THE COUNTRYSIDE Alliance is preparing for battle after the government confirmed it intends to re-introduce the Hunting Bill before the end of this parliamentary session.

Alun Michael, junior DEFRA minister, announced its re-introduction on Wed (Sept 8) in a written answer to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Paddy Tipping.

Mr Michael acknowledged that the issue is not ranked as importantly as health, education and jobs.

But he said the subject had occupied much parliamentary time over the past few years and the time had come for parliament to reach a conclusion.

The Bill will now come before parliament on Wed (Sep 15) before being sent to the Lords the same day.

The government has made it clear that it intends to use the Parliament Act to ensure the Bill becomes legislation expected to be by the end of November.

In effect, all hunting with dogs will be illegal from the beginning of Feb.

But fox hunting with hounds is expected to be delayed for two years to allow hunts time to relocate hounds and horses.

The Countryside Alliance immediately announced it would be challenging the legality of the Bill.

The group said it had already been found to be ‘non-compliant‘ with the Human Rights Act by Joint Parliamentary Committee.

“The government has chosen the path of prejudice and spite – the reaction it unleashes will be entirely its own responsibility,” said chief executive Simon Hart.

Several MPs, including those who are members of the Middle Way Group (supporters of regulated hunting), have also criticised the government‘s decision and written to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In their letter to the PM, they warned him that “he will be regarded as having increased the suffering of wild animals by allowing the re-introduction of the Hunting Bill”.

“The public must realise that this Bill has nothing to do with animal welfare,” said Lembit Öpic MP and co-chair of the Middle Way Group.

“It ignores the conclusions of the Burns Report, the Portcullis House hearings and scientific evidence on wounding.

“Instead of being based on principle, it substitutes the personal bigotry and prejudices of backbenches,” he added.

But individuals and organisations in-favour of a total ban have welcomed the announcement.

Michael Foster MP told the BBC he was “delighted by the Bill” describing it as “the great prize that so many had worked on for decades”.