Theresa May: I'm in favour of fox hunting

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Media caption,

Theresa May is asked about her views on fox hunting

Theresa May has indicated she will allow Conservative MPs a free vote on whether to bring back fox hunting.

The PM, who says she has always been in favour of fox hunting, said it was up to Parliament to take the decision.

Tony Blair's Labour government introduced the Hunting Act, which bans the use of dogs to hunt foxes and wild mammals in England and Wales, in 2004.

Tory Sir Roger Gale, seeking re-election in North Thanet, said many young party members were anti-hunting.

Mrs May was asked why she was committed to bringing back fox hunting during an election event in Leeds.

She replied that this was a situation "on which individuals will have one view or the other, either pro or against".

"As it happens, personally, I've always been in favour of fox hunting and we maintain our commitment - we had a commitment previously - as a Conservative Party to allow a free vote and that would allow Parliament to take a decision on this," she said.

Her comments followed a Daily Mirror report that it had seen a leaked email from Conservative peer Lord Mancroft, chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, in which he outlined how a Conservative landslide at the general election could result in changes.

According to the newspaper, Lord Mancroft wrote: "A majority of 50 or more would give us a real opportunity for repeal of the Hunting Act.

"This is by far the best opportunity we have had since the ban, and is probably the best we are likely to get in the foreseeable future."

Image source, PA

The peer reportedly said Mrs May had offered assurances that the party's manifesto would include a pledge to give MPs a free vote on repealing the act - something her predecessor David Cameron had also offered in 2015, but which had not yet happened.

Sir Roger Gale, president of Conservative Animal Welfare, said he would oppose any attempt to repeal the Hunting Act.

He said he understood there were around 30 to 50 anti-hunt Conservative MPs in the last Parliament, with the potential for the 2017 intake to have similar views.

"I cannot see many Conservative votes for fox hunting in marginal seats we are hoping to win," he said.

He believed a "huge amount of parliamentary time and effort" had already 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."

Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said the act had "failed", adding that he would wait and see what was contained in the Conservative manifesto.

"The case of hunting and the case against the Hunting Act remains strong - and we will continue to make the case to politicians of all parties," he said.