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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 13:05 GMT
Hunt lobby's hopes may be dashed
Anti-hunting protestors
Tony Blair does not want more protests
Nick Assinder

Supporters of a ban on foxhunting are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the blood sport finally being killed off in Scotland.

They believe the move will put new pressure on Tony Blair to do what he once promised and outlaw the practice in England as well.

One of the most outspoken supporters of a ban, former Labour minister Tony Banks, has even gone so far as to claim that, if the government fails to act, it will be an "utter betrayal".

Tony Blair, he claims, is appeasing the pro-hunt lobby while "dumping on his friends".

Former minister Tony Banks
Banks fears betrayal
It is certainly the case that the prime minister - having originally pledged to outlaw hunting in an apparently off the cuff remark during the last parliament - has been running scared of the issue ever since.

He has blamed the Lords for blocking it when they never even saw the original planned legislation, he has blamed lack of parliamentary time over which he has huge influence and he has resorted to the oldest delaying tactic of all - having an inquiry.

Best left alone

Now after making fresh promises at the last election - presumably designed to appease his urban supporters - there is still no sign that he is ready to throw his full weight behind the anti-hunt lobby and ensure their hopes are finally realised.

And, contrary to the anti-hunters' beliefs, the experience in Scotland is more likely to strengthen his belief that this is an issue best left alone.

Anti-hunt protestors
Hunt ban vote was promised
The bill to outlaw hunting in Scotland has become hugely complex, with 107 amendments tabled, has taken up a large chunk of the Scottish parliament's time, and has seen the rival factions taking to the streets in support or protest.

The last thing the prime minister wants is a similar process unravelling in England and in the Commons.

He certainly wants to keep his anti-hunting supporters on side - so we can expect more vague promises about MPs getting a free vote in this session of parliament.

But he already has enough on his plate tackling public services and the transport system without getting bogged down in controversies over a minor issue.

Student grants

And that is why many still fear that, barring a huge upsurge in public anger, there will be no ban before the next election.

Meanwhile, the Welsh have also been at it by reintroducing the system of student grants which was controversially abolished by the Labour government.

That is another example of the devolved assemblies enjoying their independence, which is what they were created for in the first place.

Once again, however, there are no signs that the decision of the Cardiff assembly is about to turn Tony Blair's head.

All these things are likely to do is help persuade him, if he needed it, that devolution has gone far enough.

See also:

13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Labour MPs step up hunting call
11 Feb 02 | Wales
Student grants set for return
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