The Government has suffered its first major defeat since the General Election after the SNP forced it to postpone its vote on relaxing the ban on foxhunting, throwing the debate over English votes for English laws firmly into the spotlight.
The controversial vote, originally scheduled for tomorrow, would have brought the law south of the border in line with that in Scotland, where an unlimited number of dogs can be used to “flush out” a fox to be shot, compared with just two in England and Wales.
Together with a number of anti-hunting Conservative MPs, who have been granted a free vote on the issue, the SNP’s 56 MPs, plus the Labour block, was expected to be enough to block the change.
The shock postponement proved the talk of opening day of the Great Yorkshire Show, with huntsmen and rural business leaders expressing concern that the vote had been forced off the statute book.
Speaking at the Harrogate showground’s Hound Show area, Margaret Brewer, a landowner from Northallerton, described the move as “heartbreaking”.
“It do have mixed feelings but I am glad the SNP were not able to affect the vote.
“As a landowner I am aware that foxes are a problem. We hunters are law-abiding citizens who love the countryside and love nature. We never want to see foxes suffer, experienced hunters will make sure the kill is rapid.
“I have a real fear of the anti-hunting movement after some of the attacks we have seen.”
CLA president Henry Robinson told this newspaper: “The fox is a very severe pest and clearly we need to control it. We control a lot of other animals without a backward glance. We control a third of a million deer every year, we control rats without number and no one bats an eyelid. We kill far more foxes on the roads than we have ever killed by the hunt and no one seems to bring that up.”
Asked if he had been “outfoxed” by the Scottish First Minister, the Prime Minister told the Times CEO summit: “I would not quite put it like that.
“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.”
Mr Cameron defended the Evel proposals - saying the only way to achieve “perfection” would be to create an English parliament and a fully-federal system - something which would not be right for the UK.
Asked if he might strengthen the current proposals in the wake of the SNP move, he said: “That is not what we are proposing. What we are proposing is relatively modest, it really is that you should not be able to legislate in the United Kingdom parliament against the wishes of English MPs. It’s a veto, a block, rather than a right of initiative. I think that is right.”
Number 10 had previously indicated that Mr Cameron intended to vote in favour of the reform.
The SNP decision drew an angry response from Conservative MPs and is likely to lead to demands for ministers to press on with Evel, as more power was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the wake of last year’s referendum vote.
Senior Tory backbencher 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.”