SPORTS Minister Tracey Crouch has kicked fox hunting into the long grass by saying MPs have better things to do than over turn its legal ban.
The anti-hunt Conservative says the overwhelming majority of British people want the blood sport consigned to history although there is a need for greater enforcement to keep the Hunting Act effective.
Boxing Day is traditionally the climax of the hunting season and as many as 250,000 people could turn out to see fox packs and riders in their “pink” coats at meets across the country.
Yet the huntin’ set are desperate for David Cameron to signal his promised free vote in the Commons to overturn the current decade old law which prohibits hunting foxes, hares and stags with dogs.
Anti-hunt Tories in the House say there is not the public will to see the return of animals being killed for fun, a belief supported by a new poll that shows opposition to abolishing the Hunting Act is at an all time high.
The League Against Cruel Sports says its annual poll by Ipsos MORI shows 83 per cent say fox hunting should not be made legal again.
Opposition to a return of deer hunting and hare coursing is even higher. Such public hostility underpins the Sports Minister’s belief the current ban should not only remain in place but made even more effective.
Speaking before today’s Boxing Day meets, Ms Crouch, MP for Kent constituency of Chatham and Aylesford, said: “Fox hunting is a pursuit from the past and, like the overwhelming majority of the population, I believe that is where it should stay, consigned to history.
“I believe that the legislation as it stands today requires better enforcement, and Parliament has better things to be concerned with than bringing back hunting foxes with hounds.”
The minister’s comments were echoed by veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, president of Conservative Animal Welfare and also patron of the Tories’ anti-hunt group, Blue Fox.
He said: “The hunting of wild animals with dogs has been consigned to the dustbin of history, along with cockfighting and bear-baiting, and the idea that this clock ought to be turned back is regressive and unpleasant.”
The League Against Cruel Sports says new politicl analysis shows that there are now so many Conservative MPs against repealing the Hunting Act any repeal attempt would be doomed, even without intervention by the SNP.
It was the Scots’ opposition that derailed this summer’s attempt to tamper with the law.
At least 50 Conservative MPs have clearly stated they are against a repeal of the law with 20 others hinting they are also opposed, says the League.
These figures contrast vastly from the six Conservatives who supported the act when it was introduced in 2004.
Tom Quinn, Director of Campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “We have a lot of new information about what people think about hunting, and none of it is good news for the small but obsessed minority who want to kill animals for fun.
“Opposition to legalising fox hunting is higher than it has ever been. We believe this reflects that as a nation the vast majority of us are repulsed at the thought of killing animals for sport. It’s nearly 2016 for goodness sake, surely we’re past this kind of barbarity?
“Crucially, over eight out of ten rural residents are opposed to the legalisation of fox hunting, a dramatic increase in just the last three years. This destroys the hunts’ argument that it’s just ‘urbanites’ or ‘animal rights’ people who oppose hunting because they don’t understand it. The very people who know what hunting really is are saying that enough is enough.
“There will no doubt be pictures on Boxing Day of a few people supporting the hunts as they go about their business – but these figures show the damning reality. Hunting is a tradition that no-one but a small minority wants, needs or cares about any more, and those doing the hunting need to accept that and move on.”
In contrast, the Countryside Alliance says around 250,000 people will be turning out for the Boxing Day meets of the 300-plus registered UK hunts, and this year it says they “have much to celebrate”.
The alliance points to the fact that 94 per cent of Hunting Act convictions have not involved hunts and goes on to state that only 24 people out all the 300-plus convictions were actually connected to registered hunts.
At the same time, the Countryside Alliance says 83 per cent of hunts have the same or more subscribers since the law came into force and 91 per cent are hunting on the same number of days, or more, each season.
Speaking before what it describes as “the annual Boxing Day spectacle”, Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said: “It’s clear that the Hunting Act is in tatters. It was never about foxes or animal welfare but rather an attempt to eradicate hunts and the communities that surround them. After 11 years of the Act, support for hunts is as strong as ever and the Hunting Act is mostly being used to prosecute poaching offences.”
He went on to add: “Just because a bad law is also ineffective is no excuse for leaving it in place. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and thousands of hours of court time have been wasted on spurious accusations under the Hunting Act – this situation cannot be allowed to continue.”