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Flawed hunt Bill hands power to opponents.

Byline: Andrew Forgrave

D-DAY fast approaches on the fox hunting issue and the Government appears intent on prolonging the arguments.

An announcement is widely expected in tomorrow's Queen's Speech and planned leaks suggest a fudge-and-mudge compromise.

The final decision on whether to ban or preserve individual hunts will be left to new tribunals. These will be chaired by senior legal figures and will include members from animal welfare and countryside groups like the RSPCA and the National Trust.

In each case, the tribunal will have to rule whether there is a need to control foxes in a particular area, and whether the use of hounds is the most humane method of killing foxes.

As for other forms of hunting, it is likely that hare coursing and stag hunting will be banned outright. Ratting and the use of dogs to hunt rabbits will be allowed, however.

On the surface, the proposals would seem to indicate a back-door ban which prevents Ministers getting their hands dirty.

But decision-making will be far from straight-forward. Lord knows committees can rarely decide on anything, and I worry they will be chaired by highly-paid quango types with little local knowledge. Nice work if you can get it.

Their verdicts are bound to throw up all sorts of anomalies. For example, the utility aspect of the proposals should ensure hunting continues in the hills of Wales - but I wouldn't bet on it.

How do we define utility? Clearly the best people to judge are livestock owners, and most farmers understandably favour hunting. But will their views be ignored in favour of some spectacle-wearing bunny-hugger from Birmingham who gets his knowledge of the countryside from the National Trust magazine?

Lowland hunts in areas like Cheshire would appear to be in greatest danger of local bans.

Which is why the League Against Cruel Sports recently targeted the North East Cheshire Drag Hunt at Henbury Hall, Macclesfield.

It believes it can make real inroads into traditional hunting by encouraging a switch to drag hunting.

In the build-up to the big announcement, both the Countryside Alliance and the Vets for Hunting group have countered with their own arguments. They are hardly likely to sway the Government at this stage, but in any case it looks as if both sides will need to continue fighting well into the future.

Their targets now will be tribunal members charged with deciding the fate of local hunts.

Although the Bill appears to offer a loophole for some hunts, it seems unbelievable that the final decision is being passed to tribunals that include dedicated opponents of hunting.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Farm and Country
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 12, 2002
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