Britain's foxy flap.

Britain's foxy flap.

Britain's foxy flap.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 5 2002 10:20 AM

Britain's Foxy Flap

British MPs are revolting! What issue of burning concern has upset the backbenchers? The firefighters' strike (currently suspended)? Protests about rising university tuition fees? The latest royal scandal? No, foxes are to blame.

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Earlier this week, the rural affairs minister revealed new plans to restrict hunting in England and Wales. (Fox-hunting was banned in Scotland this February.) After more than five years of often-rancorous debate on the topic, the minister offered a compromise that stopped short of a total ban. Under the proposed legislation, hare coursing (in which two dogs pursue a live hare) and stag-hunting would be completely outlawed, while fox-hunting would be permitted if the hunt could prove that hunting is the most efficient and least cruel method of pest control. According to the Daily Telegraph, only a few groups in Northern England and Wales "are likely to be able to demonstrate that hunting is less cruel and more necessary than shooting or poisoning." More than 100 Labor MPs announced that they would vote to amend the bill to outlaw all forms of hunting. Although the House of Commons has voted for a total ban three times in the last five years, the legislation was overturned in the House of Lords. The rebel Labor MPs are now threatening to use the Parliament Act to force their bill through the Lords.

The conservative Telegraph sided with the hunters. An editorial said that if the Commons again supported a total ban, "the House of Lords will have to act as it has done before and defend liberty, livelihood and the rule of law by throwing it out. In such circumstances, in which a government Bill has been totally rewritten by its backbenchers, use of the Parliament Act to force the Bill through would be unprecedented and unambiguously wrong."

The Independent declared: "For such a peripheral matter, fox hunting has consumed an absurd amount of parliamentary and ministerial time. A resolution should be sought as quickly as possible." As "strange and deeply unsavoury" as fox-hunting may be, banning the centuries-old pursuit is "fundamentally illiberal." Instead, animal-rights activists should turn their attention to more worthy causes: "Battery farming and experimentation on primates are two of the more egregious examples of this kind of cruelty. Parliament's time would be better spent on clamping down on these rather than thinking up ever more elaborate fudges on hunting."

The Guardian is also sick of the subject. Its editorial encouraged MPs to accept the new legislation and turn their attention to more pressing topics: "With war imminent, the terrorist threat undiminished, the economy in slowdown and public services in crisis, there is something really rather shocking about a parliament that chooses this moment for yet another argument about hunting." Devoting so much time and energy to such a marginal issue "is the kind of priority which helps make a mockery of our democratic system at home and which makes this nation an anachronistic laughing-stock abroad."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.