Trail hunting smokescreen should be banned on public land - Rachael Maskell MP

The Hunting Act 2004 should have been the end.

Protestors gathered outside the Harrogate Convention Centre as the National Trust AGM voted on trail hunting last year.
Protestors gathered outside the Harrogate Convention Centre as the National Trust AGM voted on trail hunting last year.

Back then, the Labour Government responded to the popular demand to end hunting with hounds.

We acted to end this animal cruelty, but the bugles and beagles were not silenced for long.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The hunts, of which there were nearly 300 in England and Wales, were not deterred by the penalty system, and it now appears that they were never intended to be.

They were soon riding again, under the smokescreen of trail hunting, which was designed to put those investigating the hunts off their scent. The hunts never intended to stop; they said as much when the legislation passed.

The saboteurs and organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports and Keep The Ban have exposed how terriermen were present at 78 per cent of hunts. Those are the people who dig out foxes as they seek refuge. If the fox is not going to be killed, there is no need to dig it out. In 2020, evidence came to light from the leaked Hunting Office report and Masters of Foxhounds Association report of online Zoom webinars, exposing how hunts were making meticulous plans to use the 2004 Act to deflect from this bloodthirsty obsession.

I am glad that some landowners have responded, and I call on all landowners to institute a ban on their land. There has been only one prosecution for permitting a hunt on land that was known to be in breach of the law. While there are temporary suspensions, such as those by Forestry England and the National Trust, they must become bans.

The Ministry of Defence has still issued licences. I call on the Minister to ensure that the Government come to one position on this issue. She must ensure that there is a consistent ban on any public land being used for hunts. I hope she will commit to that today in her response.

The 2004 Act has resulted in 448 prosecutions and 228 convictions for crimes involving hunting with dogs, and 47 prosecutions and 16 convictions for hare coursing. However, without a complete ban on hunting, foxes and hares will be targeted.

As we have seen in other areas of law, penalties for breaches are insufficient for those who are part of the elite. During the cub-hunting autumn season alone, there were 115 reported incidents and 2019-20 saw a total of 485 reports of incidents. These incidents are not rare; they are occurring on an industrial scale.

The Countryside Alliance blames bad law, but the reality is that whether we like the law or not and whether it is good or bad, we have to have to obey it. That message is resounding in the public square at present. Lawbreakers cannot hide behind excuses but must face a penalty, although it is evident that the penalty is too soft, as they continuously and deliberately break the law, for all the weaknesses that may be within it.

Hunts have betrayed the trust placed in them to stay within the spirit and letter of the law and stay away from foxes, so the law must change and a complete ban on trail hunting must ensue. There must be no exemptions, no loopholes and no excuses. The hunts have only themselves to blame for this, having tried to bend and stretch the law.

With 85 per cent of the population believing that all forms of hunting foxes should be illegal, Parliament cannot stand by when the loopholes in the legislation are being exploited to perpetrate wildlife crime. The Hunting Act 2004 needs amending and those who stand in its way must be brought to account.

If Natural Resources Wales has introduced a ban on its land, there is no excuse for the Minister. She needs to ensure that she is leading, not waiting for the hunt lobby to craft more reasons for delay, dither and indecision.

However, this is about not just foxes, but hares. The League Against Cruel Sports found that in 2019-20, there were 102 reports of suspected illegal interference with badger setts, animal worrying – an issue that has been debated of late in Parliament – and even pet interference.

As we bring forward legislation, we need to ensure it is easy to apply, and to provide the necessary evidence.

Banning trail hunting and hunting on public land and in residential areas would show a commitment to animal wellbeing and protect those most majestic of all animals, foxes.

A simple and small amendment to the Hunting Act 2004 is all that is required. We stand ready to bring in this ban and end this barbarism once and for all.

This is an edited extract of a Parliamentary speech by the Labour MP for York Central.

Read More

Read More
National Trust members vote to ban trail hunting amid fears it's used as 'smokes...