Parliament: Hunting ban will infringe civil liberties, say Tories

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THE GOVERNMENT was accused by Conservatives yesterday of "infringing civil liberties" with its promise to ban fox- hunting in the near future.

Douglas Hogg, the former Tory cabinet minister, led the attack when he claimed that Tony Blair's Government would "long be remembered as the Government that has released killers but has threatened with imprisonment those who have long supported the traditional country sport".

His fierce criticism was echoed by David Lidington, a Tory home affairs spokesman, who claimed Home Office ministers regarded the hunt ban as "the very last thing that they wanted dumped on their desks at this moment". He suggested Downing Street had raised the issue as a ploy to divert attention from what he claimed was a feud between Mr Blair and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

"You have been landed with this by the desperation of spin- doctors at Number 10, who are in a panic over how to distract media attention away from the public slanging match between the Prime Minister and his Deputy."

But George Howarth, a Home Office Minister, insisted the Government was "actively considering how to take this issue forward" with three options being discussed; presenting a special government Bill, supporting a private member's Bill or adding an amendment to one already going through Parliament.

Labour MPs will be given a free vote, as they were when the issue was last debated, Mr Howarth added. "At this stage, I have no particular position that we've adopted but in due course we will make our position quite clear."

But Michael Colvin, the Tory MP for Romsey, said ministers were being inconsistent by threatening to imprison "people who hunt vermin with hounds" while releasing "terrorists from prison".

Mr Howarth replied: "The Opposition supported the principles behind the Good Friday Agreement and for you to try to condense those two issues into one is frankly quite wrong."