One of the contenders to be the next Conservative leader has said she wants to lift the ban on fox hunting, suggesting that to do so could improve animal welfare.
Andrea Leadsom, who would automatically become the Prime Minister if elected by the Tories’ 150,000 members, said a “proper licensed regime” could be brought in after the lifting of the ban.
Fox hunting involves chasing a wild fox through the countryside with a pack of dogs, with hunters following on horseback while wearing traditional dress. The practice was banned in 2004 by the last Labour government’s Hunting Act, though mock “hunts” continue despite the ban.
“I would absolutely commit to holding a vote to repeal the hunting ban. It has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare whatsoever,” Ms Leadsom told ITV News in an interview.
“I do believe we need a proper licensed regime which works much better and is more focused on animal welfare.”
Before the last general election David Cameron, who said he had always been a supporter of “country sports”, also pledged to hold a parliamentary free vote on fox hunting.
The plan was however shelved by whips because the party’s narrow majority meant that so-called “Blue Fox” opponents of hunting within the party would likely block any bid to legalise the killings.
Polls suggest fox hunting continues to be is very unpopular, with even most Conservative voters opposed.
Pollsters Ipsos MORI found in December 2015 that 83 per cent of the public say fox hunting should not be made legal again, up from 72 per cent when the question was asked in 2008.
Crucially, opposition to the animal killings was just as strong in rural areas as urban areas – with 84 per cent and 82 per cent opposed respectively.
Tory voters were split 70 per cent to 27 per cent in favour of keeping the fox hunting ban when asked.
An analysis by the League Against Cruel Sports conducted last year also found that a growing minority – around 50 – Conservative MPs would likely vote against lifting the ban.
In March of this year David Cameron told the Countryside Alliance magazine that he was a strong supporter of the practice, before including a pledge for a free vote in the Tory manifesto.
“There is definitely a rural way of life which a born and bred Londoner might struggle to understand,” he wrote.
“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.”
Ms Leadsom is one of the two final candidates to Tory leader to repalce David Cameron; the other is Home Secretary Theresa May. Tory members will vote, with the result becoming known in early September.