Anti-hunting MPs will tomorrow reject what the Government hoped would be the decisive compromise on fox hunting, demanding instead a total ban on blood sports.
Despite a flurry of behind-the-scenes meetings between Alun Michael, the minister in charge of the hunting legislation, Tony Blair, Labour MPs and animal-rights campaigners, government concessions have proved to be insufficient.
A cross-party amendment by the former minister Tony Banks has already been signed by 145 MPs, many of them Labour, and about 20 more are expected to put their names to his call. One Labour MP said: "Everyone is still 100 per cent on board for a total ban.
"It doesn't look like good news for Alun Michael.
"Even those who don't back a total ban are saying they will stay away because they don't want to be seen to be against it. I don't know where the Government is going to get its numbers from."
Officially, MPs will be allowed a free vote on tomorrow's motion.
But Mr Michael, the Rural Affairs minister, will be looking to Labour backbenchers to support the Government's Bill, which ministers insist amounts to a ban on blood sports. Anti-hunt campaigners, however, believe that there is no need to seek a ban through the new registrar and tribunal. Like a majority of Labour MPs and members of the public, they back a straightforward ban.
Campaigners have welcomed the Government's apparent softening which has yielded amendments that would effectively outlaw hare-coursing, using dogs in underground hunting and hunting in the autumn to destroy cubs.
Animal-rights groups expect MPs to back the amendment for a total ban.
That would present problems for the legislation when it reaches the House of Lords, though peers have indicated the Bill will be rejected in both forms.
Labour MPs are furious, however,that Mr Michaelhas refused to confirm that he would force the ban into law by using the Parliament Act.
* Four huntmasters and two workers have been suspended by one of Britain's premier hunts over allegations that a vixen and two cubs were moved in breach of hunting rules. An investigation has been launched into reports of misconduct at the Cottesmore Hunt, which rides through Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.Reuse content