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(Updated 20/5/01)

Now anti-foxhunters get another bite of the cherry

BACKBENCH LABOUR MPs have been promised another free vote to ban hunting with hounds in the next Parliament if, as expected, Labour are returned to power.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to include a commitment in the party’s election manifesto to give adequate parliamentary time to allow the proposed legislation to complete all its parliamentary stages.

There is a clear implication that a Labour Government would use the Parliament Act to force through the abolition of the sport in the face of any possible overturning by the House of Lords, as happened with the current anti-hunting Bill which has now been lost due to Parliament being dissolved for the general election, called for June 7th.
Mr Blair rejected calls from his backbenchers to force the Bill through, thus banning hunting in England and Wales, for fear of a backlash by rural voters, already beleaguered by the foot and mouth crisis.

It is expected that the new Bill will be multi-optional, offering MPs a free vote on whether to ban hunting outright or whether to allow it to continue under license.

Mr Blair had been warned of a possible revolt by more than 100 backbenchers, led by maverick sports minister and staunch anti-hunter, Tony Banks, if he did not give the Commons another chance to ban hunting with hounds.
Most Labour MPs are in favour of a ban - even if only for the sake of political expediency - and had vowed to make this an election issue even if it were not official party policy.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare - which has made large donations to the Labour Party in the past - is also planning a high profile billboard advertising campaign to highlight foxhunting during the campaign.

Although Ministers were keen to strike a deal which would keep both the countryside lobby and anti-hunting campaigners happy, the Commons authorities have advised them that they would be able to use the Parliament Act to force the legislation through.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said recently that he would be in favour of using the Parliament Act to overturn a Lords vote. However, it would be highly controversial for any Government to use the Act to implement legislation that was the subject of a free vote in both Houses of Parliament.

Tony Banks said that he would support a manifesto pledge to reintroduce the Bill and give it suitable parliamentary time, warning that such a Bill would have to be introduced quickly.

“The party has let the animal welfare movement down so far and that has caused a great deal of cynicism,” he said.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “All political parties ought to stick to what’s of real concern to people in both rural and urban areas rather than waste parliamentary time pursuing the hobby horse subjects of a minority of MPs.”