8 March 2002

Ban will result in hunt supporters staging a mass march in capital

By Isabel Davies

A MASS countryside march will be back on the agenda if the government brings forward legislation to ban hunting following a vote on the issue later this month, the Countryside Alliance has warned.

The government announced at the end of last week that a House of Commons debate on the issue will take place on Mar 18. Afterwards MPs and then peers will vote on each of the three options – leaving the status quo, introducing a ban or allowing hunting to continue with licensing.

A spokesman for the alliance said while there may be some demonstrations on Mar 18/19 in the regions, there were no plans for a mass march in London because it was not a vote on a Bill. But if the government did bring forward hostile legalisation afterwards a march was a "racing certainty."

"We will not hesitate to relaunch a massive demonstration if political circumstances require. But timing is everything."

The Countryside Alliance could organise another mass protest in a matter of weeks, claimed the spokesman. "All the preparations made for the last march were pretty much mothballed and they have also been regularly reviewed."

But while the alliance is biding its time some other groups, such as the Countryside Action Network (CAN), say they intend to be out in force in London on Mar 18, which is also the anniversary of the march cancelled last year as a result of foot-and-mouth.

"Our membership is willing to go to great personal lengths to ensure their voices are heard by government. But it will be non-violent," said a spokesman.

"There are over 300 hunts in England and Wales which carry 30 times the power of Scotlands hunt industry, its early days yet, but I expect between 500-1000 campaigners on this day." &#42