Theresa May backs away from vote on legalising fox hunting

The new Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has said she wants to repeal the hunting ban

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The Government is unlikely to try and lift the ban on fox hunting in the near future, Downing Street has said.

On Thursday Theresa May appointed Andrea Leadsom as the Environment Secretary, a job which has overall responsibility for rural affairs.

Just this month Ms Leadsom reiterated her commitment to repealing the hunting ban, arguing that to do so could have “animal welfare” benefits. 

Her appointment raised concern among anti-hunting groups. Eduardo Goncalves, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the group was “disappointed by Andrea Leadsom’s commitment to a free vote on repeal". 

Ms May has also expressed support for the animal killings in the past. 

A Number 10 spokesperson however told an official briefing of journalists today that bringing back fox hunting was unlikely to be a priority for the new Prime Minister. 

“I think there is plenty of government business at the top of the agenda at the moment – focusing on the immediate priorities for the government – so I don’t think fox hunting is top of the in-tray,” she told journalists.

In fact, MPs have had plenty of spare parliamentary time in recent years – with the Government bringing forward little legislation for fear of defeat on its slim majority. 

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Theresa May arrives in Downing Street (EPA)

Ms Leadsom had told ITV News: in an interview: “I would absolutely commit to holding a vote to repeal the hunting ban. It has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare whatsoever.

“I do believe we need a proper licensed regime which works much better and is more focused on animal welfare.”

Polls suggest fox hunting continues to be is very unpopular, with even most Conservative voters opposed.

Pollsters Ipsos MORI found in December 2015 that 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.

Crucially, opposition to the animal killings was just as strong in rural areas as urban areas – with 84 per cent and 82 per cent opposed respectively.

Tory voters were split 70 per cent to 27 per cent in favour of keeping the fox hunting ban when asked.

The Conservatives stood on a manifesto in 2015 of holding a free vote on legalising hunting, which was banned by the last Labour government. 

The prospect of a free vote was however kicked into the long grass after it became clear that anti-hunt Tories could dereal any attempt at repeal. 

An analysis by the League Against Cruel Sports conducted last year found that a growing minority of Conservative MPs – around 50 – would likely vote against lifting the ban.

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