LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced Tuesday to postpone a controversial vote on relaxing a ban on fox hunting, after facing defeat at the hands of Scottish nationalists who planned to use it as a warning that they should not be ignored.
Cameron had hoped to pass measures Wednesday to relax the ban on fox hunting, a centuries-old country pastime which sees horn-blowing, red-jacketed horse riders use packs of dogs to track down and kill foxes.
The issue is extremely divisive in Britain, with supporters hailing it as an important rural tradition which helps pest control and opponents criticizing it as cruel and elitist.
The government had said the planned change, to allow hunts in England and Wales to use more than two dogs to flush out a fox, was about bringing the rules into line with Scotland. The dogs would not be allowed to kill the fox, which must be shot.
But despite having previously pledged not to get involved in laws which do not impact Scotland, Scottish nationalists, who won 56 of the country's 59 parliamentary seats, said they would join the opposition Labour party in voting against the changes.
Cameron's Conservatives have a majority of just 12 seats and several of his lawmakers, including some ministers, are vocal opponents of relaxing the ban and planned to oppose the changes.
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted to send Cameron a message that he needed to show more respect to the wishes of Scottish lawmakers on other subjects, even though the fox hunting changes would not apply in Scotland.
"Since the election, David Cameron's government has shown very little respect to the mandate that Scottish MPs (lawmakers) have," Sturgeon told BBC radio Tuesday, adding the vote was a chance to "remind the government how slender their majority is."
The SNP is angry over separate plans by Cameron to give English lawmakers a veto over laws that do not affect Scotland, saying they would become second-class lawmakers in parliament under those proposals.
Cameron's spokeswoman said the government decided not to go ahead with the Wednesday vote due to the SNP's position.
"He is disappointed that the SNP are involving themselves in an issue which ultimately doesn't affect the Scottish people," she said, adding the government would decide its next steps "in due course."
The planned vote had brought the fox hunting debate back to the fore, 10 years after the ban was introduced amid widespread demonstrations on both sides which saw pro-hunting campaigners storm parliament's lower chamber.
Research by pollsters YouGov earlier this year found 51 percent of Britons support the ban, with 33 percent opposing it.
Fox hunting opponents say Cameron is trying to use the changes as a "back door" way of scrapping the ban altogether, a pledge made in his party's election manifesto earlier this year.
"How can it be in the day and age of 2015 that our prime minister is obsessed with bringing back cruel blood sports? ... It is disgusting beyond belief," Queen guitarist Brian May said at a demonstration outside parliament, where protesters dressed in fox masks and waved placards and chanted "keep the ban."