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Save the foxes - but don't ignore people

COMMENT

The end of fox-hunting - the sport or act of barbarity, depending on your point of view - now looks almost certain. If opposition from the Lords cannot be quelled, the Prime Minister looks ready to use the Parliament Act to force through his long promised legislation.

And sadly, even if Tony Blair backs away from the brink and opts for a compromise, it will not be the last we hear on the subject. The depth of feeling in both camps stretches way beyond the issue of killing animals and deep into the heart of political trust and the honouring of deals.

Yet the whole issue angers and depresses me. Not because of any desire to see foxes and their fellow field and woodland dwellers dug up and chased across the countryside on Sunday mornings - I am sure that they do deserve protection from the horn-blowing men in red coats.

What angers me is that so much time has been spent discussing, lobbying, analysing, debating and arm-twisting on this issue. And what depresses me is that so much passion, so many moral high grounds can be used up on this issue, while other equally, if not more pressing problems in the UK are left firmly by our government and politicians on the 'too-difficult' pile.

Where, for example, is this passion and morality when it comes to protecting children as they are pursued by motorists across roads and highways each day as they walk to school or play outside their homes. Where is the dramatic late night debate and precedent setting legislation to kerb the anti-social activities of car drivers.

Speaking at an East Midlands local association seminar last week, ICE President Mark Whitby highlighted the UK's streets as the most dangerous in Europe. We need a massive change in public attitude towards the car, he said. 'We should be mobilising our politicians and working with communities so that they can take ownership of their streets, ' he added.

Yet the 3,409 people killed, 38,000 people seriously injured and 278,000 slightly hurt on the roads in 2000 is rarely, if ever discussed in the House of Commons. Transport secretary Stephen Byers, the entire government and the opposition would much rather spend their evenings discussing fox-hunting.

I am against cruelty of all kinds. But what is the more pressing issue - protecting the lives of children and other pedestrians from the growing urban traffic menace or protecting the lives of foxes and other wildlife from hunters? I would much rather Tony Blair invoked his parliamentary privileges to tackle the former.

It is probably not fair to make such a comparison. Everyone in the House of Commons would, I am sure, fully support any legislation that directly resulted in the saving of a single child's life, let alone hundreds.

Unfortunately, it never seems to happen. Few of our elected representatives seem to have the necessary grasp of such issues or realise that they can actually win more popularity by promoting them.

We need to change this. As Whitby says, it is our duty to tackle the shocking number of children killed each year on the roads. It is our duty, as engineers, to promote solutions to ensure they replace fox-hunting at the top of the political agenda.

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