Tories admit defeat in bid to repeal hunting ban as 250,000 turned out regardless on Boxing Day

Ministers say they won’t change the law in the near future

In village squares, pub car parks and fields all over the country, they met this morning, with their horses, their hounds, their gleaming tunics and, in many cases, their breath already alive with whisky vapour.

An estimated 250,000 people turned out for Britain’s traditional Boxing Day hunts, which regularly produce among the most bucolic images of the year, as the horses and their riders set out through chocolate-box villages and over the rolling countryside.

But they are occasions that for eight years been effectively illegal, and they come amid news that the Government is delaying its plans for a vote on the highly emotive issue of fox hunting.

The Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, admitted that the Government did not currently have the necessary parliamentary majority to overturn a ban on the practice, which was outlawed in 2005 under Labour. “It makes sense to bring something forward if you think there’s a chance of there being a parliamentary majority and at the moment there doesn’t appear to be one,” he told the BBC’s World at One programme.

“There is precious little point if you think you are not going to win the votes, or that Parliament isn’t going to change the law.”

His comments followed those made by the Tory Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a keen supporter of so-called “blood sports”, who said it would be highly unlikely the promised free vote would take place before the end of 2013.

“There’s only a point having a vote if you’re going to win,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote we were going to lose. There needs to be more work done on members of Parliament.

“It is our clear intention to have a free vote but we need to choose an appropriate moment.”

Most of the gatherings practise trail-hunting, where huntsmen follow a trail laid with a rag steeped in a fox-based scent, but it is common for the hounds to pick up the scent of a real live fox and follow that instead, the legality of which is complex and highly contested.

In Chipping Norton, around 6,000 people gathered in the town centre to greet the horses and hounds of the Heythrop Hunt, which was recently the subject of a £327,000 private prosecution by the RSPCA. Two members of the Heythrop – which David Cameron has ridden with in the past – admitted unlawfully hunting with dogs on four occasions and were fined. But today large numbers of spectators turned out in a show of support which pleased pro-hunting lobbyists. Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: ‘Today has been an extraordinary display of support for hunting right the way across the country. Those hundreds and thousands of people have sent a clear message to the Government.

“They understand the difficulties of coalition government and the serious issues facing the nation, but this law is flawed and has failed.”

Supporters of the ban say the majority of Britons want it to stay, including most Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs and some Conservatives. Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the organisation was spending £1m on recruiting investigators with the aim of catching people hunting illegally.

The shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh added: “Most people back Labour’s ban on hunting wild animals with dogs and accept there is no place for animal cruelty in a civilised society.”

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?