Labour peers to rebel over hunt?

12 November 1999

Labour peers to rebel over hunt?

THE government is facing a challenge from its own Labour peers over plans to ban foxhunting, according to The Times.

The newspaper has conducted a survey of opinion in the House of Lords which suggests that the legislation could be defeated.

A third of Labour peers – some 50-60 – intend to oppose any Bill, according to this straw poll.

The news came on the day that Jack Straw, the home secretary, finally indicated how the government intended to move on the issue.

As expected, he promised government support in the shape of parliamentary time and drafting assistance for a backbench Bill banning hunting.

He also strengthened that commitment by announcing that the government would be prepared to push through the legislation against attempts to frustrate it.

But he made this help conditional on the result of a new inquiry which would examine the impact of the ban in rural areas and report back in May.

The Daily Telegraph says the inquiry is much broader than expected and deals a blow to prospects of outlawing hunting before the next election.

Supporters of a ban admitted that the twin hurdles of an inquiry, to be chaired by Lord Burns, the former Treasury permanent secretary, and the House of Lords could prevent the Bill becoming law before the country goes to the polls.

Anti-hunting supporters now have to decide whether to proceed now without government support or wait until the inquiry reports in which case they run the risk of running out of time in this parliament.

An election is expected in spring 2001.

Mr Straw said the inquiry would not decide whether hunting was right or wrong, but would inform the debate.

It will consider the impact of a ban on the rural economy, agriculture and pest control, social and cultural life.

The Countryside Alliance is preparing to mount a legal challenge to halt Lord Watsons involvement in the Bill to ban foxhunting in Scotland.

The Alliance believes it has a strong case that the Labour peer contravened the Scotland Act by allegedly accepting payment for advocacy.

It is expected to serve an interdict on him next week though the Court of Session in Edinburgh which would bar his further participation in the Bill.

The move could throw the proposed legislation, which is already delayed, into chaos and leave the Bill without a sponsor.

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