In the latest round of amendments to the Hunting Bill, currently in its committee stage, MPs have endorsed the government’s proposals to allow hunting to continue only if it can pass tests of utility and cruelty.

The “utility and cruelty tests”, whichwould require hunts to prove that they served a useful purpose and offered a less cruel way of killing foxes, would now require them to demonstrate that their main purpose was pest control.

This has led to speculation that Tony Blair is trying to buy-off anti-hunt Labour MPs by imposing new conditions that would make hunting all but impossible to continue.

Michael Foster, another anti-hunting Labour MP, has introduced an amendment that would ban hunting at altitudes below 500 metres above sea-level, ruling out most of the country except a few peaks in the Cairngorms and Snowdonia.

In addition, Mr Foster has tabled other amendments – to be debated in the weeks ahead – that would ban the hunting of hares outright, and outlaw the use of terriers for digging out foxes.

The Countryside Alliance has condemned the changes as “betraying the trust of the countryside”.

Alliance chairman John Jackson says: “The emphasis on pest control being the onlycriteria for allowing hunting shows that Alun Michael has gone back on his word to base any legislation on principle and evidence – he has totally ignored the broader aspects of utility which he himself pledged to consider.

“It is also discriminatory to require that hunts prove that they offer the control method that causes the least suffering. He has declared war on the countryside and we will fight back fiercely.”

Campaign for Hunting chairman Sam Butler comments: “We are planning a series of events to coincide with the third reading of the Bill in March. The centrepiece of this will be a 48hr vigil by women and children who are likely to be the most affected by the job losses and disruption following any ban on hunting.

“We need to use this and other activities to convince the House of Lords that there is clear discrimination and that Alun Michael has totally reneged on his promises. The Lords have the power to challenge him and we have to convince them to fight our cause.”

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