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Give time to two private members' Bills to stop the taxpayer footing more hunting bills

"The Government should give time to two private members' Bills on wild mammal welfare - one in the House of Commons and one in the Lords - rather than wasting more taxpayers' money on a Hunting Bill that will never be acceptable to Parliament," warns Mark Hudson, President of the Country Land and Business Association.

The CLA has worked determinedly to promote the principles behind these Bills - the only sensible alternative to a hunting ban. The Bills are identical and aim to give wild mammals a similar level of protection to that enjoyed by pets and farmed animals.

Mark Hudson continues: "Now that the Government's Hunting Bill has failed, the CLA is calling on Government not to introduce yet another Hunting Bill in 2004 as is rumoured. Instead, time should be invested in the only realistic alternative on offer.

"A further Hunting Bill would be the fifth since 1997. Over 400 hours of Parliamentary time have been spent on Hunting Bills since 1997. If the Government is serious about promoting the welfare of wild animals it should make time for these Bills that both aim to amend the Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996.

Lembit Öpik MP -who came 12th in the private members' ballot - will introduce a Bill exactly the same as that introduced by Lord Donoughue earlier this year and which completed its stages in the Lords. At the same time as Lembit's Bill is introduced in the Commons, Lord Donoughue will re-introduce his Bill again in the Lords.

"If the Government has any reservations about these Bills they should let Lembit Öpik and Lord Donoughue know so that they can amend their Bills to accommodate its concerns, where reasonable. We are asking the Government to speak now or forever hold its peace.

"However, we suspect the Government doesn't want either of these Bills to succeed because it is more concerned with appeasing its own backbenchers and it is less interested in acting in the best interests of wild mammals. The Government seems intent on ignoring its own evidence such as the Burns Inquiry Report, the Hunting Hearings, and the findings of the Durrell Institute at Kent University* that land managers preserve more habitats when involved in sports.

"Labour's 2001 manifesto said that it would enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on fox hunting - there was no manifesto commitment to ban the pursuit of other wild mammals. Labour also said that if the issue continued to be blocked, it would examine how the disagreement could be resolved. Any resolution must therefore be acceptable to both Houses of Parliament (Commons and Lords) - a ban can never be a resolution. Even with the removal of the hereditary peers under the House of Lords Reform Bill, there would still be massive majority against a full ban in the upper house.

"The CLA is working to achieve this resolution by supporting these Bills. We urge the Government to do the same."

Douglas Chalmers, CLA Regional Director North added: "Hunting appears to be the only rural issue which this Government seems to care about and spends a disproportionate amount of time on. Surely sustainable communities and an assured future for rural businesses should come further up the political agenda?"

Notes to Editors:

To speak to Mark Hudson, contact Richard Jarman, Head of Communications on 07803 006574. To speak to a legal expert about CLA's policy on hunting generally or these Bills specifically, contact Christopher Price, CLA Public Law Adviser on 07870 655 301.

To speak to Douglas Chalmers, Regional Director North, contact Office: 01524 782209, Mobile: 07764 588 475, Home: 017683 53329

The Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill No 2 will be introduced by Lembit Öpik MP in the House of Commons on Wednesday 7th January 2004.

Lord Donoughue's Bill was re-introduced into the House of Lords on the morning of Thursday 18th December 2003. The Bill will have its Second reading on Friday 16th January 2004. The Bill will have its Committee stage and Report stage on Wednesday 4th February 2004. If all goes to plan, the Bill will have its Third reading on Wednesday 11th February 2004 and be sent to the House of Commons on that day.

Under both the Bills it will be an offence for any person to intentionally cause undue suffering to any wild mammal. However, there will be a defence if what is done is either:-done in accordance with a recognised code, or done in the normal and humane conduct of a lawful and customary activity, unless any suffering should reasonably have been avoided or substantially alleviated.

An independent Authority oversees the production of the code, or codes. It may recognise any body as the proper authority for making a code and approve any code produced by that body. The Authority will be composed of persons nominated by interested bodies including the Country Land & Business Association.

The approved code is then submitted to the Secretary of State to be either recognised in regulation or refused. If refused the Secretary of State must give reasons. The intention here is to keep the code as separate from Government as possible whilst recognising that it must have parliamentary approval if it is to constitute a defence to a criminal charge.
*Field Sports and Conservation in the United Kingdom by N. Leader-Williams Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent (Nature 29 Vol. 423 29 May 2003)


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