Gone to ground? Fox-hunting enemies still wary of Tories

Modernisers in the Conservative party want fox-hunting to "go to ground", according to a Liberal Democrat MP.

Sir Bob Russell said public opinion was becoming more firmly entrenched in favour of the fox-hunting ban, which environment secretary Owen Paterson recently confirmed is likely to remain in place for the immediate future.

The Conservatives included a pledge to repeal the Hunting Act in their 2010 general election manifesto.

While Russell insisted all parties were split on the issue, including his own, it seems Lib Dems would be unlikely to support moves towards a repeal before the next election in 2015.

"I think that modernisers in the Conservative party realise that actually if they were to pursue this it would be defeated, and it would remind people as to what the Con party was," Russell said.

"They thought it was in the past. Do the Conservatives really want people thinking they condone this kind of barbaric behaviour?  I think the modernisers in the Conservative party hope this issue will just go to ground."

Paterson said Tories in government wanted to hold a free vote on the issue but that the issue was likely to be defeated in the Commons at present.

"At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote we were going to lose," he said in an interview in the Telegraph on Boxing Day. "There needs to be more work done on members of parliament."

Around 30 Boxing Day hunts gathered last year, including the controversial Heythrop Hunt which was fined £4,000 after admitting four offences.

Representatives of the Hunt said they were the victims of "corporate bullying" by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), which brought the first ever corporate charges against a hunt.

"The ban was done entirely for political reasons and has not saved a single animal," hunter Peter Trotter told the Oxford Mail newspaper last month.

"We didn't have the money to fight the case and we had to plead guilty."

Russell has put forward a Commons motion congratulating the RSPCA on its pursuit of the case, however. He said Britain faced a serious threat from people "who feel they are above the law… at the opposite end to football hooligans".

"As time passes on there will be those who feel capital punishment is something that should be brought back," he added.

"I think most people in civilised society don't agree. I think the same will happen with fox hunting, stag hunting and otter hunting – civilised people realise there's no room in modern society for such barbaric behaviour."

Some supporters of fox-hunting have suggested the RSPCA would have saved more animals' lives by spending its large legal bill on facilities for the care of cats, dogs and other pets.

"Both are necessary," Russell added. "A high-profile case like this is a salutary reminder that the law is there and will be upheld, even if it is an expensive way of upholding the law.

"I don't see why a few rogues in the hunting world should feel they should be immune from the law of the land."

The RSPCA said it was "delighted" by recognition from the Lib Dem backbencher.

A spokesperson said: "It is especially pleasing for those dedicated RSPCA inspectors, animal collection officers and animal welfare professionals who can see that there are politicians who value the work they do to protect our animals and prevent cruelty."