did not live up to the Labour Party's long-standing commitment to abolish hunting live animals with dogs.

"A ban on deer hunting and hare coursing would be welcome," Mr Cook said.

But, he added : "Hunting foxes, mink and hares with dogs is no less cruel than the activities the government proposes to ban.

"I can only conclude that the government has shied away from a logical and sensible Bill to abolish all hunting with dogs out of political expediency.

Cautious welcome

"In other words the government has been frightened off by the few hundred thousand Tories and misfits who marched through London earlier this year."

Meanwhile, others who support hunting have given a cautious welcome to the news.

Simon Hart, of the pro-hunting lobby within the Countryside Alliance, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Everybody involved in hunting recognises that it of course should be open and accountable, and it of course should have public confidence.

"If that means hunting has to exist under some form of independent statutory supervision that is of course something that we'll look at with great interest.

Alun Michael MP, Rural Affairs minister
Mr Michael "fudged the issue", say critics

"But it has to be fair, it has to be just, it has to be affordable and it has to be based on principle and evidence. It should not just be a political fudge."

Anti-hunting Labour MP Tony Banks said he thought the licensing system would outlaw 95% of hunting.

But he added that MPs may yet vote for a total ban.

He said: "As long as this Bill is amendable, and as long as we have a free vote... then it's up to a majority of members of Parliament then to decide what bill they want to see."

Previous proposal

The compromise bill would give licences only to those hunts which could prove the need to protect livestock from pests.

Hunt
Some hunts would be outlawed
The hunts would also have to prove they had addressed concerns about cruelty.

Hunts in upland areas, where alternatives such as poisoning or shooting may be a less viable option, would be the most likely to survive.

Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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TALKING POINT
See also:

03 Dec 02 | Politics
14 Nov 02 | Politics
01 Nov 02 | England
31 Oct 02 | Politics
11 Sep 02 | Politics
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