UK MPs Vote to Ban Hunting With Dogs

LONDON, United Kingdom, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - UK members of parliament have voted overwhelmingly to ban hunting with dogs. In the five hour debate prior to last night's free vote, one opposition MP said shooting and fishing could be next.

MPs in the UK's lower house, the House of Commons, had three options: allowing hunting with dogs under voluntary regulations, allowing it under licence from a new hunting authority, or a ban.

fox cub

Hunting has long been used to manage fox populations. (Photo by Colin Seddon, courtesy RSPCA)
To cheers from governing Labour MPs, members voted for a ban by 387 to 174. The 213 majority contrasts with the 260 majority in favor of a ban the last time the MPs voted on the issue in 1998.

On that occasion, the private members bill to ban hunting was "talked out" - a tactic used by opponents to use up time allotted to debate and stall its progress. The current Hunting Bill was introduced by the government and cannot be stalled by such tactics.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was in favor of a ban prior to last night's debate but was not in the House of Commons to vote. A spokesman said Blair had flown to Belfast for talks on Northern Ireland.

The Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals (CPHA) said the majority vote reflected "the huge public opposition to hunting."

"A ban is the only option in this bill which will end the unnecessary suffering that hunting inflicts on Britainís wild mammals," said Douglas Batchelor, chairman of the CPHA, a coalition of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, International Fund for Animal Welfare and the League Against Cruel Sports.

"It is the second time since this Labour government was elected that a bill to ban hunting has received massive support and this cannot be ignored," said Batchelor.

"Independent polls have consistently shown that the majority of people in this country want hunting to be banned. With such strength of feeling against hunting, it is crucial that this bill makes it onto the statute books."

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said it was saddened but not surprised by the vote. "The reputation of parliament for reasoned debate and fairness has been put on trial and found sorely wanting," said Countryside Alliance chief executive Richard Burge.

"However, we are still confident that the upper house will do its constitutional duty, and protect the people from the exercise of parliamentary prejudice," said Burge, referring to the House of Lords.

The unelected House of Lords, can still contemplate the three options and reach an independent judgment.

Given its anti-Labour majority, the Lords are expected to overturn a ban and back the compromise option of licensing.

"We trust the Lords will uncompromisingly reject any attempt to ban hunting and hope that this will force MPs into reflecting on the intolerant and unpleasant nature of their obsession with a ban," said Burge.

The Lords could hold up the Bill for up to a year. Blair is expected to call a general election in the spring.

hunt

Scenes like this could soon be a thing of the past in the UK. (Photo by P. Latham, courtesy Countryside Alliance)
If Labour wins the election, political observers expect the new government to invoke the Parliament Acts, which would allow the House of Commons to reintroduce the Bill and pass it without the Lords consent.

That would criminalize the centuries old tradition of fox hunting with a new law backed by fines of up to £5,000 (US$7,368).

Conservative MP John Maples predicted anti-hunt campaigners would ultimately turn their attentions to shooting and fishing.

"We cannot simply ban things because we don't like them," Maples told the Commons. "Hunting is not just a hobby or a pastime. It is a right, a freedom and a passion. It is the most efficient way of controlling the fox population and the alternatives are very probably worse."

Labour MP Tony Banks pointed out, "you don't hunt fish with dogs and if you are a decent angler you put the fish back."