The government’s attempt to ban hunting with hounds is being delayedbecause of the war in Iraq.

Sources close to the government say that there are currently no plans as to when the third reading or report stage of the Hunting Bill, which finished its committee stage at the end of February, should go back to the Commons for consideration.

Ministers say privately that they believe it would be “inappropriate” for MPs to be seen discussing and voting on whether to ban the sport at the same time that British armed forces personnel are risking their lives in the Gulf.

However, they insist that the delay is only a temporary one, and that time will be made later during this parliamentary session to deal with the legislation.

“This is a controversial issue and we think that it’s not appropriate to be dealing with it at a time when we are engaged in a war,” said a source close to Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, who is dealing with the Bill.

“The Labour Party and the government have made a commitment to give Parliament the opportunity to resolve this issue. It would be utterly wrong to abandon it,” he said.

Depending on the length of the war against Iraq, some Westminster observers say that the Bill could be debated in the Commons towards the end of May.

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