Hunting: Minister says ban repeal vote 'not imminent'

Hunt Boxing Day hunts - following artificial scent trails - are getting under way across the country

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Moves to repeal the ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales may not happen in 2013, a minister has said.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson appeared to rule out a vote next year.

But he insisted it was still the government's intention to give MPs a free vote on lifting the ban.

More than 300 hunts are to hold Boxing Day meets, a week after the RSPCA's first successful prosecution of a hunt for operating illegally.

It has been illegal to use dogs to hunt animals in England and Wales since 2005, and in Scotland since 2002.

'Animal cruelty'


The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is seen by those on the right of the Conservative Party as an authentic Tory who shares their instincts.

But Mr Paterson's comments show he is a mathematically astute pragmatist.

Yes, the coalition agreement sets out the government will give MPs a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act.

But the environment secretary has done his sums and concluded those in favour of overturning the law would lose.

Some Conservatives will also be very aware that reintroducing the debate on hunting at Westminster would open a whacking great dividing line with Labour.

Ed Miliband's party would argue pushing for a vote would prove the Tories are out of touch with the concerns of most voters.

Mr Paterson told the Telegraph: "At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote we were going to lose."

But Mr Paterson insisted it was still the government's intention to have a free vote "but we need to choose an appropriate moment".

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed: "The coalition government pledged to put forward a motion to allow a free vote on the Hunting Act.

"This will take place at an appropriate time and if parliament were to vote in favour of repeal, the government would introduce a Repeal Bill in the House of Parliament in due course."

Responding to Mr Paterson's comments, Labour's shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, said "most people back Labour's ban on hunting wild animals with dogs".

"People are worried about their incomes falling, prices rising and losing their jobs, yet this out of touch Tory-led government wants to bring back hunting," she said.

The RSPCA prosecution of two members of the Heythrop Hunt has led to claims illegal hunting is still going on.

The hunt's Richard Sumner and Julian Barnfield admitted unlawfully hunting with dogs on four separate occasions.

Heythrop Hunt Ltd also pleaded guilty at Oxford Magistrates Court on 17 December to four counts of the same charge.

Sumner was ordered to pay a £1,800 fine and £2,500 in court costs, Barnfield was ordered to pay a £1,000 fine £2,000 in costs and Heythrop Hunt Ltd was fined £4,000 and £15,000 in costs.

The RSPCA's Gavin Grant said the organisation had "no arguments with people who want to ride their horses with their dogs in the glories of our countryside".

"But we're totally opposed - as are the vast majority of the people in this country - to anybody who's going out there, deliberately, to abuse animals and to tear them to shreds," he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, the BBC's Alex Dunlop says there has been a big turnout at some Boxing Day hunts across the country.

At the Thurlow Hunt - one of the oldest in Britain - dozens of riders set off as their dogs followed an artificial trail of fox scent.

Many supporters have also shown up in support of the tradition, according to our correspondent.

'Other priorities'

Hunts are no longer allowed to use dogs to chase down foxes, but are instead supposed to use techniques such as drag hunting, where dogs set off on the trail of a scent laid about 20 minutes in advance by a runner or rider dragging a lure.

BBC News spends a day with a hunt in the Foret d'Eu in France

Animal welfare charities, including the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), have commissioned research which suggests that only 15% of people want to scrap the ban.

Joe Duckworth, LACS chief executive, said the organisation was "intensifying our campaign against illegal hunting," investing £1m in recruiting new professional investigators and quadrupling frontline personnel working to catch people hunting illegally.

"Three quarters of people in this country want to see fox hunting stay illegal," he added.

But the Countryside Alliance says it has seen no slackening of support for hunting in recent years, and on the busiest day of the hunting season, members of hunts across the country will be out in force in a continued show of support for their sport.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, executive chairman Sir Barney White-Spunner said: "If you were going to go for some sort of repeal [of the ban] then it would probably take a... huge amount of parliamentary time at a time when the government and parliament's got other priorities.

