Fox hunting ban unlikely before next general election

Rural affairs
Click to follow
Indy Politics

Divisions over the Government's views on rural life will be reignited when its long-awaited Bill to ban fox hunting and hare coursing is tabled before the next election.

Divisions over the Government's views on rural life will be reignited when its long-awaited Bill to ban fox hunting and hare coursing is tabled before the next election.

MPs, who will be given a free vote on the issue, will choose from three legislative options: a total ban, a new system of independent regulation, and allowing the hunting fraternity to regulate itself.

Ministers plan to introduce the Bill in the House of Commons tomorrow so that MPs will have the opportunity to vote in favour of a ban, giving the Bill a degree of moral authority before it reaches the Lords, where it is likely to meet stiff opposition.

The bill follows decades of campaigning by animal welfare groups. But it is unlikely to become law before the next election because the House of Lords will put every obstacle in its way. Tony Blair has declared that he is personally opposed to fox hunting, as has Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary.

Animal welfare charities plan to put pressure on the Government to use the Parliament Act to force a ban through the Lords if it founders there.

Tony Banks, the former Labour sports minister, who will be spearheading the campaign for a hunting ban from the back benches, said he was pleased that the Government had acted, but disappointed that "it has taken so long to be put into the Queen's Speech".

"We will probably not get this through before the election which will mean that it will be an election issue as well," Mr Banks said. "It would have been better if this had been done in the early part of the Parliament, but it is better late than never."

The Bill will introduce fines of up to £5,000 for hunters who flout the ban or hunt without a licence issued by an independent regulator. Huntsmen who refuse to pay will face a prison sentence, although magistrates will not have the option to send them to jail. The Government has decided against jailing offenders to avoid creating martyrs among huntsmen.

But animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, believe the penalties are too weak and will be asking MPs to strengthen the bill with amendments introducing discretionary prison sentences.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA, which is backing a complete ban, said: "This sends out a message that if you hunt a cat with a dog you could go to prison, but if you hunt a fox you won't be sent to jail. This is something that can be ironed out in the committee stage. We are very pleased that this is a government Bill."

MPs backing the middle option of an independent regulator believe this may be the only way of getting curbs on hunting through parliament before the House of Lords is reformed. Jim Barrington, of the Middle Way group, said: "We are presenting a third way that improves animal welfare and is a sustainable option where both sides can claim victory. It's a political solution to a very difficult situation."

Comments