Public opinion on fox-hunting `being ignored'

THE Government ignored public opinion when it refused to find parliamentary time for a Bill to ban hunting, the head of Britain's biggest polling organisation has claimed.

Bob Worcester, chairman of MORI, said only half a per cent of the population had attended the Countryside March in London - protesting against moves to ban fox-hunting - a figure which in polling terms would be considered "statistically insignificant".

"Can the Government ignore that? No, it seems they cannot," he wrote in the latest edition of British Public Opinion, a MORI publication. "And what about public opinion as represented by their elected representatives in Parliament, their MPs? They are the lot who stayed in Westminster on a Friday rather than return to their constituencies to give the second reading of Mike Foster's Bill the biggest majority ever recorded for a Private Member's Bill. Can the Government ignore that? Yes, it seems they can."

Mr Worcester said systematic polls showed that 63 per cent of people living in or near the countryside supported the Bill, brought by the Labour MP for Worcester.

The Countryside March had attracted mainly people from the higher social classes, he said - 82 per cent were ABC1 compared with 48 per cent of the electorate. More than half were from the AB professional and managerial classes which represented just 18 per cent of the adult population.

Eight out of 10 marchers had said they would vote Tory in a general election, while just 7 per cent were Labour supporters. They also displayed strong convictions on a number of issues which have recently exercised the Conservatives, with 87 per cent "strongly opposed" to the beef-on-the-bone ban and 48 per cent "strongly opposed" to right- to-roam legislation.

Janet George, chief press officer for the Countryside Alliance, said she did not accept Mr Worcester's poll of the march. Some observers had claimed MORI's pollsters had interviewed mainly the better-dressed marchers, she said.

Recent polls commissioned by the alliance from Research Studies of Great Britain showed that 55 per cent would instruct their MP to vote for a ban on hunting, but only 47 per cent wanted to see it made a criminal offence. While 67 per cent of 16-24 year-olds wanted a ban, the figure dropped to 39 per cent in the 55-plus age group.

"I would contend that the vast majority of those people would not cross the road to sign a petition for a ban. People may be against hunting in the way they are against all sorts of things, but they don't care that much," she said.