28 SEPTEMBER 2002, Page 22

Banned wagon

A weekly survey of the things our rulers want to prohibit

THANKS to last weekend's 'Liberty and Livelihood' march, fox-hunters have won over a new constituency of people who, while they might not approve of the sport, recognise that it is possible to object to something without calling for it to be banned. It is just a shame that the countryside lobby has such a lousy record when it comes to defending the liberties of people other than hunters. Though it has moderated its language since the last countryside march in 1998, the Countryside Alliance remains an organisation which, hunting, shooting and fishing aside, has a strong predilection for stopping people doing things.

The Countryside Alliance opposed in shrill tones the 'right to roam' over moorland and open country, and the Country Landowners' Association is still trying to fight the legislation through the courts. Parliament, the latter organisation asserts, does not have the right to take away from landowners the right to exclude others from venturing on their land. Yet the power to exclude others from large tracts of the country was only born with the enclosure Acts, most of which were passed by Parliament before the reform Acts. If the present Parliament, elected by universal franchise, is not allowed to pass laws, why should anyone take notice of laws which were passed by a Parliament stuffed full of rural MPs representing rotten boroughs?

A sizable section of last Sunday's crowd was campaigning for more affordable homes in the countryside. Yet there would be more homes in the countryside were it not for the efforts of rural protesters — the Countryside Alliance included — to call an almost complete halt to development. The Countryside Alliance sees little merit, either, in the liberty of a free-born Englishman to buy foodstuffs of foreign origin; in submissions to the government, it has called for schemes to force local produce into the supermarkets. All of which raises the question: if hated urbanites can't have their avocados and sun-dried tomatoes, why should they be interested in defending the freedoms of hunting folk?

Ross Clark