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Confusion reigns over hunting bill

GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS to ban foxhunting in England and Wales were in confusion earlier this week after it emerged that there would not be a specific commitment to bring forward an anti-hunting Bill in Wednesday's Queen's Speech to Parliament.

Peter Hain, Leader of the Commons, promised "discussions" on ways of achieving a ban in the face of renewed opposition from the House of Lords, although his comments on GMTV’s Sunday Programme were open to wide interpretation.

A Bill to introduce a licensing system for hunting, which had been amended to introduce a complete ban on all hunting with dogs, was blocked in the Lords last month.

It had been widely expected that the Government would re-introduce the amended Bill and use the Parliament Act to overcome the Lords opposition, after angry backbenchers demanded concerted action.

Mr Blair was expected to indicate that the Government will support a private member's Bill by an anti-hunting MP. However a PMB would make it far less certain that a ban would reach the statute book. Previous attempts to outlaw hunting through private members' Bills have all failed.

The Government is concerned that a hunting Bill could run into stiff opposition in the Lords, delaying legislation on asylum, student finance and anti-terrorism.

According to Mr Hain, PM Tony Blair is said to have an "iron determination" to resolve the hunting issue and to move on quickly to removing the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the Lords.


He has told ministers that the Lords must not just be allowed to veto measures for political reasons, and believes that Michael Howard’s arrival as Tory leader has encouraged Conservative peers to act in an obstructionist way.

Foxhunting is unlikely to be one of the Bills officially mentioned in the Queen’s Speech on the Wednesday opening of the new session. It will be one of the eight or so measures that are planned but not included in the official list. Ministers were expected to indicate during Wednesday that the Bill would be brought back.

Mr Hain said on GMTV: "It is very important for the future of our democracy and our constitutional stability that the House of Lords recognises that its proper role is as a revising and scrutinising chamber, not a vetoing chamber. The Lords must not be allowed to frustrate important legislation bringing extra security, opportunities, democracy and greater economic stability."

Mr Hain went on to accuse the Lords of abandoning the hunting Bill. They had not tried to amend it. "This cannot be allowed to continue. It needs to be resolved — we need closure on it — and we are seeking to work out how we can achieve that.

"Just abandoning a Bill, a Bill carried by repeated big majorities in the Commons, reflecting general election manifesto commitments, backed by the people in the polling stations … is a situation which is unprecedented and cannot be allowed simply to stand still."

Even if the Government were to steamroller anti-hunting legislation onto the statute books, any such legislation could be delayed by a series of legal challenges in both the British and European courts by pro-hunting supporters.

A campaign of mass civil disobedience has also been promised by hunters, including taking part in a number of illegal hunts, defying the Government directly.