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Exclusive: No vote on Hunting Act repeal until 2012

Julie Hay | 14:33 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010

The new hunting season is getting under way and once again people are asking when the controversial Hunting Act will be repealed.

At one stage the Conservatives had promised that it would be one of their first priorities upon entering office. The coalition government promised a free vote but so far no date has been set. Countryside campaigners have been told that with the economy in such a mess there are more pressing priorities.

That is true, but there is another reason: Those in favour of repealing the Act don't have the votes.

"We've only got one shot at this - we're not going to push for the vote until we know we have the numbers," says one local MP close to the campaign.

Because of that we have been told by well-informed MPs that Downing Street is not expecting to hold the vote until early 2012.

We've also learnt that a well-organised operation is currently under way at Westminster to try to win new supporters. A list has been drawn up of MPs who are considered persuadable - they are being taken out for intimate dinners!

"It's not just about whether or not you like hunting, it's about freedom of expression and about changing a law that's frankly unworkable," says one MP from the East who's closely involved in the campaign.

"It's probably going to take another year to get the numbers we need but we'll get there. No-one is therefore expecting a vote until early 2012," says another local MP. "David Cameron won't call it until he knows he can win."

According to the League Against Cruel Sports only 253 out of 650 MPs are committed to repealing the Act with at least 22 Conservative MPs saying they will vote against it.

"I think people thought that the composition of the new parliament would radically change opinion on this issue," says Douglas Batchelor from the League Against Cruel Sports.

"I think the world has moved on. Public and political opinion is that we've been there, we've done that and we don't need to revisit the hunting issue again."

A sign of the change in opinion is that there is now an organisation called "Conservatives Against Fox Hunting". It was set up by Lorraine Platt, a party activist in Surrey.

Brian Binley says there is strong determination among our MPs to overturn the hunting ban

"We are getting tons of support from party members. There are lots of people like me who don't want to be branded 'cruel Tories'," says Lorraine.

Most MPs in the East want to see the Hunting Act repealed and believe it will happen.

"My guess is we do have the numbers," says Brian Binley, the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire. "I just don't think anyone has properly counted them.

"Yes I am frustrated at the delay (in holding the vote) but I am sure the government will want to do all it can to support its natural supporters both on the back benches and in the countryside."

There is still a very strong determination among our MPs to overturn the hunting ban and they are not giving up, even if it's taking longer than they ever expected.

There will be more on the campaign to repeal the Hunting Act on this week's Politics Show East

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