September Looks Uncertain For Britain's Foxhunters

Aug 13, 2004 - 10:00 PM

The pressure on Peter Hain, leader of Great Britain’s House of Commons, to capitulate to the demands of his vociferous Labour Party members and reintroduce an anti-hunting bill has been intensifying steadily all summer. On July 8, Labour M.P. Gerald Kaufman reminded Hain that 269 members of Parliament had signed a motion calling for the reintroduction of the bill, then appeared to throw down the gauntlet by revealing he had assured those whom had written in support of a ban that the Leader of the House “can be trusted to bring in the bill before the end of the session.”

In Parliament on July 16, Hain responded to a question about the anti-hunting bill’s timetable, “I have very little to add except to repeat as the Prime Minister has made clear, that we do intend to resolve this issue in this Parliament. Honorable members will know the strong commitment I have already given repeatedly on this matter in this chamber, and those commitments will be honored.”

On July 22, just before Parliament was scheduled to take its summer recess, Hain outlined Commons business up to and including Friday, Sept. 10, without reference to any legislation on hunting. The hunting community breathed a collective sigh of relief, but Hain had left one week in the Parliamentary timetable free of any allocated business. Many analysts believe the anti-hunting bill will resurface during this short period between Parliament reconvening in September and going into recess for the autumn conference season. This was certainly the suggestion put forward by notorious anti-hunting Labour member and class warrior Dennis Skinner M.P., who earlier in the month told the Commons that a reintroduced anti-hunting bill would make the September session “very exciting” and give the Commons an opportunity to “put the [House of] Lords in their place.” Although debate on the bill during the latter half of September remains a possibility, there’s nothing unusual in the government leaving a s

pare week during this month. But Hain has publicly stated several times this summer that the Commons would resolve the hunting issue once and for all. Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, greeted Hain’s lack of reference to the anti-hunting bill optimistically.

“Despite all the speculation of the last few months, there has, essentially, been no change to the position over hunting since last November. The government could still bring back the bill and allow the Parliament Act to take effect. It would be unprecedented, illogical and ridiculous, but not impossible,” said Hart. “Alternatively, it could avoid all the legal and political problems that decision would inevitably entail by delivering on its promise to legislate on the basis of ‘principle and evidence, not personal taste.’ This remains a matter of trust between the government and the countryside,” he added.

Whatever action the Commons takes, it will either alienate a large and previously law-abiding sector of British society, or it will enrage its Labour members to the possible point of open revolt. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his ministers are truly between a rock and a hard place on the hunting issue, but both sides will now have to wait until September to learn their fate, by which time autumn hunting will have already begun all over Britain.

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