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(Updated 30th January 2001)

MPs vote for outright hunting with dogs ban

by Nick Mays

SUPPORTERS OF fox-hunting are facing the greatest ever threat to the future of their sport, after MPs voted last week in favour of an outright ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales.

The vote, by 387 to 174, a majority of 213, sets up a pre-election battle in the House of Lords, where Tory peers have vowed to obstruct the progress of the Hunting Bill. The ‘Compromise’ option, allowing hunting to continue as a licensed activity, supervised by a regulatory body, was rejected by 382 votes to 182, a majority of 200.

The third option of self-regulation by the hunting fraternity was rejected by an even bigger margin - 399 votes to 155, a majority of 244.

With most commentators expecting a General Election on May 3, the Bill will need to clear the Lords swiftly in order to achieve Royal Assent before Parliament is dissolved. Even anti-hunting groups are resigned to the fact that it is most unlikely that the Bill will reach the statute books before the end of the current Parliamentary session.

Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde declared: “When the Bill reaches the House of Lords, it will be subjected to the same scrutiny as any other Government Bill. No Bill, not even the shortest and least controversial one, can normally pass the Lords in less than six to seven weeks from when it leaves the Commons,” he said, speaking before the vote. “That means that if there is an election called for April or May this Bill has no chance of becoming law, for timing reasons alone. Tony Blair knows that.”

The Prime Minister had sparked outrage amongst pro-hunting MPs by being absent from the debate sand the vote, choosing to fly to Belfast to “look in” on the Northern Ireland peace talks. Even anti-hunting MPs were disappointed by Mr Blair’s absence, which means that, despite his outspoken views that he against hunting, Mr Blair will never have voted against the sport in this or any other debate on the subject.
Opening the debate, junior Home Office minister Mike O’Brien said the votes were “a matter of conscience” for each MP.

Tory home affairs spokesman David Lidington said his preference was for self regulation and attacked the “illiberal and intolerant” ban as a waste of police resources at a time of rising violent crime.
Bill Etherington (Lab, Sunderland North) said: “I consider that fox hunting is as barbaric a method of destroying a fox as it would be possible to imagine.”

Michael Foster (Lab, Worcester), whose own anti-hunting Bill failed in 1998 due to lack of parliamentary time said he was glad that the Government had taken up ‘his’ cause and that he had not changed his mind. “Hunting with dogs is cruel and unnecessary and it’s time this practice was stopped,” he declared.
Owen Paterson (Con, Shropshire) said he and his family had hunted for years and that it was “decent, honest people” who go hunting for entertainment. He predicted that a ban would be “a terrible blow” to sheep farming.

News of the votes was greeted with cheers by jubilant opponents of hunting who had gathered outside Parliament, and with anger and despair by pro-hunting demonstrators who had been holding a round-the-clock vigil.

A larger contingent of pro-hunters, many of them with dogs, and some on horseback had also been demonstrating and expressed no surprise at the vote, but vowed to fight on and continue to hunt, even if one day they may be breaking the law.

Meanwhile in Suffolk, Wales and Cornwall, hunts took place in total defiance of any ban, cheered on by hundreds of pro-hunting supporters.

TV presenter Robin Page, frontman for the BBC’s ‘One Man and his Dog’ series vowed to become the Government’s first political prisoner if a ban was enacted, defiantly saying that he would take part in his first hunt.

Wendy Turner, presenter of Channel 4’s ‘Pet Rescue’ arrived at he Palace of Westminster accompanied by three anti-hunting campaigners dressed as a fox, a hare and a stag to deliver a letter backing a ban.
Miss Turner, a vegan, said, “The time has long passed for hunting with dogs to be consigned to the history books along with bear baiting and dog and cock fighting.”

Although eliciting little sympathy from anti-hunters, one married couple, Andrew and Claire Bellamy explained how their home and livelihood depended on their local hunt. Andrew, 29, is a terrier man and Claire, 26 is a kennel huntsman for the Dartmoor Hunt.

Mr Bellamy said, “If hunting is banned, it will devastate us. We will lose our house and home ands we will have to destroy 100 hounds. A lot of people in the towns think it is for the upper classes, but it isn’t. It is our way of life.”

A full report of the debate, with MPs’ comments will appear in next week’s issue..