Pro-hunting peers set a trap for Blair

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Pro-hunting peers are ready to set a trap this week to cause maximum embarrassment for Tony Blair if MPs push ahead with a ban on fox-hunting.

Pro-hunting peers are ready to set a trap this week to cause maximum embarrassment for Tony Blair if MPs push ahead with a ban on fox-hunting.

In contrast to the disruptive tactics used by direct action protesters such as Otis Ferry, the Lords have devised a plan that keeps strictly to parliamentary rules.

They intend to overturn the ban on fox-hunting that was passed by 339 votes to 155 in the Commons last month. Instead, they propose to reinstate a compromise originally put forward by the Rural Affairs minister Alun Michael, with Tony Blair's backing, which would ban hare-coursing and stag-hunting, but allow fox-hunting to continue under strict conditions. Anti-hunt MPs will then call for the Parliament Act to be invoked, overruling the Lords.

Bernard Donoghue, a Labour peer who was a senior adviser to the former prime minister Harold Wilson, suggested that it would create a farcical problem worthy of the TV comedy series Yes, Minister - on which he worked.

"It would be ludicrous if the Government were to connive in the use of the Parliament Act in a way it was never intended to be used, to enable a measure to go through that didn't have the Government's backing. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad," he said.

Lord Mancroft, a Tory peer, said: "I cannot see how the Government can move against its own Bill. If the Government wants legislation that will stand the test of time, this is not going to achieve that."

Ministers had delayed the hunting Bill until the parliamentary year was almost over, because of voiced fears that if it was brought in earlier, the Lords would deliberately delay it, creating a bottleneck and holding up other vital Bills.

With the opening of a new session of Parliament next month, there are still fears that one or more Bills could be lost, although leading pro-hunt peers have vigorously denied that they are planning to disrupt parliamentary business.

Lord Donoghue said a number of pro-hunting peers have been persuaded not to make speeches during this week's three-day debate, and others have been told they must make speeches short, to ensure the Lords keep to the timetable set by the Government.

Having spent three days discussing the Bill, they will send it back to the Commons in mid-November, when MPs will have to make the final decision on whether to invoke the Parliament Act.

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