ANIMAL welfare campaigners are angry about proposed 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.

MPs will vote on the changes to the law on Wednesday which has prompted accusations the Government is trying to sneak fox hunting in through the back door, knowing they would not win a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act in Parliament.

But hunting supporters are backing the move, saying traditional hunting would remain illegal and it would make it easier to manage fox populations.

Celebrities have joined with Animal Defenders International (ADI) in an urgent plea to MPs to block the proposed changes and prevent the return of a "despicable bloodsport".

Actors Colin Baker and Julia McKenzie, comedian Alexei Sayle, television presenters Chris Packham and Victoria Stilwell, naturalist Dame Jane Goodall and former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe are among more than 20 high profile people who have signed a letter to MPs.

The letter warns that the Government is attempting to "weaken the Hunting Act though the back door, knowing full well that a free vote would maintain this effective, compassionate law".

It says that if the amendment to the Hunting Act is passed, "this important legislation will become toothless, allowing hunts to resume their cruel pastime with impunity".

Animal Defenders International president Jan Creamer said: "The arguments for hunting were picked apart and defeated 10 years ago and to this day remain the same.

"This cruel blood sport must stay in the past where it belongs. Please contact your MP today and urge them to safeguard this important wildlife legislation and vote to keep the ban."

High profile animal welfare activists including Queen guitarist Brian May and former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney have already urged the Government to keep the Hunting Act.

May is set to take part in a rally outside Parliament by the "Team Fox" coalition of animal welfare groups, including ADI, tomorrow, urging MPs to keep the ban intact.

ends Page 2: 13:30 Tom Quinn, director of campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, said the coalition coming to Parliament for the rally represented the majority of Britain, and all the animals targeted by hunts.

"Hunters are a minority who like to make animals suffer in the name of 'sport'. They don't represent the countryside.

"Team Fox is determined to ensure that MPs understand the truth about what hunting really is, and vote the way the public want them to vote with no compromise - and keep cruelty history," he said.

Caroline Allen, animals spokeswoman for the Green Party of England and Wales, said: "The Green Party is completely opposed to any attempt to bring back hunting with dogs.

"We believe that the Hunting Act must be strengthened and extended so that all dog work underground is outlawed, a new clause introduced to stop wildlife crimes being explained away as accidents, and tougher penalties introduced for people found guilty under the Act."