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(Updated 22/6/01)

New hunting bill planned

THE RECENTLY re-elected Labour Government is planning to reintroduce legislation to ban hunting with dogs. If such legislation is to be included in the next parliamentary session, the Government must decide by today (Friday) whether to press ahead with a Bill to ban or to licence hunting with dogs.

The last anti-Hunting Bill was passed by a massive Commons majority, but this was overturned by the House of Lords. The Lords had been asked to reach a compromise on the direct instructions of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was keen to avoid any further arguments with the rural community. However, the Bill was lost, along with many other items of unfinished legislation when Parliament was dissolved in May before the General Election.
Margaret Beckett, the new Rural Affairs Secretary, has said, however, that the issue is too big to bury. Her team of five ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is opposed to hunting.

In spite of reports that Mrs Beckett had been asked to reach a compromise on the issue, Whitehall officials denied that any instructions had been issued.

Another Whitehall source said: “The decision has to be made urgently because all proposals for Bills must be in before the end of the week.”

Support

Robin Cook, the Leader of the Commons, supports the regulation of the sport and is in charge of the legislative programme. Alun Michael, the Minister for Rural Affairs, who is handling the issue, is opposed to hunting.

However, last Sunday, Mrs Beckett renewed the Labour election manifesto pledge that a bill to ban fox hunting would be presented to Parliament. In an interview with BBC1’s Countryfile programme, Mrs Beckett hinted that the controversial bill may be presented to the first parliament of the next term.

Presenter John Craven asked the Minister what would happen to the fox hunting bill, to which she replied: “Well obviously I can’t prejudice what will be in the Queen’s Speech but as you know we said in our manifesto pledge we thought that Parliament should be given an opportunity in this Parliament to pronounce on it and that remains a manifesto commitment.

“It’s a free vote. I have always voted to ban hunting but it’s a free vote and everyone will vote as they think is right.”

Pro-hunting campaigners are poised for another fight to defend their sport and are prepared to use the Human Rights Act to block any ban.