The Hunting Bill will be reintroduced to Parliament next Wednesday, Peter Hain announced in the Business Statement today, and will be dealt with in one day in the Commons.

But in a surprise move, the Government are to propose that there should be a delay to the implementation of the Bill of two years.

Alun Michael explained yesterday that a delay to the implementation of a ban would allow hunts two years respite to wind down their activities.

“This period will give those involved in hunting more than adequate time to cease the activities which are to be banned,” he stated.

However, many consider that the reason for the two-year delay is in order to reduce or even avert any pro-hunting action during the run-up to the election. A Countryside Alliance spokesman explained that in his view, “the two-year delay has been proposed because Tony Blair has given the nod to obsessive backbenchers, with the proviso that they do nothing to upset Labour’s election campaign.

“This, basically, is a silent admission that hunting is a vote loser rather than a vote winner.

“It also seems that this may be in response to concerns raised by the Joint Committee for Human Rights last December, in relation to the fact that there has been no progressive history on banning legislation as far as hunting is concerned.

“This would imply that they are therefore concerned about the human rights issues that would be raised if a ban were to be implemented,” he added.

And there is little reason to suppose that the backlash from rural England would be in any way mitigated by a two-year delay. Lindsay Hill, of the Union of Country Sports Workers (UCSW) says: “The UCSW is pretty disgusted by it. We don’t want a ban, and the idea that we should have two years to prepare for the destruction of our livelihoods is ludicrous.”

Meanwhile, negotiations are still ongoing regarding the time required to debate the reintroduced Bill in the House of Lords. Many argue that they have never yet been given adequate time to scrutinise the Bill properly, and therefore say they may need as much as six days to debate it, possibly jeopardizing the progress of other Bills in the process.

The proposed two-year delay may prove too major a gamble for the Government, and it has already provoked furious outrage among anti-hunting campaigners. Tony Banks and Gerald Kaufman, two major players behind the movement to ban hunting, are likely to reject the proposal for a two-year delay, with Kaufman stating firmly yesterday that he was “absolutely furious”, and that he would “defeat it”, and Banks describing the move as “slippery” on the part of the Government.

Ann Holmes of the League Against Cruel Sports said: “The Government tried to fudge the issue last year, when MPs still voted for an outright ban.  Those MPs who feel that hunting is a morally reprehensible activity will not be voting for a two-year delay to the implementation of the Bill.

“The Government has a history of fudging the issue, and there is absolutely no reason for a hunting ban not to be implemented next spring: any hunt in the country has the option of converting to drag hunts, which means not a single hound would have to be put down. A decision not to convert to drag hunting could be interpreted as being based on bloodlust.,” she concluded.