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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Hunt battle set to return
Hunters will be anxiously waiting for the Queen's Speech
The bitter battle over a ban on hunting with dogs could be revived after a government minister hinted that legislation would be brought before parliament again.

The suggestion came amid mounting speculation over Wednesday's Queen's speech, when the government sets out its programme for the next parliament.

Margaret Beckett
Mrs Beckett: Personally supports fox hunting ban
Plans to allow 24-hour pub opening and a ban on cigarette advertising are both expected to be shelved as the government concentrates on key public service bills.

Among them will be major law and order legislation, which will focus on shaking up archaic police working practices according to one report on Sunday.

But most attention is focusing on hunting after the comments by Margaret Beckett, the new Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary.

Manifesto pledge

She was asked what would happen to the fox hunting bill, which failed at the last attempt because of a lack of time, on BBC1's Countryfile.

Mrs Beckett replied: "Well obviously I can't prejudice what will be in the Queen's speech but as you know we said in our manifesto pledge we thought that parliament should be given an opportunity in this parliament to pronounce on it and that remains a manifesto commitment.

The Queen delivers the government-written speech
No one knows for sure what the Queen will announce
"It's a free vote. I have always voted to ban hunting but it's a free vote and everyone will vote as they think is right."

She was speaking days after a survey suggested two out of three people want fox hunting banned.

In the last parliament MPs and peers were given a choice of outlawing hunting altogether, imposing compulsory regulation or allowing a system of self-regulation.

MPs backed a total ban while the House of Lords opted for self-regulation.

As a parliamentary stalemate took hold the bill ran out of time and failed to make it onto the statute books before the election.

Disappointment is probably looming for those waiting for reform of licensing laws, some of which date back to the First World War.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Enjoys a pint but wants to put public services first
A range of proposals that would have allowed pubs to stay open round-the-clock was launched in May.

They were even used as a weapon in the election campaign, with young voters sent mobile phone text messages saying if they did not "give a XXXX for last orders" they should back Labour.

But industry insiders say that they have received "strong indications" that the measure is to be delayed.

And the Observer newspaper quoted Whitehall sources as saying the licensing shake-up was less of a priority than heavyweight bills on health, crime and education.

Meeting demanded

Rob Hayward, chief executive of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said: "We are very disappointed if this proves to be the case, because the government's election campaign was about modernising Britain and this is a classic example of what could be done to modernise Britain."

His group has joined forces with leisure and tourism industry representatives to ask for an urgent meeting with Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell to clarify the situation.

Concern was being expressed elsewhere after members of the anti-smoking movement said they had received hints a ban on cigarette advertising will also not feature in the Queen's speech.

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), said if true it was an "utter disgrace" while Professor Sir George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said they were "astonished".

Police reform

Labour has been committed to a Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill as far back as its 1997 manifesto but has so far failed to deliver a ban.

A Health Department spokesman said: "There is a commitment by this government to bring this bill in during the course of the parliament."

One area certain to be at the heart of Wednesday's speech is law and order.

According to the Sunday Times, procedures for early retirement on medical grounds and so-called "Spanish practices" on pay and conditions will both face reforms.

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See also:

15 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Public back hunt ban, suggests poll
03 May 01 | UK Politics
Minister calls time on drinking laws
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Queen's speech: At a glance
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