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Landowners urged not to ‘punish’ government for hunt ban

PRO-HUNTING LANDOWNERS were urged by the Government not to "punish society" by withdrawing permission for essential utilities such as electricity pylons to be built on their land, or to obstruct the military in the course of their training.

As supporters of hunting began a legal challenge against the use of the Parliament Act to force through a ban on hunting with dogs, militant campaigners claimed 50,000 people were ready to disobey the ban with a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience.

However, the Government appeared more worried by warnings that landowners would also protest by "being obstructive" - withdrawing their traditional co-operation from government agencies, local authorities and utility service providers.

Landowners close to military training areas such as Salisbury Plain have already threatened to withdraw permission for troops to cross their land on exercises.

According to the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, other areas where goodwill could be withdrawn include access for flood defence and drainage plans, road improvement schemes, railway maintenance, gas and water pipelines and electricity service provision, plus public access and right of way schemes.

Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister who was responsible for the legislation to ban hunting, said such action would be "irresponsible and illegal".

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One last week: "These suggestions that they will extend the debate by somehow seeking to punish society for a decision that has been taken by the elected representatives of the constituents of this country by a large majority is to get things out of proportion."

Prime Minister Tony Blair conceded that the ban on hunting would be an issue at a general election expected next May after the Government's attempts to delay its implementation for another 18 months were rejected by the House of Lords in their now famous ‘kamikaze option’.

He acknowledged that the legitimacy of the ban was now likely to be resolved in the courts. But it was always going to be an issue at the election "because there are very strong feelings about it".

Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, claimed that Government attempts to act "reasonably" over the ban had been wrecked by the House of Lords.