Queen's Speech Beginning of The End For Fox Hunt

LONDON, United Kingdom, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - Just a couple of weeks after being splashed across tabloid newspapers, wringing a bird's neck during a hunt, Queen Elizabeth II has announced a government bill, which could lead to a complete ban on all forms of hunting with dogs in the UK.

The Queen made her annual speech at the traditional state opening of Parliament in London, Wednesday, outlining the government's program for the forthcoming session. She confirmed that a bill to deal with the future of hunting with dogs is to be included in the measures.

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Hunting foxes for "sport" has been a way of UK rural life for more than 200 years, but its days could be numbered. (Photo courtesy Countryside Alliance)
The bill will give Members of Parliament (MPs) a vote free of party constraints, on three options: self regulation, statutory regulation, or a complete ban on all forms of hunting with dogs. MPs are expected to vote for the third.

In 1998, a Private Members Bill to end hunting with dogs was introduced by the Labour MP, Mike Foster. It achieved a record winning vote of 411 votes to 151 - a majority of 260. But Private Members Bills, unlike government bills, can be "talked out," a tactic used by opponents to use up time allotted to debate and stall its progress.

Pro-hunting MPs used this tactic successfully. But a government bill is backed by both government time and the potential use of the "guillotine" - a measure that effectively ends debate so as to avoid it being talked out.

This significantly improves the bill's chances of success.

"Parliament has debated hunting many times before but never with a government bill and the guarantee of parliamentary time," said Mike Baker, UK Country Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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Pro hunting lobby the Countryside Alliance claims fox hunting is the most natural way to manage what it says is a pest to rural livestock. (Photo by Miles Taylor, courtesy Countryside Alliance)
"This is a truly historic opportunity for parliament to finally end this cruel and barbaric practice, which has no place in a modern society."

IFAW has campaigned for years for an end to hunting with dogs, particularly fox hunting.

"The image of British fox-hunting, in which dogs are trained to literally hunt their prey down to death, is known throughout the world," said Baker. "The international impact of this bill for animal welfare could be enormous, by turning that image into a positive one.

"Britain has the chance to clean up its act and prove to the international community that it is serious about animal welfare.

IFAW and other animal welfare groups have launched a website to press home their anti-hunting message and mobilize what they believe is overwhelming public support.

Douglas Batchelor, chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, believes the case against hunting with dogs is overwhelming. "Public opinion is firmly against it," said Batchelor.

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The Burns Inquiry rejected the Countryside Alliance's claim that nearly 16,000 jobs would be threatened by a ban. (Photo by P. Latham, courtesy Countryside Alliance)
At Ban Online, the public can get involved with the campaign and learn more about what opponents descibe as "the cruel and unnecessary ‘sport’ of hunting."

Despite claims of strong public support, the pro hunting lobby can count on determined backing for what it claims is a civil liberty and part of the fabric of Britain's rural life. There are 194 registered packs of foxhounds in the UK, followed by more than 50,000 riders and over 110,000 foot or car followers.

Immediately after the Queen's speech, the pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance called the ban option of the bill "illiberal, illogical, legally unworkable and unenforceable."

The Alliance's chief executive, Richard Burge, said, "This Queen's Speech regrettably contains no explicit measures to address the deep crisis assailing rural Britain and gives no hint as to how any of the constructive ideas in its recent rural white paper are to be advanced through the forthcoming raft of new legislation.

"Yet, apparently, it has been necessary to find time for a bill which gives MPs the opportunity to ban hunting. This would simply curtail a rural minority's civil liberty with no benefits for the rural majority or for animal welfare.

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120,000 people marched on London's Hyde Park in March 1998 to demonstrate against the government's rural policies, including a possible ban on fox hunting. (Photo by Miles Taylor, courtesy Countryside Alliance)
"We will not sit back and allow the prejudice and bigotry of some MPs to triumph."

Alliance Chairman John Jackson called the bill unnecessary. "What is needed, and what the Alliance has consistently called for, is a proper, coherent law on animal welfare as a whole, which clearly makes it unlawful intentionally to inflict, by any means, unnecessary suffering on any mammal."

The group announced it will march on London, March 18, 2001 and promises the "largest ever UK civil liberties demonstration.

In March 1998, with a rallying cry of "Listen to us," the Countryside Alliance mobilized 120,000 people to demonstrate in London's Hyde Park.

Farmers have been controlling the fox population for hundreds of years but hunting with hounds for sport became popular about 200 years ago. The Countryside Alliance argues that the fox is a pest to livestock and that foxhunting is the most natural method of management.

It points out that after two centuries of organized hunting, the fox is a well conserved species. But the group's claims that nearly 16,000 people's jobs depend on fox hunting were dismissed by a government inquiry by Lord Burns this year.

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The Burns report concluded that hunting with dogs "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox." (Photo courtesy IFAW)
The Burns report concluded that hunting with dogs "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox" and a maximum of 700 full time jobs would be directly affected by a ban on fox hunting.

Last month, the Queen attracted the condemnation of animal welfare groups after she was pictured on the cover of the tabloid Sunday Mirror, strangling a pheasant. As the Mirror told it, the Queen does not shoot but accompanied a shooting party at her Sandringham Estate.

She took a wounded bird from one of her labradors and put it out of its misery by wringing its neck. The League Against Cruel Sports said that the Queen was promoting cruelty by participating in the pheasant shoot.

For more on the hunting debate, visit http://www.banhunting.com and the Countryside Alliance at http://www.bfss.org/