The Hunting Bill returned to the House of Commons on Tuesday February 27 for its report stage, despite strong criticism that the government was getting its priorities wrong.

Conservatives maintained that debate time would have been better spent on the “appalling catastrophe” brought about by the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Tory Home Affairs spokesman David Lidington commented: “We are now at a time when British farmers are facing what anybody recognises is by far the gravest crisis for at least half a century. To spend hours debating a ban on hunting displays a warped sense of priorities.”

The Countryside Alliance agreed that wasting scarce Parliamentary time on a hunting debate was “grossly insensitive” at a time when rural communities were in crisis.

However, Agricultural Minister Nick Brown argued that a foot-and-mouth Commons debate would divert resources, both ministerial and veterinary, from the frontline.

During the final Commons’ stage of the bill, MPs voted in favour of a hunting ban by 319 votes to 140, and supported Home Secretary Jack Straw’s amendment stating that the ban should not include the killing of rodents or rabbits.

It was also agreed that dogs should be legally allowed to stalk and flush out deer, on condition that the deer are shot.

Mr Straw’s proposal to legalise the wild mink huntingwas rejected.

The bill now moves to the House of Lords. It remains highly unlikely that the ban will become law before the looming election, given strong opposition from peers.