UK Politics

MPs to vote on changes to fox hunting laws

Huntsmen with the Avon Vale Hunt ride out on their traditional Boxing Day hunt Image copyright Getty Images

MPs will be asked to vote on changes to existing laws on fox hunting in England and Wales as early as next week.

The government will reportedly give MPs a free vote on whether to bring existing practice in England and Wales "into line" with that in Scotland.

Scottish hunts can use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out foxes but in England and Wales two are allowed.

David Cameron said he would give MPs the chance to "debate an issue and then have a vote".

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, he said: "I don't know what everyone else came here for but I think that's quite a good idea."

The prime minister made a manifesto pledge to allow a free vote on repealing the ban on hunting with dogs which came into force in 2005 under the last Labour government.

In the past decade, hunts in England and Wales have been able to flush out foxes and certain other animals for pest control purposes as long as they are shot as quickly as possible.

However, unlike in Scotland, they are limited to using two hounds which critics say is an anomaly which needs to be corrected.

'Desperate'

The Spectator suggested MPs would be given a free vote on the proposed changes before the start of the summer recess and, if approved, the 2005 Hunting Act could be amended by statutory instrument by the end of the year.

Downing Street has not confirmed the timing of any future vote, but a spokeswoman said the MPs would have an "early opportunity" to vote on what she described as "technical changes" to the law.

The government, she added, remains committed to its pledge to give MPs a vote on completely repealing the hunting act.

Labour said Mr Cameron was resorting to "desperate measures" and the government should be focusing "on the real issues facing rural communities like low wages and a lack of affordable and adequate transport and housing".

Conservative Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, who has campaigned against fox hunting, said she would oppose any attempt to relax the legislation "via the back door".

"Anything the pro-hunt lobby feel good about can't be good," she said.

Robbie Marsland, from the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "By amending the Hunting Act like this, the government are deliberately and cynically making it easier for hunts to chase and kill foxes, and harder for them to be convicted when they break the law."

But the Countryside Alliance said the proposal was a "step forward" and should be backed by MPs.

"These amendments will bring the law in to line with Scotland and ensure that farmers are able to choose how to manage the fox population in the most effective and humane manner," said Tim Bonner, its head of campaigns.

"We still believe that the Hunting Act needs to be scrapped, but in the circumstances these amendments meet the immediate needs of the rural community."

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