Straw puts pressure on Labour MP to take on private member's Bill to ban fox-hunting

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TOM PENDRY, the former Labour sports spokesman, will be under intense pressure this weekend to take up the Bill to ban fox-hunting, following private talks with Jack Straw, the Home Secretary.

Mr Straw has assured Mr Pendry that the Government is serious about fulfilling Tony Blair's pledge to legislate for a ban on fox-hunting. Mr Pendry has also been approached by other anti-hunt ministers who want to block Ken Livingstone from taking up the issue.

Mr Pendry came second in the ballot of MPs to introduce private member's legislation to ban fox-hunting. If he failed to take up the measure, Mr Livingstone, who came eighth, would be able to do so, giving the former GLC leader a publicity coup for his bid to become Labour candidate for the election of the mayor of London.

Supporters of Frank Dobson, Mr Livingstone's arch rival, have warned the Government that it could make the difference between winning and losing for Mr Dobson. Allowing Mr Livingstone to take on the role of Labour's champion against hunting would give him an unrivalled platform in the crucial weeks leading up to the choice of Labour's candidate.

Anti-hunt campaigners are also wary of Mr Livingstone taking up the measure. They fear that hostility from Downing Street would make it less likely that he would be given support to get the Bill through Parliament.

Rumours swept Westminster that Mr Pendry was being "leaned on" by Government whips to take up the fox-hunting Bill, but these claims have been authoritatively denied.

Mr Pendry has to announce his decision by 15 December, but Mr Straw's announcement on Thursday of the committee to carry out an investigation into fox-hunting was intended to convince Mr Pendry that sufficient time will be available for the Bill to become law.

Mr Pendry was reluctant to take on a measure which has no chance of success. He is now said to be giving it serious consideration, and not opting for something less controversial.

Meanwhile, pro-hunting supporters have praised the appointment of four academics to the investigation committee under the inquiry chairman, Lord Burns, the former Treasury permanent secretary.

The inquiry committee members will be: Victoria Edwards, principal lecturer in land management and departmental research director at the University of Portsmouth; John Marsh, emeritus professor of agricultural economics, University of Reading; Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, emeritus professor of animal pathology, Cambridge University; and Michael Winter, professor of rural economy and society, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.