Fox hunting should be consigned to history and must remain banned, the Conservative minister for sports and heritage has said.
Tracey Crouch, a long-time opponent of the practice, laid out her opposition to David Cameron’s push towards legalisation as Boxing Day hunts set off across the country.
“Fox hunting is a pursuit from the past and like the overwhelming majority of the population I believe that is where it should stay, consigned to history,” the BBC reported her as saying.
“I believe that the legislation as it stands today requires better enforcement, and Parliament has better things to be concerned with than bringing back hunting foxes with hounds.”
The Government quietly dropped a bid to legalise the practice in July after the SNP confirmed it would vote with Labour to block any weakening of the ban.
Whips and ministers had gone as far as to set aside parliamentary time for the free vote, with 90 minutes earmarked to debate a motion. It was ultimately never called, however.
The Conservative party harbours significant opposition to fox hunting on its own benches and the Government’s narrow majority in Parliament means that the dozens of Tories who want to keep the ban hold the deciding vote on the matter.
An analysis by the League Against Cruel Sports found that a growing minority of Tory MPs are against fox hunting, despite them having stood on a manifesto that could see the ban relaxed.
At least 50 Conservative MPs have apparently clearly stated that they would oppose a repeal of the hunting ban, according to the campaign group – compared to just six MPs who supported the hunting ban when it was first brought in.
The parliamentary arithmetic means that even if SNP MPs were not allowed to vote on the matter the Government would likely face defeat anyway.
David Cameron said he supported fox hunting in March this year and said if he won the election he would give MPs a free vote on legalising the practice.
“There is definitely a rural way of life which a born and bred Londoner might struggle to understand,” he wrote in the Countryside Alliance magazine.
“I have always been a strong supporter of country sports. It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government.
“The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government Bill in government time.”
Ms Crouch’s call comes as a new poll shows public opposition to fox hunting is at an all-time high – including amongst Conservative voters and people who live in rural areas.
83 per cent of the public say fox hunting should not be made legal again, up from 72 per cent when the question was asked in 2008.
Pollsters Ipsos MORI have asked the public the same question each year for around a decade and found very strong opposition each time.