Supporters of hunting with dogs are confident of overturning the ban imposed 10 years ago, claiming that a majority of MPs in the new House of Commons will vote to lift it.
David Cameron is under mounting pressure from Conservative MPs to honour swiftly the party’s election manifesto pledge to hold a free Commons vote on the ban. The pro-hunting lobby, which has analysed the views of the MPs elected this month, believes it has achieved the “magic number” of 286 votes it needs to win. The figure is less than half of the 650-member House because the Scottish National Party has said its 56 MPs will not take part.
The Countryside Alliance calculates that only about 12 of the 330 Conservative MPs will vote to keep the ban imposed by the Blair Government. However, the rival League Against Cruel Sports is also lobbying MPs and is confident that more than 12 Tories will vote to maintain the ban. It believes it can win the critical vote, which could be very close. It accused the Countryside Alliance of trying to bounce Tory MPs into believing a decision to repeal the Hunting Act 2004 is inevitable, when it is not.
The forthcoming vote is unlikely to be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech on May 27, as that might divert attention from Mr Cameron’s drive to lead a “one nation” government and end the Tories’ image as the “party of the rich.” But the Speech traditionally says that “other measures” will follow later in the parliamentary year and Tory MPs are hopeful that there will be a vote in the next 12 months.
Owen Paterson, the Conservative former Environment Secretary, said: “The hunting ban is bad legislation, bad for animal welfare and bad for the liberty of people in the countryside. A repeal of this law is a clear manifesto commitment and I am confident we will see it in the Queen’s Speech on May 27.”
Simon Hart, a Tory MP and former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “We need to get on with this and I am sure the Government will want to resolve the matter quickly and efficiently. The commitment to a vote on repeal has been in the manifesto since 2005 and we now have the opportunity to deliver that and get rid of a law that has been a running sore in the countryside for over 10 years.”
He added: “The vast majority of my colleagues understand that this whole debate was never really about hunting or animal welfare, but about Labour MPs having a go at what they thought was an easy Conservative target. The recent election result has shown once and for all that Labour’s obsession with fighting a class war has rendered them unelectable, so it is only right that we remove laws based on this prejudice from the statute book."
Appointments in David Cameron's Tory government
Appointments in David Cameron's Tory government
1/7 Amber Rudd: Energy and Climate Change Secretary
Wins a big promotion after increasing her majority in Hastings and Rye despite once describing her constituency as a “bit depressing”. The former banker and financial journalist is considered a moderate Eurosceptic
2/7 Priti Patel: Employment Minister (attending Cabinet)
Former party press officer and now the Witham MP is rewarded for her forceful performances during the election campaign. She is on the right of the party and a Eurosceptic. Ms Patel has called for the return of hanging
3/7 John Whittingdale: Culture Secretary
Having never been a minister in his 23 years as an MP John Whittingdale’s elevation to the Cabinet is meteoric. But his appointment sends a message to Tory backbenchers that preferment is possible even for those who may have given up hope (and be tempted to rebel)
4/7 Anna Soubry: Minister for Small Business
Not long ago the former defence minister feared she would not even be an MP but now she has a key role in the Department for Business and the right to attend Cabinet
5/7 Sajid Javid: Business Secretary
Rising star tipped as Britain’s first prime minister from an ethnic minority. Son of a bus driver, he grew up in two-bedroom flat in Bristol. After university he joined Deutsche Bank. Parliamentary aide to George Osborne before becoming Treasury minister and Culture Secretary
6/7 Greg Clark: Communities Secretary
Thoughtful moderniser who grew up in Middlesbrough where his father and grandfather were milkmen. Was a special adviser before entering Parliament in 2005. In previous ministerial posts he drew up plans to devolve powers to cities
7/7 Matthew Hancock: Cabinet Office minister and Paymaster General
A former aide to George Osborne before becoming an MP in 2010 election. Hancock has had a meteoric ministerial rise
Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: “We are looking forward to the Government delivering its manifesto commitment to a vote on repeal that we think will be won. The Hunting Act has been a farce from the start and even Tony Blair has admitted that it was a mistake. The new Parliament has an opportunity to right a wrong that was done 10 years ago and we are confident that MPs will take it”.
Opponents of hunting may appeal to the SNP to take part in the vote, which could tip the balance in their favour. But Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has said the party’s MPs will vote on matters affecting England only if there are financial implications for Scotland. She has cited the Hunting Act as a no-go area because hunting was banned in Scotland two years earlier than in England.
Chris Pitt, deputy director of campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Given the other priorities facing the country at the moment, the public will not stand for the Government bringing forward a vote to bring back hunting so early on in this parliament.
“A one nation Conservative government should listen to the public and their own supporters who are overwhelmingly opposed to bringing back fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing. The Hunting Act is supported by 80 per cent of the British public and almost 70 per cent of Conservative supporters. Increasing numbers of Conservative MPs are recognising this and will vote against repeal, so we are confident that if a vote is called it will reflect the will of the British people and uphold the Hunting Act.”
Mr Pitt added: “Repeal of the Hunting Act would be a massive backwards step for animal welfare and we cannot accept the cruelty that it would legalise. We will be working with all the parties, including Conservative MPs who are anti-hunting, to ensure this vital legislation stays on the statute books.”