Edinburgh ban on blood sport raises pressure on Blair

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Indy Politics

In the summer of 1999 Tony Blair made the rash, crowd-pleasing pledge to outlaw fox-hunting within a year, telling millions of television viewers: "It will be banned as soon as we possibly can."

After nearly three years, a failed parliamentary attempt and a fresh election manifesto promise, an end to hunting with hounds is no closer.

But the Scottish Parliament's vote to ban hunting piles fresh pressure on the Government. As the historic move was made in Edinburgh last night, animal rights activists at a meeting nearly 500 miles away in Plymouth were being urged to capitalise on the decision to press for a blanket ban across the UK.

It was a foretaste of the tactics the Government will face over the next few months as it agonises over calling a vote to end hunting in England and Wales. A clear majority of MPs supports the move and opinion polls suggest a ban would be popular among voters. However, many ministers are reluctant to spend time on a second, enervating tussle with the Lords on the issue and remain wary of antagonising swaths of rural England.

Labour included a commitment to holding a vote on hunting in its last twomanifestos. Last year's document said: "We will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to express its view. We will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue. If the issue continues to be blocked we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved."

Yesterday the Government ­ which has blamed the delay on anti-terrorism measures, legislation over Railtrack and foot-and-mouth disease ­ could give no date as to when that would happen. Nor could it give any hint over its next step when the Lords again blocks a ban supported by the Commons.

The prevarication has irritated Labour supporters of a fox-hunting ban, with more than 230 MPs signing a motion for swift action by the Government to honour its promise. Tony Banks, one of the most vocal, warned that the credibility of the Government was being threatened.

He said: "It does seem with the evasive answers that the Prime Minister has been giving us recently that somehow he still believes you can appease your enemies on this issue and you can dump on your friends."

Mr Banks added: "Quite frankly, if it isn't resolved, then I must say it will be a matter of utter betrayal by the Labour Government."

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: "For as long as there is an anomaly between Scotland and the rest of the country, pressure will inevitably grow on the Government to act."