Peers defy MPs by voting for hunting to go on under licence

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Peers backed an attempt last night to allow fox hunting to continue under licence, despite warnings that it would put the House of Lords on a collision course with MPs intent on imposing a ban.

Peers backed an attempt last night to allow fox hunting to continue under licence, despite warnings that it would put the House of Lords on a collision course with MPs intent on imposing a ban.

The House of Lords voted 322 to 72, a majority of 250, to amend the Hunting Bill to replace a ban on the sport with a "compromise" licensing scheme.

The all-party amendment attempts to recreate the Government's original proposals for strict regulation of hunting which was introduced two years ago, before being transformed into a ban on foxhunting.

Peers yesterday insisted that the plan could form the basis of a compromise between the Commons and the Lords after Tony Blair indicated that he still favoured a compromise.

But, speaking at the start of a three-day debate on the Bill, Lord Whitty, an environment minister, said that a licensing scheme had already been rejected by MPs.

Peers have been warned that the Government will use the Parliament Act if it cannot break the impasse between the Commons and the Lords. Pro-hunt MPs insist that they will not compromise on a ban.

Opening a debate on the proposals, Lord Donoughue, the Labour peer, told the Lords that the cross-party amendment had wide support. He said: "If the Government does not accept this rational compromise and also uses the draconian Parliament Act against its original proposals, then my government - of which I am normally a most loyal supporter - will in my view be shamed and humiliated by its actions.

"I was an adviser to the Yes, Prime Minister programmes and I have to say that this scenario, we would have been happy to adopt as a satirical script in that programme of the Government using the Parliament Act to resist its own proposals."

Lord Whitty was asked repeatedly to spell out the Government's position on the Bill, as he urged peers to come up with a compromise likely to win support from MPs. He said: "We are at the point in the parliamentary calendar where we are in some sort of negotiation on this and on other Bills.

"It is not usually a good move to send back to your negotiating partners a proposal which has already been overwhelmingly rejected, not unless you wish to precipitate a breakdown of relations between the two sides. I put that as a warning."

The Conservative Lord Mancroft said: "We have produced a compromise. We have compromised considerably in going down this road and that was our intention. We are giving back to the Government its original Bill and supporting it in our wish to find a compromise." Lord King of Bridgwater, the former Tory defence secretary, added: "It is the duty of this House to save the Government and the country from what might be a most unfortunate situation."

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