WERE yesterday's protests in Parliament Square and in the House of Commons itself an indication of the kind of civil disorder that is likely to be seen in the British countryside if the Bill prohibiting Hunting With Dogs comes into force in 2006? It is a sobering thought because if elements of the hunting community were to decide to oppose the new law by carrying on with their traditional meets and the cross-country chase it would be difficult for the police to stop them without using huge resources and perhaps excessive force. One does not have to be sympathetic to the foxhunters' cause to understand why the restraint shown in earlier demonstrations organised by the Countryside Alliance has apparently broken down. The Government has behaved in a disgraceful way over the Bill to ban foxhunting, changing its mind several times over the degree of priority it should have and in the process making almost everyone, from both sides, angry and frustrated. Hunting supporters have felt that something central to their way of life has been sacrificed to political expediency - in other words to Tony Blair's need to keep his backbenchers quiet in the period leading up to the general election. Even yesterday he yielded to their pressure by shortening the period before the Bill comes into force from two years to eighteen months. His only concern was that the impending general election should not be accompanied by scenes of horses being taken to the knackers' yards and hounds being driven away from their kennels on a final journey. Most people will hope that if the hunting fraternity wants to pursue its protests it will do so through the courts rather than by breaking the law.

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