Tory plan to relax foxhunting ban set to fail after threat from SNP
SNP will vote down Tory motion to relax ban on hunting with dogs even though it would bring England and Wales into line with Scotland
Rowena Mason and Libby Brooks
Monday 13 July 2015 20.58 BST
David Cameron’s plans to relax the foxhunting ban are likely to fail after the SNP decided to take the provocative step of voting against a change in the law that only relates to England and Wales.
After a meeting of its MPs in Westminster, the SNP decided it would vote down the motion even though it would only bring the law in England and Wales into line with Scotland by allowing hunts to flush out foxes with a pack of dogs before they are shot.
If the vote goes ahead on Wednesday as planned by the Conservatives, it will set a new precedent for the SNP voting on English and Welsh matters in a move that could put the union under fresh stress.
It comes at a particularly sensitive time as the SNP is fiercely opposing the Tory plans to allow English MPs to veto laws that only relate to England, saying it would create two classes of members in parliament.
The free vote on foxhunting would already have been extremely close if the SNP were to abstain, as Cameron has a majority of just 12, but dozens of Conservatives are opposed to relaxing the ban, which currently limits hunting for pest control to only two dogs. The vote, which was promised in the Conservative manifesto, is now almost certain not to pass, as Labour will be whipped to vote against as well.
Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, said it was “right and proper” to assert the Scottish interest on foxhunting given that there are moves in Holyrood to toughen up Scotland’s law on the issue.
“We totally oppose foxhunting, 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,” he said.
Robertson also indicated the SNP was not in a mood to be accommodating towards the Conservatives given its unhappiness with the devolution settlement offered in the Scotland bill.
“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,” he said.
“In these circumstances, it is right and proper that we assert the Scottish interest on foxhunting 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.”
SNP sources had last week indicated the party would probably abstain but it was coming under pressure from its activists not to be party to a Tory attempt to relax the law, even though it usually takes a decision on principle not to vote on English and Welsh-only matters.
Under the Scottish ban, enshrined in the Protection of Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, dogs can only be used if they are “flushing” foxes from cover towards waiting guns.
But the Scottish government has launched its own investigation into the effectiveness of this legislation after surveillance of five of Scotland’s 10 hunts suggested that they are routinely behaving as they did before the ban, with a complete absence of shotguns. Covert video footage taken by the League Against Cruel Sports over a three-month period apparently shows no practice of ‘flushing to guns’.
The Holyrood environment minister Aileen McLeod confirmed that MSPs intended to scrutinise the ban in a letter to the League, in which she said that she “would be very concerned” if the law was being flouted and that she was referring her concerns to Police Scotland.
SNP MPs have been struck by the strength of feeling on the issue. From the moment they were elected, new Scottish National party MPs reported being lobbied by voters in the rest of the UK who promised to holiday in Scotland and buy more whisky if they voted against the repeal of the hunting ban.