Straw tries to head off MPs' revolt over foxhunting Bill

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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW last night promised a meeting of 163 Labour MPs that he would go back to the Cabinet with their demands for action to revive a Bill to ban foxhunting.

The Home Secretary was said to have given the MPs an undertaking that he will reconsider with the Cabinet the options for reviving a ban on foxhunting, following the death of the private member's Bill by Michael Foster. "He was sympathetic and said he would take it back to the Cabinet," said one Labour MP who was there.

The Home Secretary is reluctant to act on foxhunting in the face of the massive support for the countryside rally in London this Spring, but the scale of the backbench meeting was seen as a clear warning to the Cabinet that action is needed.

The whips have warned ministers that they will not be able to stop a fullscale rebellion to introduce a ban on foxhunting, if the Government tries to resist it.

Mr Straw was warned that, unless the Government provides time for the Foster Bill to get through to the Lords, Labour MPs could hijack his next Criminal Justice Bill to ensure Parliamentary time is provided to get a ban on foxhunting on to the Statute Book before the next general election. The Home Secretary used the meeting to mend fences with the Labour MPs after causing outrage among some anti-hunting MPs by saying Labour had "no mandate" to ban foxhunting.

Many MPs a the meeting told Mr Straw they would find it impossible to explain to their voters why a Labour Government was refusing to allow a ban on foxhunting to be passed, after Mr Foster's Bill secured a record majority with the support of 411 Labour MPs before it was blocked by Tory MPs, some Liberal Democrats, and one Labour MP. The MPs made it clear they expected either government time for another private member's Bill or the Government to allow a free vote on foxhunting under a government Bill. "The issue will not go away. It will come back: 411 MPs made their feelings clear on the issue and they expect action. That is the message that was given to the Home Secretary," said Howard Stoate, a family doctor who was elected as a Labour MP in May.

"Person after person stood up and said this is an issue we wanted to raise and it was the will of Parliament. The Home Secretary said he would take it away to the Cabinet and consider the next move forward."

Mr Foster told the Home Secretary he was pleased with the weight of support his Bill got, and, in spite of disappointment at the way it had been blocked, it would be brought back in one form or another.