David Cameron has said that, to his “regret”, he is unable to relax the ban on hunting with hounds during this parliament. He told MPs yesterday that the coalition had been unable to agree on an amendment that would allow farmers to use large packs of dogs to flush out foxes.
Ministers were said to be considering the move, which would be the first amendment to the Hunting Act since Labour forced it through parliament in 2004. It had the backing of MPs from all three major parties.
The Telegraph says that hunt supporters were said to be optimistic that the government would go ahead with a free vote on the change, especially since Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is known to be sympathetic.
But at Prime Ministers Questions yesterday, Mr Cameron said that the government does not have sufficient support within parliament to press ahead with the change.
“I regret to say I don’t think there will be government agreement to go forward.”
There was a lack of support among the Liberal Democrat coalition partners, Mr Cameron indicated, but there is also a small group of Tory MPs who oppose any change to the Act. These MPs, known as the “Blue Foxes” oppose changing or repealing the Hunting Act either because they worry it is the wrong priority of because they still believe that hunting with hounds in cruel.
The last Conservative Party manifesto promised a free vote on repealing the hunting ban, and many pro-hunt activists joined efforts for get Conservatives elected in marginal seats. David Cameron and Owen Paterson have both been hunting in the past, yet neither has been able to repeal the ban due to Coalition politics.
The sport was also popular among members of the Royal Family, but they have since been advised to cease taking part due to fears of bad publicity.
Hunting with hounds was banned by Tony Blair’s Labour government after spending more than 700 hours of parliamentary time discussing the issue, far more than for any other area of policy, including the Iraq war.
Campaigners for the amendment say that it is necessary in order to better control the rural fox population, especially during lambing season. Farmers say attacks on livestock are increasing and that the Hunting Act is making controlling them more difficult.
At the moment, hunts are still allowed to exist, but they must chase scented trails and not kill any wildlife.
A 2011 study by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management concluded that, contrary to the beliefs of supporters of the Act, hunting with hounds is the most humane method of controlling the fox population.
It argued that hunting is less cruel than other methods of control because it only picks off foxes that are already weak, there is no wounding – foxes are either killed or escape unharmed, and that advances in neuroscience refute anthropomorphic claims about foxes feeling “terror” as they are chased.
It is now unlikely that the Act will be amended or repealed before the next election.