Bill to ban hunting called for by Labour backbenchers

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More than 200 Labour MPs yesterday demanded the reintroduction of legislation to ban fox hunting, stepping up pressure on the Government to outlaw the sport by the autumn.

A total of 216 anti-hunt MPs signed a Commons motion calling on ministers to use the Parliament Act to force the legislation through if it is blocked by the House of Lords.

The MPs, led by Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the Commons Culture Select Committee, said the Commons had voted nine times since 1995 to ban the sport. MPs expect a new Hunting Bill before the summer. It could then become law by the end of the parliamentary session in October because more than a year has passed since the Commons gave the Bill a second reading in December 2002, allowing the Commons to override objections from the Lords under the Parliament Act.

The Countryside Alliance warned of a campaign of civil disobedience if the ban became law. Tim Bonner, a spokesman for the pro-hunt group, warned: "There will be a very serious campaign of civil disobedience on this. We've already seen one old lady in Devon protesting about council tax rises and we have put 400,000 people on the streets of London.

"If the government presses ahead, many thousands of those people will be willing to campaign against it.

"The backbench MPs are going to end up making the Government look ridiculous. Voters are not interested in hunting. What they are concentrating on in the run up to the general election is delivery on health, education and immigration.

"The Government should remember it was elected and re-elected because it was moderate and reasonable, not because it was vindictive and obsessive."

The motion, signed by other high profile anti-hunt MPs, including the former Conservative front-bencher Ann Widdecombe and the former Labour health secretary Frank Dobson, is the latest sign that battle lines over hunting with dogs are once again being drawn.

Earlier this week the QC Rabinder Singh of Cherie Blair's legal chambers Matrix, issued an opinion that a ban would not breach the European Convention of Human Rights.

Matrix had been instructed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare which was hoping to undermine the Countryside Alliance which has threatened to challenge any ban under the Human Rights Act.

The opinion was welcomed by anti-hunting MPs. The former sports minister Tony Banks, also a signatory to the motion, said: "The convention on human rights clearly can't be used to defend the slaughter of another species. You can't blame the Countryside Alliance for trying everything they can."

Fox hunting has dogged Tony Blair's government ever since it won power. It's 1997 election manifesto promised a free vote on banning hunting with hounds, but despite several votes in favour the government has shied away from taking on the House of Lords, which would probably block any legislation. That would force the government to take up Parliamentary time invoking the Parliament Act over an issue which is considered to be unimportant.

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