Ban on hunting with dogs delayed... yet again

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Supporters of fox hunting said last night that hunting with dogs could be legal for at least another two years after an indication from the Deputy Prime Minister that the Bill to ban all hunting with dogs would not be reintroduced until the next Queen's Speech in November.

Supporters of fox hunting said last night that hunting with dogs could be legal for at least another two years after an indication from the Deputy Prime Minister that the Bill to ban all hunting with dogs would not be reintroduced until the next Queen's Speech in November.

John Prescott, who strongly supports a ban, made it clear in The Independent at the weekend that a ban would be delayed until the next Queen's Speech but promised a Bill would be reintroduced before the general election. But he added: "It won't go in now before the next Queen's Speech ­ we are on top of it [the Queen's Speech]."

As Parliament prepared for the summer recess yesterday, Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons hinted the Government might be having second thoughts about outlawing hunting in the run-up to the election.

He was pressed to commit the Government to the early reintroduction of the Bill by Gerald Kaufman, who led the Commons push to force a ban. Mr Kaufman said it would be a "splendid present'' for the summer.

Mr Hain said: "When I was a boy I always looked forward to Christmas, rather than the summer, for splendid presents, and I would advise him to bear that in mind".

One campaigner for the Countryside Alliance, which is fighting the ban, said: "It means another two years of hunting."

A delay until the Queen's Speech in November would be a serious blow to the anti-fox hunting lobby because it could mean that the Government would not be able to use the Parliament Act to force it through onto the Statute Book, overriding the objections of the Lords.

Under the arcane rules of Parliament, the Parliament Act cannot be imposed unless a Bill has been held up by the Lords in two successive sessions of Parliament.

Campaigners for a ban were counting on the Government reintroducing a Bill in September to allow the Parliament Act to apply. They said the chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, was on record as promising the Parliamentary Labour Party that the Bill would be introduced in the current session.

The Government's compromise plan in 2003 to allow hunting to continue under licensing was rejected and replaced by MPs with an outright ban on all hunting with dogs. That was thrown out by the Lords in October, 2003.

Tony Blair has promised that the issue of a fox-hunting ban will resolved in this parliament, even though there was no commitment to a fox hunting Bill in the last Queen's speech.

Many Labour members are angry that they have failed to end hunting, despite repeatedly voting for a ban. Some 272 MPs, including 243 Labour members, have signed Mr Kaufman's parliamentary motion calling on ministers to use the Parliament Act to impose a ban.

Yesterday Dennis Skinner, the Labour MP for Bolsover, told Mr Hain: "You almost gave me a wink and a nod that the idea would be dealt with in September when we came back. We know it's not going to be the first week and you have very conveniently not said anything about the second week. Do I take it as read that we'll deal with it in that second week?"

Mr Hain replied: "That's a very foxy question that is. I'm not sure that winks and nods are appropriate for the Leader of the House at the despatch box.

"It's normal not to announce all the business at this stage for when we come back in what is over six weeks time."

Sir Teddy Taylor, the Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East said said many would be "desperately disappointed" there was no timetable for a debate on the abolition of fox-hunting.

SEVEN YEARS OF BROKEN PROMISES

May 1997: Labour wins the general election, promising a free vote on hunting with hounds.

November: Government refuses to grant private member's bill any of its Parliamentary time.

March 1998: Bill runs out of time.

July 1999: Tony Blair says he plans to make fox hunting illegal before the next general election.

November: Government announces it will support backbencher's bill.

February: MPs vote for an outright ban.

March: House of Lords votes against the ban. The hunting bill runs out of time.

June: The Queen's Speech promises another free vote.

December 2002: Alun Michael unveils Hunting Bill, which would allow some fox hunting to continue under a strict system of licensing but would outlaw hare coursing and stag hunting.

July 2003: Bill clears Commons.

October: Runs out of Parliamentary time in Lords.

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