PM pledges ban on fox-hunting pledged

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister said last night that legislation to ban foxhunting will be introduced before the general election, despite the storm of protest it will cause from countryside campaigners.

Tony Blair surprised his own ministers and supporters by the clear signal he gave when challenged on BBC's Question Time that he wanted a ban on fox-hunting with dogs. "It will be banned, we will get the vote to ban as soon as we possibly can," he said. "We are looking at ways of bringing it forward in future sessions. We will try if we possibly can to give it space in the upcoming session or the one after that."

Senior Whitehall sources were caught unawares by his remarks, but confirmed that they amounted to a clear shift in government policy. "They were unscripted remarks but the message is pretty clear," said one source. A Downing Street spokesman said: "There are no cast iron guarantees but it is a clear signal."

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is now expected to tell MPs before the end of the month how the Government propose to bring in a ban. Mr Blair appeared to have bowed to pressure from Labour MPs and traditional supporters, regaining the initiative over Labour's domestic agenda.

Insiders were refusing to rule out a government amendment to a law and order Bill to ban fox-hunting, after Mike Foster's private member's Bill failed last year. Downing Street developed cold feet about a ban after the countryside campaign held its mass march and a rally in London. The Tories were surprised by the protests. Ann Widdecombe, shadow Home Secretary, has voted for a ban.

Deborah Orr, Review, page 5