The Sketch: A law-making process so twisted and devious that no one can be satisfied

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The Independent Online

Jorrocks declared hunting had "all the excitement of war and only five and twenty per cent of the danger." He meant that as a good thing. It has a certain admirable dash to it, quite at odds with the Government's timorous, rather cowering approach to the practice.

Earlier this week, Tony Blair voted for a ban on hunting with dogs. What did he mean by that? Any ideas? Anyone? All that Blair-watchers can deduce for certain from his vote is that he doesn't want to ban hunting with dogs. Don't ask why, it's just the kind of guy he is.

Perhaps Ann Winterton was right: he doesn't want country people to see him ban hunting because a million of them would embarrass him in Parliament Square. But equally, he doesn't want his party to see him not banning hunting because they'd embarrass him by voting Gordon Brown prime minister.

There's also the million quid that an animal rights group bunged the party, on the understanding that fox hunting would be banned. Cash down. Going rate. One piece of major legislation = £1m. It's the Ecclestone Equation.

So, the prime ministerial solution is to stop hunters hunting without being seen to stop them. By requiring hunts to be licensed, he can draft enough small print to refuse licenses on various technical grounds, and thereby not be blamed. It's the middle way. Don't blame me, don't blame the hunters, blame the Regional Licensing Authority's Environmental Committee (sub-committee iii, Pest Control).

It's a form of delivery so twisted, so devious, so cynical that no one can feel any satisfaction in it.

The minister sponsoring the process is no one we're ever likely to hear from again, perhaps that's why he has embraced a further six-month consultation on the subject. Six months! Why? In the name of Pity? Everything that can be said on the subject has been said. That's why an exasperated Tony Banks elucidated "the impossibility of consensus! The two Houses are diametrically opposed! There is no common ground!" The minister would spend six months "chasing shadows".

Kate Hoey quoted Lord Burns. He denied that his report characterised hunting as cruel. It famously "prejudiced the welfare of the fox" but wasn't cruel.

It's true that the one thing to be said in favour of being torn to pieces by dogs is that it doesn't hurt. It's like being eaten by a shark. Your central nervous system closes down in outrage. The outcome may be less than optimal but it isn't painful. This ought to be quite important, if the minister is to be taken seriously. Well, let's, just for a laugh.

He said: "This House is enabled to deal with the issue of cruelty and to do that with reference to Lord Burns." His convolution suggests a decision on Lord Burns' evidence allows unrestrained fox hunting.

However: "We propose to frame legislation based on those two principles [cruelty and utility] rather than on a list of activities to be banned." When this government talks of acting on principle it means they can redefine cruelty and repackage utility until they can do anything they want.