Tony Blair suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Labour MPs last night when the Commons voted to ban fox hunting and rejected the Government's compromise Bill.
The scale of the defeat - by a majority of 208 - dealt a severe blow to the Prime Minister, who has experienced his worst three months in Parliament, with rebellions over Iraq, foundation hospitals, tuition fees and firefighters' pay.
Mr Blair had expressed his personal backing for the Government's Bill, which would have set up a system of licensing for fox hunts. But MPs, led by Tony Banks, the former sports minister, defied the Government and in a free vote overwhelmingly rejected its Bill by 362 votes to 154. They were joined by the cabinet ministers John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, Peter Hain, the Leader of the House, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, Ian McCartney, Labour Party chairman, and Paul Boateng, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Mr Blair did not vote.
After five hours of rowdy and, at times, angry debate, the Government was forced to withdraw an amendment designed to win over anti-hunting MPs. In a surprise admission of defeat, it withdrew its amendment when it became clear to Labour whips that the Government had no hope of defeating backbenchers who wanted a ban.
Douglas Batchelor, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "We are delighted that MPs have rejected the Government's attempt to compromise on the issue of hunting with dogs."
The Countryside Alliance said the situation was an "absolute farce".
The Bill will now go back to a committee of MPs and will then proceed to the House of Lords where peers are certain to block it.
The Government will then be under severe pressure to use the Parliament Act to force the Bill past the Lords.Reuse content