"But I'm absolutely confident the act will be repealed and I think in the meantime the country people trust that the prime minister will deliver what he can."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    All the mess this country is in at present, and parliamentary time scarce for many important matters, the Tories can still manage to find time to self indulge on this trivial pursuit. While some of us are losing our jobs and homes, they're gallivanting round the countryside saying 'we're all this together', meaning 'you plebs are all in it together', now we're gonna throw the fox back in with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    Fox hunters and politicians should be `HUNTED TO EXTINCTION`.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Oh yes we are knee deep in foxes! There are now far more foxes in UK than we have had in last 100 years! Urban foxes have grown in very significant numbers and are a threat to pets and also spread of disease to pets such as dogs.I often see scabby looking foxes and the cars rarely take them out. Maybe time for fox hunting in cities?

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    there is nothing cuddly or cute about foxes,but killing them for sport is abhorrent,protect your rabbits and chickens by all means but,sending a pack of dogs after a fox and even should it escape into a burrow having the fox smoked out so the dogs can kill,its not even sport any more is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    What century are we in?

    I thought this debate was over long ago - as a civilised society we had moved on - clearly not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    i live in a seat where our junior minister conservative mp got in with a majority of 5000 votes,there used to be a big boxing day hunt here before
    the ban, and if he supported lifting the ban, he would definitely lose his
    seat at the next election, but that seems to be on the cards anyhow.


  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    You can all neg my 209 comment all you like, guess the truth was never part of the Potter brigade's world view. I live in London, the rabbits killed were not eaten, just killed causing enourmous distress to my kids. London is riddled with foxes and the time will come when they will kill a child as they are not frightened of man at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Why, in the name of all that is sane and moral, would any MP, in this day and age, have the time, the energy, the brain capacity, the thought, or even the will, to want to debate lifting this ban?

    ...its inappropriate to waste even a single moment of precious parliamentary business time on this...

    A damning indictment on our elected representatives if this is voted on ever again ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    @218 Mr Jones

    "The hunting ban should be lifted immediately [...] I want to see democracy prevail in this country."

    Er... democracy prevailing is exactly what has happened. The majority of the population opposes killing things for fun, and hence the ban has widespread support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    218. Mr Jones

    Class snobbery huh?

    are the bans on cock fighting and dog fighting also about class snobbery then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Cameron knows that the fox hunting ban won't be repealed, but is happy to waste thousands of hours of parliamentary time, to create a distraction amongst the plebs. Whilst we're busy arguing amongst ourselves, we won't be attacking the government for their pathetic handling of the economy. It's called Divide and Conquer - don't fall for it !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    the hunt crew remind me of the american gun lobby and the tories of the red neck republicans !¬!

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Here we go again, the rich hooray Henry,s on horse-back with their dog packs wanting to go around on killing sprees again.Give them a rifle and send them to Afghanistan, there's plenty of blood and shooting over there, but no, they get fired back at over there and they don't want that, Appears to me they are the animals of this world..

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    It's a shame to see opponents of the hunt labelled merely as "class warriors".

    Many of them have a good point, and one many hunters had been keen to address before the ban was brought in. The cruelty inflicted on the foxes can be avoided, and any legislation or regulation of the hunts should be moved in that direction.

    But the debate is, shamefully, too polluted for that. From both sides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    "What does it matter if a fox is killed by poison, a shotgun or dogs?"

    Of course it does!

    The first two aren't about people getting pervy bloodlust kicks. Hunting with dogs - even by hunters' own admission - is the least efficient "vermin control", and that's because it's not FOR that, it's for "the thrill of the hunt" and watching something being torn to bits at the end of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    @217 treetop I thought most unbiased people understood that we are in a world wide recession, not the trite rentaquote about the last government that every weasely tory comes out with. Time to stop it. Oh and banning fox hunting is proof that we can evolve, lets not go backwards now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    "218.Mr Jones

    I want to see democracy prevail in this country"

    You did. Hunting got banned. You argue against yourself.

    (I went on both Countryside Marches BTW)

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Pity chasing Foxes wasn't replaced with chasing the most useless of Parliaments MPs ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    I can't smoke a joint in the comfort of my own home after having paid tax on it instead of pouring money in a blackhole economy (along with millions of others I may add) and yet an (important) issue that effects comparatively few people gets serious consideration and talk of a free vote. Democracy really is just a facade in our contry and has been for a while now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    @198 QT isn't all it tries to present itself as. It chooses live audiences very carefully to get a 'balanced' opinion in them. Think about it, NOT a representative one, a 'balanced' one. Careful wording, really meaning that - for those in panel on left or right - true level of support they have on a given issue is not shown & TV audiences will see that too & believe the view is not popular.


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