Not exactly tally ho on new hunting plan

BOTH sides on the fox hunting debate in Suffolk weighed in today as the government announced new proposals to curb the controversial practice.James Buckle, master of the Suffolk and Essex fox hounds, has today called the long-awaited hunting bill "a total fudge".

BOTH sides in the fox-hunting debate in Suffolk weighed in today as the government announced new proposals to curb the sport.

James Buckle, master of the Suffolk and Essex foxhounds, today called the long-awaited hunting bill "a total fudge".

As the future of hunting in the area remains unclear, he said that the government could not go on treating country people like this.

He said: "It seems it has not listened to either side of the argument. After all, how can you ban stag hunting and hare coursing but nothing else? Is it less cruel?

"The bill is unclear. It could mean that we could end up with fox-hunting allowed in Essex yet banned in Suffolk. It is a point of wonderment.

"When is the prime minister going to tell my staff that they are redundant and will have to leave their homes?"

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Under new proposals announced by rural affairs minister Alun Michael, fox-hunting would only be able to continue under a strict licensing scheme. Stag-hunting and hare-coursing would be banned.

Packs would have to demonstrate why there is a need to carry out a particular hunt and prove that it was not cruel.

Mr Buckle added: "This does not stand up to rational thinking.

"We spent years in discussion over cruelty and utility issues and Mr Michael seems to have ignored everything.

"The bill is trying to pick off two of the less well-supported sports. If he thinks he can pick on us next, he may have a surprise."

On the other side of the argument, Lawrie Payne, eastern spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said it was too early to celebrate yet. He said: "We will obviously campaign now when the bill goes through Parliament for a full ban from backbenchers.

"It is good news that the death knell rings out for the sport of stag-hunting and hare-coursing. But we will not celebrate until the Queen puts her signature to the bill."

After yesterday's announcement there was an immediate call by leading anti-hunt Labour MP Tony Banks for the Commons to vote for a total ban on hunting.

Mr Banks said: "Alun Michael has done his best to square the circle and he is now in the middle. He's got a hell of a job to try to convince people to get the bill through unamended."

Since 1997 MPs have several times voted overwhelmingly to ban fox-hunting, while peers have voted to allow it to continue under licence.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We now have, as a result of Alun Michael's careful consultations over eight months, a bill which does offer a practical way forward."

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