Fox hunting

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THE traditional Boxing Day hunts were out in their full glory yesterday albeit without being allowed to pursue foxes.

It is 10 years since the ban was imposed and it looks an even bigger mistake now than it was a decade ago.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted it was one of the major regrets of his time in office that fox hunting was outlawed, mainly as a sop to his own backbenchers in a Government as surely as out of touch with those living in the countryside as any before.

Tory Ministers have admitted that the Hunting Act is a failure and it can only be right that MPs will be offered a free vote on the issue under the terms of the coalition agreement although given the passions roused on both sides, the outcome must remain uncertain.

The scale of support in rural parts for hunting was underlined yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people watched some 300 hunts in action in a turn-out which is eminently respectable even by footballing standards.

Opponents of the pursuit claim it is barbaric, although doubtless many of them would also subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s famous maxim that it is the “unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable”.

Supporters counter that hunting with hounds is as humane, if not more so, than other forms of controlling the fox population, pointing to the ignorance and prejudice of some those who oppose its use.

And certainly there are significant benefits to the countryside from hunting which in these straitened times must also be a priority particularly for rural communities.

The Government should take note from the popular support for yesterday’s gatherings and bring forward a vote as soon as possible.

The country must be allowed to have its say.

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