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MPs set to ban hare hunting

MPs VOTED last week to ban the ancient sport of hare hunting with hounds in an amendment to the Government's Hunting Bill.

In a vote which led to allegations that the Government had "lost control", Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, declined to vote in defence of his Bill. Peter Bradley, his parliamentary private secretary, and Nick Ainger, the Labour whip, voted for abolition.

The Bill presented to the Commons before Christmas banned hare coursing and deer hunting but hare hunting was to be permitted, subject to a decision that it passed tests of "utility" and "least suffering".

After yesterday's vote in the Bill's committee stage, hare hunting will be banned if the Lords pass the Bill in its present form. Hare hunting has one of the longest histories of any of the hound sports, going back several hundred years.

It is followed by about 30,000 people and there are about 70 packs of hare hounds - bassets, beagles and harriers - in England and Wales. Some famous public schools, including Eton, Radley, Ampleforth and Marlborough, have their own packs.

MPs voted for an amendment banning hare hunting brought by Michael Foster, sponsor of a previous private member's Bill banning hunting. He dropped his much-ridiculed amendment to ban foxhunting below 500 metres (1600 feet) above sea level.

James Gray, shadow rural affairs spokesman, said: "The whole Bill is now out of control. It has been taken over by backbenchers who are ripping it to pieces.

"As presented by Alun Michael, it had some intellectual coherence. We didn't like it but that has now been completely destroyed."

Simon Hart, of the Countryside Alliance, said it was "outrageous" that Mr Michael, who is known personally to oppose hunting but has promoted a compromise, did not even vote for his own Bill. "Any credibility he once had is blown. This was a disgraceful act of deceit."
Declared Mr Hart.

John Gummer, former Tory environment secretary, said: "In 25 years in Parliament, I have never before seen a minister not vote for his own Bill."