Dozens of Conservative MPs will rebel against any attempt by David Cameron to repeal the Hunting Act, amid fears that a pledge to weaken the ban on hunting with dogs may be included in the party’s general election manifesto.
More than two dozen Tory MPs have given their backing to Conservatives Against Fox Hunting (also known as Blue Fox), a campaign group set up to challenge the pro-hunt lobby’s influence within the party.
A decade after the ban came into force, there is a growing campaign to have it relaxed or repealed. Earlier this year a plan to amend the law to allow farmers to flush out foxes with more than two dogs was abandoned after opposition by animal welfare groups.
The Government has committed to giving MPs a free vote on whether to scrap the Hunting Act, although no date has been set.
In a statement yesterday, a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We will bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act, when Parliamentary time allows.”
But anti-hunt campaigners fear that another attempt will be made to weaken or scrap the Hunting Act altogether. The Conservative anti-hunt lobby is calling on the party leadership to guarantee that the election manifesto will not include any pledges to undermine the act.
“The ‘repeal issue’ is cruel to our wildlife and toxic to the perception of the Conservative Party,” said Lorraine Platt, a co-founder of Blue Fox – whose members include Sir Roger Gale MP and the Employment Minister Esther McVey.
Other anti-hunt Tory MPs include James Brokenshire and Tobias Ellwood.
“For too long, the party leadership has appeared to be swayed by the hunting lobby rather than representing the majority of the public’s support for the ban on hunting with dogs,” Ms Platt said. “Hunting with hounds does not have full support within the Conservative party. We have a group of up to 26 Conservative MPs who are against the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004 and do not want to see the law changed.”
She added: “We are generally concerned that the Conservative Party leadership may feel under pressure by the pro-hunt lobby to include some form of pledge to undermine or weaken the hunt ban in a new manifesto, in return for boots on the ground to deliver leaflets etc in marginal constituencies during the general election.”
A quarter of a million Britons are expected to attend the hundreds of legal Boxing Day hunts being held across the country today.
Support for the hunt ban remains at an all-time high, according to new polling released by the League Against Cruel Sports, with eight out of 10 people opposed to fox hunting being made legal again. There have been several hundred convictions in the past decade. On average, one person every week is prosecuted under the Hunting Act, and almost two-thirds of those brought before the courts are found guilty.
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