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Fox hunting ban wins vote in Britain

Fox hunters
Fox hounds   

Traditional hunt faces uncertain future

November 28, 1997
Web posted at: 6:37 p.m. EST (2337 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- The British House of Commons Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a ban on one of the oldest and most storied pursuits in the nation's countryside -- hunting foxes with hounds.

While the anti-hunting measure will still have to jump over other parliamentary hurdles and won't become law anytime soon, the 411-to-151 vote in its favor is expected to put pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair to eventually push such a ban through the legislative process.

The proposal, put forward by Labour Party member Michael Foster, would also outlaw using hounds to hunt deer, hares and mink. It has set off an acrimonious debate in Britain, where red-jacketed, black-hatted hunters chasing behind foxes and hounds on horseback are a symbol of traditional country life.

But proponents of the ban say such hunts -- in which the prey ends up being ripped to death by the hounds -- are unnecessarily cruel. Polls show a strong majority of the public supports the ban, in a country that now has more urban residents than country dwellers.

vxtreme CNN's Richard Blystone reports

The fact that fox hunting draws many of its adherents from the ranks of Britain's wealthy aristocracy also hasn't helped build popular support for the sport.

But opponents of the ban say the hunts are necessary to control the fox population and that urban residents simply don't understand country life. They also argue that a ban will cost thousands of jobs in areas where hunting provides an economic mainstay -- and would be a blow to individual freedom.

"The freedom of the individual to hunt with hounds is no different in principle from the freedom of each individual to, or not to, fish, shoot, eat meat, use tobacco, drink, gamble or worship as he or she chooses," said Sir Brian Mawhinney, a Conservative lawmaker who opposes the ban.

Protesters

"We could look at many other issues where the minority aren't allowed to do things because the majority disagree with them," counters Charlotte Morrissey of the Campaign for Protection of Hunted Animals. "We believe that hunting with dogs is cruel. It goes in line with other forms of animal cruelty."

About 150 hunting supporters held an overnight vigil, with their hounds beside them, outside the Palace of Westminster before Friday's vote. Opponents, too, staged rallies as members of Parliament gathered to debate and vote.

Though Blair has said he supports the hunting ban, the bill being voted on Friday was not brought forward by his Labour government. The vote in favor of it was just a preliminary vote, and many parliamentary observers expect that the government, which has other legislative priorities, won't set aside time needed for the bill to get to final passage.

Also, because the bill was introduced by an individual member and not the Blair government, it will be easier for a small group in parliament to delay its passage.

But the strong vote Friday in favor of the hunting ban is expected to put pressure on Blair to ease its passage.

While Britain's three major parties were split over the ban and allowed their members to vote freely, instead of adhering to a party line, most of the 'no' votes came from the Conservatives, whose support is traditionally strong among farmers and rural landowners.

Correspondent Richard Blystone and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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