‘no way’ says the Deputy PM
PRO-HUNTING members of the House of Lords plan to offer a last-ditch compromise to their opponents in an attempt to rescind the total ban on the sport that was passed last month by the MPs in the Commonswrites By Nick Mays
The peers are to reintroduce a proposal to amend the Government’s Hunting Bill that would allow hunting to continue under a strict licensing regime. The scheme was originally backed by ministers but dropped in the face of strong opposition from anti-hunt MPs.
The amendment proposal is supported in the Lords by Baroness Mallalieu, Labour peer and president of the Countryside Alliance; by Lord Mancroft, a Conservative; and by Lord Donoghue, a former Labour minister.
The scheme will take the form of dozens of amendments to the bill to ban foxhunting, which was passed last month by the Commons. The Lords will debate the hunting question on Tuesday, October 12. Hunt supporters believe that the exercise will be successful but it will take at least three days and require a good deal of parliamentary manoeuvring to achieve.
The aim is to end up with an almost exact replica of the licensing scheme originally proposed last year by Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs minister.
The Countryside Alliance, who have been vigorously organising opposition to the Bill and talking to pro-hunting MPs and peers has been heartened by comments from Tony Blair which it has taken as a sign that the Prime Minister still favours licensing hunting rather than a total ban.
After the Commons vote Mr Blair said: "We sought a compromise. Unfortunately it was rejected in the Commons and the Lords. We’ll have to find a way through."
Pro-hunters have also been buoyed by Downing Street’s refusal to give a categorical assurance that the Government will employ the Parliament Act to force through the ban on hunting if the Lords throw out the bill, as it has previously done.
However, the anti-hunt lobby believes that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s unambivalent words during his closing address last week at the Labour party conference give a clearer indication of senior ministers’ intentions.
During a barnstorming end-of-conference speech, the pugilistic Deputy PM tore into hunting supporters for what he described as their "savage" pastime and apparent desire constantly to kill animals.
Mr Prescott snarled that he had nothing but disdain for the pro-hunt protesters who took to the streets with dead horses during the week. "Who could miss the braying people defending hunting with hounds?" he asked delegates. "The savage tearing apart of foxes by packs of dogs just for enjoyment?
"How can people who claim to care for the countryside drag dead horses through the streets of the city and call it a legitimate protest? Why do they always kill animals?"
His message to the hunters was stark: "You live in a parliamentary democracy. You lost the argument. Now respect what is soon to be the law of the land."
Mr Prescott's statement that it would soon be on the statute books appeared to have dashed any lingering hopes of a compromise, despite however the Bill is amended. But even if the Government use the Parliament Act to steamroller the Bill on the Statute Books, they still face a number of legal challenges over the use of the Parliament Act and the legality of the Bill itself under the Human Rights Act and also to the European Courts.