Prime minister David Cameron has announced plans to hold a free vote regarding the fox hunting ban in England next week.
Cameron will not be offering a vote to repeal the ban completely, which was promised in the Conservative manifesto and would have offered parliament the chance to repeal the Hunting Act with a government bill on government time. Rather, he is offering the compromise of allowing hunts to use more dogs to flush out foxes that are then shot by members of the hunt.
The vote will apparently take place next Thursday, and will remove the need for full legislation and hours of debate that a repeal would entail. Moreover, Sporting Rifle understands that Cameron had been struggling to find enough backing for a full ban in the Commons, and one pro-hunting MP stated that he had a greater chance of securing support by instead settling for a compromise.
While the pro-hunting camp now appear to be confident of a vote in favour of relaxing the ban, the Guardian’s Rowena Mason remarks that they are “only likely to be successful if the Scottish National party decides to stay out of the debate”. The SNP traditionally does not vote on purely English issues as a matter of principle, but party leader Nicola Sturgeon has previously said that her party was still considering the matter, as it did not agree with repealing the ban. However, the terms offered by the prime minister would actually bring England’s law into line with the restrictions in Scotland, so it would be pretty difficult for the SNP to object to the change. This may well have been a contributing reason for Cameron’s change of tactics; a vote in his favour is more likely if the SNP are politically unable to object without fracturing Commons and indeed the union.