Scots MPs hold back repeal of hunt ban
The Government has been urged to reform the political system that allows Scottish Labour MPs to veto a repeal of the ban on fox hunting – despite the legislation having no impact north of the border.
A Countryside Alliance analysis suggests a Commons vote to overturn the ban would win by a majority of between 30 and 40 if taken among English and Welsh MPs only.
Scotland has its separate legislation that limits hunting, but MPs there would still get the opportunity to influence the vote in Westminster – even though none of their constituents are affected.
The Countryside Alliance says while the Scottish National Party and Conservative MPs abstain from votes that only impact England and Wales, Labour's 41 Scottish Members would still cast their vote against repeal.
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The Government has promised a free vote on quashing the Hunting Act, but Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told the Western Morning News last week the Conservatives behind the pledge did not have the "slightest hope of changing the law" at the moment.
Tim Bonner, campaigns director of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said there will be no vote on repeal this year, but there are a lot of people in the Westcountry who simply cannot understand why the Hunting Act cannot be repealed when a majority of English and Welsh MPs support getting rid of it.
"MPs from the Westcountry have no say on hunting laws in Scotland, so why should Scottish MPs hold a veto over repealing the pointless and wasteful Hunting Act in England and Wales?
"The continuing interference of Scottish Labour MPs also underlines the fact that the Hunting Act has nothing to do with animal welfare or wildlife management, but is a prejudiced, political attack on the hunting community."
He went on: "The Government needs to find a way through this constitutional mess to resolve an issue that remains a running sore in the countryside."
The 11 Scottish Lib Dems are thought to be split for and against.
In Opposition, the Conservatives pledged to address the problem of Scottish MPs voting on matters that only effect England and Wales – known as the "West Lothian question".
But the coalition agreement between the Tories and Lib Dems only pledged a commission to examine the constitutional issue.
The Scottish independence referendum will have no bearing on it.
The Wild Mammals (Protection) Scotland Act was passed in 2002, banning some hunting – though the Countryside Alliance says the law is "less draconian" than the Hunting Act in England and Wales.
Writing in today's Western Morning News, Mr Bonner said the Hunting Act – passed by Labour in 2005 – is "illiberal, illogical and confusing".
Mr Paterson told the Western Morning News last month that it was about finding the right time for a vote, but indicated there would be no chance of repeal in 2013.
"I'm fully aware of the strong feelings on this issue," he said. "It is a commitment [to a vote on repeal]. The intention is to find time at the appropriate moment.
"But we are currently facing some very severe problems such as one of the largest deficits in western Europe. That is currently taking priority."
Labour continues its opposition to the ban, arguing there is no public support for a return and that "there is no place for animal cruelty in a civilised society".
The issue returned to the spotlight last month after Prime Minister David Cameron's local Oxfordshire hunt was prosecuted, though questions were raised over the RSPCA laying out £330,000 to bring the case – ten times the defence costs.
The fox hunting ban divides opinion across Devon and Cornwall, where scores of hunts have seen numbers increase since the hunt ban came into force.