BRADFORD’S Conservative MPs have backed a relaxation of the ban on fox hunting – but the controversial vote has been delayed.

Both Kris Hopkins (Keighley) and Philip Davies (Shipley) said the current rules – allowing only two hounds to flush out a fox – were failing to protect livestock.

They voiced support for David Cameron’s plan to allow hunters to deploy a full pack of hounds – a switch criticised an attempt to bring back hunting “by the back door”.

Labour MPs oppose the relaxation en masse, including Bradford East MP Imran Hussain, who said: “Fox hunting is an inhumane and cruel sport.”

But the clash has now been postponed from tomorrow until the autumn, after Scottish Nationalists (SNP) said they would vote with Labour.

Facing certain defeat, the Prime Minister pulled the vote until after the introduction of ‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL), a vote due in September.

Although some gleeful anti-hunters said Mr Cameron had been “humiliated”, the row may help him win Tory backbench support for rushing through EVEL.

Mr Hopkins argued the relaxation was a “sensible proposal” that would make the Hunting Act more workable, while “maintaining the ban on the pursuit and killing of a wild animal by dogs”.

He said: “This vote is not about repealing the Hunting Act, but about bringing the law here into line with the current position in Scotland where farmers and gamekeepers have a greater ability to control foxes and protect livestock.”

Mr Davies said: “Foxes are pests and their population need to be controlled.

“I believe that shooting (where they can be wounded and left to die painfully) poisoning and snaring (which can also lead to long lingering deaths) are less humane ways of controlling the fox population than hunting.

“The hunting ban has not saved the life of a single fox - it has simply led to more being killed by these methods which I consider to be more cruel.”

The SNP's 56 MPs agreed late on Monday to break with their normal practice of not voting on England-only matters and join Labour in opposing the weakening of the Hunting Act.

With at least 30 Tory MPs also fighting the relaxation, it meant Mr Cameron – with a slender majority of only 12 – was all-but certain to lose the vote.

The Conservatives have been accused of acting by the back door because a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act stands no chance of passing.