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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 15:44 GMT
Blair hunts a way out
Anti-hunt protesters outside the Commons
Anti-hunting protesters unlikely to get their way
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Let's get this clear - Tony Blair is in favour of a total ban on foxhunting.

When other business permits, he always votes to end the practice and will do so again at the end of the current debate.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair is against hunting
However, he is also "seeking a consensus" on how best to proceed with legislation.

And that means there appears little more than a chance in a million that his government will actually ban fox hunting.

So, the prime minister is against fox hunting, the Labour party is against fox hunting, Labour MPs are against fox hunting and the voters are against fox hunting.

But the government is probably not going to ban fox hunting.

Bogged down

The prime minister and his ministers claim to be in a bit of a pickle.

They may want to outlaw the blood sport but they do not want to see all their other, more important, legislation to get cash into schools and hospitals and to improve transport getting bogged down.

Countryside minister Alun Michael
Michael will reveal plans
And that is exactly what could happen, they claim, if the Commons and Lords get locked in yet another game of ping-pong over anti-fox hunting laws.

But, many argue, there was no need to get into this position in the first place.

The Commons has previously overwhelmingly backed a ban on the sport.

So Tony Blair could have simply insisted that, if the Commons once again voted in favour of an outright ban, the Lords would be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it option.

Final position

The Peers may not be bound by previous votes, but he could have argued that they were under a democratic duty to finally bow to the will of the elected members and the voters.

Instead, Peers are also being given the choice of three options - irrespective of what the Commons does.

That will almost certainly lead to the situation where MPs demand a ban and Peers demand a middle-way compromise such as licensing, or possibly even no change.

Countryside minister Alun Michael will then come back to the Commons before Easter with the government's final, final position.

It is a bizarre situation and can probably only be explained by one fact - that the prime minister is trying to please everyone.

The way he is going, however, the danger is that he is far more likely to anger everyone.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair to vote for hunt ban
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