Hunting ban will be delayed again

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Fox hunting and other blood sports are to survive for another year. The Government's legislative programme is so congested that business managers are ready to abandon the latest attempt to bring in a ban.

Another delay will frustrate animal rights activists who have been struggling for six years to introduce a ban on hunting by dogs. The measure has been passed by the House of Commons several times, but has been blocked by the House of Lords.

Pro-hunting peers will meet on Tuesday to discuss tactics for next week's debate on the latest Hunting Bill. They are expected to overturn the most recent vote in the Commons, when MPs opted for an outright ban on fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing. Instead, the Lords are likely to vote in favour of setting up a new regulatory authority to license all three sports.

That proposal has no real chance of being accepted by the Commons, where the majority of MPs are determined to bring an end to all forms of hunting with dogs. But with less than six weeks to go until the end of the parliamentary year, the Government is likely to abandon the Bill rather than force it through, to save parliamentary time for other contentious measures such as its proposals for foundation hospitals.

Ann Mallalieu, a Labour life peer who has led the campaign to save fox hunting, said: "I hope that it will be delayed until after the election. Then we might just get an outbreak of common sense and a proper overall Wildlife Management Agency which will regulate hunting and deal with problems like the explosion in the deer population."

But opponents of fox hunting believe that even if the Hunting Bill fails to go through in the next two months, the Government will be forced by the strength of opinion among MPs to reintroduce it next year. Alun Michael, the Environment minister responsible for the Bill, has indicated that if the Commons and Lords cannot agree, the Government will use the Parliament Act to over-rule the Lords.

Mike Hobday of the League Against Cruel Sports forecast: "Hunting will be banned because that is the will of the House of Commons. The two houses were never going to agree on this in 100 years."