Borders MP Calum Kerr has defended his party’s decision to scupper UK Government plans to relax the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales.
Yesterday’s vote in the House of Commons was postponed after the Scottish National Party’s decision to take part in the division made defeat of the move almost certain.
The controversial Commons vote would have brought the law south of the border into line with that in Scotland, where an unlimited number of dogs can be used to “flush out” a fox to be shot, compared to just two in England and Wales.
But the SNP’s 56 MPs agreed on Monday to break with their normal practice of not voting on England-only matters and join Labour in opposing the proposal.
Together with a number of anti-hunting Conservative MPs, who have been granted a free vote on the issue, this was expected to be enough to block the change.
Mr Kerr, elected as MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk in May, said this week: “We’re fulfilling our promise to be a force for progressive politics whenever we can.”
But senior Conservative backbencher Sir Peter Bottomley said: “The Scottish National Party risks making itself look foolish, unprincipled and unwise by voting against making English law similar to Scottish law.
“This action is naive – it makes the SNP look silly and is perhaps the first major mis-step by Nicola Sturgeon.”
The postponement of the vote was announced as animal welfare activists staged a rally outside the Westminster parliament against any amendment of the Hunting Act, which outlawed the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales in 2004, two years following similar legislation in Scotland.
Tom Quinn, the director of campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, thought the government’s move was the right decision because it was clear public opinion was overwhelmingly against hunting, and this was “bringing repeal by the back door”.
Mr Quinn said the announcement that the government would return to the issue once “English votes for English laws” had been resolved was a mistake.
“With 80% of the public in both countryside areas and towns and cities against it, it would be unpopular whenever it takes place.
“Now, with increasing numbers of MPs joining with MPs of other parties, if the government does another ploy, another ruse to bring back hunting, we’re confident there’s such a cross-party group of MPs opposed to this that it would be defeated,” he said.
“We had hoped that a vote would go ahead and this issue would be put to bed for good, and for all the other issues facing the country, it’s disappointing the government seems to think this is a priority.”
But Mr Quinn added: “We are resolved, whatever the government does, to keep highlighting public opinion, to keep highlighting the cruelty involved in hunting.
“It is nothing to do with wildlife management or fox control.”