Livingstone's fox-hunt ban trumps Dobson campaign

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The Independent Online
KEN LIVINGSTONE announces today that he is to introduce a Bill to ban fox-hunting, but opponents are sensing 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 fox-hunting 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.

.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."

He held secret talks with Mr Straw but failed to receive reassurances he needed that he could get the Bill on to the statute book, in spite of Tony Blair's pledge that it would be given government time. That leaves the field free for Mr Livingstone, who can use the drive to ban fox-hunting as another platform in his battle to defeat Mr Dobson.

Passenger safety would be put at risk by Mr Livingstone's plans to finance improvements to the London Underground, Gordon Brown warned last night. The Chancellor attacked Mr Livingstone's flagship policy of issuing London Underground bonds, claiming it would cost every family in the capital pounds 1,000 more than the Government's public-private sector partnership.

"It just does not add up," Mr Brown told the Commons Treasury Select Committee. "It would deprive London Underground of investment. LU would therefore be less safe."

Mr Livingstone's hopes of winning the Labour nomination were boosted yesterday when the first official poll of party members, Tooting Constituency Labour Party, gave him overwhelming backing.

Writing in today's Independent, the former GLC leader says the survey discredits Millbank's claims that Mr Dobson is narrowing the gap among the rank and file.