PM accused over fox killing rules
David Cameron has been accused of "resorting to desperate measures" to bring back fox hunting after the Government said it wanted to change the rules on killing foxes, with MPs set to vote on the issue next week.
Traditional fox hunting with dogs is illegal across Britain, but Down ing Street said measures would be brought forward to bring England and Wales in to line with Scotland on using dogs to flush out foxes to be shot.
In En gland and Wales, only two dogs can be used to flush out a fox so that a farmer or landowner can shoot it, while in Scotland an unlimited number of dogs can be used for the practice.
Anti-hunting campaigners said the move aimed to sneak fox hunting back in through the back door, but hunting supporters backed the proposed changes, saying traditional hunting would remain illegal and it would make it easier to manage fox populations.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is bringing forward the changes, and Labour said it expected the vote to take place next Thursday.
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: " I think the objective is to give MPs the opportunity to vote on the current anomaly in the system between what can happen in Scotland and what can happen in England and Wales. The technical changes would need to be voted on.
"At the moment, as I understand it, upland farmers in the Highlands can use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out a fox, while those on the Welsh hills or the North York Moors are limited to two.
"This is about technical changes to look at how you resolve that anomaly."
And she said: "It will be an early opportunity for MPs to have a say on a hunting issue."
Asked how the PM would vote in any division, the spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has made clear several times that he believes in the freedom to hunt."
She confirmed that the Government stands by its manifesto pledge to repeal the Hunting Act. There are no plans to repeal the hunting ban in Scotland.
A Labour source confirmed Commons Leader Chris Grayling would formally announce tomorrow that a 90-minute debate and vote on a statutory instrument to amend the Hunting Act will take place on Thursday, July 16.
Maria Eagle, 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 backbenchers than fox numbers in the countryside and Labour will oppose any such measures.
"The Tories should be focusing on the real issues facing rural communities like low wages and a lack of affordable and adequate transport and housing."
Robbie Marsland, League Against Cruel Sports director, said: "This is nothing but sneaking hunting in through the back door.
"By amending the Hunting Act like this, the Government are deliberately and cynically making it easier for hunts to chase and kill foxes, and harder for them to be convicted when they break the law.
He said the proposed move would make the law in England and Wales the same as it is in Scotland, where people are allowed to use a full pack of hounds to flush out foxes so they can be shot with guns.
But he said the League Against Cruel Sports had filmed Scottish hunts hunting for foxes exactly as they had before the practice became illegal, without any guns in sight, and warned: "This is what will happen in England."
But Countryside Alliance head of campaigns Ti m Bonner said: "This is a step forward and will mean that farmers and hunts will be able to use packs of hounds to find and shoot foxes. Traditional hunting will, though, remain illegal.
"These amendments will bring the law in to line with Scotland and ensure that farmers are able to choose how to manage the fox population in the most effective and humane manner.
"We still believe that the Hunting Act needs to be scrapped, but in the circumstances these amendments meet the immediate needs of the rural community.
"There is solid support for hunting amongst MPs and we believe that there will be a majority for these logical, evidence-based changes."
A Defra spokesman said: "We will bring forward technical amendments to the Hunting Act before the summer recess to more closely align the legislation in England and Wales with Scotland. It would not be appropriate to comment further until amendments have been laid before Parliament."