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The Daily Telegraph - Thursday September 2nd 1999.


 Bill to ban foxhunting in Scotland is just a test case, says Labour peer.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie makes no apology for his determination to see foxhunting banned in Scotland, but his motives for backing such a controversial Bill will astonish and anger those who rely on hunting for their livelihood. Animal welfare is not high on the list of Lord Watson's priorities, but testing the mechanics of the Member's Bill system in the Scottish Parliament is. He wanted a Bill and it happened that foxhunting came along. "I was keen that the system was tested early on and was preparing a Member's Bill looking at abolishing warrant sales but I was told by the Law Society that it would be difficult and would take some time," he said. "Then in July I was approached by the Campaign Against Hunting with Dogs who were looking to get a Bill! down quickly and wanted someone to sponsor it. It suited me and it suited them and here we are."A traditional Labour Leftwinger and former trade union official, Lord Watson's only link with the countryside is his childhood home in the Dundee suburb of Invergowrie. He has never hunted and has represented urban constituencies both in Westminster and Edinburgh. His political interests as former MP for Glasgow Central focused on human rights for many years without ever considering those of animals. But he is convinced that his lack of knowledge about the everyday workings of country life does not matter. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill, supported by the SNP's Tricia Marwick, which Lord Watson hopes will become law by June, is a "black and white issue", he said."Hunting for pleasure is cruel. It is as simple as that. That supersedes any argument about urban bias or a campaign against the countryside. I do not need to have lived in the countryside or hunted to know that. It cuts across all the arguments. I have always been opposed to hunting with dogs and the cruelty involved in it."Yet his opposition to hunting plainly plays second fiddle to testing parliamentary procedure."I was keen to get the Member's Bill tested early on and this gives me the opportunity to do it. There was also an element of symbolism showing that the Scottish Parliament was producing legislation different to the rest of Britain."Let's face it, if it hadn't been me it would have been someone else. This piece of legislation is long overdue and if all they can do is criticise me for being behind the Bill then it does not say much for their argument."They should ask who they would rather have introduced it than me. There isn't anybody. "Just because I don't know everything about hunting does not mean I do not care and does not mean I am not qualified to fight for this Bill. I accept that it is not the greatest priority facing the Parliament but that does not mean that it is unimportant and should not be done."While he is adamant that "it won't take over my life" And has already assured his constituents in Glasgow Cathcart that their problems will come first, he is ready to tackle the Countryside Alliance, which he condemns as having had it "far too easy for far too long". Its arguments that Legislation will devastate community's lead to animals being destroyed and substantial job losses are dismissed out of hand. "Whatever job losses there are is a reasonable price to pay for outlawing hunting for pleasure. Hounds can be used for drag hunting and horses employed elsewhere," he said. His comments are underpinned with a confidence that there is little chance of the Bill being defeated. "Why should the Country side Alliance think that they have immunity from every piece of legislation that they don't like. They have had it their way for too long. The Countryside Alliance is going to have to live with the new democracy that means the views of the majority prevail. "I am not going to be intimidated by baying mobs like the ones that gathered outside our last protest. I am determined to see this through." He has so far refused, however, to be lured to the I3orders, where Scotland's hunts are concentrated, to attend public meetings. "I am tempted to follow Mike Foster's example and not to put myself in the position of a fox in the middle of 500 hounds. "I do not mind an argument conducted in a calm and balanced manner. But I'm not going to go into a room of 500 people who are just going to shout me down. There is no point."Allan Murray, Scottish Director of' the Countryside Alliance, said: "Introducing the Bill to test the system is about the weakest argument I have ever heard and frankly adds insult to injury. "He is introducing a law that does not mean much to him but which will have a devastating effect on others. If this is the sort of the cuff politics we are going to get then Parliament will not receive the kind of respect it deserves."He said Lord Watson's refusal to meet the Alliance was "insulting". "We have attended plenty of debates on the issue without resorting to shouting people down and I take great offence at his comments that he would be if he met us. "He has said he will not let it get in the way of his constituency work and I recommend that he stays there and addresses his constituents' problems rather than dabbling in something he knows nothing about."

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