Anti-hunting bill gets British OK

Thursday, July 10, 2003

LONDON -- Britain's hotly debated legislation to ban fox hunting cleared the House of Commons on Wednesday while hunt supporters protested noisily in front of the Houses of Parliament.

Demonstrators with hundreds of hunt dogs assembled outside as legislators approved the Hunting Bill by a vote of 317 to 145. The bill now goes to the House of Lords.

Although opponents of fox hunting insist it is a cruel and barbaric practice, supporters say it is a traditional and important way to control the number of foxes, which can be farm pests.

A series of massive marches by rural voters and their backers have made Prime Minister Tony Blair's government aware that it could lose a lot of support if it pushed for an outright ban.

The government put forward a compromise, planning to outlaw cruelty by proposing a ban on hunting with dogs except in areas where it would be licensed as the least cruel option. But last week, anti-hunting legislators voted 363 to 154 to replace the compromise with an all-out ban.

The bill was sent back to a committee to be reworked and was debated and voted on Wednesday.

The lords have the power to amend and delay legislation. If they block the bill, some government ministers have indicated they would use a measure called the Parliament Act, which can force the legislation through the unelected upper house.

Blair's government came to power in 1997, pledging to give lawmakers a free vote on the sport, in which scarlet-jacketed horsemen and women chase foxes across the countryside with packs of hounds.

But in the past six years, attempts to ban or regulate the age-old pursuit have failed, either due to a lack of space on the crammed parliamentary timetable, or because peers in the Lords -- Parliament's unelected upper chamber -- have blocked legislation.

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