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Wildlife Reynard can breathe easy now – well, almost

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision not to allow Parliament a vote on allowing fox-hunting, despite manifesto promises, is one that PETER FROST is prepared to applaud unreservedly

PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has confirmed ditching plans that would have allowed a free vote in Parliament to end the legal ban on fox-hunting.

She did this even before starting to rearrange the deckchairs for the reshuffle of her fast-sinking cabinet.

This U-turn has angered some Tory Party members and supporters in its rural heartlands.

When the Conservative Party last published its membership figures in 2013, the number recorded was 149,800. Experts reckon the membership today is nearer half that and is declining particularly fast in country villages and towns.

That is why the Tories have had to make undercover deals with pro-hunting groups like the Countryside Alliance which thought it had a contract with May, during the last general election, to get the countryside-based Tory vote out in exchange for May promising a free fox-hunting vote.

May says she has always supported legalising fox-hunting. Her 2017 manifesto promised: “We will grant a free vote, on a government Bill in government time, to give Parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act.” That pledge has now gone the way of so many of her promised policies.

The reason for the volte-face is that May’s advisers pointed out that, with every new poll on fox-hunting, fewer and fewer people are in favour of the bloody sport.

But there are some who still support hunting. Up to 300 hunts turned out on Boxing Day, traditionally hunting’s biggest day, at the end of last month.

As usual and despite public opinion and the law banning the hunting of foxes being over a dozen years old, posh country folk, horses and hounds gathered on the busiest day of the year for this antiquated and barbaric custom.

As at every Boxing Day since the law was passed by a Labour government in 2005, foxes were killed illegally by the hunters and their savage trained packs of killer hounds.

In many of those locations the hunts claimed they were carrying out legal trail-hunting, following an animal-based scent drag, often using fox urine.

In fact this was more often used as a cover for actual traditional blood-sport hunting. The deception fooled nobody.  

Many people accuse these hunts of not obeying the law and provide video evidence showing foxes meeting a bloody death.

One group opposed to hunting are the Hunt Saboteurs, a non-violent direct action group that attempts to document and prevent the killing of animals.

Other reputable organisations, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, say that no genuine trail hunting was witnessed at 98 per cent of the hunts observed in 2015, with scent trails actually laid at only eight of the 478 hunts monitored.

Even the Countryside Alliance (CA), which supports hunting and lobbies for repeal of the Hunting Act, admits that at least 27 convictions in relation to registered hunts have been recorded since 2005.

It claims the majority of hunts use an ethically sourced, animal-based scent, but Freedom of Information Act requests made to the Animal and Plant Health Agency revealed they have issued just one import authorisation licence for fox urine or any other related animal by-product since 2014.

This is simply nowhere near enough to allow the scale of trail hunting that the hunting industry claims goes on.

Although fox-hunting with hounds was supposed to have ended in 2005, the law makes the burden of proof exceptionally high and the huntsman/woman has to be judged to have deliberately killed a fox. This usually requires good video evidence for a prosecution to stand a chance of success in court.

Numerous successful prosecutions are brought each year but still the bloody so-called-sport continues.

Claims by the hunting fraternity, when they were campaigning before the law was passed, that hunts would close and be forced to put down all their dogs have come to nothing. The predicted loss of jobs by hunt servants simply never happened.

At the last election, Theresa May forced the issue of a free vote on the Hunting Act into the manifesto against the advice of senior cabinet members, telling a campaign event she has “always been in favour of fox-hunting.”

In reality the vast majority of public opinion wants to keep the ban and this includes many countryside dwellers as well as urban-based folk.

One of the more surprising groups opposed to hunting is Blue Fox, a large group of Tory MPs, mainly women, totally opposed to blood sports in the countryside. They have welcomed May’s U-turn.

Labour leader and prime minister in waiting Jeremy Corbyn has consistently branded fox-hunting a barbarity and pledged to condemn blood sports to the dustbin of history forever when he comes to power.

Corbyn, who grew up in rural Shropshire, made his first political speech at school aged just 15. He spoke in favour of banning fox, stag and otter-hunting as well as badger-baiting and hare-coursing.

Unlike May, Corbyn has never deviated from this anti-hunting position.

Sounds like Reynard and all the little foxes have a better future to look forward to than does May.

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