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Majority vote to defy a Labour ban on hunting
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
(Filed: 24/07/2004)

An overwhelming majority for civil disobedience in the event of a ban on hunting was the result of a debate held by The Telegraph at the Game Fair yesterday.

Perhaps it was not so surprising that an audience of country sports enthusiasts enjoying a day out in the grounds of Blenheim Palace should vote by 120 to eight in favour of defying any ban.

Charles Moore chaired the debate
Perhaps more surprising was that 94 members of the audience voted that they would be prepared to break the law by continuing to hunt, risking fines or imprisonment in the process, with 28 saying they would not.

Charles Moore, columnist and former editor of this newspaper, explained that a ban on hunting was possible this year if, as Peter Hain, the Leader of the House, hinted on Thursday, the Hunting Bill returns to the Commons this autumn.

Mr Moore invited the audience of passers-by and familiar field sports figures to vote as they arrived and as they left on the proposition, "This house proposes that it is not only the right but the duty of good men to resist unjust law".

There was little difference between the votes - all but three people were as resolute against observing any ban on hunting when they left as when they arrived. The vote on who was prepared to be arrested themselves was added as part of the debate.

Prof Roger Scruton, founder of the Hunting Declaration, which has accumulated 50,000 signatures of people prepared to break the law in the event of a hunting ban, led the case for the proposition.

"Civil disobedience is a form of law-abidingness," he said. "You are both breaking the law and proposing yourself for arrest. This is the right strategy when a government gives way to a bigoted minority."

Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomery, also claimed to be on the side of the proposition, freely interpreting his duty to oppose bad law as doing his duty opposing bad law in Parliament. He encouraged others to resist any ban "peacefully without harming others".

Responding to a question about his own party leader, Charles Kennedy, who voted to ban hunting, he said: "I find it hard to see how a liberal and a democrat can vote for this Bill."

Given the uphill task of arguing against the proposition, given this audience, were the columnist Alice Thomson and myself. Ms Thomson told the audience: "The ban was Tony Blair's polo mint for the backbenches and fundamentally unjust by any moral compass.

"But however tragic, I do not believe any of us have an inalienable right to pursue foxes on horseback."

Michael Howard told a Game Fair audience that a future Conservative government would repeal restrictions on shooting proposed by the Home Office.

Labour's manifesto states that it "will not place restrictions on angling and shooting".

However, the Home Office's consultation paper Controls on Firearms, published in May, contained proposals to make shotgun owners demonstrate good reason for having such weapons, introduce age limits for usage, treat shotgun certification as strictly as that for rifles and oblige gun shops to black out their windows.

The Tory leader said: "I live in the countryside and I know how strongly people feel about these things."

James Hewitt, the former lover of Diana, Princess of Wales, took part in a charity clay pigeon shoot at the fair, alongside the footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones.

Hewitt, 46, was released on Wednesday after being arrested in Chelsea on suspicion of possessing cocaine.

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