» Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Fox Hunting Bill

Asked for some guidance on the Prime Minister’s plans for the Hunting Bill the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would have to wait and to see what amendments the Speaker selected. But as he had said yesterday if an amendment was selected which restored the Bill to the original Alun Michael Bill then the Prime Minister would vote for that compromise amendment. Asked if the Prime Minister expected the Cabinet to support that amendment the PMOS said that this was still a free vote. It was a free vote for Ministers just as it was for other MPs; in this regard the Prime Minister was just a Member of Parliament like any other. Asked to explain what the original Alun Michael Bill was proposing the PMOS said that what it proposed was licensed hunting. What it did not propose however was hare coursing or stag hunting, unlike the House of Lords Bill as it had come back and it did not have a wider definition of hunting. The House of Lords Bill allowed hunting for wildlife management as well as pest control, whereas the original Alun Michael Bill was restricted to pest control. Asked if the only way this measure could get on the statute book was if it passed through both houses and not through the Parliament Act the PMOS said his understanding was that was correct.

Asked what the Prime Minister was trying to signal by his support for the Alun Michael amendment the PMOS said that it would allow hunting but under a strict license and what the Prime Minister believed was that this was a sensible compromise. It was what he had always supported because he believed the country wanted was a sensible compromise. However this remained a free vote. It was unfortunate that the House of Lords had not adopted that compromise, but equally he recognised that there were very strong feelings in the House of Commons as well. He believed that what the compromise would allow was for hunting to be licensed in a more direct way than it was at present. Asked what he was doing to advocate this view the PMOS said he had always let it be known that this was his view, but it was a free vote and as such he could not impose his view in this situation. Asked if the Prime Minister had voted for a complete ban in 2002 the PMOS said that he would like to check on his 2002 position but in terms of how this debate had evolved the Prime Minister believed that the compromise was the best way forward. What it did was license hunting in a way that limited it whilst still allowing it to take place; he believed that was a sensible compromise, but he recognised it was a free vote. Asked what his response would be to the suggestion that the compromise was political cover the PMOS said the compromise was what the Prime Minister genuinely believed and what he genuinely believed was in the interests of the country as a whole. It was a way of resolving the issue, but at the same time he was realistic enough to recognise that there were very strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

Asked if the Prime Minister had views on timing of when the ban should come into force the PMOS said that the Prime Minister, as indicated, was of the strong view that there should be a delay to allow the hunting industry time to adjust if a ban were to pass, but it was a matter for Parliament. Asked why the Prime Minister reintroduced the Bill for a ban if he supported a compromise the PMOS said that he recognised that in a free vote the Commons had rejected the compromise position originally. Time had now passed and he believed people had seen the strength of feeling on both sides of the House and the Government had a manifesto commitment to resolve this issue during this Parliament, which was what it was doing.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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