SNP will vote to keep English fox hunting legislation

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The SNP group at Westminster is to vote against attempts to relax the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales.

Angus Robertson, leader of the group, said the party wanted to send a message to the Conservative government about the narrowness of its majority.

He said the ban in England and Wales should be maintained while the Scottish parliament considers strengthening the law in Scotland.

The House of Commons is to consider the legislation on Wednesday.

The UK government intends to introduce measures to prevent Scottish MPs voting on purely English matters in future.

Traditional fox hunting with dogs is illegal across Britain. However, hunts in England and Wales are able to flush out foxes for pest control purposes, using only two dogs - as long as the foxes are shot as quickly as possible. In Scotland an unlimited number of dogs can be used for this purpose.

Conservative MPs have been given a free vote on a proposal to relax the law on the use of dogs so that it is the same in England and Wales as in Scotland - but hunting supporters appear unlikely to muster sufficient numbers to win the vote now the SNP has said it will vote against them.

A poll for the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show has suggested almost three in four British adults are against making fox hunting legal.

The poll, conducted by ComRes, asked 1,005 people if the practice "should or should not be made legal again?".

'Arrogant' government

The SNP's Mr Robertson said: "We totally oppose fox hunting, and when there are moves in the Scottish Parliament to review whether the existing Scottish ban is strong enough, it is in the Scottish interest to maintain the existing ban in England and Wales for Holyrood to consider.

"We are in a situation where the Tory government are refusing to agree to any amendments to improve the Scotland Bill - which are supported by 58 of Scotland's 59 MPs - and imposing English Votes for English Laws to make Scotland's representation at Westminster second class.

"In these circumstances, it is right and proper that we assert the Scottish interest on fox hunting by voting with Labour against the Tories' proposals to relax the ban - in the process, reminding an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is - just as we will vote against the Tory welfare cuts next week, and appeal to Labour to join us."

In February, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon identified fox hunting as the sort of English-only issue her party's MPs would not vote on.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Sturgeon said she had "changed her mind" for three reasons.

She said: "There has been an overwhelming demand from people in England for the SNP to vote on this issue this week.

"Second reason is that this debate has thrown a spotlight on to Scotland's hunting law. It's made a lot of people think we should be tightening up our law to bring it in to line with England's law as it stands.

"The third reason is less to do with fox hunting. Since the election, David Cameron's government has shown very little respect to the mandate that Scottish MPs have."

'Toxic mixture'

She added: "On the Scotland Bill, reasonable amendments, backed by the overwhelming majority of Scottish MPs, have been voted down. The English votes for English laws proposals brought forward go beyond any reasonable proposition and look to make Scottish MPs effectively second-class citizens in the House of Commons.

"So I think if there's an opportunity, as there appears to be here, and on an issue where David Cameron appears to be out of touch with majority English opinion as well, to actually remind the government how slender their majority is."

Scotland's first minister also confirmed that the SNP would make decisions on whether to vote on other English issues on a "case by case basis".

Conservative MP Liam Fox told BBC Radio 4 people in England were "perfectly capable of electing MPs to look after their own interests".

He said: "What we've seen is a particularly toxic mixture of opportunism and hypocrisy coming from SNP.

"It is particularly galling because the government has been very careful, and parliament has been very careful, to try and protect the union by moving slowly and thoughtfully and constructively in terms of English votes on English laws, and more time has been given to the debate.

"It seems that while we are trying to be reasonable to the SNP they are sticking two fingers up at us."

'Stand against cruelty'

Animal welfare activists are gathering on Tuesday to stage a rally outside Parliament, urging MPs to keep the ban.

It has been organised by a coalition of animal rights groups with Queen guitarist Brian May among the campaigners due to attend.

More than 20 high-profile people, including former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, comedian Alexei Sayle and TV presenter Chris Packham, have signed a letter to MPs.

It warns the government is trying to "weaken the Hunting Act though the back door, knowing full well that a free vote would maintain this effective, compassionate law".

Robbie Marsland, director of League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: "We applaud the decision of the SNP to oppose repeal of the Hunting Act through the back door.

"They have rightly taken a stand against animal cruelty and we look forward to working with them to strengthen the ban in Scotland to ensure no one is able to encourage a pack of hounds to chase and rip apart a wild animal."

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