New figures cast doubts on effectiveness of hunting ban

Huntsman Image copyright PA
Image caption New figures raise fresh doubts over the effectiveness of the hunting ban

Figures obtained by BBC One's Sunday Politics programme in the Midlands reveal the number of prosecutions brought under the Hunting Act in our part of the country since it came into force in 2005.

Just one!

Our Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service also reveals that the case in question involved not fox hunting, but hare coursing, in Warwickshire, six years ago.

The penalty imposed in this case is not clear, but breaches of the law can lead to a fine of up to £5,000 and the possible forfeiture of any dogs or vehicles involved in the offence.

Blair's biggest regret

Our findings are bound to cast fresh doubts on the effectiveness of a ban introduced only after an epic of public and Parliamentary angst during the early years of the Blair government.

After leaving office, the former Prime Minister wrote in his autobiography, The Journey, that the ban had been his biggest regret.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption A traditional hunt in the days before the hunting ban came into operation

Far from putting a stop to this traditional country pursuit (sic), latest figures from the Countryside Alliance suggest more people are riding to hounds than before the ban on chasing down the fox came in!

But the League Against Cruel Sports tell us it still has public opinion on its side.

It commissioned an IPSOS-MORI poll in 2010 in which 76% of their 2,000 respondents supported the ban on fox hunting remaining in force, 18% wanted it repealed, with 6% undecided.

So what now for the government's pledge, enshrined in the Coalition Agreement, to allow MPs a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act before the next election?

The Masters of the Warwickshire Hunt tell us they are not expecting Parliament to reopen the question in the near future.

Some MPs believe the electorate would be unimpressed if undue Parliamentary time were devoted to this during a period when the House has more pressing challenges to contend with.

Other priorities?

The Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, Nadhim Zahawi, told us:

"I would like us to get the economy back on an even keel, make sure that we've delivered the reforms that the country really cares about.

"For us to prioritise something that clearly isn't at the top of people's priorities would be completely wrong."

I'd love to know your thoughts about this - not so much the well-rehearsed pros and cons of hunting itself as the question whether or not it would be a good or bad use of Parliamentary time?

Go to the comments section below to let me know if you agree with what appears to be majority public opinion.

Or do you think it is a bad law and as such needs to be expunged from the statute book as a matter of urgency?

And I hope you will watch our debate during this week's Sunday Politics from 12.00 on BBC One on Sunday, 12 February 2012.

Remember to follow me on Twitter: PatrickBurnsBBC