As the Tory leadership race hots up, contender Jeremy Hunt has offered MPs a free vote on living the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales if he becomes the next prime minister.
Despite declining to say whether he considered the act to be “cruel”, Mr Hunt did say he thought the law was “not going to change.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the foreign secretary also said: “[Hunting] is part of the countryside. And we have to recognise that in terms of the balance of the countryside. You know, it’s part of our heritage.”
The foreign secretary also said that he had been “restating the position in our manifesto from 2017,” with Prime Minister Theresa May last year making the pledge to hold a vote on the fox hunting ban.
This wasn’t the first time a similar attempt had been made, with her predecessor David Cameron promising a free vote on whether to repeal the ban in England and Wales. However, this vote never took place.
Mr Hunt added that he would support a free vote among MPs at a time when there would be a majority in Parliament “that would be likely” to lift the ban in England.
Fox hunting with hounds has been illegal in England and Wales since 2004 and 2002 in Scotland. Now a criminal offence, a person must be shown to be intentionally hunting the animal in order to be prosecuted.
Currently, the most severe punishment available for those found to be breaking the fox hunting law is an unlimited fine, but Labour has promised to toughen up the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales, saying it will consult on jailing those caught illegally hunting foxes.
While Mr Hunt did say he believed there would never be a majority among MPs in favour of overturning the ban, the foreign secretary avoided to elaborate on whether he thought foxing hunting was cruel, instead simply calling it “not my thing.”
There has been wide debate around the issue, and despite campaign group, The League Against Cruel Sports saying Mr Hunt was “out of touch with public opinion” in offering the vote, Countryside Alliance stated that they “welcome Jeremy Hunt’s recognition that the Hunting Act represents an ongoing injustice that should be addressed. (sic)”
Continuing, the Countryside Alliance said: “The Hunting Act remains a source of massive resentment in the countryside and was passed for all the wrong reasons, unsupported by principle or evidence.
“The ban has done nothing for animal welfare and is a deeply flawed and prejudiced piece of legislation which harms wildlife management and rural communities.”
The Countryside Alliance went on to say: “The Chair of the Labour Government’s own independent inquiry into hunting, the Burns Inquiry, stated that there is insufficient evidence to show that hunting with dogs is worse in welfare terms than the alternatives.
“Every time there has been an independent inquiry or review into the issue the case for a ban has been rejected.”
In the race for the Tory leadership, and as a result the prime ministership, former London mayor and foreign secretary Boris Johnson promised to recruit 20,000 more police over three years.
The pledges from Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson come two days before the ballot papers are posted to Tory members. The voting closes on the 22nd July, with a result expected to be announced the following day.
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