Pressure grows on MPs to ban hunting

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE is mounting on members of parliament to ban hunting in three weeks' time as a new opinion poll finds that 95 per cent of Britons think all British wildlife should be protected from acts of deliberate cruelty.

Both sides in the field sports argument now think it likely that a majority of MPs will vote in favour of a hunting ban for the first time ever on March 3, when a private member's bill, sponsored by Labour MP John McFall, comes before the House.

The bill, if passed, would outlaw fox hunting, hare coursing, stag hunting and the snaring of rabbits.

It has the support of most Labour MPs and about 20 Tories, including Ann Widdecombe, Sir Andrew Bowden, Teddy Taylor and Graham Bright.

A vote in favour of a ban, though not necessarily leading to legislation, would represent an enormous moral victory for the animal rights lobby.

In the NoP poll for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), obtained by the Independent on Sunday, 92 per cent said that it was important that their MP supports the bill, while more than half of those surveyed under the age of 24 said that they would be less likely to vote for an MP who opposes the bill.

"The groundswell of emotion evident in the live transportation of animals issue is not going to go away," said Richard Moore, executive director of IFAW. "This bill gives politicians the chance to prove their commitment to animal welfare.

"They cannot say their hands are tied by Europe when it comes to protecting this country's wild animals from hunters and others happy to inflict suffering."

Next week, The League against Cruel Sports will start a nationwide campaign in support of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, which it drafted. Some MPs have already received hundreds of letters from constituents urging them to back it.

Supporters privately say that the bill has little chance of becoming law because the Government is unlikely to give it enough time to proceed.

The pro-hunting lobby is hoping that MPs will stop the bill at committee stage, by introducing a huge number of amendments. It is unlikely to try and rally MPs to oppose it on March 3.

"If it came to a division on the second reading we think it would be allowed to go though on the nod," said a spokesman for the British Field Sports Association. "It is a contradictory bill which will not get through the committee stage."

A similar bill shortly before the 1992 general election failed by 12 votes. But campaigners predict that with a slimmer government majority and a fresh intake of MPs they will get more support.

The poll shows that only 6 per cent of the British public sees the Conservatives as most concerned about cruelty to animals. Labour is seen as most active on the issue with the Liberal Democrats in second place.

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