TONY Blair last night faced embarrassing defeat over foxhunting as MPs defied the Government to vote for a total ban.
In the latest twist of the long running wrangle between the Government and MPs, Labour backbenchers joined a small number of Tories in backing changes to the Hunting Bill.
The bill had allowed for limited fox hunting under licence as pest control if it could be proved there was not other, less cruel alternative. It also made stag hunting and hare coursing illegal.
But after a passionate debate MPs voted by 362 votes to 154 to back an amendment to the bill tabled by Labour's Tony Banks, adding foxes to the list of animals it is illegal to hunt with dogs.
The Bill now has to go back to committee for tidying up before MPs go on their summer holidays on July 17 and then to the House of Lords around the end of October.
The Government can then use the Parliament Act to over rule the wishes of Peers, who have managed to put the brakes on previous attempts to secure a ban.
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael paved the way for the crucial vote by dramatically withdrawing a new Government clause at the close of the debate.
MPs had been told that if the new clause, tidying up the Bill and extending absolute bans on hunting to include the use of terriers below ground, was approved, there would be no vote on the outright ban on foxhunting.
This led anti-hunt MPs to accuse ministers of manipulation and underhand practices - charges hotly denied by Mr Michael.
Among those spearheading the drive to force through Mr Banks' amendment has been West Lancashire Labour MP Colin Pickthall, a vocal critic of the annual Waterloo Cup hare coursing event, which will cease if the bill becomes law.
After the vote he told the Daily Post that Mr Michael and the Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, had "given the nearest thing to a guarantee" that time would be found to stop the amended bill falling through lack of time.
"People in my constituency say they just want a complete ban. They would not have forgiven us if this had not gone through."
Former Tory minister Anne Widdecombe, who voted for an outright ban on hunting, said that both new clauses would lead to a "more civilised and kinder" society.
But fellow Tory, shadow Rural Affair Minister James Gray, said an incoming Conservative government would seek to restore fox hunting through a backbench Bill."