Politics: Anti-hunting lobby goes down fighting

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The Independent Online
THE ANTI-hunting Bill is likely to be killed off today and its death will leave the wealthy, vocal anti-blood-sport groups at a loss over what to do next.

Yesterday, Labour MP Michael Foster was still refusing to give up hope, manoeuvring with a fresh amendment to avoid his Private Member's Bill being filibustered to death by a few senior Conservative MPs. "If we're going to go down, we're going to go down fighting," he said.

The antis have won their greatest ever support from MPs, with 411 votes in favour at last November's second reading. They have demonstrated through several opinion polls that three-quarters of Britons oppose hunting with hounds, and that even most country dwellers are against it. Prime Minister Tony Blair has repeatedly said he opposes the sport.

Yet, despite having spent pounds 1m on advertising alone over the past few months, they are no nearer a hunting ban. All that has been demonstrated is that a Private Member's Bill can never get such legislation enacted unless the Government gives it parliamentary time and support.

The painful reality now facing the three animal rights groups which comprise the Campaign Against Hunting is that the Labour government, with a huge majority, was and still is their best hope. There is no no chance of applying political pressure to the Government by getting the Tories or Liberal Democrats to join their cause. Indeed, one of the three, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, (IFAW) said this week that it would have to consider standing anti-hunting candidates in marginal constituencies at the next general election.

IFAW's sister organisation, the Political Animal Lobby, gave pounds 1m to Labour before the general election, largely in the hope of a ban. Yet Mr Blair and his cabinet have decided that ending it would be too risky - both in terms of getting much higher priority legislation bogged down in parliament and of raising the wrath of the rural establishment.

The pro-hunting lobby, the Countryside Alliance, has given ministers the impression that while its side may be in the minority, passion and determination more than makes up for this. The libertarian argument - that people should be free to pursue their sport even if it offends the majority - has also won ground.

IFAW and its partners, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the League Against Cruel Sports, are not considering organising mass rallies, like the two organised by the pro-hunting movement. They say it would prove little.

Nor do they accept any compromise which would try to make hunting with hounds less cruel to deer, foxes and hares.

The antis' best hope is that the Government, under pressure from MPs and the voters, will relent and give useful backing to a fresh Bill in a year or two. Meanwhile, they warn that the Bill's failure - which they claim as a failure of democracy - may lead to upsurge in hunt sabotage.