MPs vote to ban fox-hunting

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The Independent Online
Animal welfare campaigners were last night predicting an end to fox-hunting within two years after the Commons approved the backbench Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill by an emphatic 253 votes to nil.

It was the first time MPs have voted to ban fox-hunting - the central purpose of the Bill. A similar move three years ago was defeated by 187 votes to 175 but since then the composition of the Commons has shifted away from the hunting lobby.

Thirty Tory MPs voted for the Bill, including four junior ministers, a whip and the Prime Minister's parliamentary aide, John Ward. The measure, introduced by John McFall, the Labour MP for Dumbarton, would also ban deer-hunting and hare- coursing.

Pro-hunting MPs did not go into the division lobby, in the hope of undermining the Bill's legitimacy. The British Field Sports Society maintained it was not a vote against hunting but one in favour of a single clause outlawing the "kicking, beating or torture" of any wild mammal.

The Bill has little chance of becoming law, but anti-hunt campaigners had no doubts about the significance of the vote. The RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports (Lacs) said the end of bloodsports was in sight: one RSPCA official predicted a ban "within a couple of years".

The Lacs, the UK's main anti-hunting body, said it had been one of the most glorious days in its history. "The vast majority of the general public clearly want to see hunting banned and today is one great step nearer that goal."

Mr McFall said: "It is clear the country is crying out for wild animals to be treated with respect and compassion." He urged John Major to heed the voice of Parliament and of public opinion and stop "pandering to a minority".

During the debate, pro-field sports MPs argued that the Bill was the "thin end of the wedge" and would lead to demands for outlawing shooting and angling. There were also protests about "legislation by postcards". MPs have received hundreds of computer-printed cards.

The Government maintained its traditional neutrality on field sports, but there was encouragement for the anti-hunt campaigners from Labour. Party spokesman Elliot Morley said Tony Blair had promised a Labour government would allow a free vote on hunting with dogs and introduce legislation if a majority wanted its abolition.

"In the not too distant future, people will look back with amazement that this House has allowed people to inflict deliberate cruelty and stress of wild animals in the name of entertainment in the latter part of the 20th century," Mr Morley said.

Scent of victory, page 2