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12/11/01
Foxhunting Bill "likely to be shelved"

The Government is poised to ditch plans to allow a new vote on the abolition of hunting with hounds in order to push through a number of anti-terrorism laws. Leader of the Commons Robin Cook indicated last week that recent events had forced Ministers to sideline moves to ban hunting.

In a clear signal that the issue had been put on the back burner for the foreseeable future, Mr Cook pointed out that the Government needed to make parliamentary time to pass three Bills put forward as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

These Bills included measures to stop terrorist suspects seeking asylum in Britain and allowing suspects to be detained with trial, as well as new laws against incitement and an easier extradition process.

There is also likely to be fresh legislation relating to recent changes in Northern Ireland, the overhaul of Railtrack and the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis - although fresh cases mean that the crisis is far from over.

These Bills are in addition to the 20 Bills and four Draft Bills unveiled in the Queen's Speech earlier this year following the General Election.

Mr Cook said: "One of the strengths of the Commons is that it can adapt to changing circumstances. We will keep under review our current programme and carry out as much as we can."

However, he added that recent events "may have consequences" on Labour's original legislative programme for the coming year.

Ardent Anti-bloodspots campaigner, former sports minister Tony Banks tabled a Parliamentary early day motion, signed by more than 200 MPs from all parties, calling on the Government to honour its election manifesto commitment to make time for a vote.

The Labour MP for West Ham tried to make it clear that he was not undermining the necessity for action following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, saying: "I fully recognise we live in difficult times.

"However, we are constantly being told that it is business as usual.

"If the Government delays the opportunity to resolve this issue once and for all, as promised in the Labour Party manifesto, the credibility of both the Government and the Parliament will be damaged.

"This issue is now a matter of trust between the Government and the people who elected them and as opinion polls show, a clear two to one majority among the public want to see hunting with dogs banned."

Asked about the EDM, the Prime Minister's official spokesman stressed that legislation planned on asylum, extradition and terrorism following the September 11 terror was putting pressure on the legislative timetable.

"We have set out the Government's legislative programme for this session of Parliament.

"Obviously other Bills will be brought into the session as a result of September 11. Any changes that will be made to the legislative timetable will be announced at the appropriate time," the spokesman said.

The EDM, which bore the names of 203 MPs, said they wanted to "remind the Government of the overwhelming support for abolition in the House and the high expectation amongst the electorate that the Government will honour the manifesto pledge to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue".

Mr Banks said: "Members of Parliament have supported and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on at least five occasions. For the sake of democracy the will of the elected House must be enacted.

"I do not accept the argument that there may not be time available to address and resolve this issue.

"This EDM demonstrates that although the political will may be lacking among some senior ministers it certainly exists on the backbenches and we will use every opportunity to remind the Government that we and this issue will not go away."

The League Against Cruel Sports said: "We still believe foxhunting will be banned during this session.

"We have been waiting for this for a long time and would hope that there will be a Bill sooner rather than later."

A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance commented that they would continue to "vigorously oppose" any attempts to introduce such legislation and repeated that Alliance's plans to seek a legal ruling on the matter using the new Human Rights Act.