Fox has friends in Parliament Hunting: A hotly debated bill to ban hunting with dogs passes Britain's House of Commons, but it's unlikely to become law.

November 29, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Frazzled and combative, jeering and cheering, Britain's House of Commons debated the age-old British blood sport of hunting with dogs yesterday.

In the end, the Commons approved a bill, 411-151, to ban wild animals from being pursued, injured or killed by the use of dogs.

That was good news for foxes and stags, the main prey of the hounds.

But despite the overwhelming margin to snuff out the hunt, it's unlikely that the measure will become law soon.

The reason? Britain's new Labor government doesn't want to offend rural landowners who derive some of their wealth -- and pleasure -- from the chase of the fox.

Labor has not officially backed the bill, meaning the measure won't gain the needed floor time to clear remaining hurdles in the House of Commons and the upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords.

There were hints after yesterday's vote that Labor could back a future bill. In today's Daily Telegraph, a conservative newspaper, a banner headline said that fox hunting would be banned by 2000.

This time, Labor's leadership sat out the debate. Prime Minister Tony Blair chose to visit British peacekeeping troops in Bosnia. He had said that had he voted, he would have backed the bill.

In Britain, hunting divides voters along regional and class lines. It pits city vs. country, animal welfare activists vs. hunters. Fox hunting also represents old England and old money.

"The aim of this bill is to protect wild animals from cruelty and from the unnecessary pain and suffering inflicted in the name of a so-called sport," said Labor's Mike Foster, who drew up the Wild Mammals (Hunt with Dogs) Bill.

Foster said the bill wasn't trying to stamp out shooting and fishing, but was opposed to hunting through dog attacks.

"What it does extend to is the 100,000 wild mammals that are hounded to death in the name of hunting," he said.

Michael Heseltine, a senior member of the opposition Conservatives, condemned the bill, saying it represented "a streak of intolerance" and would not save the life of a single animal.

He said it would spread misery to "some of the more remote and fragile economies," where hunts sustain local businesses, and he warned big-city Labor politicians to avoid destroying "the cohesion of the rural countryside."

Alan Clark, a leading Conservative and noted animal rights campaigner, called fox hunting "despicable" and stag hunting "utterly repellent." But he said the bid to ban such sports was a "distraction" from the wider issue of animal welfare.

And he chided the bill's backers for supporting a measure that "confers draconian powers and discretions on a police force."

He insisted: "I do feel that this is an issue where there has got to be some kind of compromise."

The winners seemed in no mood for compromise. Clutching a stuffed fox, Foster told supporters that it was "a great day for British wildlife" and added, "The House of Commons has endorsed what the majority of this country has thought for a long time."

Pub Date: 11/29/97

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