22 April 2014 by Michael Savage Chief Political Correspondent
The Hunting Act has proved ‘unworkable’ the Tories said. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
A vote on overturning the ban on hunting is set to be abandoned by the government, it has emerged. The coalition agreement, signed off by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, promised that MPs would be given a free vote on tearing up the controversial Hunting Act, introduced by Tony Blair in 2004. However, senior Tories have concluded that there is no point in holding the vote before the election as most MPs support the ban.
They have also decided that holding a vote with no prospect of success would cause unnecessary problems for Conservatives in urban seats, where hunting is more unpopular.
It is understood that there are no current plans to include the hunting ban vote in the next Queen’s Speech, in June, ending any chance that it could take place before the general election.
It emerges as the prime minister is warned that a “clear and unequivocal” pledge to repeal the Hunting Act must be included in the next Tory manifesto to ensure the support of the rural community in 2015. Traditional supporters will not feel inclined to help the party’s election campaign should Mr Cameron fail to take a clear stand on lifting the ban, countryside groups have warned. The party’s last manifesto stated that the Hunting Act had “proved unworkable” and that a Conservative government would hold a binding vote over scrapping it. The decision not to fulfil the coalition promise will annoy many die-hard hunting supporters determined to ditch the measure. However, a significant number of influential pro-hunters believe waiting for a better time to re-examine the ban is the right move.
A decade ago, the hunting ban turned into one of the most controversial laws of Mr Blair’s administration, prompting mass protest marches. He has since voiced regret over the decision to push it through, saying he ended up feeling like a hunted fox.
The scrapping of the vote in this parliament avoids confusion over the result. Mr Clegg has said that, even if the vote went ahead and a majority of MPs favoured repealing the act, the Liberal Democrats would not agree to scrap it.
“As a party, we remain in favour of retaining the ban on hunting with hounds,” he wrote in a letter to the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). “It is important to point out that any vote would simply be an opportunity for parliament to express its view on the act. The vote itself would not result in the act being automatically repealed.”
Simon Hart, the Tory MP for Carmarthen West and a Countryside Alliance board member, said he would not “shed too many tears” over the fact that the vote would not happen. However, he said a strong pledge on the hunting ban was needed in the Tory manifesto.
“I would much rather vote on the real thing when we think we have got the numbers to alter the outcome. The manifesto has got to be clear and unequivocal [about repealing the act].”
Joe Duckworth, the LACS chief executive, said the vote should go ahead. “A promise is a promise,” he said. “Conservatives and Liberal Democrats pledged to allow MPs a vote of conscience on the Hunting Act.”
Brian May, the Queen guitarist and animal rights campaigner, said that while the vote had been abandoned, “no defenceless animal group, human or non-human, is safe until this Government’s selfish and merciless reign is brought to an end”.
“To a significant and growing number of Conservative MP’s, calls for a return to legalised blood sports are an embarrassment, representing the old ‘nasty party’ image that they are anxious to move away from,” he said. “But unfortunately Cameron and the small clique which forms his cabinet are dominated by pro-Hunt, pro-cruelty old-style Tories.
“Cameron and the pro-hunting forces in Parliament … have known for months now that in a free vote by which he would hope to smash the Hunting Act, they would be defeated.”