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Saturday, 17 June, 2000, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
MPs defy hunt abstention call
A hunt
The ban would only apply in England and Wales
Two-thirds of Scottish MPs at Westminster are planning to vote on a proposed ban on fox hunting, despite calls for them to abstain on an issue which will only affect England and Wales.

Parallel legislation is currently going through the Scottish Parliament, and the Conservatives have argued that MPs for Scottish constituencies should voluntarily withdraw from the vote at Westminster.

The call was repeated on Saturday by Tory constitutional affairs spokesman Sir George Young.

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme he said that the insistence of Scots MPs on continuing to exert influence over matters south of the border risked stirring up English nationalism.

A fox hunt
Scotland may yet impose its own ban
More than half of the 57 Scottish backbenchers contacted by the programme responded to the survey, with two-thirds of those who replied saying they supported a ban on hunting and two-thirds saying they would vote on the issue in Westminster.

The Labour leadership has said that MPs can have a free vote on the issue at Westminster.

Ayr MP Sandra Osborne, convener of Labour's Scottish MPs, said she saw no reason to abstain.

She said: "I was elected in 1997 to vote on the whole UK legislation, even though the people of Scotland knew we were having devolution, and we got a Labour government on that basis.

"I find it inconsistent and hypocritical in many ways to make an exception for free votes, when all the rest of the time we are voting on English legislation.

'Unstable' position

"We have devolution for Scotland and Wales but it is in its infancy. There is a state of flux at the moment and we have to let that settle down and also see how it develops in England."

But Sir George told the programme: "If we now have a new settlement and Scotland can decide to ban fox-hunting without the intervention of English MPs, unless we have a parallel position for fox hunting in England we end up with a constitutional settlement which is unstable and unfair."

He said Labour was trying to duck the so-called West Lothian question, first posed in the 1970s by its then MP for that constituency, Tam Dalyell, of why Scots should be allowed to vote on legislation which only affected England.

Sir George said: "The Labour Party's policy is that the best thing to do about the West Lothian question is not to ask it.

'No right' to vote

"We regard that approach as irresponsible. Where a bill only covers England and Wales, only English and Welsh MPs should vote."

Mr Dalyell - now Labour MP for Linlithgow - said he would not vote on fox-hunting.

He asked: "If decisions on hunting are going to be made in Scotland, how can I vote on the continuation or closure of the Beaufort or Quorn or other hunts in England?

"Regardless of my views, I don't think it is right that I should vote on a purely English matter. As a Scottish MP I don't think I have a right to vote."

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said he would be advising MPs for Scottish constituencies to miss the vote.

He added: "I don't think it is fair, if the Scottish Parliament is going to make a decision on hunting, for them to start interfering and poking their noses into what is an English domestic affair."

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See also:

16 Sep 99 | UK
Fox hunting: The issues
12 Jun 00 | Scotland
Pledge to rethink cut in MSPs
18 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Call to examine 'English question'
21 Mar 00 | Scotland
MSPs consider anti-hunt bill
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