Should the hunting act be repealed? Or do Norfolk's MPs have more important issues to tackle in the run-up to Brexit?
PUBLISHED: 11:36 10 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:36 10 May 2017
Prime Minsiter Theresa May has pledged a free vote on overturning the Hunting Act if the Conservatives win next month's election.
She said she was in favour of the outlawed activity but MPs would be given the final say.
David Cameron had promised to put the divisive issue to Parliament but did not go ahead with the plan due to a lack of support.
During a visit to a factory in Leeds, Mrs May said: “This is a situation on which individuals will have one view or the other, either pro or against.
“As it happens, personally I have always been in favour of fox hunting, and we maintain our commitment, we have had a commitment previously as a Conservative Party, to allow a free vote.
“It would allow Parliament the opportunity to take the decision on this.”
Norfolk and Suffolk hunt officials today had mixed views on the subject of repeal.
Bill Borrett, chairman of the West Norfolk Foxhounds, said: “There’s no change in the Conservative position to what it was under David Cameron.
“The piece of legislation was really divisive. It wasn’t really about animal welfare, it was about the mistaken belief that everyone who goes hunting is a toff.
“Only a full repeal will put rural life back on an even keel. It will require a decent Conservative majority.”
Becky Baker, master of the Waveney Harriers, said: “I think the Hunting Act is extremely flawed and does need looking at but I think there are more important issues to resolve in parliament.
“It’s been on the Tory manifesto for a number of years but it’s not really one of their key issues. If it comes up, it comes up.” Nigel Bloom, master of the Long Stratton-based Dunston Harriers for the past five years, said: “I think it’s a law that would be beneficial to the countryside to be repealed but whether this is the correct political climate I’m not sure.
“It’s an inescapable fact that more people are going hunting than ever before. It’s a very tricky one.”
Earlier, a Conservative Party vice-chairman warned against re-opening the debate. Sir Roger Gale, a patron of Conservatives Against Fox Hunting, said MPs in the next parliament will have “more than enough to occupy” their time without considering “yesterday’s argument” of repealing the Hunting Act.
He added he “cannot see many Conservative votes” for fox hunting in marginal seats the party is targeting at the General Election, while most of the newer MPs could turn out to be anti-hunting.
Sir Roger said he believed a “huge amount of parliamentary time and effort” has been spent on the issue, with the existing law “probably as good as we can get” given the difficulty in satisfying everyone.
“We have more than enough to occupy parliamentary time with Brexit and all that follows,” he said. “In my view, it’d be folly to waste further time on the issue.”
The law, introduced by Labour in 2004, bans the use of dogs to hunt foxes and other wild mammals in England and Wales. Norfolk’s four packs of foxhounds and harriers hunt false trails laid across the countryside.
Animal welfare campaigners criticised the move, pointing to a survey last year which revealed 84pc of people were opposed to making fox hunting legal again. David Bowles, head of public affairs for the RSPCA, said: “The Hunting Act was introduced to end the suffering caused to wild animals by chasing and killing them with a pack of hounds.”