Straw pledges ban on hunting before election

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Indy Politics

Fox-hunting is set to be banned before the next general election under plans to be announced today by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

Fox-hunting is set to be banned before the next general election under plans to be announced today by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

He will announce that the Government will make parliamentary time available to ensure that a private member's Bill becomes law. And anti-hunting Labour MPs have been told privately that ministers are ready to use the guillotine process to cut short debate on the measure to get the Bill on to the statute book.

If the Bill is blocked by opponents in the House of Lords in the parliamentary session starting next week, the MPs have been told that the Government will use the Parliament Act. The measure would then be approved without delay in the following session beginning a year from now.

Mr Straw's long-awaited statement will dash the hopes of the hunting lobby that the Government is getting cold feet about a ban on blood sports.

But the Home Secretary will seek to reassure countryside campaigners by announcing an inquiry into the impact of a ban on rural areas. The Independent has learnt that it will be a short, sharp review focusing on jobs, and will not be used to side-step Tony Blair's pledge this summer to outlaw hunting with hounds.

Mr Straw will reply to a written Commons question by Michael Foster, the Labour MP whose private member's Bill to ban fox-hunting failed in the Commons two years ago, despite the support of an overwhelming majority of MPs. "I am confident that we will get a Bill on to the statute book before the general election," Mr Foster said last night. "Extra government time is the key to that."

The Prime Minister gave little away last night when he met the Middle Way group, led by the Liberal Democrat Lembit Opik and Peter Luff, a Tory, for 35 minutes at Downing Street. It wants hunting to continue under licence.

After the meeting, the group warned that an inquiry solely on the impact of a hunting ban on jobs in the countryside would be unacceptable. "It must not just be on the rural economy," Mr Luff said. "It must be on the rural society, it must look at animal welfare, and the liberty issues. I would prefer a Royal Commission."

The Government Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Carter, has warned Mr Blair that a backbench bill to ban fox-hunting would be blocked in the reformed House of Lords, even after most hereditary peers have been removed.

But supporters of the ban on hunting with hounds have been told privately that the Parliament Act could be used to force it through. "It's unusual to use the Parliament Act for a private members' Bill, but we have been told that it is perfectly legal," said one leading supporter of a ban.

Last night Mo Mowlam, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, announced that she had been appointed to chair a cabinet committee on the countryside.

In Scotland, the Labour MSP Mike Watson pledged to press ahead with his own Bill to ban fox-hunting north of the border.