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17 November 2004

A ban on fox hunting in England and Wales now looks inevitable after MPs last night rejected attempts to reach a compromise which would allow a system of licensed hunting. The proposals made by the House of Lords on Monday night were rejected by MPs by 344 votes to 173.

16 November 2004

Tony Blair made a last minute effort to reach a compromise on hunting last night as the Bill finished its final stage in the Lords with several amendments, all of which are likely to be rejected by the Commons.

The Lords have voted to extend the delay on a ban by three years instead of the two-year delay proposed by the Government. If this is rejected, the ban could come into force within three months, making it an issue during the General Election campaign.

They also amended the Bill to allow hare coursing and stag hunting to continue under a licensing system, making it almost identical to the original Government Bill, known as the ‘Alun Michael Bill’, and proposed that any hunting ban should be decided by the Secretary of State and not MPs.

A Downing Street spokesman said that although the Commons vote would be without a whip, Mr Blair would vote for a compromise, favouring strict regulation over an outright ban: “The Prime Minister will be voting for restitution of the ‘Alun Michael Bill’. The Prime Minister believes it is right to indicate the degree of support for a compromise,” he said.

The Bill returns to the Commons today (Tuesday), where MPs are expected to overturn all of the Lords’ amendments. Tomorrow (Wednesday) the Lords are likely to disagree and therefore, unless a compromise has been reached, the Speaker Michael Martin will invoke the Parliament Act to force the Bill into law on Thursday when the current parliamentary session ends.

If the Parliament Act is used, the Commons must pass the original Bill which includes no delay on a ban, making this season’s hunting the last. This is likely to make hunting a significant issue for the General Election, expected next year. The only way the Government can get round this is to introduce a new Bill in the Queen’s Speech later this month implementing a separate delay on the ban.

In the event of a ban, the Countryside Alliance plans to launch legal challenges against both the use of the Parliament Act and against the ban itself, arguing that it would constitute a human rights infringement.

Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart said: “The majority of the public favours the continuation of hunting in some form. The hunting community is prepared to compromise, Tony Blair has stated his support for a compromise and the Lords have produced a compromise.

“When the Lords’ registration amendments go before the Commons later today it is up to the Prime Minister and the rest of the Commons to ensure that a few vociferous Labour backbenchers do not stand in the way of a democratic solution.”

Meanwhile about 30 pro-hunting women protestors chained themselves to railings outside Parliament today, in an effort to communicate the strength of feeling in the countryside on this matter.

“They need to listen without prejudice,” one protestor said. The protest has so far been peaceful and there have been no arrests.