May drops planned fox-hunting vote after election 'message'

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Theresa May has dropped a manifesto pledge to hold a vote on the fox-hunting ban during this parliament.

The Tories had promised a vote on repealing the Hunting Act – which bans the use of dogs to hunt foxes and wild mammals in England and Wales – during the 2017 general election campaign.

But the prime minister told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show there was a “clear message” against it from the public.

It comes as the prime minister prepares to reshuffle her cabinet on Monday.

Mrs May is expected to replace Damian Green, who was sacked as first secretary of state in December, and make a number of other changes to freshen up her top team.

But she is also likely to keep key figures such as Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in place as she seeks to preserve the balance between Brexit sceptics and enthusiasts in her cabinet.

In other developments as MPs prepare to return to Westminster on Monday:

  • The PM has insisted she has a plan to deal with winter pressures in the NHS amid Labour claims of a crisis due to under-investment
  • Mrs May has warned writer Toby Young about his language amid calls for him to be sacked from job at university regulator for tweets about women
  • Plans to create a new Northern Forest stretching from Liverpool to Hull have been kick-started
  • The way parole is considered is to be reviewed after the decision to release sex attacker John Worboys

In July, shortly after the government lost its majority in the election, it backed away from the manifesto promise, saying there would not be a vote held until at least 2019.

Tony Blair’s Labour government introduced the Hunting Act in 2004 across England and Wales, which came into force a year later.

The pursuit of foxes with hounds, other than to flush them out to be shot, had already been banned in Scotland in 2002 although there is no ban in force in Northern Ireland.

Mrs May’s predecessor, David Cameron, had promised a free vote on whether to repeal the ban in England and Wales when he was in power, but it never materialised.

This latest announcement means any vote will not take place before the next general election, due to be held in 2022.

‘The view of the country’

Mrs May, who has previously shown support for fox-hunting, told the Andrew Marr Show she had not changed her “personal view”, but had listened to the “messages” she got during the election.

“My own view has not changed but as prime minister, my job isn’t just about what I think about something, it’s actually about looking at what the view of the country is,” she said.

“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.”

Labour said the move was “long overdue” and called on ministers to take tough action against those who continue to conduct illegal fox hunts.

The announcement was also welcomed by anti-hunting campaigners.

The League Against Cruel Sports said hunting was a “barbaric” practice “which still sees British wildlife being torn to pieces by packs of hounds”.

“It appears that the government now accepts that cruel sports should no longer be a part of 21st Century society so it’s good to know they won’t try to legalise it again in this Parliament, though they may try again in the next,” said spokesman Chris Pitt.

The group also called for stronger action against illegal hunting which it said was being carried out in the name of “trail hunting”.

A vote on the issue is one of a number of manifesto pledges dropped after Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority in June, including plans to scrap universal free school lunches for infant children and radical reforms to social care funding.

Fresh faces

The announcement comes ahead of a cabinet reshuffle, which will take place across Monday and Tuesday.

Several newspapers have reported that Education Secretary Justine Greening will be among those to lose her role although No 10 has described this and other speculation as “guesswork”.

Mrs May told Andrew Marr that Damian Green’s exit as first secretary of state in December – he was sacked after making “misleading statements” to the press about pornography found on his office computer in 2008 – meant a reshuffle was needed but she would not pre-empt what would be announced.

“Damian Green’s departure before Christmas means some changes need to be made, and I will be making some changes,” she said.

Two other cabinet ministers – Sir Michael Fallon and Priti Patel – have also quit since November but they have already been replaced as defence secretary and international development secretary respectively.

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