UK Politics

MPs to vote next week on changes to fox hunting laws

Hounds from the Vine & Craven Hunt are paraded at Newbury racecourse in 2011 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parliament is set to vote on the issue for the first time in more than a decade

MPs will vote on changes to the laws on fox hunting in England and Wales on Wednesday, the government has said.

They will debate bringing existing practice in England and Wales "into line" with that in Scotland.

If passed, it will allow more dogs to be used to flush out foxes to be shot.

Labour accused ministers of trying to "wreck" the hunting ban - but the government said it was "responding to the legitimate concerns" of hill farmers.

The Conservatives 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.

'Backdoor device'

But the government has opted instead to give MPs a 90 minute debate and a free vote on "technical" changes to the Hunting Act, using a Parliamentary procedure known as a statutory instrument.

Shadow Commons Leader Angela Eagle accused the government of trying to "wreck" the Hunting Act "using this backdoor device because they don't have the majority to repeal the Act or the guts to try".

The Labour MP said the government must have told pro-hunting groups about the vote before MPs, because MPs had been inundated with e-mails from them urging support for the move.

Commons leader Chris Grayling denied using "backdoor" methods and said it was "normal" to give MPs a 90 minute debate on statutory instrument.

He said the proposed changes would not lift the ban on hunting and were merely a "legitimate response" to representations made by upland farmers.

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.

'Pest control'

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

The Department for Rural Affairs said the proposed amendments to the hunting ban would enable farmers and gamekeepers to make a judgement, "based on the terrain and other circumstances, to use more than two dogs to flush out and stalk wild animals for effective and humane shooting as part of the existing exemption in the Act that allows for pest control".

The current limit of using two dogs across large and often wooded areas is not regarded as effective or practical for pest control purposes, Defra added.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "We are making these technical amendments to the pest control measures within the Hunting Act to more closely align the legislation with Scotland."

Her department added in a statement: "The current restriction that only a single dog can be used below ground in stalking or flushing out animals will remain in place and will protect livestock as well as game and wild birds."

The proposed changes will be debated by both Houses of Parliament.

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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