London (CNSNews.com) - Scrapping a proposed compromise, British lawmakers have voted for an outright ban on the sport of foxhunting.
By a vote of 362 to 154, the House of Commons amended the Hunting Bill to include a full ban. The legislation will now go back to committee before reaching the House of Lords, where it faces stiff opposition.
A ban was first mentioned in Prime Minister Tony Blair's 1997 election manifesto, and the issue has repeatedly cropped up in debates and proposed legislation since then.
The House of Commons has consistently backed a ban, while the upper chamber has opposed regulation of the sport. The bill's eventual passage will most likely rest on whether Blair decides to give in to the Commons majority and use the lower chamber's powers to overrule the Lords.
A compromise, introduced last December, would have banned the related but less popular sports of deer and hare hunting with dogs, and would have introduced additional licensing rules and restrictions on foxhunting.
That measure had the support of Blair and his ministers, but lower-ranking or "backbench" lawmakers came out in favor of the total ban in a free vote Monday night.
Animal "rights" campaigners praised the decision and urged Blair's government to override the House of Lords if the upper chamber votes down or substantially modifies the bill.
Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), said the vote was "the beginning of the end" for foxhunting in England.
Batchelor said LACS has been campaigning for a ban for more than 80 years.
"I'm greatly pleased," he said. "We still have to make sure this gets to the statute books and make sure it's enforced, so we aren't going to be out of a job anytime soon."
If the bill does become law, Batchelor said his group might take their campaign overseas. A next likely target would be North America's estimated 150 packs of foxhunting dogs, he said.
"We would be delighted to take this campaign to other countries," he said.
But Darren Hughes, a spokesman for the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said the bill was "totally unworkable" and that hunters weren't conceding their fight against the legislation.
"I've spoken to people on all sides of the debate, and what everyone agrees on is that this bill is a total dog's breakfast (bad proposition)," he said Tuesday. "Lots of backbench MPs seem to be happy to vote for a bill that's totally unworkable."
"A ban isn't supported by any of the evidence put in front of the House of Commons," he said.
The alliance will continue to fight against a ban in the House of Lords, Hughes said, and meanwhile the debate surrounding hunting has actually increased the sport's popularity.
"It's encouraging more and more people to take up hunting, as they can see that hunters are getting picked on," he said.
Both supporters and detractors of the bill came out in force outside the Houses of Parliament during Monday's debate.
Hunting advocates say that foxhunting with dogs supports England's rural economy and is a vital part of the country's culture, while anti-hunting advocates argue that the sport is a cruel, antiquated pastime.
The last time legislation was introduced, in 2000, the Commons and Lords could not agree on a final version the bill and parliamentary time ran out on the bill.
Foxhunting is already banned in Scotland, which has a regional legislature with broad local powers.
See previous story:
British Government Introduces Compromise Hunting Bill (3 Dec. 2002)
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