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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 16:59 GMT
Speculation mounts on hunting ban
Labour promised to help Parliament reach a conclusion on hunting
Speculation is mounting about whether Tony Blair will take on the House of Lords and force through measures to outlaw fox hunting.

Some commentators believe a bill is unlikely to be included in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday, but might be among measures considered for later action.

Labour MP Tony Banks says it is time for the Parliament Act to be used to force the measure through the Lords.

But pro-hunting Tory Lady Blatch said this would be an "abuse of procedure".

Ping pong

The majority of Labour MPs want to see a ban on fox hunting, but all attempts to get bills through both Houses of Parliament have so far run into the sand.

Last month a bill was in effect killed off after the House of Lords ran out of time to debate it.

Banning hunting has become an issue of trust between the government and the public
Douglas Batchelor
League Against Cruel Sports

Earlier peers threw out MPs' overwhelming calls for an outright ban on hunting with dogs.

Instead they voted in favour of allowing hunting to continue under licence - reinstating plans for a registration scheme originally proposed by the government but later rejected in the House of Commons.

Ministers now have the option to reintroduce the bill in the Commons when the new session starts on Wednesday.

If it was passed again by MPs, it would then go to the Lords in early 2004.

Debated 'ad nauseam'

If peers voted to block the bill for a second time, the Parliament Act - a rarely used instrument to enforce the will of MPs if there is deadlock with peers - could be invoked.

If it was used, a ban could become law by autumn of next year.

Former sports minister Mr Banks, a staunch opponent of hunting, said he did not believe another bill would be included in the Queen's Speech.

"I can't really see why it's necessary because it will be in the bit that comes at the end where she says 'other measures will be laid before you'," he told BBC's World at One.

"The bill has already been debated, discussed and passed it's stages in the House of Commons and all we need to do is reintroduce that same bill back into the House of Commons during the course of the new session."

'Matter of faith'

Mr Banks said the bill would pass through its Commons stages "very swiftly" because the issues had been debated "ad nauseam".

He said he believed the political will was there to proceed with an outright ban.

"This is a matter of good faith on behalf of the government ... This has to be completed. This is unfinished business. It is the will of the majority of the country ....

"It is very important for the reputation and the standing of the government that it completes the business it promised to do."

'Constitutional outrage'

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said he hoped the bill would be included in the Queen's Speech.

"The government has repeatedly promised to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the cruel sport of hunting with dogs.

"Given the intransigence of the House of Lords, the only way for the government to keep its promise is for them to reintroduce the Hunting Bill back into the House of Commons as quickly as possible."

Rally at the Beaufort Hunt in Didmarton, Gloucestershire
Hunt supporters say they will disobey any ban on hunting
Baroness Mallalieu, a pro-hunting Labour peer and Countryside Alliance president, said there would be "constitutional outrage" if the Parliament Act was used.

"There is no precedent for legislation of this sort being subject to the use of the Parliament Act," she told the World at One.

"I do not believe that there is going to be a total ban. I would put a very small amount of money on there possibly being a private members' bill.

"I would put rather less money one there being a government bill at some stage ..."

Lady Blatch, deputy leader of Conservative peers, said: "If the government really insists on abusing parliamentary procedures in a way that's threatened by Tony Banks, then I think there will be some very real tension between both Houses."

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