Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed she has “always been in favour” of fox hunting and will push ahead with plans for a free vote in Parliament if she wins the General Election.
The Tory leader’s announcement could see the 2004 Hunting Ban lifted and the bloodsport leagalised in England and Wales.
Speaking in Leeds on Tuesday, May said: “This is a situation on which individuals will have one view or the other, either pro or against.
“As it happens, personally I have always been in favour of fox hunting, and we maintain our commitment, we have had a commitment previously as a Conservative Party, to allow a free vote.
“It would allow Parliament the opportunity to take the decision on this.”
May’s comments come after a leaked email from the chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, Lord Benjamin Mancroft, revealed hunt masters being encouraged to “mobilise supporters” and campaign for pro-hunting Conservatives in marginal seats.
“This is the chance we have been waiting for,” Mancroft wrote, according to the Daily Mirror.
Mancroft, who is a Tory peer, told supporters that May’s lead in the opinion polls presents a “seminal moment” for their campaign to bring back fox hunting.
Responding to May’s comments today, Eduardo Goncalves, CEO of League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Personally I want to live in a caring Britain, a country that cares for its people, its countryside and its animals.
“I want people who are cruel to animals to face a maximum penalty of five years, not six months as it is now.
“I want us to be compassionate and care about animals dying in the name of sport, such as trophy hunting and hare coursing.
“I think most people want the same. Are we really going to turn the clock back to a time when killing animals for fun was legal?
“I’m sure many current and future MPs of all colours feel the same way, so we hope they stand up and be counted when the time comes.”
Goncalves added: “Britain’s voters have been waiting to hear what the next government will be doing on key issues like the NHS, education and Brexit.
“It’s a shame that Parliamentary time will be spent on trying to make fox hunting legal again.
“Given that 84% of the public – and 72% of Conservative voters - want fox hunting to remain illegal, this smacks of a small minority with a cruel hobby wielding an inappropriately large influence over the people in charge.”
Fox hunting in its traditional form was banned in England and Wales 12 years ago.
Yet every weekend hundreds of men and women place themselves between huntsmen, hounds and wildlife, fearing that the animals are still being killed.
The hunting lobby claim the Act “lies in tatters” and say it should be revoked, while anti-hunt campaigners believe the legislation is “one of the most successful laws of its kind in the country” and say it should be strengthened.
In 2015, then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to bring back fox hunting was quickly abandoned after SNP MPs vowed to vote against it.