Bill to outlaw fox hunting will not cover upland areas

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Hunting is expected to be banned in most areas of Britain after the publication of a Bill that will "outlaw cruelty by hunting with dogs".

Hunting is expected to be banned in most areas of Britain after the publication of a Bill that will "outlaw cruelty by hunting with dogs".

Ministers will issue plans to ban all forms of hare coursing and deer hunting on the basis of cruelty. But limited fox hunting will be allowed on the ground of "utility". Hunts will only be allowed to pursue foxes with dogs if they can prove it is necessary to control local fox numbers and is the least cruel option available.

The Government plans to "regulate" limited hunting locally through a register and independent tribunals to which hunts will have to apply.

The measures will mean that hunting in most of England and Wales, including prosperous hunts in the Home Counties, will be forced to close. But hunts in upland areas of Britain, such as hilly parts of Wales, may be allowed to continue to ride to hounds if they can prove foxes need to be controlled and this will not be possible using shotguns or other methods.

The Bill is unlikely to satisfy completely animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA or field sports enthusiasts such as the Countryside Alliance. Many Labour MPs are likely to claim the Bill, which falls short of an outright ban, is a "fudge" and will try to amend it so that all hunting throughout the country is banned.

The League Against Cruel Sports, which has being lobbying for decades for a ban, believes that ministers should outlaw hunting because it is an unprincipled act. "It's a very simple moral issue," said Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports.

"There is a danger that they could be licensing cruelty rather than making a clear moral decision that hunting is cruel."

Ministers are likely to allow rabbiting and ratting with dogs to continue, although rabbiting might have to be licensed. Mink hunting with dogs is also expected to be allowed, but it will have to be licensed locally with hunts forced to prove there are no other more humane options available.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which drew up the proposals after a series of public hearings and a long public consultation, has decided that hunting deer and hares with dogs can never be justified. Deer hunting and hare coursing are likely to become criminal offences carrying heavy penalties.

Alun Michael, the Environment minister who will push through the Bill, is hoping to find a formula that will be acceptable to MPs and peers, but he is bracing for a rocky ride through Parliament.

Previous government attempts to push through a ban failed because of lack of parliamentary time and blocking tactics by a coalition of pro-hunting peers in the Lords. Labour peers have grown increasingly frustrated with lack of government progress on a ban, despite a public pledge from Tony Blair to outlaw fox hunting. Downing Street is said to be keen to avoid the accusation that it is banning all forms of hunting and wants the Government to be seen to have listened to the vocal countryside lobby.

The Middle Way group, which has called for the regulation of hunting, is expected to welcome many of the proposals to license hunts. It has criticised "flaws" in a hunting ban in Scotland, which is says have led to foxes being "blasted" by huntsmen on horseback with shotguns.

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