The Government’s “compromise” hunting bill was greeted with widespread animosity from pro and anti-hunters alike yesterday and the Minister for Rural Affairs was forced to fend off a barrage of criticism from MPs of all parties in the Commons.

Shadow DEFRA Secretary David Lidington dismissed the bill as a “waste of Parliamentary time”. He added: “If the Government are to be taken at their word, then it should be possible to prove that there is real utility in foxhunting and stag hunting, and that alternative methods of control are more cruel.

“Any attempt to change the Bill into an outright ban would be a challenge to civil liberties, and an outrage to the countryside,” he said.

Nicholas Soames, the Conservative MP for Mid Sussex and a member of the Crawley and Horsham fox hunts, questioned Mr Michael’s repeated reference to Lord Burns’ inquiry into hunting with dogs, which found no evidence of cruelty in fox hunting.

“If the Burns’ report provided the intellectual infrastructure for Mr Michael,'”he said, ‘why had he included cruelty as a criterion at all?”

The Opposition accused the Government of displaying a ‘lunatic sense of priorities’. James Gray, Shadow Minister for the Countryside, said: “By a cruel irony [the bill was announced] on the day when the Countryside Agency have published a most worrying report about poverty in rural areas.'”P>The Countryside Alliance rejected Mr Michael’s decision to ban deerhunting andhare coursing, as seventy followers of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds gathered yesterday on Exmoor for a midweek meet.

“It is completely unacceptable that the fragile community of Exmoor, its neighbouring areas, and the diverse supporters of coursing should be the victims of discrimination,'”said the Alliance.

In response to the bill, a peaceful mass lobby of Parliament, to be led by West Country and coursing communities, is being organised by the Alliance for the week beforeChristmas.