Fox-hunt ban may go to poll

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS are examining a legislative plan for local referendums in order to get a ban on fox hunting through Parliament.

But it is entirely possible that Tony Blair will baulk at the idea of creating additional conflict with the House of Lords when he is attempting to stop hereditary peers sitting and voting in the Upper House.

The latest plan to ban fox hunting is the brainchild of Clive Soley, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who wants local authorities to be given the power to license fox hunting, provided local support has been given through community referendums.

It is felt that if bans are built on tried and tested local hostility, proved through the ballot box, the Government will be able to avoid direct blame.

But it is also felt by some ministers that the legendary backwoodsmen of the House of Lords might find it more difficult to obstruct legislation which leaves the last word to local voters. That notion could well underestimate the determination of the countryside lobby to defend its interests to the last ditch.

Their determination would be increased by the fact that last year's Labour Manifesto contained no clear cut commitment to ban hunting, thus giving the Government's opponents strong ground on which to block legislation for at least one full parliamentary session.

The Prime Minister has already shown that he is unwilling to jeopardise his priority reforms by taking on the hunters. That does not mean he will not move against hunting; simply that he will bide his time, and tackle the hunters when he is able to move in for the kill, certain of success.

It is possible that Labour backbenchers could pass an amendment to a local government Bill in the next session of Parliament, giving councils referendum powers to refuse fox-hunt licences.

But if the Lords did decide to offer tooth-and-nail opposition to such a proposal, they couldtie the Government down, jeopardising other much needed legislation.

Ministers will have to decide whether that is a risk worth taking. A decision is expected over the next week or so.

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