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Speaker reveals he is a supporter of hunting ban

Wednesday 19 January 2011 12:16 GMT

Commons Speaker John Bercow has risked further angering Tory MPs by revealing that he is a supporter of the hunting ban.

Abandoning his supposed neutrality on controversial political issues, Mr Bercow told one of his constituents that he agreed that hunting foxes to kill them is "wrong in the 21st century".

His comments represent a U-turn from his previous opposition to the hunting ban, introduced by the former Labour government in the teeth of fierce opposition from the countryside lobby.

But they are also likely to fuel criticism of his Speakership, particularly among Tories who are hoping to repeal the Hunting Act when it comes back to the Commons.

The coalition agreement promises a free vote on the issue, although no date for it is yet in view.

Using the Speaker's official stationery, Mr Bercow wrote to Buckingham constituent Clive Preston on January 6 that there was a "compelling" argument for the ban.

"The public as a whole support the legislation and consider that hunting foxes with a view to killing them is wrong in the 21st century. I support that view," he wrote.

Mr Preston, an opponent of the ban, told The Times that he had previously asked his friends in Buckingham to support Mr Bercow because "he was a sound man on hunting".

He added: "He is devaluing himself and becoming a laughing stock."

Mr Bercow is already under pressure from some quarters amid accusations that he is closer to the Labour side of the House.

He is also facing anger about MPs' treatment over their expenses by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

His wife, Sally Bercow - who stood for Labour in last year's council elections - hit out at the "whispering campaign" against him.

"The bottom line is a lot of Tories, I'm afraid, still can't accept that my husband won the speakership fair and square and is doing a very good job and he did it without Tory support," she said.

Last week, senior Conservative backbencher Mark Pritchard swore at the Speaker in a behind-the-scenes confrontation in the Commons.

Mr Pritchard reportedly told Mr Bercow "you are not f****** royalty, Mr Speaker" during a confrontation in a Westminster corridor after the MP would not stand aside to let him pass by.

A constituency spokesman for Mr Bercow said: "The Speaker, who was re-elected to the Buckingham seat as the Speaker seeking re-election, uses the same stationery for every letter he writes in his capacity as Member of Parliament for Buckingham which is purchased from his Parliamentary allowance.

"In this letter the Speaker was offering to pass on the concerns of this constituent to the relevant minister even though in the interests of transparency he was pointing out that these were not views that he shared.

"Parliament is not facing any debate on this issue and there is no conflict between serving a constituent and fulfilling his role as Speaker.

"It is Mr Bercow's duty both to represent his constituents and articulate his views to them as appropriate.

"His role is to be neutral in the chamber but not neutered as a constituency member."

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