Foxy Livingstone pulls fast one on Dobson campaign

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The Independent Online
KEN LIVINGSTONE today announces that he is to introduce a Bill to ban foxhunting, but opponents sensed victory in their attempts to keep blood sports legal.

He has been handed a publicity coup that will infuriate supporters of Frank Dobson, his arch-rival to become Labour's candidate in the race for mayor of London.

The Bill is likely to make Mr Livingstone champion of the Labour movement. He came eighth in the ballot of MPs for the right to introduce the legislation and could have been denied the chance by Tom Pendry, another Labour backbencher higher up the list.

Mr Pendry, second in the ballot, pulled out from introducing his own Bill to ban hunting with dogs after disclosing that the foxhunting inquiry under Lord Burns, a former Treasury civil servant, may not report until June, two months late, making it less likely that legislation will be introduced before the general election. This will dismay campaigners for a foxhunting ban and relieve the Countryside Alliance, which is fighting the ban.

Failure to get the Bill through the Commons may also privately come as a relief to some ministers. The Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Carter, has said he cannot guarantee getting a hunting ban through the Lords, and it could impede government business.

Mr Pendry said: "I don't think I will return to foxhunting. The inquiry has mucked me up. Lord Burns thinks it will go into June. I have been a boxer in my day. I didn't mind being battered and bruised to win but I don't think I can win this one."

The inquiry was set up by Jack Straw as a conciliatory gesture to the countryside campaigners, who said a ban would cost at least 16,000 jobs. Mr Straw said it would report in spring, but Mr Pendry said: "I think spring will be a bit late next year."

Mr Pendry held secret talks with the Home Secretary but failed to receive reassurances he needed that he could get the Bill on to the statute book, in spite of the pledge by Tony Blair that it would be given government time.

It leaves the field free for Mr Livingstone, who can use the campaign to ban foxhunting as another platform in his battle to defeat Mr Dobson.

The Dobson camp privately lobbied for the Government to put pressure on Mr Pendry to take up the Bill to avoid handing a golden advantage to Mr Livingstone's campaign.

It will make Mr Livingstone the hate figure for the hunt supporters but he is likely to tell a press conference at Westminster today that he can live with that.

There are not many hunters in London with a vote for the mayor.