WOULD THEY LIKE TO BE HUNTED
FROM JULY 2015,
MPs to get free vote to relax fox hunting ban next week
Prime Minister David Cameron – who rode to hounds before he became leader of the Conservatives in 2005 - is likely to vote in favour of the changes.
Prime Minister David CameronMPs are to get a free vote on relaxing the ban on fox hunting in England next week.
Back bench Tory MPs were briefed on the plans at a meeting of the party's influential 1922 committee in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Downing Street said on Wednesday that David Cameron, the Prime Minister – who rode to hounds before he became leader of the Conservatives in 2005 - is likely to vote in favour of the changes.
Under the plans, MPs will be given a free vote after a 90 minute debate on key changes to the Hunting Act which will legalise hunting with packs of dogs in England.
Details of the statutory instrument which will bring about the change will be laid before MPs on Thursday, with the vote held on Thursday next week.
If passed by MPs, the measure will go to the Lords for debate in the autumn. If approved there, it would take effect immediately, so the new regime would begin this winter, in time for the traditional Boxing Day hunts.
The amendment will scrap a current restriction which means that a maximum of just two dogs in England can be used for to flush out foxes is lifted to align England with the law in Scotland.
It will also allow farmers for the first time to be allowed to use dogs to control foxes to protect livestock, rather than merely game birds at present.
Thirdly the change will allow farmers to use dogs to hunt wild animals that are suffering from an injury or disease, rather than leave them to die a lingering death.
The changes fall short of the Conservatives’ manifesto which committed the Government to a full free vote on repealing the Hunting Act.
It said: “We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that these activities bring.
“A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”
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Simon Hart MP, a leading campaigner on fox hunting, said the changes would mean that the vast majority the hunting prosecutions in recent years would still happen.
He said: “Ninety five per cent of prosecutions under the Hunting Act will still happen. Hare coursing remains illegal, for example.
“It irons out some of the practical deficiencies at the same time as recognising there are those with animal welfare concerns who did not want to wipe this off the statute book.
Pro-hunting MPs were concerned that there were not enough supporters in the Commons to win a free vote on overturning the ban.
Number 10 had been considering trying to force through a vote in a Private Members’ Bill tabled by a Tory MP supporter, but this was dropped because it did not meet the manifesto commitment.
Mr Hart added: “This route stands the best chance of closing the chapter. OK it doesn’t go the whole distance – but it recognises there are problems which we are attempting to deal with.
“The Government is planning to do as much as it reasonably can do in the circumstances and I think that it would be churlish of me to criticise it.
“It has moved quickly and is taking into account everybody’s concerns. I am a purist, but as a pragmatist I think this is a sensible way forward and the PM should be congratulated for it.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman indicated that David Cameron is likely to vote in favour of the change. "He believes in the freedom to hunt," the spokesman said.
She added that the government will "stand by its commitment" in the Conservative manifesto to hold a free vote on whether the hunting act should be repealed in its entirety.
The spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has been clear and the government stood on a manifesto commitment to repeal the hunting act on a free vote with a government bill in government time."
She added: “Defra are planning to bring forward some technical changes before summer recess.
“The objective here is to vote to give MPs the opportunity to vote to end the current anomaly in the system between what can happen in Scotland and what can happen in England and Wales.
“At the moment, upland farmers in the highlands can use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out a fox whereas those on the Welsh Hills or the North Yorkshire Moors are limited to two.
“This is about technical changes. It will be an early opportunity for MPs to have a say on a hunting issue.”
Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary, said: “David Cameron is resorting to desperate measures to bring back fox hunting.
“The Tories had to abandon their plans to bring forward a free vote in the last parliament because they knew they’d lose and today’s news shows they still don’t have the numbers.
“David Cameron’s proposals have more to do with controlling his back benchers than fox numbers in the countryside and Labour will oppose any such measures.
“The Tories should be focussing on the real issues facing rural communities like low-wages and a lack of affordable and adequate transport and housing.” STOP IT NOW