Conservatives will offer MPs a vote on repealing the ban on hunting with dogs if they win the general election on May 7, David Cameron has promised. Cameron said he would call a free vote on a Government Bill to repeal the Hunting Act passed by the former Labour administration in 2004, which banned the use of dogs to hunt foxes and other wild mammals in Engalnd and Wales.
The promise repeats a pledge made in the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 general election, which Cameron was prevented from fulfilling because of opposition from Liberal Democrat coalition partners. Writing in the Countryside Alliance magazine, Cameron said: "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."
Riders and hounds meet for the Avon Vale Boxing Day Hunt on December 26, 2014 in Lacock, England
The promise appears designed to shore up the Tory vote in rural areas, and is unlikely to be put into effect unless Cameron is able to secure an overall majority on May 7, allowing Conservatives to govern alone.
Cameron wrote: "There is definitely a rural way of life which a born-and-bred Londoner might struggle to understand. 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."
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, said: "The Hunting Act has failed and there is a clear need to revisit it, so we welcome David Cameron's pledge of a free vote on its repeal. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money and thousands of hours of police time continue to be wasted on spurious allegations under the Hunting Act, but this issue will never be resolved until we have legislation based on evidence and principle, rather than prejudice and political point-scoring."
He added: "We hope that Parliament gets the opportunity to consider this flawed legislation as soon as possible after the General Election. There is clear support from politicians of all parties for repeal of the Hunting Act."
Prime Minister David Cameron attends a ceremony to unveil the 146th title stone for Commonwealth recipients of the Victoria Cross
But campaigners from the League Against Cruel Sports vowed to defend the anti-hunting legislation.
League chief executive Joe Duckworth said: "The Hunting Act is the most successful piece of wild animal welfare legislation in history and it is supported by 80% of the British public. No government, regardless of the party they represent, should ignore such strong public feeling. The Hunting Act is a testimony to the fact that we are a nation of animal lovers and we have an international reputation for our hatred of cruelty in the name of sport. We will campaign with MPs from all parties to defend and strengthen what is a very successful and popular piece of legislation."
Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: "With Britain facing a cost-of-living crisis because of his failing plan, David Cameron's continued focus on fox hunting shows how out of touch he is. The Tories should get over their narrow obsession with fox hunting and accept that Labour's ban is widely supported."
In February, Labour launched a bid to win animal-lovers' votes in the election with promises of action to tackle cruelty in circuses, puppy farms and shooting estates and end culling of badgers. Unveiling the pledges in a document entitled Labour Protecting Animals, Eagle warned that Conservative victory on May 7 could lead to the repeal of the ban on hunting with dogs, while Labour would ensure it was defended.
The first day of the new fox hunting season as members of the Bramham Moor Hunt gather near Pontefract for their opening meet
Ed Miliband said: "Our Labour values tell us that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way. No other major political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals at home, on farms and in the wild. This is a legacy that we are proud of - one which we believe shows that Labour is the only party to trust on animal welfare."
Below are pictures taken by Ivan Kislov, a Russian miner who spends his lunch breaks taking photos of foxes in the Arctic Circle: