Pro-hunting MPs have vowed to drop their campaign to scrap the Hunting Act if parliament votes to relax the controversial law later this week.
Under the proposed amendments, farmers will be able to use a full pack of hounds to flush out foxes before shooting them. It would still be illegal for the dogs to kill the fox.
The Conservatives had promised in their manifesto to hold a free vote to repeal totally the law which was forced through parliament by Labour in 2004. However, following fears that too many Conservative MPs would vote against the repeal, the government has simply proposed to soften the law.
Now pro-hunting Conservatives have said the plan is a reasonable compromise and added that they will drop plans to scrap the law entirely for the remainder of this parliament if it goes through.
One told The Times: “I would always support measures to repeal the hunting act. However, if we get these changes, I’m not going to stir that pot endlessly for the rest of the parliament.”
The vote will likely be extremely close, with some Tories expected to defy their party’s rural support base and vote against even a moderate relaxation in the law. They include Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and former party chairman Grant Shapps.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) will also meet today to decide whether to vote against the proposals or abstain.
If the SNP does choose to vote against the amendments it will face accusations of hypocrisy as the changes will simply make the law in England and Wales the same as it already is in Scotland. In addition, foxhunting in England and Wales was previously a policy which the SNP specifically stated was one on which its Westminster MPs would not vote.
The proposals will also make life difficult for the remaining Liberal Democrat MPs whose party is trying to win back the large number of rural seats it lost at the last election.
Roger Williams, the former Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire who lost his seat to the Conservatives in May, said the party would lose rural areas “for a generation, perhaps forever” if it opposed the reforms.
One Conservative MP told The Times: “If the Liberal Democrats vote against these changes, we won’t be letting anyone forget it.”