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Hunt insists changing law on fox hunting would not be his ‘priority’ as PM

Labour condemned the Tory leadership contender’s comments, saying fox hunting was a ‘barbaric practice’.

Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt said changing the law on fox hunting would not be a priority for him as prime minister (Peter Byrne/PA)
Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt said changing the law on fox hunting would not be a priority for him as prime minister (Peter Byrne/PA)

Jeremy Hunt has insisted that changing the law on fox hunting would not be his “priority” as prime minister, after he came under fire for saying he would move to see the blood sport legalised.

The Conservative leadership hopeful told the Daily Telegraph that he would support a vote in Parliament when there was a majority in the Commons likely to back the move.

But he sought to play down his comments when he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, saying: “The law is not going to change on fox hunting.

“There isn’t a majority in the House of Commons and I don’t see there ever being one – I was just restating the position in our manifesto from 2017 that there should be a free vote if it ever looked like that majority would change.

“But it wouldn’t be my priority as prime minister: we’re going to have Brexit, we’ve the social care system … We’ve got huge economic priorities that are going to have to be addressed – so that wouldn’t be where I’d focus my energies.”

His push to change the law was condemned by the Labour Party, which said fox hunting was a “barbaric practice”.

The Foreign Secretary, who said he had never hunted, was asked three times whether he thought the practice was cruel, but sidestepped the question.

“My view is a matter of public record … I’m here to talk about the things I want to change as prime minister – that is not something that’s going to change,” he told Today.

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Laws on fox hunting were changed in 2005 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Unlike his rival, frontrunner Boris Johnson sidestepped a question about whether he would repeal the fox hunting ban.

“My priority is to get Brexit done on October 31, to do everything I can to unite our country, unite our society with infrastructure, education, technology, full fibre broadband,” Mr Johnson replied during a visit to the Heck Food factory near Ripon.

“And then get our party ready to defeat Jeremy Corbyn.”

He went on to talk at length about the success story of Heck.

Mr Corbyn was highly critical of any move to scrap the ban.

“I am very unclear on what Mr Hunt’s position is on hunting, maybe there’s something in the name there, I don’t know,” the Labour leader said.

“Fox hunting is pretty out-of-date, pretty barbaric and surely this debate has gone on far too long.

“We dealt with fox hunting many years ago in Parliament. Why is it that the backwards in the Tory party keep bringing this issue back?”

The move comes as ballot papers for the Conservative leadership contest between Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson begin to be sent to the party membership.

Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 – which came into force a year later.

The legislation permits drag hunting where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent.

It is not the first time a potential repeal of the legislation has been suggested.

The law is not going to change on fox hunting Jeremy Hunt

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement included a pledge to “bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act” which ultimately did not take place.

Theresa May also scrapped plans for a vote in 2018, saying: “I think there was a clear message about that and that’s why I say there won’t be a vote on fox hunting during this parliament.”

The League Against Cruel Sports said the pledge showed Mr Hunt was “out of touch with public opinion”.

It added: “The last time a politician said we should bring back hunting – Theresa May in the 2017 General Election – she was punished in the polling booths. Nothing has changed.”

The SNP’s Pete Wishart suggested a Commons debate on fox hunting and jokingly pondered whether the Conservatives also want to talk about reintroducing child chimney sweeps and workhouses.

Speaking at business questions, he told the Commons: “Can we have the Foreign Secretary to introduce this (debate) before this particular fox is shot?

“Maybe when we’re through with that we could have some legislation to reintroduce the ‘Children Up Chimneys Act’, when we’re through with that maybe we can have a bill to reintroduce workhouses and then move on to the dunking of witches, such is the great offerings we have from a Tory leadership contest to keep us up-to-date with the modern zeitgeist.”

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Millions of people across the country vehemently oppose a return to the barbaric activity of fox hunting, including Tory voters living in the countryside.

“Pledging to legalise fox hunting did not work well for Theresa May during the last general election.

“The backlash Jeremy Hunt is already seeing, not least from the younger, future elements of the Conservative Party, should send unequivocal warnings that pledging to ‘bring back fox hunting’ is political poison.”

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