Ministers face pressure from back bench to outlaw hunting

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Indy Politics

Labour backbenchers are poised to push through an outright ban on fox hunting after attempts by ministers to talk them out of it failed.

A total of 150 Labour MPs have signed an amendment to the Hunting Bill, which would make it illegal to hunt with dogs anywhere in England and Wales.

Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs minister in charge of steering the Bill through Parliament, has been in frantic talks with MPs over the past few weeks to try to convince them to change their minds.

Labour MPs decided after a strategy meeting this week to seek an outright ban through an amendment to be tabled by the former sports minister Tony Banks. The amendment is expected to be backed in a free vote by a majority of MPs and a number of Tories and Liberal Democrats.

But the backbench move will almost certainly put the Commons, which is expected to vote for the ban, on a collision course with the Lords.

Some MPs believe that the Government might allow backbenchers to push ahead with their plans and "toss them a bone" after bruising battles over foundation hospitals, tuition fees and Iraq.

The Bill in its current form offers a compromise solution that would permit fox hunts if they are shown to be the least cruel method of controlling the fox population. It would, in effect, ban fox hunting in lowland areas of Britain but would allow hunts to be licensed in upland areas, such as in Wales.

Alun Michael has been meeting Labour MPs in groups and individually to try to persuade them to back amendments he plans to table to impose fresh restrictions on the activities of licensed hunts.

The government amendments would restrict the length of time a fox could be chased by hounds and legislate to make sure the kill is as humane as possible.

The backbenchers are expected to hold a third meeting on the Bill with Tony Blair over the next few weeks.