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Government gives in to RSPCA
over Hunting Bill amendments


THE GOVERNMENT has secretly capitulated to all the demands of the RSPCA in an attempt to save the Hunting Bill from being wrecked by its own backbenchers, according to a leaked letter.

The letter from Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs minister, to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, warns him that the Bill faces collapse because MPs are planning to amend it to a complete ban on all forms of hunting with dogs when it comes to the report stage in the Commons.

Mr Michael says that the RSPCA has agreed to write to MPs explaining that it now supports the Hunting Bill as amended in committee, subject to the Government bringing in two further amendments it has requested at the report stage.

These impose a total ban on what Mr Michael calls the "mischief" of cubbing - autumn hunting - and a registration scheme for gamekeepers using terriers to kill foxes underground, which runs contrary to Government undertakings that it will not harm the sport of shooting.

Mr Michael admits: "The report stage will be crucial and the politics of this remain quite difficult. Some MPs - and the League Against Cruel Sports - hanker after the 'quick fix' which they term a 'complete ban'."

Exceptions

However, the Minister adds, there is no such thing, as previous unsuccessful hunting Bills contained exceptions such as using hounds to flush foxes to guns.

Mr Michael continues: "Some MPs want to say they are voting for a complete ban on hunting, focusing particularly on foxes. If they go for such an amendment at Report, it would be a wrecking amendment."

He says that such an amendment would destroy the system of enforcement set out by the Bill and "be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty".

It is the disclosure that the Government has been in negotiation with the RSPCA, and has made "a number of earlier undertakings" to animal welfare groups, that will antagonise pro-hunting groups who Mr Michael has sought to persuade that the Government is neutral on the subject of hunting.

The RSPCA is already boasting in its magazine this month that the vast majority of fox and mink hunts will be unable to pass the tests enshrined in the Hunting Bill.

Out of 201 fox hunts, 170 lowland packs would disappear, says the RSPCA. As amended in the Commons, the Bill would also ban 27 hare coursing clubs, the three remaining deer packs, 95 hare hunting packs, 26 terrier clubs and 23 mink hunts.

Simon Hart, the director of the Countryside Alliance's campaign for hunting, said: "This letter reveals that Alun Michael is engaged in an act of treachery and that the Government's Hunting Bill is in deep trouble.

"He is publicly trying to claim his Bill is reasonable, while admitting privately that his only chance of rescuing what is left of it is to capitulate totally to every demand of the animal rights movement."