Labour proposes jail terms for illegal hunts

The Labour Party wants to strength the Hunting Act. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The Labour Party wants to strength the Hunting Act. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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The Labour Party is promising to strengthen laws banning hunting with hounds with possible prison sentences for offenders who break the law.

Ahead of the annual Boxing Day hunts, shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said an incoming Labour government would review penalties under the Hunting Act 2004 to ensure it is an effective deterrent.

It would include a consultation on the introduction of custodial sentences, bringing it in line with the penalties for other wildlife crimes.

Ms Hayman said they would also consider measures to prevent the exploitation of "loopholes" in the legislation, which covers England and Wales.

It could include the introduction of a new "recklessness" clause to prevent trail or drag hunts being used as cover for the illegal hunting of wild mammals.

Ms Hayman said they would also look at removing an exemption for the use of dogs underground to protect game birds as it risks fights between hounds and wild animals.

"Labour's 2004 Hunting Act was a key milestone in banning this cruel blood sport, but since then new practices have developed to exploit loopholes in the legislation," she said.

"While Theresa May proposed scrapping the Hunting Act all together, Labour is today calling time on those who defy the law by announcing several measures that would clampdown on illegal hunting.

"Labour is the true party of animal welfare. These new proposals form part of the next chapter in striving to ensure our laws and regulations on animal welfare are up to date and fit for purpose."

Labour's promise came as a poll commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports found only one in six (16%) rural residents believe hunting with dogs reflects countryside values.

The polling by Survation found that over nine out of 10 (91 per cent) rural residents think that observing nature reflects countryside values.

The poll found only four per cent said they ever participate in hunting, compared to 63 per cent who observe wildlife at least once a month, 59 per cent who take part in walking or hiking at least once a month, 39 per cent who participate in running, cycling or horse riding at least once a month and 52 per cent who visit pubs at least once a month.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "Hunting is claimed by a minority to be a cornerstone of country life, yet it is revealing that people living in the countryside get far more enjoyment from watching wildlife rather than killing it.

"Modern day countryside values are based around respect for nature, not the abuse of nature for entertainment. This polling confirms that we are a nation of animal lovers and that hunting needs to be consigned to history."

The Survation poll took place in early December with a sample size of 1,072 people aged over 18 living in rural areas in England and Wales.