THE hunting debate has been boiling over in Somerset this week, leaving communities divided.

Hunts which meet across Somerset and Exmoor have accused the Government of making a personal attack on country people, who they believe may be at threat of losing their homes and livelihoods if a controversial ban goes through.

Meanwhile, the equally strong anti-hunt movement is more determined than ever to make it clear that not everyone living in the countryside supports hunting.

The death knell for the historic country tradition, follows a vote by MPs on Monday (June 30) on the amended hunting bill to outlaw all blood sports.

A total of 362 voted in favour of the bill, with only 208 against.

The bill was originally drawn up by MP Alun Michael to ban stag hunting and hare coursing, but allow some fox hunting to continue under strict licensing.

But it was altered unexpectedly by MPs to include an outright ban on the hunting of deer, hare, fox and mink.

The changes will mean that the legislation will be sent back to a committee to be finalised. It is expected to be completed for a second vote on July 17, before going to the House of Lords.

This final stage is likely to be the last hurrah for the pro-lobby, who have the backing of the majority of the Lords.

But the Government will almost certainly ride roughshod over the Lords and force the legislation through.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has been heavily criticised after failing to vote on whether to ban hunting and refusing to answer whether the Parliament Act would be definitely used.

Public opinion in Somerset on the hunting issue continues to be split, with both sides standing strong with conflicting views into what the future for hunting with dogs will bring.

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