A GROUP of 160 Labour MPs have made it clear that they will block any Government Bill which allows any form of hunting with dogs the so-called compromise Bill whereby some hunts are allowed to continue under licence.
The MPs, led by former Sports Minister Tony Banks, published an early day Motion to hammer home their "continued determination to secure a total ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs and reach a conclusion on this issue once and for all."
The EDM was also signed by a number of Liberal Democrats and two Tories, Ann Widdecome and David Ames.
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael has indicated that he will publish proposals for legislation on the Bill before Christmas. The proposed Bill is likely to set out three categories relating to hunting with hounds: those which will be banned outright such as Hare Coursing and Stag Hunting, those which are permitted and those which must proved they are justified via local licensing tribunals.
However, although the Government is allowing MPs a Free Vote on the issue, Ministers are resigned to the fact that most MPs will seek amendments to the bill to impose a total blanket ban on any form of hunting with hounds. Such a Bill would no doubt be opposed in the House of Lords, in which case the Government has indicated that it would invoke the Parliament Act to force the amended Bill onto the statute books, despite the tremendous opposition this will provoke from hunting enthusiasts.
John Rolls, Communications Director of the RSPCA was unequivocal in his support of a total ban: "Any compromise that allowed some form of hunting to continue would prolong the controversy and would fail to do the job the public wants," declared Mr Rolls.
Speaking on behalf of the Campaign to Protect Hunted Animals (CPHA), an umbrella group including the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Mr Rolls appeared to speak for Parliament when he added: "The only outcome that is acceptable to the CPHA, MPs and public as a whole is a complete ban on all forms of hunting with dogs. If the Bill does not achieve this, then it will be amended so that it will."
The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance took a less strident view of the issue and indicated that it was waiting to see what measures the published Bill contained. "We expect the Government to keep its word and make proposals which are fair and based on principle and evidence," said CA Chairman John Jackson, adding that any departure from the compromise measures promised by Ministers would be met with resistance by pro-hunters.
The pollsters say:
Two thirds of people who hunt would continue to pursue their sport even if it were banned, according to a poll released in September.
About 47 per cent of those questioned would also consider breaking the law in defence of their right to hunt, the survey found. The results follow interviews for Country Life magazine with 500 people by the independent pollsters the Edge Partnership. The survey was aimed at measuring the depth of feeling over the threat to hunting with hounds. It found that 63 per cent of those questioned, who were all involved in hunting, would break the law by continuing their sport if it were banned.
A poll published in October shows that the British public is split down the middle on foxhunting and there is no longer a "natural" majority in favour of a ban.
While 50 per cent of the people questioned in a Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll believed that hunting should be criminalised, 48 per cent favoured tighter regulations or keeping the status quo.
The shift in public opinion has been dramatic since Tony Blair came to power in 1997. Then, about three out of four people favoured a ban. As recently as last year, the figure was 57 per cent.
The poll highlights concerns that the Government is devoting too much time and effort to the issue. While 26 per cent of people surveyed felt it should be "an important priority", 70 per cent felt it was either "not at all important" or that there were "many other issues that are more important".