of hunt supporters have signed a declaration that, if a ban
comes into force, they will disobey the law and continue to
hunt, risking a criminal conviction.
The declaration, on the website www.huntingdeclaration.org commits those signing it to participate in a hunt on the first day of the season after any ban, in the belief that their arrest and conviction in large numbers would demonstrate the injustice of such a law.
A special password and user name is needed to gain access to the declaration, the organisers of which claim already to have attracted 2,000 signatures, including that of the philosopher, Roger Scruton. So far the website has received more than 20,000 "hits".
A statement on the website says the Government has promised to use the Parliament Act, if necessary, to force a Bill on hunting through the Lords, where a majority are opposed to an outright ban.
It points to an answer, given in the Commons by Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs Minister, in March that use of the Act would apply not only to the Bill on the future of hunting with hounds this autumn, expected to be a compromise, but also to the Bill as amended by MPs, which could impose a complete ban on hunting with dogs.
The declaration states: "It has become increasingly obvious that a substantial number of MPs have demonstrated a cynical determination to ignore all reasoned, fair and objective advice concerning the issue and proposed need for legislation relating to hunting with dogs."
It said it was increasingly unlikely that MPs would legislate with "tolerance and respect".
"Consequently, we declare our intention peacefully to disobey any law to ban hunting. We do this with sadness and recognising that our defiance inevitably threatens our freedoms and livelihoods."
do not take such action with any expectation of escaping punishment
but rather in the hope of persuading those others, such as
the judiciary, law enforcement authorities and our fellow
citizens of the injustice of such a law. We feel it appropriate
to put our personal freedoms at risk in this belief."
Dr Scruton, who rides to hounds with the Vale of the White Horse and the Beaufort, said yesterday he was one of the signatories.
He said: "I think those who follow hunting have all put our minds to the moral, social and ecological questions people put to us and this has only confirmed to us that hunting is the best way of conducting an elementary problem of countryside management.
"We believed we could persuade people who govern of the reasonableness of our position. It has become increasingly clear our arguments have had no effect whatsoever. They have been met with a barrage of criticism and class hatred.
"The way to bring home our point that their position is oppressive and unjust is civil disobedience, not in hope of escaping punishment but, through your punishment, drawing attention to the oppressiveness of the law.
"The way for lawmakers to respect the law is to recognise that it is an instrument of justice and not mere power."
The declaration goes further than any action countenanced by the Countryside Alliance, which has said it will accept Parliament's verdict on hunting and will not advocate breaking the law.
Details of how to access the website are being passed by word of mouth to hunt supporters, say the organisers.
They are not looking for support from those in the legal profession or other jobs where a criminal record could be a bar to future employment.