New MPs lead call for foxhunting vote

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More than 100 Labour MPs yesterday broke ranks by calling for the Government to fulfil its pledge to allow a free vote on banning foxhunting.

In the first show of strength by Labour backbench MPs since the general election, they tabled a Commons motion calling for the hunting of wild animals with hounds immediately to be outlawed.

The move could prove embarrassing for ministers, who are keen to avoid their first year in office being dominated by a row over fox- hunting.

One of the MPs who signed the motion was Michael Foster, the Labour MP for Worcester, who came top in the ballot for the right to introduce private Bills.

Mr Foster has been under intense pressure to introduce a Bill to ban fox and stag hunting with hounds. The League Against Cruel Sports, which is lobbying hard for the Bill with the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA), is hoping that Mr Foster will go ahead with the measure after consulting his constituents.

However, there were signs yesterday that Mr Foster may plump for another issue. "I abhor hunting with hounds - it's completely barbaric. But it might well be my Private Members' Bill is best used for another purpose this time," he said.

He is promising to announce his choice by the end of the week, and may go instead for incentives for home energy conservation.

That would dismay the animal rights groups whose hopes were high after the election that they would achieve a breakthrough under a Labour government.

In spite of the election pledge to allow a free vote, the Government has not committed itself to bringing in a bill to ban foxhunting.

If Mr Foster resists the pressure, the 119 MPs who signed the Commons motion will turn to the Government to introduce some legislation.

They said the case against hunting with hounds had been proven on scientific, ecological and moral grounds and there was "no justification for the continuation of this sport".

The motion was tabled by a group of new Labour MPs, who are clearly determined to flex their muscles in spite of warnings not to rock the boat by the leadership.

The Labour backbenchers urging the Government to fulfil its pledge on foxhunting were led by Angela Smith, MP for Basildon, a former MP's researcher and political analyst, with a long-term commitment as an anti-fox-hunting campaigner; Ivor Caplin, who won the Tory seat of Hove with a majority of 3,959; James Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Canning Town; Debra Shipley, MP for Stourbridge, a former travel book writer and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Commerce and Manufacture; and Laura Moffatt, MP for Crawley, the former seat of Nicholas Soames, a former staff nurse.