The Queen's Speech: Unspeakable are given a reprieve

Queen's Speech
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Prospects of a ban on fox-hunting in the near future receded after Labour appeared to distance itself yesterday from taking direct action.

It is understood it will rely on a Private Member's Bill, which are notoriously difficult to get through Parliament, to change the law. However, the Home Office has no current plans to draft and support an anti-fox- hunting Bill for a Labour MP to adopt. Jack Straw, Home Secretary, asked yesterday whether the Government would introduce a ban, would only repeat Labour's manifesto commitment to give MPs a free vote in the Commons on the issue.

But a Home Office source later made it clear that a ban on fox-hunting was not a priority for the Home Office, and would be left to an MP to bring in. The source said: "We have the next five years to bring in legislation, this is not considered a priority."

While there is a clear majority in the Commons opposed to people with hounds chasing foxes, Private Members' Bills can be easily thwarted by parliamentary procedure.

The development will be greeted with dismay by anti-hunting campaigners and many MPs, who believed that although Labour has never directly pledged to outlaw fox hunts, the so-called sport would be brought to an end with the introduction of a new government.

This belief was reinforced by comments made by Tony Blair that he would vote to ban fox-hunting if Labour won the election.

Shortly before the election Tony Banks, who has since been made Sports Minister, wrote to Mr Blair asking him to sort out "confusion" over the issue following the publication of the party's manifesto amid fears that Labour had watered down their position on fox-hunting.

Mr Banks said at the time: "If it isn't clarified there will be intense anger about this, starting with me."