General election: Conservatives set to ditch fox-hunting pledge in manifesto
19 November 2019, 13:56 | Updated: 19 November 2019, 15:05
The Conservatives are set to ditch their previous promises to give MPs a vote on whether to overturn the fox-hunting ban.
Ahead of the general election on 12 December, the Tories' manifesto is unlikely to once again feature a pledge to give MPs a free vote on the matter, a senior cabinet minister has signalled.
The Conservatives had made such a vow prior to both the 2015 and 2017 elections.
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But Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News: "I don't see a return to that at all. I think the agenda has moved on."
He also highlighted recent Tory pledges to ban the transport of live animals on long journeys, to further restrict the importing and exporting of hunting trophies to and from the UK; and to ban primates as pets.
"I'm not going to anticipate what's in the manifesto, but I would be very surprised if we start returning to those old debates," Mr Buckland added.
Despite including a promise of a free vote to repeal the 2004 Hunting Act - which bans chasing wild animals with dogs in England and Wales - ahead of the 2015 election, former prime minister David Cameron never held such a vote.
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His successor, Theresa May, also made the same promise ahead of the 2017 general election, but she lost her majority and later acknowledged there was a "clear message" against fox-hunting from the public.
She also admitted the pledge on fox hunting was among a number of issues that left voters "concerned" about the Conservatives' offer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson voted against the fox-hunting ban in 2004 and also wrote, in a 2005 article for The Spectator magazine, how he "loved" joining a hunt.
"I loved my day with the hunt, and hope they have the courage and organisation to keep going for ever," he said.
"They are going out with the hounds this Saturday, and if the hounds pick up a fox, so be it."
He added: "I hope that the hunt holds up the ban to the ridicule it deserves, that they defy the police and the magistrates and the government, until a new government can rescue an old tradition and restore it for the sake of freedom and freedom alone."
Labour have announced plans to almost double the number of police officers - from the current 88 to 170 - who are tasked with prosecuting wildlife crimes as part of a £4.5m funding boost.
They are also vowing to close loopholes in the Hunting Act that allow some hunts to continue.
Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said: "While the Tories continue with their mass slaughter of badgers and flip flop on bringing back fox hunting, Labour is determined to bring animal welfare policy into the 21st century, based on the latest science and understanding.
"We are calling time on those who have been allowed to get away with illegally hunting, maiming and killing wild animals such as deer, hen harriers, foxes and hares."
Countryside Alliance chief executive, Tim Bonner, said: "Why on earth do Labour see fit to give priority to obsessing over people wearing red jackets, riding horses and taking part in legal activity, when there are big challenges facing the countryside?
"Hunts operate legally, prosecutions are incredibly rare, and the countryside faces any number of real challenges from Brexit, to climate change, and flooding.
"Labour's proposals will do little, if anything, for rural communities or to address real animal welfare issues."
(c) Sky News 2019: General election: Conservatives set to ditch fox-hunting pledge in manifesto