UK Politics

Fox hunting number crunching: How MPs divide on the issue

A fox hunt Image copyright Getty Images

A free vote on relaxing the fox hunting ban in England and Wales has been postponed after the SNP said it would vote against the changes. Where does the House of Commons stand on the issue?

The vote would have focused on amending, rather than repealing the Hunting Act.

Campaigners on both sides believed this would make a difference to how MPs voted.

According to the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, more MPs would back the technical changes - which could increase the number of dogs used to flush out foxes - than would be prepared to back full repeal.

The League Against Cruel Sports said it believed the vote would be closer than if MPs were being asked to repeal the act.

If this was one potentially complicating factor when trying to gauge how the vote would go, another is the influx of new MPs following the general election, whose opinions on hunting may not yet be known.

Notwithstanding the planned amendments to the law, Downing Street has said the government remains committed to its manifesto pledge to offer a free vote on completely repealing the Hunting Act.

So how will the MPs divide when that day comes?

Party positions

A free vote means MPs will be able to vote independently of their parties' whips.

The Conservatives have a 12-seat majority in the Commons and most Tory MPs would be expected to back repealing the ban. But not all of them - the Conservatives Against Fox Hunting group says it is confident of exceeding the 28 supporters it claimed in the last Parliament.

Lorraine Platt, of the group - which is also known as Blue Fox - said it was too early to say how the new MPs would vote, predicting the outcome would be "very close".


Flashback to 2004

Image copyright PA
Image caption Pro-hunting protesters invaded the House of Commons when the ban was being debated in 2004

On 15 September 2004, MPs supported the second reading of the Hunting Bill in a free vote by 356 to 166.

Parliament was suspended for a short time after five protesters got into the Commons chamber while MPs debated whether to vote for a ban.

How they voted (Yes/No)

  • Conservative: 6/137
  • Labour: 318/3
  • Lib Dem: 32/16
  • Plaid Cymru: 0/4
  • Ulster Unionist: 0/4
  • Independent: 0/2

Source: publicwhip.org.uk


One anti-hunting Conservative is Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, who reacted to news of the proposed vote by saying she would oppose any attempt to relax the legislation "via the back door".

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox recently predicted a "substantial" number of Conservatives would vote against repealing the ban, meaning there would be enough opposition in the Commons to prevent the law being scrapped.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Campaigners on both sides of the fox-hunting debate are trying to rally support

Labour introduced the 2004 Hunting Act, which outlawed the use of dogs to hunt foxes and other wild mammals in England and Wales, and almost all of its MPs would want to preserve it. Pro-hunting campaigners say there are some Labour figures, like Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey, who would want the ban overturned.

The Liberal Democrats were said to have resisted a free vote on hunting during the last Parliament, when they were in coalition with the Conservatives. The party now has just eight MPs. Leadership contender Tim Farron told the Westmorland Gazette he favoured a "more comprehensive animal welfare bill" over simply repealing the act.

A Lib Dem spokeswoman said party policy was in favour of the ban, adding that the party's MPs traditionally had a free vote on the matter.

Plaid Cymru has previously said it allows its MPs to vote freely on the issue - in 2004 most of its MPs opposed the hunting ban. UKIP's Douglas Carswell has said he supports it, and the DUP is likely to have MPs on both sides of the divide.

With a vastly increased Commons presence following the general election, the SNP's influence on any free vote could be decisive.

The Hunting Act only applies in England and Wales. Traditionally, the SNP position at Westminster is not to vote on matters which don't impact on Scotland unless they have a direct impact on the budget of Scotland via the so-called Barnett funding formula.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The SNP says its MPs will oppose any change to the law

As a result, pro-hunting campaigners focused on securing 286 votes to get their way in the Commons.

But now SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says she has changed her mind on the issue, and the party will vote against moves to relax the ban.

The SNP's intervention made it unlikely that hunting supporters would have the numbers to change the law, given that a number of Conservatives are also expected to oppose the move.

This led to the vote being delayed, possibly until after restrictions have been imposed on Scottish MPs' voting rights on issues that don't apply there.

Finally, even if the numbers were there in the Commons, a final hurdle to any law change would be the House of Lords. Both next week's vote, and any subsequent moves to repeal the act, would be debated by both Houses of Parliament.

In 2004, the ban was resisted in the Lords, and after a drawn-out period of "ping pong" with the Commons, the Speaker took the rare step of invoking the Parliament Act to allow the bill to become law.

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