Tory leadership contest: Jeremy Hunt backs parliamentary vote on legalising fox hunting

Conservative party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt Credit: Peter Morrison/PA

Conservative leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has promised to offer MPs a free vote on whether to lift the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales - calling it "part of our heritage"- if he becomes the next prime minister.

The Foreign Secretary said should he triumph over his rival, Boris Johnson, a parliamentary vote on fox hunting would be part of the next Tory manifesto.

The 52-year-old described the sport as “part of the countryside” and said he was “happy for people to do it” despite it “not particularly (being) my thing”.

However, Mr Hunt’s push to change the law was condemned by the Labour party, which said fox hunting was a “barbaric practice”.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said he would support a vote in Parliament when there was a majority in the Commons likely to back the move.

He said: “I don’t hunt myself. It’s not particularly my thing.

“Look, I think we have to recognise it’s part of the countryside.

“And I think we have to recognise that in terms of the balance of the countryside it’s part of our heritage.

“So personally I’m happy for people to do it.”

Jeremy Hunt said fox hunting 'is not particularly my thing', but is 'part of the countryside'. Credit: PA

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

On Thursday, Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson will face another hustings appearance.

It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May predicted her successor would make holding the UK together a priority.

Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004. Credit: PA

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.

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

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”.

They 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.”

Ian Lavery, Labour Party chairman, said: “This Tory leadership race is going from bad to worse.

“We’ve had Johnson’s tax cuts for the wealthy, a race to the bottom on no-deal Brexit, and now a pledge to bring back this barbaric practice that Labour had proudly banned.”

Boris Johnson has pledged to boost police numbers by 20,000. Credit: PA

As Mr Hunt made his announcement, Mr Johnson pledged to boost police numbers by 20,000 in three years if he becomes prime minister.

Since 2009, police numbers in England and Wales have fallen by 20,000, so Mr Johnson's pledge would bring the figure, by 2022, back in line with what it was a decade ago.

Mr Johnson said he will swell the police service to more than 140,000 officers by mid-2022 if he wins the race for Number 10.

Police officer numbers in England and Wales have dropped by more than 20,000 since 2009 with Home Office figures showing a reduction from 144,353 to 122,395 in 2018.

In Scotland, police numbers have remained largely unchanged over the same period.