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Lords to back licensed hunts

THE HOUSE of Lords was poised to back a call for licensed hunting with hounds earlier this week as OUR DOGS went to press, on the advice of a powerful coalition of peers
Lord Donoughue, a senior Labour peer, believes there is a "reasonable chance" enough members of the Upper House will support an amendment to the Government’s controversial Hunting Bill, which outlaws the centuries-old country sport and ‘restore’ the Bill to the Government’s original 2003 ‘middle way’ Bill.

The row over fox hunting re-opened with a three-day Committee stage session in the Lords from Tuesday. MPs have voted for a ban and Ministers have threatened to use the Parliament Act to force the Legislation for an outright ban onto the Statute Books, if the Lords try to frustrate the will of the Commons.

Alun Michael, the beleaguered Rural Affairs Minister, said at the weekend that he hoped the issue could be resolved in a less confrontational way, and urged peers to engage with the Hunting Bill by proposing changes to the all-out ban approved by the Commons which could at least be considered by MPs.

The minister acknowledged any amendments proposed by peers would face still opposition in the Commons, which has repeatedly voted by large majorities for a ban.

Lord Donoughue, who has tabled the amendment calling for registered hunting with the Labour peer Baroness Golding, Conservative Lord Mancroft and cross-bencher Lord Carlile of Berriew, said that under it all mammals would be subject to the registration test. "We stand a reasonable chance of getting this through because we had a majority of more than 300 for the Middle Way option [licensed hunting] when that was voted on in 2003."

A spokesman for the pro hunting Countryside Alliance said: "Registration is consistent with the Government’s original Bill. It is consistent with the principle and evidence gathered from the two independent inquiries the Burns Report and the Portcullis House hearings and it represents a workable solution that would improve and not harm animal welfare. By contrast, the banning Bill would increase the suffering of wild mammals and harm rural communities.

"If principle and evidence, and not personal taste and prejudice, are to be the basis of good law, then registration and not a ban, is the only way forward."

Lord Mancroft told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Tuesday: "The Prime Minister has said he wants a compromise. The House of Lords is prepared to work with him to produce a compromise. It is up to him to get his business through the House of Commons."

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Lord Mancroft predicted "massive and ongoing disturbances" during the general election campaign if the Bill went through Parliament in its current form. "Regardless of what happens to this Bill, this issue is not over, and it will not be over until it is dealt with in a reasonable and equitable way," he said.

The anti-hunting Labour MP Tony Banks told Today: "Having not been prepared to tackle licensed hunting the last time it was offered to them, to go back to it now is quite clearly a waste of time and, honestly, it is the last throw of fairly desperate people.

"In the end, the matter really at issue is whether or not the elected House will prevail over the unelected House. Whatever they come up with, if it is less than a total ban, it will be unacceptable to the House of Commons."

We got ourselves a big convoy...

PRO-HUNTERS are planning to disrupt country roads and motorways to prevent a ban on foxhunting.

Documents revealed in the Sunday Times newspaper show that the Countryside Alliance is preparing a series of stunts to highlight its opposition to a ban.

Among the ideas being considered are "road blocks" on roads into Exmoor National Park, the New Forest and the Peak District national parks. Cars and lorries would be offered leaflets and stickers.

Plans are also at an advanced stage for a "Freedom Ride" involving hundreds of slow-moving horseboxes converging on the M25 and driving around it in convoy. The plans indicate that up to 400 horseboxes could be involved, potentially bringing the orbital motorway to a standstill. Planning includes providing helicopters for the media to view the chaos.

Confrontations with ministers will also be stepped up. John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister known for his fondness for Jaguar cars, is likely to face a protest of 20 Jaguars outside his house in Hull. Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, could find her love of caravanning lampooned by the arrival of dozens of caravans at her home.

The preparations will take firm shape early next month at the official start of the hunting season when every hunt will present their "hunting martyr", who will vow to go to jail if the ban goes ahead. They will warn the police when they go hunting — and refuse to pay any fines. To ensure the courts cannot get their money, all the "martyrs" have agreed to put their assets in offshore trusts. The Alliance’s plans are detailed and potentially fool-proof and look set to be arguably the biggest act of mass civil disobedience in the UK since the Peasant’s Revolt.

Tim Bonner, an alliance spokesman, said: "It is still a political battle, but if hunting is banned it will become a whole different ball game. Many of our members will feel desperate, and when people are desperate they do silly things.

"We will want these martyrs to go to jail as soon as possible so we can test this bill in the courts."

The passage of the Hunting Bill is on a tight schedule. It will pass from a 3-day Committee session in the Lords back to the Commons where it is likely to receive its final reading in the Commons on November 17, the day before the end of the Parliamentary session.