Hunting will be banned despite vociferous opposition from peers who are planning to block the legislation, a minister signalled yesterday.
Lord Whitty, an Environment minister, gave the Government's strongest indication yet that it will use the Parliament Act, a rarely employed technical device that allows the Commons to force legislation through the Lords.
The warning, in a debate in the House of Lords, means that a ban on hunting in England and Wales is likely by next year. Lord Whitty said that he planned to "facilitate the view of the elected house" which voted overwhelmingly before the summer to ban hunting.
He told peers: "It has been argued that the use of the Parliament Act would not be appropriate for this Bill. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves but should there be no way through and should the Bill be frustrated in its passage rather than scrutinised or improved the Government could not stand in the way of the proper use of the Parliament Act."
Lord Whitty added, in a signal not to block a ban, as peers have previously: "There is no legal or constitutional reason why it can't be used."
A majority of peers oppose a ban. Baroness Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, said yesterday that those who went hunting would become criminals under the proposed ban.
She said that the legislation banning hunting with dogs was a "vindictive little Bill". She added: "The people this Bill seeks to criminalise are a selection of the most law-abiding, responsible and decent citizens in this country. The Government has let them down. Prejudice not principle, bigotry not evidence, has been allowed to prevail."
Baroness Byford, a former member of the Quorn hunt, and the Tory spokeswoman on the hunting Bill, said that it was a "sell out", which would result in more foxes being killed each year. "It will allow slaughter all the year round, there will be no closed season," she said. "The 362 MPs, including some 36 Scottish members, who voted for a complete ban have neither regard nor understanding for the welfare of wildlife."
Earlier this year MPs - including 60 ministers - tore up the Government's proposals for a licensing system for fox hunting. A huge majority of MPs voted for a ban.
The Government indicated its intention to back the will of the Commons yesterday. But some opposition politicians indicated that they preferred its original proposals for a system of licensed hunts. Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, a Liberal Democrat frontbench spokeswoman, said that the Bill sent to the Lords by MPs would not be not in the interests of the countryside, animals or civil liberties. "The issue of pest control cannot be dodged in the name of an ideology," she said.
"I believe the Bill the Government introduced into the Commons in this session almost struck the right balance between which species should not be hunted with dogs and in what circumstances regulated hunting might be considered."