Britain Hunts for Solution to Fox Hunting Ban

LONDON, United Kingdom, March 21, 2002 (ENS) - The British Parliament is once again bitterly divided over fox hunting with dogs. In non-binding opinion votes this week, the British House of Commons chose Monday for a third time to ban the hunt, but the House of Lords Wednesday night voted to let the hunt continue.

The lawmakers considered three options: an outright ban, a licensed hunt or no change at all.

In the lower house, the ban won easily in a series of votes free from party discipline with 386 voting for a ban and 175 voting against.

In the upper house, peers voted by 366 to 59 in favor of licensed hunting.


Minister of State for Rural Affairs, Alun Michael of Wales (Photo courtesy UK Government)
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael said in the House today the government will try to find common ground before the next attempt to legislate the fox hunting issue. "The votes this week leave the two houses diametrically opposed. Indeed I have rarely seen an issue where greater divisions exist. It is precisely for that reason it is right to see how it can be resolved with as much agreement as possible."

Michael said the government will drop its previous bill to ban the hunt and now begin a new consultation process with "a wide variety" of interested parties. When consultation is complete he will introduce a bill "that will deal with this issue effectively once and for all and make good law."

The minister promised that the entire process will last no more than six months, and he reassured rural residents that hunting and fishing would be left alone. "We have no intention whatsoever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting," he said.

The government recognizes that there are "legitimate concerns in the countryside about pest control, about land management and about other practicalities and we want to address these issues in the bill," Michael said.

Anti-hunt campaigners branded the House of Lords vote "a ploy to save foxhunting." John Rolls, director of communications for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said, "There are only two choices in this debate, to end this cruelty in the name of sport or to allow it to continue. By voting for the middle way, the House of Lords has come down in favor of licensing cruelty."


Hunting with hounds (Photo courtesy Lucky Day)
The Countryside Alliance, a pro-hunting group that does not believe fox hunting to be cruel, said today, "We welcome the fact that the previous bill has now been dropped completely, and that consultations are to take place on the form of new legislation. But if MPs try to hijack any resulting fair minded legislation so as to transform it into a prejudiced attack on a cultural minority, then they will face the most determined and implacable resistance from the countryside."

Director of the Alliance's Campaign for Hunting, Simon Hart, said, "All parties must be seen to seek a just solution which safeguards both civil liberties and animal welfare - both of which would be compromised by a ban."

Animal welfare groups celebrated February 13 as the Scottish Parliament voted to ban fox hunting with dogs by approving the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill.

But the Countryside Alliance is taking legal action against the Scottish law on the basis that it contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights.

Allan Murray of the Scottish Countryside Alliance said, "Our faith in the strength of our arguments is such we are prepared to pursue this legal action all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary."


The subject of controversy (Photo credit unknown)
A MORI public opinion poll, released Monday immediately after the Commons vote for a ban on hunting with dogs, shows that 62 percent of respondents would support the government bringing in a ban this year, irrespective of the vote in the House of Lords. MORI interviewers questioned a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults aged 16+ by telephone between March 15 and 17.

A MORI poll carried out in 2001 showed that 65 percent of respondents supported a ban on fox hunting.

Designer Stella McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, is campaigning with the coalition to ban fox hunting with dogs. She called at No. 10 Downing St. on Wednesday representing Campaigning to Protect Hunted Animals, to deliver a letter urging Prime Minister Tony Blair to ban the hunt. The coalition includes the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the League Against Cruel Sports,

The coalition today criticized the government's decision to hold further consultation and then introduce a new bill in the next parliamentary session.

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, UK director of IFAW, said, “This issue has been endlessly debated. A further six months of debate will do nothing to find common ground that just does not exist. Hunting with dogs is cruel and a modern, civilized society should not allow cruelty to animals.”