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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Now the real hunt battle starts
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It may have taken them seven years, but anti-hunting MPs believe they have as good as won their battle to outlaw the activity.

Tony Blair
Blair has distanced himself from ban
Once again they voted overwhelmingly for an all-out ban and, this time, they will see the Parliament Act used to overrule the Lords if they reject the move.

The prime minister has abandoned his hope of finding a "middle way" and will now force the Bill onto the statute books in the face of any Lords opposition.

He appears to have decided that keeping his backbenchers on side by allowing them their way outweighed the possible backlash from countryside opponents.

After Wednesday's events, he may be re-thinking that calculation.

Hopes dashed

The ban would not come into force immediately, thanks to government moves to delay implementation until after the next general election.

That was aimed at taking the heat out of this highly-emotive issue during the election campaign, but those hopes must also have been dashed in the wake of the violent protests which hit Parliament on Wednesday.

Protest may signal trouble ahead
Far from marking the end of the issue, this may very well be just the beginning.

Pro-hunt protesters have pledged to fight the move tooth and nail, and even risk imprisonment through acts of civil disobedience.

They seem certain to use an election campaign as a platform for their protests.

But Mr Blair and his ministers must be calculating that other more important issues will overshadow the hunting row.

Honour bound

The prime minister appears to have judged that the less perilous route was to give his backbenchers what they wanted and, in the process, allow himself to claim he had simply accepted the democratic will of the Commons.

He will argue that he did his best to find a compromise, but that all his efforts were blocked by the rival campaigns.

And, to that end, he notably did not vote on the crucial second reading of the Bill despite his previous comments supporting a ban.

Rally at the Beaufort Hunt in Didmarton, Gloucestershire
Campaign may last through election
Having twice promised to allow the Commons to express its view, he will claim he was honour bound to meet that pledge.

It is an attempt to have it both ways by, in effect, giving in to anti-hunt MPs while at the same time being able to claim he had not wanted it to end like this.

There are many on his own benches who are tearing out their hair in frustration that they were ever put onto this hook over what, they believe, is a relatively minor issue.

They believe parliamentary time could have been better used to push more important policies through the Commons.

And they too will be hoping this really is an end to it all.

But Wednesday's events have proved just how high emotions are running over this issue and there is plenty of opportunity for this to come back and bite the government.

The BBC's Terry Stiastny
"There has long been a tussle over fox hunting"

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