Anti-hunting group donated £50,000 to Labour

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An influential anti-hunting lobby group donated almost £50,000 to the Labour Party during the general election – only weeks before Tony Blair announced he would proceed with a vote to ban hunting.

The revelation will infuriate countryside campaigners who will question Labour's impartiality on a ban on hunting with dogs.

Records published yesterday showed that Labour accepted two donations from the Political Animal Lobby, a secretive animal welfare organisation which was formerly linked to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw). The first, for £30,000, was made in April, as Labour's manifesto was being drawn up, and the second, of £17,582, in June.

Yesterday, the Middle Way Group, a countryside campaign group opposed to a hunting ban, said the donation would reignite the cash-for-influence debate.

A spokesman, James Barrington, said: "Whenever you give a donation like this it will raise the question about why are you doing it.

"In reality, this appears that it may be payment for something. I think that it is a very dodgy thing to do." Labour promised in its manifesto to give the House of Commons, which voted for a ban in the last parliament, "an early opportunity to express its view".

Shortly after the election, Tony Blair included a pledge to allow MPs a second opportunity to vote for a hunting ban in the Queen's Speech which sets out the Government's parliamentary programme.

Labour faced criticism before the last election when it emerged that the animal lobby had donated £1m to help Tony Blair defeat the Tories.

The Government introduced a three-option Bill in the last parliament on the future of hunting with dogs. But it fell after Parliament was split over whether to introduce a ban. The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to ban fox-hunting while the House of Lords voted against a ban.

Labour plans to reintroduce the proposals and animal welfare groups hope Mr Blair will act to overrule the House of Lords if it tries to block a hunting ban again.

The Political Animal Lobby, (PAL) is headed by the veteran animal welfare activist Brian Davies, who is now based in the United States. Mr Davies founded Ifaw – which is now an entirely separate organisation – and successfully campaigned to draw to the public's attention the plight of seal pups clubbed to death in culls in North America.

In Britain, PAL is run by Angela Beveridge, sister of the Labour MP Tony Banks, an outspoken critic of hunting. No one from the organisation was available for comment yesterday,

The anti-hunting organisation's donation was registered by the Labour Party with the Electoral Commission which published its list of political contributions yesterday.

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