Backbenchers rally to overturn hunting ban
By Western Morning News | Thursday, February 14, 2013, 06:45
A group of backbench Tory MPs are drumming up support for a repeal of the hunting ban before the next election.
Devon MP Neil Parish is among a core of Conservatives who want the Hunting Act overturned, but are anxious to secure enough support before going to a Commons vote.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told the Western Morning News in December that the Government was still committed to giving MPs a free vote on tearing up the legislation.
But he ruled out bringing the issue to the House of Commons this year as pro-hunt MPs would not win.
Mr Paterson, a keen country sportsman, was four-square against Labour's ban when he was a backbench MP.
Mr Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, told the WMN: "There are a number of us keen to see the Act repealed and I would support the Secretary of State. However, I don't think a vote is imminent.
"We are not certain of the numbers (for and against) and we won't move until we are more certain."
In an interview earlier this month, Mr Paterson said he is "absolutely clear" that there will be a free vote before May 2015.
The Coalition Agreement signed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in May 2010 committed the newly-formed Government to holding a free vote on the hunting ban at some stage during the five-year Parliament.
But almost three years later, the issue has barely surfaced at Westminster. Mr Paterson said there is "more work to be done" to convince backbench MPs to vote for a repeal.
"We've got a pretty busy programme with a lot of other issues," he said. "But I'm absolutely clear it's the right thing to do to have a free vote at the appropriate moment."
The problem for the pro-hunt lobby is that while many Tories want the ban repealed, the party also has a smaller number of mainly urban-based backbenchers who insist it should remain in place.
With many – though not all – Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs opposed to repealing the 2005 legislation, the pro-hunt lobby faces an uphill struggle to win a free vote in the Commons.
Mr Paterson, who was handed the environment brief in last year's Cabinet reshuffle, said a group of backbench Tories have been tasked with drumming up support over the coming months.
"I think there's more work to be done," he said. "We need to win some more support. There are some MPs who are actively working on this."
The issue, which divides rural Westcountry communities, is tricky for David Cameron, who rode with his local hunt several times prior to the ban. Having already failed to push his proposed boundary changes through Parliament after the Lib Dems withdrew their support, he will not want to be seen to lose another vote.
Those championing a repeal say the Act is illiberal, illogical and confusing. Labour continues its opposition to the ban, arguing there is no public support for a return and that "there is no place for animal cruelty in a civilised society".