Anti-hunt Bill to fail in Lords, Blair told

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TONY BLAIR has been warned that the Government cannot guarantee getting a Bill to ban fox-hunting through the House of Lords, in spite of removing the voting rights of most hereditary peers.

The government Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Carter, is said by senior governmentsources to have told the Prime Minister a fox-hunting Bill could still be blocked by a coalition of Tory, crossbench, hereditary and Liberal Democrat and Labour rebel peers. Mr Blair will face protesters from pro-hunt and anti-hunt camps at Labour's conference in Bournemouth next week, and the warning that the Government cannot guarantee early delivery of his promise to ban hunting will disappoint party activists.

The British National Party is reported to be planning to infiltrate the protests by campaigners, who expect a turn-out of about 18,000 in Bournemouth, threatening violent clashes.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is believed to be working on a Bill to ban fox-hunting with dogs, but the Government may have to invoke the Parliament Act to force it past opponents in the Lords, delaying it for 12 months.

Michael Foster's previous attempt to bring a backbench Bill to ban hunting with dogs was "talked out" before it reached the House of Lords, despite passing its second reading in the House of Commons with an overwhelming majority. Mr Foster accused pro-hunting MPs of "abuse" of the Commons, as they ensured the debate ran out of time by tabling hundreds of amendments.

Leading Liberal Democrats doubt Mr Blair will want Parliament to become entangled in a row over fox-hunting in the run-up to a general election, and believe the measure may have to wait until the next manifesto.

Liberal Democrat peers say they will be split over the move if the Government goes ahead with a Bill. Mr Blair forced the issue on to the agenda by committing the Government to action on BBC1's Question Time programme but he left the Home Secretary with the headache of putting it into action.

Mr Straw has studied various options, including allowing local authorities to hold referendums on local hunting bans, or a national ban with opt- out referendums. Campaigners were told the Government has dropped those proposals and is still wrestling with its programme for the next session.