Hunting ban faces further delay after MPs' vote

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Tony Blair will defy demands from Labour MPs for immediate legislation on hunting after the Commons and Lords vote on the issue next week.

The pressure on the Government to ban hunting increased yesterday when 174 MPs from all parties signed a Commons motion calling for early legislation to implement a total ban after MPs vote on Monday and peers debate the issue on Tuesday.

But Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs minister, is expected to announce in a Commons statement next week that a further consultation exercise will take place before the Government decides on legislation.

The move will dismay Labour MPs supportive of a ban who have been pressing for a Bill to be introduced in the current session of Parliament, which ends in October. The new round of consultations will delay any legislation until the next session.

Mr Michael's announcement will also fuel suspicions among Labour MPs that the Prime Minister will try to find a compromise acceptable to both Houses. Mr Blair may also seek common ground with the Tories in an attempt to lower the temperature of the debate.

The Commons will vote overwhelmingly for a ban next week, but speculation is growing that the Lords might back the so-called "middle way" of allowing licensed hunting.

Mr Blair is said to be reluctant to force through a ban by using the Parliament Act to override opposition in the Lords, which blocked the Hunting Bill before last year's general election.

Yesterday's motion was tabled by Tony Banks, a former Labour sports minister; Ann Widdecombe, the Tory MP and former Home Office minister; and Norman Baker of the Liberal Democrats.

The Queen signed a Bill to ban hunting with dogs in Scotland yesterday, paving the way for fox hunting to be outlawed before the next hunting season.