Blair right to settle hunting future

THE ban on hunting with hounds should come as no surprise to countryside campaigners who believe that the end of civilisation as we know it will follow the outlawing of the most emotive pastime enjoyed in this country.

THE ban on hunting with hounds should come as no surprise to countryside campaigners who believe that the end of civilisation as we know it will follow the outlawing of the most emotive pastime enjoyed in this country.

The settled will of Parliament – and in this case the elected Commons over the un-elected peers – is to see an end to the country "sports" of fox and stag hunting and hare coursing.

Labour was elected with a landslide in 1997, re-elected by a second massive majority in 2001, and seems certain to be returned at the next election with a sizeable mandate.

It may be unpalatable for supporters of hunting, but in a parliamentary democracy, when the overwhelming majority of MPs decide something, it becomes law.


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The future of hunting has always been a matter for the individual conciseness of MPs and the vast majority of Labour members, around a dozen Tories, and half the Liberal Democrats want to see it ended.

For the past seven-and-a-half years, Tony Blair has ducked and dived over the issue, but for a combination of reasons – appeasing the Labour left, a sop to MPs for the Iraq war, public revulsion, and a hint of class prejudice – he has taken the pragmatic view that hunting and coursing should be outlawed.

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They now join bear baiting, dog fighting and otter hunting as activities which a civilised society will no longer tolerate.

MPs will debate the future of hunting on Wednesday, with a vote the same day. It then goes to the Lords which can either accept what elected MPs want or throw it out.

If the Lords refuse to approve the Bill, the Speaker will then use the Parliament Act to overrule the upper house and hunting will be illegal two years after receiving the Royal Assent. The delay is being written into the legislation in the hope that the countryside does not rise up in mass demonstrations during an election campaign.

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael has that re-introducing the Hunting Bill was not a priority for the Government. But it intends to fulfil its manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to settle the issue before the next election.

However, hare coursing – a "sport" which sees hares let loose in a field before a pack of greyhounds is set after them to rip them apart – will end next spring.

"Violence and intimidation associated with illegal coursing events is a real and pressing problem in many areas of the countryside today," said Mr Michael. "We have received many representations asking us to take firm and speedy action to enable the police to tackle these associated evils."

Suffolk South Conservative MP Tim Yeo, the shadow environment secretary, said if the Labour railroaded through a bill to ban hunting using the Parliament Act, a future Tory government would introduce a Bill to reverse it.

"All Conservatives, front and back bench, will be allowed a free vote in both Houses. The vast majority of Conservatives believe a ban is an infringement of civil liberties and damaging to the countryside."

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