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.
Mr 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 Mr Cameron was prevented from fulfilling because of opposition from Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Writing in the Countryside Alliance magazine, Mr 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.”
The promise appears designed to shore up the Tory vote in rural areas, and is unlikely to be put into effect unless Mr Cameron is able to secure an overall majority on May 7, allowing Conservatives to govern alone.
Mr 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.”
“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.”
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.”