29 March 2002

Mass march plans set

By Isabel Daviesand Adrienne Francis

CONTINGENCY plans are being put in place to allow a mass countryside march to be called at short notice, the Countryside Alliance has warned.

The organisation has recalled the team which was sorting out arrangements for the Liberty and Livelihood march which was cancelled last year due to foot-and-mouth.

Although no date has been set the organisation insists it will organise a demonstration if it feels the government isnt listening during its consultation process on the future of hunting.

The six-month consultation was announced by junior DEFRA minister Alun Michael last Thursday (Mar 21) as he outlined government plans to tackle the hunting issue.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Michael said the consultation would give the government time to draft new legislation.

"I have rarely seen an issue where greater divisions exist," he said. "It is precisely for that reason it is right to see how it can be resolved with as much agreement as possible."

An alliance spokesman said the organisation was making arrangements so it could stage a march if it wanted to. "We want the consultation process to be carried out in public.

"But if there is any sign that we are not being listened to then the march will be back on at short notice.

"The march team has been brought back in to review plans and make sure we are ready to press the button at any given time."

In his statement Mr Michael said he proposed to frame legislation that prohibits activity based on "cruelty and utility" in line with recommendations in the Burns report on hunting.

His announcement came after MPs overwhelmingly voted for an outright ban on hunting but peers voted in favour of a compromise.

"We want to respect all views, but that has to start with respect for the strength with which the Commons made its views clear," Mr Michael said. &#42

Countryside supporters will be on the march at a moments notice.