Ministers call for free vote on repeal of fox hunting ban

As thousands turn out for Boxing Day hunts, supporters say the law is unenforceable

The Agriculture minister, Jim Paice, has claimed the Hunting Act is not working – renewing pressure on David Cameron to schedule a free Commons vote on repealing the ban, as supporters prepared to turn out at 300 hunts across Britain today.

Mr Paice said: "The current law simply doesn't work. I personally am in favour of hunting with dogs – and the Coalition Agreement clearly states that we will have a free vote on whether to repeal the act when there is time in the parliamentary calendar to do so.

"Frankly, it [the ban] is a mess. It has been criticised by virtually all levels of authority – by the courts, by the police – as unenforceable.

"Efforts by the pressure groups to force the police to enforce it are just distracting the police from more important issues. To me the whole thing is making the law a bit of a mess and making a bit of a mockery of it."

His fellow Defra minister, Richard Benyon, the Conservative MP for Newbury in Berkshire, said: "I have been and remain a supporter of hunting and I believe the Hunting Act has been bad for the countryside and bad for wildlife," while David Cameron describes himself as a "country boy" and says he wants to overturn the hunting ban "mistake".

The Countryside Alliance estimates that more than 250,000 people will attend Boxing Day hunts. Alice Barnard, its chief executive, said: "It is a point of pride for rural communities across Britain that, despite the prejudice and ignorance of some, hunting remains as strong as ever."

But the League Against Cruel Sports published a poll of 2,126 people suggesting that two-thirds believe the Hunting Act should remain in place. Forty-eight per cent said a vote to repeal it was the least important animal welfare priority. A third of people thought tackling dangerous dog owners should take priority, while others cited farm animal welfare, reducing testing on animals and promoting responsible pet ownership.

Joe Duckworth, the league's chief executive, said: "It comes as no surprise that the public has shown there is no appetite to waste Parliamentary time on voting to repeal the Hunting Act. The vast majority has absolutely no desire to see wild animals being chased and killed legally in our countryside."

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