22 March 2002

Is the middle way OK?

By FW reporters

THE Countryside Alliance has said it will favourably consider any proposed solution to the hunting debate which aims to reconcile the priorities of animal welfare and civil liberties but has warned that does not mean it will accept the "middle way" as it stands.

Junior DEFRA minister Alun Michael was expected to make a statement yesterday (Mar 20) outlining how the government intends to proceed with legislation after votes in the Houses of Commons and Lords.

Some kind of compromise deal was believed to be the most likely course of action as FW went to press on Wednesday, although the Countryside Alliance warned any details of this were speculation.

A spokesman said the alliance was favourable to a solution, but it would not accept some conditions suggested by the "middle way" group such as outlawing hare coursing or stag hunting. "There is no way we would accept that all together," he said.

On Monday (Mar 18), the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning the rural pastime. MPs voted by 386 to 175 in favour of an outright ban on fox hunting.

A "middle way", which would allow hunting under licence, was defeated by 202 votes, compared to 200 votes the last time MPs voted on the issue in Jan 2001.

Prime minister, Tony Blair, DEFRA secretary of state, Margaret Beckett, and junior DEFRA minister, Michael Meacher, were among members voting in favour of the ban. Shadow DEFRA secretary of state, Peter Ainsworth, voted against.

On Tuesday evening (Mar 19) the House of Lords voted by 366 votes to 59 in favour of a compromise deal which will allow hunting to take place under licence. In the previous vote 14 months ago, peers voted to retain the status quo.

In a statement Richard Burge, CA chief executive, hailed the vote in the Lords as a victory for civil liberty and animal welfare.

"This vote gives a clear, responsible lead to MPs and provides a firm basis for the government to search for a just solution."

But anti-hunt campaigners expressed their disappointment at the way the Lords had voted.

John Rolls, RSPCA director of communications, said peers had not voted in favour of compromise but had voted favour of hunting with added bureaucracy.

"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 favour of licensing cruelty," he said. &#42