Musician Sir Paul McCartney criticises the government over its plans to change the law on fox hunting, saying it is in danger of losing the support of “ordinary people”.
The government is making changes to the hunting act to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland on using dogs to flush out foxes to be shot.
Traditional fox hunting with dogs is illegal across Britain, but in England and Wales, only two dogs can be used to flush out a fox so that a farmer or landowner can shoot it, while in Scotland an unlimited number of dogs can be used.
There will be a free vote in parliament next Wednesday, amid concerns that the government is trying to reintroduce fox hunting by the back door.
But hunting supporters back the proposed changes, saying that while traditional hunting would remain illegal, it would be easier to manage fox populations.
Former Beatle Sir Paul said: “The people of Britain are behind this Tory government on many things, but the vast majority of us will be against them if hunting is reintroduced. It is cruel and unnecessary and will lose them support from ordinary people and animal lovers like myself.”
Queen guitarist Brian May has already voiced his opposition to the move, warning that the rule changes will only benefit those who wish to take part in “a sadistic blood sport for fun”.
The Environment Department said the amendments would allow for effective and humane shooting as part of the existing exemption in the act that allows for pest control, and that the ban on hunting with dogs would remain in place.
But shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle has accused David Cameron of resorting to desperate measures to bring back fox hunting because he did not have the numbers to repeal the act in a free vote in parliament.
Asked this week how David Cameron intended to vote, his spokeswoman said: “The prime minister has made clear several times that he believes in the freedom to hunt.” She said the government stood by its manifesto pledge to repeal the hunting act.
The League Against Cruel Sports believes the changes would make it “easier for hunts to chase and kill foxes, and harder for them to be convicted when they break the law”.
It says at hunts in Scotland, foxes are still being chased and killed, in the way they were before hunting was made illegal, because it is much more difficult to control a pack of dogs than two.
Countryside Alliance head of campaigns Tim Bonner said: “This is a step forward and will mean that farmers and hunts will be able to use packs of hounds to find and shoot foxes. Traditional hunting will, though, remain illegal.”
The Countryside Alliance wants the hunting act scrapped. The act was introduced in 2005 when Tony Blair was prime minister. He has subsequently said he regrets it was passed.