A minister has signalled that the free vote on repealing the Hunting Act promised by the Coalition Government is unlikely to happen during this Parliament.

George Eustice, the new environment minister and Tory MP for Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, said that with only 18 months to go until the general election, Parliamentary time was “increasingly precious”.

He told the Western Morning News: “There’s a danger you could spend quite a lot of time discussing something, when it was clear from the outset that there wasn’t a consensus in Parliament to have a repeal.

“You therefore lose Parliamentary time on an exercise that doesn’t result in any change.”

The free vote was part of the 2010 Coalition Government agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

While the majority of Conservative MPs oppose the ban, Labour, many Lib Dems and some urban Tories believe it should stay — meaning that a Commons vote would be likely to reaffirm the law.

Speaking ahead of Boxing Day meets last season, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it was the Government’s “clear intention” to hold the vote, but the “appropriate moment” must be chosen.

Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance said the Conservative Party had “done nothing” to deliver repeal in 31/2 years of government.

“This is rapidly becoming a matter of trust between [Prime Minister David] Cameron and the countryside.”

Mr Bonner added that, given the current “unfairness” of the situation, the Government should be “trying to deliver any realistic amendment to the current hunting law in this Parliament” — referring to recent calls from Welsh hill farmers.

They proposed allowing farmers to use a full pack of hounds — rather than the current two allowed under the Act — to flush a fox to guns after research found this method to be twice as effective.