MINISTERS PLAN to introduce a closed season for fox hunting, from August to November, and intend to amend the Hunting Bill when it returns to the Commons.
The proposal, which has outraged hunt campaigners, is contained in a leaked letter from Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs Minister, to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. It will end the controversial practice of autumn cub hunting, which animal welfare groups have been urging for years.
Hunt supporters dispute claims that young cubs and vixens are killed; they say that foxes in August are young adults and able to fend for themselves.
Simon Hart, Chief Executive designate of the Countryside Alliance, said: "This has absolutely nothing to do with animal welfare. It is utterly ridiculous to say that one form of pest control cannot be used during those months while others can." He said it was "another example of Alun Michael showing blatant discrimination against foxhunting".
He was also angry about the language used by Mr Michael in his letter, dated May 14 and copied to Tony Blair and John Reid, Leader of the House, and which was leaked to Shooting Times.
Mr Michael wrote: "The further changes I am proposing would deal with the mischief of cub hunting by banning the hunting of foxes with dogs entirely during a closed season from August to November."
He also suggested that there would be new conditions on minimising the length of the chase and requiring close control of dogs so that any killing is quick and humane.
The Governments Bill allows registered hunting to take place for pest control purposes but bans hare coursing and stag hunting.
Mr Hart said that the Government was accepting that hunting was a legitimate form of pest control because it was not banning it. "There is just no logic to ban foxhunting during this period but to allow the shooting or snaring of foxes. This is complete prejudice."
Of the 12,000 foxes killed by hunts each year some 40 per cent are caught during the autumn cubbing period.
Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "All fox hunting is cruel and unnecessary and we expect MPs to support amendments for a total ban. There can be no compromise on the immorality of cruelty."