MPs plan local hunt polls

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The Independent Online
A SERIES of local referendums could be used to outlaw fox hunting under Government-backed plans to persuade Tory peers to vote for the change.

A secret consultation paper, drawn up by Labour MPs with Home Office backing, proposes a nationwide ban on hunting with dogs that would allow an "opt out" for different regions of the UK. The plans, which would allow the Government to carry out its manifesto commitment to allow a free vote on a ban, emerged in detail last night when the paper was circulated to MPs.

Labour's backbench committee on Home Affairs has produced the paper in an attempt to find a compromise that would win the support of Tory hereditary peers.

A private members bill by Labour MP Michael Foster won massive support in the Commons but the Government refused to allow it Parliamentary time because they feared that Conservatives would use their in-built majority in the Lords to block it.

Opinion polls have shown that 79 per cent of urban residents favour a ban but pro-hunt supporters claim that public opinion in rural areas is firmly against prohibition.

The paper, written by Labour MP Ian Cawsey, chairman of the backbench committee, states: "It is to address this claim that we have brought forward this consultation and proposed that local referendums may present a way of breaking the logjam."

The document, which has been leaked to The Independent, asks MPs whether they prefer a Home Office plan for a nationwide ban with local opt outs or a Downing Street plan that allows only local "opt in" votes to carry out the ban.

It suggests that local ballots could cover areas as small as a country or a district and could be triggered by either local councillors or a petition of the public. The paper, titled Hunting with Dogs - A Way Forward? also proposes that police force areas covering more than one county could form the area for a referendum, as any ban would have to be enforced locally.