The process of repealing the 2004 Hunting Act is set to begin within a month, reports The Telegraph, following meetings between David Cameron and senior colleagues to discuss how to organise a free vote. However, pro-hunting campaigners fear that the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to their cause before the general election may be softening.
Writing for the Countryside Alliance’s quarterly magazine, Cameron gave a very clear pledge with regards to the 2004 Hunting Act – the act that banned the hunting with dogs of wild mammals including foxes, deer and hares – writing :
“There is definitely a rural way of life which a born and bred Londoner might struggle to understand. I have always been a strong supporter of country sports. It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government. The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government Bill in government time.”
The pro-hunting lobby believes it has the 286 votes needed to pass the law. While that number is less than half of the 650 votes in the House of Commons, the Scottish National Party’s 56 MPs may not take part – though that should not be relied upon by huntsmen. Although not voting on English hunting was long-standing policy for the SNP, repeated in the run up to the general election, the party is now suggesting it may reverse that.
A vote to repeal could take place in the House of Commons within a year, but The Telegraph has been told it is unlikely to be included in the newly-elected Conservative government’s legislative programme to be set out in the Queen’s Speech next week. Instead the measure will be introduced by a backbench Private Members Bill – a riskier method of getting legislation passed.
In theory the bill could still be treated as a “government bill in government time” – a policy which was also explicitly stated in the Conservative Party manifesto – but even with government backing to ensure there is enough time to debate the matter the process is far from simple. Finding a pro-hunting backbench MP willing to risk their re-election by promoting controversial legislation may be difficult.
Tim Bonner, a spokesman at the Countryside Alliance, told The Telegraph:
“This is a matter of trust between the Government and the countryside and we are confident that the vote will be delivered. The manifesto says that a Conservative government will ‘give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Acton a free vote, with a government bill in government time’. A vote on a Private Members Bill would not therefore fulfil the manifesto commitment.”