Blair hopes courts will overturn hunting ban

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Tony Blair is secretly hoping that hunt campaigners will overturn a ban on fox hunting in the courts and prevent a row souring next year's general election campaign.

Tony Blair is secretly hoping that hunt campaigners will overturn a ban on fox hunting in the courts and prevent a row souring next year's general election campaign.

A cabinet member told The Independent that legislation to impose a ban on hunting as soon as February would be "wide open" to legal challenge under human rights legislation. "The campaigners are saying they will take this to court for a judicial review. We think they will be able to. We are wide open on it," the minister said.

The Commons and the Lords are heading for an constitutional clash over the Bill today when the legislation heads back the Lords after a heated three-hour debate by MPs yesterday.

About 30 pro-hunt protesters locked themselves to railings outside the House of Lords yesterday as MPs started debate on a last-minute compromise, backed by Mr Blair, aimed at allowing limited hunting under strict licence.

Proposing Mr Blair's favoured compromise last night, Huw Irranca-Davies, the MP for Ogmore, compared his attempt to win round anti-hunt MPs to the Charge of the Light Brigade and admitted he was "a little lonely" on the benches.

Mr Blair's spokesman denied the Prime Minister had tried to steer the Government "payroll vote" to avoid an outright clash with the hunting lobby. "It is a free vote. He cannot impose his view on fellow MPs," said the spokesman.

The Prime Minister fears there will be a backlash against the Government if hunts are forced to put down their dogs in the run-up to the election.

The Countryside Alliance promised a court challenge if MPs succeeded in forcing a ban onto the statute books despite opposition from peers.

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