A DECISION to shelve a controversial vote to repeal fox hunting restrictions has received cross-party support in the North-East.

Environment minister Therese Coffey had confirmed the Tory minority administration was not planning to bring forward a vote until at least 2019.

The Tories had pledged in their manifesto to hold a free vote on a Bill in Government time to allow Parliament to decide the future of the Hunting Act 2004, which was introduced by Labour to outlaw the use of dogs to hunt foxes and other wild mammals.

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While Labour politicians have praised the announcement, Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen added his voice to those calling for the proposed legislation to be abandoned.

He said: “Repealing the ban is yesterday’s argument, and I’m pleased the Government has dropped its plans for a free vote this parliament. This debate was always an unwanted distraction from what I care about as mayor, and what really matters to local people: growing business, securing investment, and creating jobs.”

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, heralded the Tories’ decision as “wise”.

She added: “The current law works well, is fair and balances views and interests.

“Opening up this divisive issue at a time where we face the complex Brexit negotiations would be an unnecessary distraction.”

MP for Darlington, Jenny Chapman, said she was “delighted, but unsurprised” that the proposal had been ditched. She said: “There is absolutely no public appetite for a return to hunting. In a recent poll, 84 per cent of the British public supported the ban on fox hunting.

“The Hunting Ban in 2004 was one of the landmark achievements of the last Labour Government and one I am extremely proud of.”

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said he appreciated some of his rural constituents would be upset over the decision, but would have voted to keep the ban on moral grounds.

Chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, said the Hunting Act remained “a classic example of bad law which creates nothing but division”. He added: “Meanwhile hunts will continue to operate with support from across the rural community.”

However, the League Against Cruel Sports said the move was “a victory for common sense” and more should be done to enforce the ban.

He said: “The reaction during the election showed that the public don’t want a government messing around with the Hunting Act when there are so many other important issues to worry about.

“But we’re aware that this is only a postponement of the attack on the Hunting Act, not a cancellation. We have no doubt that a vocal minority will continue in their attempts to weaken or repeal the ban – either openly or via the back door.

“We also know that illegal hunting is still taking place, as shown by the successful prosecution of hunting in Scotland last week. The horror of cub hunting, where the hunts literally train their hounds to kill foxes by setting them on surrounded fox cubs, will soon be starting again.”