THE GOVERNMENT last week announced plans to bring back a new Bill to outlaw hunting with dogs in England and Wales, just months after the last anti-hunting Bill was lost due to lack of Parliamentary time. Leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook announced a House of Commons vote next month on banning hunting with dogs.
After intense pressure from Labour backbenchers to hold a vote, the Commons leader said, to muted cheers, that three options would be put before the Commons on Monday March 18.
As before, the options are: an outright ban, regulation of hunting under the so-called middle way option, or no change to the current arrangements.
Previous attempts to ban foxhunting have sparked overwhelming votes in favour of an outright ban in the Commons but stiff opposition in the Lords - leading to weeks of Parliamentary debate.
The last Bill for an outright ban was stalled when the Lord overturned the Commons vote and opted for the status quo, prompting calls from Labour MPs for the Government to steamroller the legislation through using the Parliament Act. However, the Bill was lost when a general election was called by the Prime Minister last year.
The new move would apply only to England and Wales. The Scottish Parliament has recently voted to outlaw the sport north of the border, although this Bill has been the subject of huge controversy and is being challenged legally.
Mr Cook said that in the Queens Speech the Government had promised a free vote on the future of hunting with dogs.
The Government will table a motion enabling the House to express its view in a free vote between the three options. A similar vote will take place in the House of Lords.
After the votes and before the Easter recess, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael will bring forward the Governments proposals to resolve the issue, he told MPs.
However, any form of compromise on the issue, - i.e. allowing hunting under licence - was roundly dismissed as unacceptable by left-wing MP and Former Sports Minister, Tony Banks.
Mr Banks said he expects the Commons leader and ministers to back the Middle Way proposals to licence hunting in a bid to see legislation through the Lords.
But that would not be acceptable to MPs or the public, the leading anti-hunt campaigner said.
Interviewed by the BBC, Mr Banks denounced the Middle Way : The so-called Middle Way is licensed killing. Its no great consolation to a wild mammal that it is being ripped to pieces according to some form of latter-day Queensberry Rules. It is not acceptable and it will not be accepted by the House of Commons.
Mr Banks said he expected peers to shift their stance from outright opposition to reform to the Middle Way, meaning it would once again go before MPs.
It will be brought back to us and ministers will still try to say it is possible to get a deal here, he said.
The answer is going to be no it is not. Someones got to win and in my opinion and the great majority of MPs in the House of Commons and public opinion generally the winners have got to be those who want a total ban.
Despite Mr Banks outspoken comments, the Government is still trying to broker a deal with the House of Lords and to reach a deal which will not alienate the rural community. To encourage the peers to compromise, the Government has carefully preserved the option of using the Parliament Act to force an outright ban through a recalcitrant Lords.
After the votes, Alun Michael will draw up a proposal based on what peers and MPs have said to present to the Commons before Easter. This may include an outright ban on hare coursing while foxhunting is made subject to stricter regulation. Legislation may follow later in the year.
Governments approach won cautious support from the Countryside
Alliance, the largest pressure group supporting the hunt.
The alliance remains confident that the Government is
seeking a solution that respects both human rights and animal
The alliance will, however, continue to warn Government of the consequences of any ban on hunting, which would not help a single family and would harm many.
Labour MPs denied that the hunting issue had been revived to reward backbenchers for supporting Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, under fire over the running of his department. Mr Banks dismissed the idea as journalistic tosh and fanciful in the extreme.
Tory MP Nicholas Soames, described the new Bill as a spiteful and reckless attack on the rights of minorities, a total waste of time and an irresponsible delusion of public opinion.
Lord Strathclyde, Tory leader in the Lords, said: We know exactly whats been going on.
The cry goes out from No 10 that something must be found, something new and controversial. And, hey presto, here we go again: its hunting, once more.