Hunting Bill heads for Lords
THE HUNTING Bill was finally passed by MPs last week by 319 votes to 140, despite widespread criticism that the Commons was wasting time debating the issue when the countryside is already facing hardship by grappling with the foot and mouth outbreak.
The anger from the rural community was compounded when only 13 Labour MPs turned up for the emergency debate on the Foot and Mouth crisis, which led many commentators to the conclusion that Labour has no real understanding or even interest in the real issues affecting the countryside.
As the Hunting Bill debate got under way, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs joined forces to condemn the Government for insisting that the debate went ahead. DAVID LIDDINGTON, Tory Home Affairs spokesman accused the Government of getting its priorities wrong, saying it now bordered on the surreal.
Mr Liddington launched a scathing attack on the Government, saying: We are now at a time when British farmers are facing what everybody recognises is by far the worst crisis for half a century. To spend hours debating a ban on hunting displays a warped sense of priorities.
PAUL TYLER, the Lib Dem Chief Whip joined the attack, declaring. Nobody can pretend that this House of Commons is doing its duty by the countryside, by the rural community.
Predictably, Home Office Minister MIKE OBRIEN defended the Governments decision to hold the debate, saying that there was ample time for the Bill and that extensive discussions had already taken place in Committee. He also defended the Governments decision to debate the Bill despite the Foot and Mouth outbreak, as it (the Bill) was an issue which had been hanging over the rural community for a long time, and everyone was keen to see a resolution one way or the other.
The issue of fallen stock was hotly debated, with many MPs demanding to know what the Government suggested farmers do with fallen stock if the Hunts ceased to exist and could no longer provide the service of collecting fallen stock.
EDWARD GARNIER, Shadow Attorney General urged the Government to provide an alternative scheme for the collection of fallen stock, arguing that the average income of farmers was between £7,000 and £8,000 and they would be forced to suffer further financial hardship by making other arrangements.
Mr Garnier also called for a compensation scheme to be set up for those suffering a loss to their livelihoods as the result of a hunting ban. This would include farriers, livery estate workers and those supplying boots, saddles and riding equipment.
This point was taken up by NICHOLAS SOAMES (Cons, Mid Sussex) who declared: You just cannot ban hunting without compensation, adding that the Government should have had a representative from MAFF present during the debate. He also urged the Government not to disregard the social services that hunts performed in collecting fallen stock.
However, GORDON PRENTICE (Labour, Pendle) showed his ignorance of the fallen stock issue by saying. Have we not learned that there is something wrong with feeding diseased animals to other animals?
GEORGE TURNER (Labour, North West Norfolk) said that he could see merit in the principle, if not the detail, of both fallen stock and the compensation scheme, urging the Government to give serious consideration to whether the Tory plan could be adapted and included in the Bill.
LLIN GOLDING (Labour Newcastle-Under-Lyme) warned that the Government should be ready with an extra £40million to compensate anglers whose hobby would be hit by an increase in the mink population that is traditionally held in check by hunts with hounds. Home Secretary Jack Straw had attempted to place an amendment within the Bill to allow the continuation of hunting Mink with Hounds, by the majority of MPs voted against this amendment.
Ms Golding told MPs that Mink took pleasure in eating or just maiming fish.
NORMAN BAKER, (Lib Dem, Lewes), despite being in favour of a ban on hunting asked why those who lose their livelihood through a ban on hunting would not be compensated when people affected by a ban on fur farming were receiving compensation.
Two other amendments put forward by the Home Secretary were passed. Rat catchers who use dogs in the course of their work and people who walk dogs in areas populated by wildlife would not be criminalized if their dogs pursued animals by accident.
They also agreed on an amendment to make it legal to use dogs to stalk and flush out deer, provided the deer are shot, not hunted.
The Bill now moves to the House of Lords where it is due to be debated on March 12th. It is expected that the peers will throw out a total ban and opt for the so-called Middle Way option, whereby hunts will be licensed. The Government would then have to decide whether to use the Parliament Act to overturn the Lords amendments and force the Bill onto the statute books.
It is now widely believed that the Bill will run out of Parliamentary time before a General Election is called.
there is also growing concern that the Government may delay the election for
several weeks, which may allow the Bill to be passed before Parliament rises.