'Too much politics coming into charities'
Tory MPs have criticised the "politicisation" of the RSPCA, Britain's biggest animal welfare charity, weeks after it successfully secured a conviction against a hunt in David Cameron's constituency.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, Conservative MP for South Dorset, Richard Drax, claimed there was "increasing politicisation of many organisations, and the RSPCA is just another very sad case".
And Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said the charities watchdog the Charity Commission had "allowed far too much leeway on politics coming into charities".
Two members of the Heythrop Hunt pleaded guilty to hunting foxes illegally at Oxford Magistrates' Court in December.
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The hunt itself also admitted to the charges. The RSPCA brought the case as a private prosecution, its first under the terms of the Hunting Act.
Mr Cameron has admitted to riding with the hunt in the past. The RSPCA's costs in the Heythrop Hunt case of more than £300,000 drew criticism, however.
Meanwhile, the RSPCA has been officially asked to review its prosecution policies by the charities regulator.
Other Westcountry MPs defended the RSPCA, though. Alison Seabeck, Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View, said the RSPCA had "every right to investigate and prosecute" the Heythrop hunt and those involved in the "maiming of foxes".
She went on: "The RSPCA does not prosecute unless there is just cause, and it considers the public interest test of the code for Crown prosecutors before deciding whether to prosecute."
And Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, argued: "Is it not the point that if it were not for the RSPCA, we would expect the police to put together such cases, and they do not have the expertise or, certainly in the current austere world, the resources?"
Former solicitor general Sir Edward Garnier said the RSCPA faced a "public perception it has become a political prosecutor". The Tory MP said: "We need to be very careful the prosecuting system does not allow itself to become an arm of any one or any number of political campaigns. That's the whole point of having the CPS."
Sir Edward reflected on comments that the RSPCA's costs in the Heythrop Hunt case of more than £300,000 were "quite staggering".
Simon Hart MP pointedly refused to make any reference to the Heythrop Hunt case, or hunting in general, as he opened the Westminster Hall debate, preferring to highlight cases of the charity pursuing pensioners.
But the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP was accused of calling the debate in a bid to neutralise the RSPCA in advance of a bid to overturn the hunting ban.
Opposition MPs lined up to claim Mr Hart's debate was aimed at hunting. Labour MP Paul Flynn (Newport West) told him he wanted the law to apply to all except the "rich, powerful and Tory".
Answering the debate, Attorney General Dominic Grieve backed the ability of the RSPCA, and others, to bring private prosecutions.