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Monday, December 26, 2011

Quarter of a million turn out to watch Boxing Day hunts as minister calls for ban to end

By Daniel Martin and Katie Silver

Debate over repeal: Arguments have been raised for reversing the hunting ban, on the day the century old Ledbury Hunt holds it's traditional Boxing Day meet

David Cameron has been challenged to bring forward legislation to repeal the ban on hunting with dogs – by the minister in charge of the sport.

More than 250,000 people will turn out for a traditional Boxing Day hunt today at 300 spots across the UK, according to estimates by the Countryside Alliance.

This comes the day after agriculture minister Jim Paice said the Hunting Act ‘simply doesn’t work’ and made a ‘mockery’ of the law.

The Boxing Day Atherstone Hunt rides through Main Street in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire. Hunting is a 'point of pride for rural communities', said the Countryside Alliance

Atherstone Hunt riders gather at Market Square before Boxing Day Hunt at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire. Some 250,000 hunters are expected out today despite the current Hunting Act

Hunters Jonathon Seed, Joint Master and Huntsman with the Avon Vale Hunt, toasts hunt supporters in Lacock, England

The Prime Minister is known to support the lifting of the ban and the Coalition agreement promised MPs a free vote.

However, he has not yet set aside Parliamentary time for a vote – and earlier this year a group of modernising Tory MPs known as the Blue Fox group described the prospect of a vote as ‘dead and buried’.

In comments that will reignite the hunting debate, Mr Paice said he was in favour of the sport while visiting Milton Park in Peterborough ahead of the annual hunt.

Hunt supporters have described the act as ‘failed’.

Mr Paice said: ‘The current law simply doesn’t work.

‘I personally am in favour of hunting with dogs – and the coalition agreement clearly states that we will have a free vote on whether to repeal the Act when there is time in the parliamentary calendar to do so.’

The Hon. Johnny Greenall leads the Meynall and South Staffordshire Hunt at Blithfield Hall, near Rugeley

The Boxing Day Beaufort hunt meets at Worcester Lodge, Gloucestershire. Paice says the current ban makes a 'mockery of it'

He added that there were ‘absurdities’ in the legislation.

‘It has been criticised by virtually all levels of authority – by the courts, by the police – as unenforceable,’ he said.

‘Efforts by the pressure groups to force the police to enforce it are just distracting the police from more important issues.

‘To me the whole thing is making the law a bit of a mess and making a bit of a mockery of it.’

British tradition? Much debate exists as to whether the ban on hunting should be lifted. David Cameron has yet to set aside parliamentary time for a vote

Countryside Alliance spokesman Alice Barnard said: ‘It is a point of pride for rural communities across Britain that, despite the prejudice and ignorance of some, hunting remains as strong as ever.

'This Boxing Day we are expecting a quarter of a million people to come out in support of their local hunt. Added to this, the visit of the hunting minister to a hunt kennel is a very welcome and strong show of support from this Government.’

Mr Paice was backed by Richard Benyon, a fellow minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He said: ‘I have been and remain a supporter of hunting and believe the Hunting Act has been bad for the countryside and bad for wildlife.’

Simon Hart, another Tory MP, said the issue had ‘become a matter of trust between the rural community and the PM’ and urged the Government to address the issue in a ‘short, sharp and clinical’ manner.

League Against Cruel Sports chief executive Joe Duckworth said: ‘It is utterly appalling that people can think the act of chasing a wild animal with hounds to the point of exhaustion and then taking pleasure in watching it being killed is acceptable.

‘This cruel bloodsport has thankfully been made illegal in this country and there is absolutely no desire among the general public to bring it back.’

Preparing for the hunt in Gloucestershire. Around 20 Tory MPs and 40 Lib Dems oppose repeal of the ban

The Government has promised to allow MPs a vote on whether to bring forward legislation to repeal the Hunting Act, which made it illegal to hunt wild animals using dogs.

Around 20 Tory MPs and 40 Lib Dems oppose repeal of the ban, meaning any vote would be finely balanced.

Mary Creagh, Labour’s environment spokesman, said: ‘People are worried about their incomes falling, prices rising and losing their jobs, yet this out of touch Tory government wants to bring hunting back.'



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