PM breaks hunt ban promise to girl aged 11

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR yesterday left an 11-year-old schoolgirl "very, very sad" by his failure to vote for the bill to ban fox-hunting before it was killed in the Commons, in spite of promising to do so in a letter from Downing Street.

Animal rights campaigners supporting the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill used the Prime Minister's promise to Leeds schoolgirl Roseanne Mills to underline their warning that the Government will not be able to ignore their demands for action against foxhunting.

The Bill was "talked out" through lack of time. A minister told The Independent that the Government will now have to provide time in the next session of Parliament for a Bill to ban fox-hunting. "The Cabinet will have to act because there is so much support for a ban among Labour MPs and in the party outside."

The whips have warned ministers that there are enough Labour MPs who support a ban on fox-hunting to defeat the Government. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the Government had 'no mandate' to ban fox-hunting, but the anti-hunting MPs said they would be prepared to tag a foxhunting ban onto the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill.

Roseanne, a member of the RSPCA's junior club from Leeds, had received a written promise by Mr Blair to vote for the Bill. He told her: "I think fox-hunting is the issue that causes the most public concern. I do think hunting is wrong and I will vote in favour of a ban."

The failure of Mr Blair to turn up for a series of votes before the Bill was killed yesterday left Downing Street on the defensive. "He is not able to vote for it today because of his programme," said a spokesman.

Asked what Mr Blair was doing, a Number Ten spokesman said: "He is at Chequers. If you stopped and thought for a moment about the workload of the Prime Minister these questions would not arise. We are a few days from the Budget. It does not take too much to think what he is thinking about."

But in their home in Leeds, Roseanne's mother, Pauline said: "Oh dear - that is disappointing because he said to her he will vote for a ban in the House of Commons. That is a shame. She will be very very sad because she felt he was sympathetic and that he did realise there was a lot of cruelty involved."

Roseanne had gone to her local school leaving her mother with a list of points to make to callers from the media, including her view that drag- hunting was a viable alternative to fox-hunting. The Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, including the RSPCA said: "We are delighted that the Prime Minister has made his position clear in his letter. We now feel that the Government are going to have to respond to this issue.

"Roseanne is disappointed, but it is now time for the Government to respond."

In the Chamber, the Bill died with a yell of defiance from the Labour MPs who had supported it through weeks of guerrilla warfare from the largely Tory opponents. As 2.30 pm arrived to stop debate, there were still 51 amendments and new clauses to debate on the Bill.

Michael Foster, the Labour MP for Worcester, who sponsored the Bill, named next Friday as the next day for debate. But it will go to the back of a lengthy queue, were it can be blocked with the word "object".

Mr Foster described his Bill as "still alive and kicking" and said: "I think hunting with dogs will be banned by the end of this Parliament. We are not going to go away."

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