Sturgeon warns PM: Respect mandate on foxhunting

NICOLA Sturgeon has warned David Cameron that he must respect the mandate of Scottish MPs at Westminster as the SNP threatened to scupper Government plans to relax the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales.

The SNP has pledged to use its vote to prevent amendments tabled by the Tories on foxhunting which would see restrictions in England and Wales relaxed. Picture: PA
The SNP has pledged to use its vote to prevent amendments tabled by the Tories on foxhunting which would see restrictions in England and Wales relaxed. Picture: PA

The Scottish First Minister confirmed that SNP MPs would break with their normal practice of not voting on England-only matters to oppose the proposed change to the law on hunting in tomorrow’s Commons vote.

And she warned that her party would be prepared to vote on other issues where Scotland is not directly affected in the months ahead.

Ms Sturgeon directly linked the move to the Government’s plans for “English votes for English laws”, known as Evel, which would give English MPs a veto over England-only legislation at Westminster.

The decision of the SNP to vote against the legal change - which would actually bring the law on hunting in England and Wales into line with the law Scotland - means it is almost certain to be defeated.

With a number of anti-hunting Conservative MPs planning to vote with Labour and the SNP in the Commons free vote, Ms Sturgeon said it was a reminder to Mr Cameron just how slender his Commons majority was.

“Since the election David Cameron’s Government has shown very little respect to the mandate Scottish MPs have. On the Scotland Bill reasonable amendments backed by the overwhelming majority of Scottish MPs have been voted down,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“The English votes for English laws proposals brought forward go beyond any reasonable proposition and look to make Scottish MPs effectively second-class citizens in the House of Commons.

“So if there is an opportunity, as there appears to be here, and on an issue where David Cameron appears to be out of touch with majority English opinion as well, to actually remind the Government of how slender their majority is, that is an opportunity we will take.”

The SNP decision drew an angry response from Conservative MPs and is likely to lead to demands for ministers to press on with English votes for English laws (Evel) as more power was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the wake of last year’s referendum vote.

Senior backbencher Tory Sir Peter Bottomley said: “The Scottish National Party risk making themselves look foolish, unprincipled and unwise by voting against making English law similar to Scottish law.

“This action is naive - it makes them look silly and is perhaps the first major mis-step by Nicola Sturgeon.”

A Conservative source said: “Hunting is a devolved issue. The SNP’s decision to vote on a draft law that does not affect Scotland at all shows exactly why Conservatives committed in our manifesto to ensure laws that only affect England can only be passed with the consent of English MPs.”

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said “We are in a situation where the Tory government are refusing to agree to any amendments to improve the Scotland Bill and imposing English votes for English laws to make Scotland’s representation at Westminster second class.

“In these circumstances, it is right and proper that we assert the Scottish interest on foxhunting by voting with Labour against the Tories’ proposals to relax the ban – in the process, reminding an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is.”

The announcement came as the UK government was preparing to publish its final proposals for Evel in an attempt to clarify which legislation English MPs would be handed a veto on.

But the SNP decision on the hunting vote looks set to be used by some Tory backbenchers who want to see Scottish MPs excluded altogether from English-only matters.

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, a former chief executive of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, told The Scotsman: “The SNP should be aware that there are potentially longer-term consequences on this matter than a short-term win on a vote in Parliament.” The vote tomorrow is meant to bring English hunting laws in line with those in Scotland, allowing packs of more than two dogs.

The vote will also take place on the first day of the debate on English votes for English laws with the government already strongly linking the two issues.

The SNP have always insisted they would not vote on matters which do not affect Scotland unless there is a direct effect on the Scottish budget through Barnett consequentials, which see a proportion of spending in England added to the Scottish budget.

In a debate on Evel last week, the SNP’s shadow leader of the House, Pete Wishart, promised that the “voluntary” agreement not to vote on English-only matters by his party’s MPs meant Evel was unnecessary.

He had said: “If there is no Scottish interest, we take no interest ourselves.”

But last night it was decided to vote against changing the foxhunting law in England and Wales because the SNP Scottish Government is considering bringing in a tougher law north of the Border.

The SNP block of 56 votes is expected to be enough to stop a change in the law on foxhunting.

Before the SNP meeting last night, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron said he believed the SNP should abstain, based on their own policy and his party’s support for Evel.

Asked what would happen if the SNP did vote, the spokesman added: “I expect they would need to set out their rationale and explain it to their voters.”

Last night, in a meeting attended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP MPs decided to defy Mr Cameron and vote to block any relaxation of foxhunting in England even though it is a free vote for all other parties in the Commons. It is understood that many of the SNP group made it clear that they would vote against a relaxation of the rules because of strongly held principles opposing hunting, and would not agree to abstain.