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Foxhunting: Cameron hits out at SNP

Published 14/07/2015

Celebrities including Ricky Gervais, Morrissey, Sadie Frost and Stella McCartney have called on MPs to keep the fox hunting ban intact
Celebrities including Ricky Gervais, Morrissey, Sadie Frost and Stella McCartney have called on MPs to keep the fox hunting ban intact

David Cameron has attacked the SNP for its "entirely opportunistic" position on foxhunting after he was forced to postpone a vote on relaxing the ban when the party decided to oppose the move.

The controversial vote, scheduled for tomorrow, would have brought the law south of the border in line with that in Scotland, where an unlimited number of dogs can be used to "flush out" a fox to be shot, compared with just two in England and Wales.

But the SNP's 56 MPs agreed 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.

Nicola S turgeon directly linked her party's move to the Government's plans for "English votes for English laws", known as Evel, which would give English MPs a veto over England-only legislation at Westminster.

Asked if he had been "outfoxed" by the Scottish First Minister, the Prime Minister told the Times CEO summit: "I would not quite put it like that.

"The position of the SNP has up to now always been clear which is that they do not vote on matters that are purely of interest to England or England and Wales.

"I find their position entirely opportunistic and very hard to explain in any other way."

Mr Cameron defended the Evel proposals - saying the only way to achieve "perfection" would be to create an English parliament and a fully-federal system - something which would not be right for the UK.

Asked if he might strengthen the current proposals in the wake of the SNP move, he said: "I am a believer in the United Kingdom.

"I want us to stay together as a United Kingdom and we have to recognise that England is a very large part of the total.

"You are never going to get total perfection. If you want total perfection in terms of English votes for English laws you would have to have an English parliament, a federal system.

"That is not what we are proposing. What we are proposing is relatively modest, it really is that you should not be able to legislate in the United Kingdom parliament against the wishes of English MPs. It's a veto, a block, rather than a right of initiative.

"I think that is right."

Number 10 had previously indicated that Mr Cameron intended to vote in favour of the reform.

The postponement of the vote was announced as animal welfare activists staged a rally outside 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 after similar legislation in Scotland.

High-profile animal welfare activists including Queen guitarist Brian May were among the Team Fox coalition of animal welfare groups, including Animal Defenders International, to urge MPs to keep the ban intact.

Celebrities including Ricky Gervais, Morrissey, Sadie Frost and Stella McCartney have joined the campaign against the proposed change, which has prompted accusations that the Government is trying to sneak fox-hunting in through the back door, knowing it would not win a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act in Parliament.

A ComRes poll for BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire programme found that 74% of voters were opposed to legalising fox-hunting, against 20% who supported it.

Speaking before the vote was postponed, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP's decision was a reminder to Mr Cameron just how slender his Commons majority was.

"Since the election David Cameron's Government has shown very little respect to the mandate Scottish MPs have. On the Scotland Bill reasonable amendments backed by the overwhelming majority of Scottish MPs have been voted down," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"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 if there is 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 of how slender their majority is, that is an opportunity we will take."

The SNP decision drew an angry response from Conservative MPs and is likely to lead to demands for ministers to press on with Evel, as more power was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the wake of last year's referendum vote.

Senior Tory backbencher Sir Peter Bottomley said: "The Scottish National Party risk making themselves look foolish, unprincipled and unwise by voting against making English law similar to Scottish law.

"This action is naive - it makes them look silly and is perhaps the first major mis-step by Nicola Sturgeon."

A Conservative source said: "Hunting is a devolved issue. The SNP's decision to vote on a draft law that does not affect Scotland at all shows exactly why Conservatives committed in our manifesto to ensure laws that only affect England can only be passed with the consent of English MPs."

The Government published revised proposals for Evel, which Downing Street said did not alter the measures in a material way, but clarified that Scottish MPs will continue to be able to vote on finance matters.

The changes do not affect the ability of Scottish MPs to vote on the foxhunting measures. MPs will have a general debate on the proposals tomorrow, followed by a further debate in the autumn.

Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said the Prime Minister stands by his manifesto promise to "give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a Government Bill in G overnment time".

Ministers will set out further steps on the postponed proposals for technical changes "in due course", she said.

"The Government has decided that tomorrow is not the time to proceed with the vote," said the spokeswoman.

"What we have seen in terms of a change since this was scheduled is the SNP decided to involved themselves in an issue which they have previously said was clearly a matter for others."

Asked how the PM viewed the SNP's decision, the spokeswoman said: "It's disappointing, but his view is that is now for Nicola Sturgeon to explain why they are going against their long-standing principle, which she set out very clearly in February this year, of not voting on matters that purely affect England and why they are going against the principle whereby something that is fine for Scotland is not good for England and Wales."

Ms Sturgeon said she hoped revised proposals would form the basis for a "reasonable approach" to finding agreement on English votes.

But she said it would have to "cut both ways" and prevent English MPs blocking legislation of great importance north of the border - such as recent attempts to amend the Scotland Bill.

And she pointed out that the SNP vote only held such sway on the foxhunting vote because of the scale of Conservative opposition to the policy.

"I want to get to a point in the House of Commons where there is some agreed understanding and principle on both sides," she told the Times event - where she appeared immediately after the PM.

"I hope we can get to a constructive and sensible and reasonable and fair settlement of this.

"Over the past few weeks on the Scotland Bill ... there have been a number of reasonable and sensible amendments put down, backed by often 56, sometimes 57, 58 or 59 Scottish MPs, and the Prime Minister has used his majority in England to systematically vote them all down.

"If we are going to get to the point where there is an understanding and a reasonable approach to where different constituencies vote on different things in the House of Commons, that has to cut both ways.

"I am open to that reasonable discussion with the Prime Minister.

"While I was coming in here today I think they have published the revised proposals, which we will look at and will hopefully be the basis for discussion, because this will influence how business is done in the House of Commons for the next five years."

She went on: "I respect that David Cameron won the election; I do not question that.

"All I ask is that he recognises that people in Scotland voted in a different way and the MPs from Scotland also come with a mandate - one could argue a larger mandate than even David Cameron has in England.

"I think there is a sensible middle ground on this that is fair to Scotland and fair to England as well and I am hoping we can get to that in a more constructive way than perhaps we have seen in recent weeks."

The Tories had to recognise that "with a slender majority you have to operate in a different way", she suggested.

"The SNP votes on foxhunting would not have been pivotal if there had not been a large rebellion on the Tory back benches. That's what a slender majority does: it empowers your own backbenchers as well as the opposition."

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