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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 September, 2004, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Hunt debate 'threatens key bills'
A fox hunt
The House of Lords has voted against a ban several times
Ministers are being warned they could lose key pieces of legislation if they try to force a fox hunting bill through the House of Lords.

More than 270 mainly Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion calling on the government to use the Parliament Act to override Lords opposition.

But the Tory leader in the Lords has warned a debate could take six days.

This would threaten progress of other legislation including the Children's Bill, Lord Strathclyde told the BBC.

The consensus in Labour circles is that were the PM to refuse [to force the bill through] then the mood inside his party could turn near mutinous
BBC correspondent Norman Smith

BBC correspondent Norman Smith said that although the government had not yet said it was going to push through a ban on hunting with dogs, all the signs were that ministers were preparing to do just that.

The consensus in Labour circles was that if Prime Minister Tony Blair was to refuse, the mood inside his party "could turn near mutinous", he added.

But a lengthy debate on hunting with dogs would threaten other legislation and something had "got to give", Lord Strathclyde said.

Lord Strathclyde's warning comes after newspaper reports that Commons speaker Michael Martin would invoke the Parliament Act to push through a ban allowing Tony Blair to distance himself from it.

Downing Street refused to comment on the claims.

Overwhelming support

Back in July, Commons leader Peter Hain hinted that the government would move to ban hunting with dogs, which opponents say is cruel and outmoded, by Christmas.

We have been campaigning for 80 years to get hunting banned and we would be absolutely delighted if that comes to pass
League Against Cruel Sports
Labour's determination to pass legislation banning hunting in England, a promise made by Mr Blair when he came to office seven years ago, has been frustrated by the House of Lords which has voted against the move several times.

The Bill to outlaw hunting with dogs is likely to receive overwhelming support when it goes before MPs in the House of Commons next week.

If the government invokes its powers to force a ban through, it would be only the fourth time the Parliament Act has been used in the past 50 years.

League Against Cruel Sports spokesman Mike Hobday said he was "very confident" the ban would be brought in, claiming anti-hunt MPs had told the group an announcement was imminent.

He said: "We are being told by MPs that they have received very clear assurances from ministers that the government is going to announce this coming week that it will introduce a Bill the following week.

"We have been campaigning for 80 years to get hunting banned and we would be absolutely delighted if that comes to pass."

Petition

Countryside activists argue that hunting with dogs is not cruel, is an efficient way of limiting fox populations and is an intrinsic part of social life in rural Britain.

The Countryside Alliance said it did not believe a ban was imminent but that, if it was brought in, hunt supporters would ignore it.

"Fifty thousand people have signed a petition saying they would be prepared to break the law if a ban was introduced and they would be prepared to face the consequences," a spokesman said.

"And it was not long ago that 400,000 people marched through the streets of London against a ban."

The government could not afford to ignore that number of people, he added.




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