In Depth

Fox hunting vote: Cameron accused of 'stealth' tactics

MPs to be given free vote on easing hunting restrictions to allow for the use of more hounds to flush out foxes

A vote on relaxing the hunting in England and Wales could be held as early as next week, the government has announced.

MPs will be given a free vote on allowing hunters to use a pack of hounds to flush out foxes before shooting them. Currently, the law caps the number of dogs that can be used at just two.

The Conservatives sought to change the legislation in the previous parliament, but the move was strongly opposed by the Liberal Democrats, says The Independent.

Cameron, who was once a member of the Heythrop hunt, has argued that he would like to see the ban repealed. "I have always been a strong supporter of country sports," he once said. "There is definitely a rural way of life which a born-and-bred Londoner might struggle to understand."

The news that the ban could be relaxed with just a single vote was welcomed by the Countryside Alliance. Its executive director, Barney White-Spunner, said it would bring the law in line with Scotland and ensure farmers are able to choose how they control fox populations.

But animal rights groups have condemned the move, with the League Against Cruel Sports claiming that the vote could mean the return of hunting "by the backdoor," reports The Guardian.  

"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," said the organisation's director Robbie Marsland.

Vocal anti-hunting campaigner and Queen guitarist Brian May was also quick to denounce the move. "This is to benefit people who want to pursue a sadistic blood sport for fun," he told the Daily Mirror.

The government has also faced criticism for announcing the controversial plans on Budget day – "a day to bury hugely unpopular news," says The Guardian's Stephen Moss. He accuses the Tories of seeking to relax the Hunting Act by "stealth."

Labour has vowed to oppose the measures, with shadow rural affairs secretary Maria Eagle arguing that Cameron's proposals "have more to do with controlling his back benchers than fox numbers in the countryside".

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