PM accused of Evel plot over SNP fox hunting clash

DAVID Cameron has been accused of trying to provoke a crisis to engineer a case for English votes for English laws after he blamed the “opportunistic” SNP for withdrawing a vote on relaxing the rules over foxhunting south of the Border.

The vote on fox hunting has been postponed. Picture: Hemedia
The vote on fox hunting has been postponed. Picture: Hemedia

Ministers shelved today’s vote after the SNP said it would vote against the changes.

The announcement came after the SNP decided to use its block of 56 MPs to vote against a change in the law on hunting which would have brought England and Wales in line with Scotland but would have had no effect north of the Border.

The decision by the SNP to oppose the hunting changes was a U-turn on a previous position of not voting on matters which have no effect in Scotland.

A furious Mr Cameron said: “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.”

However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who attended a crucial Monday night meeting of SNP MPs, linked the decision with the UK government’s refusal to accept amendments to the Scotland Bill on further devolution to Holyrood, and using English MPs to block the wishes of Scottish MPs.

She said that “since the election David Cameron has shown very little respect to Scottish MPs”, rejecting their amendments to the Scotland Bill for more powers, and with his “unconstitutional” changes to Evel.

But she also suggested the Tories had to recognise that “with a slender majority you have to operate in a different way”.

“The SNP votes on foxhunting would not have been pivotal if there had not been a large rebellion on the Tory backbenches. That’s what a slender majority does: it empowers your own backbenchers as well as the opposition.” Labour welcomed the change of heart by the SNP in accepting the Scottish Labour position that they had a responsibility to vote on matters affecting other parts of the UK.

Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “Last week I wrote to the SNP to lay out Labour’s position and to ask for clarification on theirs.

“I said that opposition to these immoral practices should not stop at the Border. I am delighted that they ultimately followed Labour’s lead.” But Lib Dem former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael claimed that the Prime Minister was attempting to motivate support for Evel with some Tory backbenchers threatening to rebel.

He said: “I strongly suspect that this announcement has more to do with Evel than it does with hunting.

“Anyone who knows anything about the SNP would have seen this latest piece of opportunism coming.

“A more cynical person than me might think that the government had scheduled this debate on hunting on the same day as the debate on Evel with the view to manufacture outrage on their own backbenches and justify their proposals on Evel or possibly something more severe.

“In any event, the government’s conduct is bad news for anyone who believes in the continuation of the UK.”

The row also saw pressure mount from senior backbenchers like former cabinet minister John Redwood for Scottish MPs to be barred from voting on English-only matters.

He said: “What we need is what I call Even – English votes for English needs.”

However, SNP leader Angus Robertson said that the decision was evidence that the SNP are the real opposition to the Tories in Westminster.

He said: “This is the fourth issue where the SNP group have led the opposition in forcing the Tories into backing down – stopping the EU referendum being on the same day as the Scottish Parliament election, getting any moves to repeal the Human Rights Act kicked into the long grass, the debacle of the government having to abandon last week’s vote on English votes for English laws, and now stopping this week’s vote to relax the foxhunting ban in England.”