Foxhunting ban: MPs are not keen to propose a law for repeal

Article by James Kirkup, The Telegraph:

“We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that they bring. A Conservative government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act with a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”

So said the Conservative manifesto at the general election.

Repealing the ban would correct what critics see as one of the great wrongs of the last Labour government. Unfortunately for the Conservative leadership, that view is not uniform across the party: a significant number of Tories, including a fair few newly-elected in 2015, are quite happy to let the ban stand. (Tracey Crouch, a minister who supports, the ban, has said she expected 30 to 40 Tories to either abstain or vote against repeal, enough to put the outcome of any vote in doubt.)

A Government bill on repeal, therefore, raised the possibility of an awkward parliamentary split on the issue.


So Government people hatched a cunning plan to avoid ministers taking sides on the ban. Instead of a Government bill, formally proposed by ministers, they would instead help a backbench MP bring a repeal proposal before the Commons, whereupon MPs could have their free vote and ministers could vote however they chose.

This wheeze was explained by Christopher Hope last month. He reported that after the ballot for parliamentary time for private members’ bills, ministers hoped that a Tory MP with a high place in the draw (and thus, a good chance of getting parliamentary time to have a bill debated) would propose a repeal of the hunting ban.

The plan outraged pro-hunting MPs, who saw it as a betrayal of the manifesto commitment, but it would probably have served to keep the peace on an issue that has the capacity to generate huge excitement and consume much political capital. And there is a good precedent for the Government using the private bill system in this way: it was how the EU referendum bill made its first appearance under the Coalition.
Sadly for ministers, however, the clever plan has hit a snag. Of the 20 MPs who drew top places in the private members’ bill ballot, none has opted to bring forward a bill repealing the hunting ban.

Since no other private bill has any realistic chance of becoming law, the Government is back to square one on repeal, trying to work out how to deliver a manifesto promise that few of those who wrote it ever expected to have to implement, and which may well open up a noisy and painful split in the party.

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