Stop dragging heels on hunting ban, say MPs

Rural affairs
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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is likely to be criticised by animal welfare charities in a "damaging" national advertising campaign after he indicated that a Bill banning hunting with dogs was not on the Government's agenda.

The Prime Minister offered little hope to MPs about the prospect of a hunting ban when he was confronted by his backbenchers on the issue during Prime Minister's Questions.

Dozens of MPs, including senior Labour figures such as Gerald Kaufman and Tony Banks, joined Sir Paul McCartney, and the actor Richard Wilson, at the launch of a campaign by anti-hunters called Countdown to the Ban. They called on the Government to stop dragging its heels.

The group accused Mr Blair of reneging on a manifesto promise of a free vote during this parliament on banning hunting with dogs. Mr Kaufman said: "As a loyal supporter of the Government I am getting very impatient. People like me who wish to go on being loyal to the Government believe our loyalty should be returned.

"We had a commitment at the last general election on hunting and we won with an overwhelming majority, including very good results in rural constituencies."

Challenged in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Blair said no decision had yet been made on the schedule for a free vote. His official spokesman said afterwards: "There has been no decision on the timing of the vote, but we are only in the first six months of this parliament."

Animal welfare charities, including the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports, said they were planning to launch a national advertising campaign to expose the Government's inaction about implementing a hunting ban.

Thousands of RSPCA members have written to ministers in recent weeks protesting at the lack of progress. John Rolls of the RSPCA said the campaign "was about ensuring that the Government honours its promises and commitments to bring in a hunt Bill".

A total of 412 MPs signed a motion yesterday calling for an urgent ban on hunting with dogs.

Ann Widdecombe, a former shadow home secretary, said: "Fox-hunting is not an exercise in pest control, it's an excuse for a good ride."

She added: "There are plenty of other ways in which you can get a good ride."

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