Next Monday the future of hunting will again come to the floor of the Commons following the recent publication of the Hunting Bill, drafted by rural affairs minister Alun Michael.

Most Labour MPs vigorously oppose hunting and when the Commons last voted on this in March, there was a large majority in favour of ban. Mr Michael’s bill now represents the most serious attempt to resolve the issue by allowing hunting to survive in some areas, yet a large question mark hangs over this.

Since it has been published, more than 100 Labour MPs have signed a motion expressing regret that the bill will allow hunting to remain in certain upland areas. There have also been reports that Tony Blair is putting Labour MPs under pressure to support Mr Michael’s bill and not introduce new amendments.

Since the introduction ofthe bill a number of Mr Michael’s own backbenchers have called for a tougher stance and pressed the government for assurances that it will invoke the Parliament Act if the bill does not pass the Lords.

It is, of course, rare for Parliamentto use the Act on a free vote. Mr Michael insists that his proposals are tough and fair, and is hoping for an “interesting and constructive” discussion next Monday.

The bill will probably go to the Lords around Easter, either in its original form, or with much tougher wording containing an outright ban.

If the Parliament Act were to be introduced, it would come into force about a year after the bill received its second reading in the Commons. It would, however, apply to the bill that left the Commons for the Lords, rather than the original one introduced by Mr Michael.

It is highly unlikely that any of the opponents, on either side of the political divide, are likely to change their minds. Martin Salter, the Labour backbencher, says there is a strong feeling among his colleagues that they will settle for nothing less than “a total ban”.

Read more about the impact on the proposed bill in this week’s Horse & Hound (12 December), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.