Is it time to ban trail and drag hunting? Rachel Maskell says Yes
The 2004 Hunting Act should have been the end. The Labour government responded to the public outcry at the barbarism of hunting with hounds and passed legislation to outlaw such animal cruelty. But the bugles and beagles were not silenced for long.
The hunts, of which there are nearly 300 in England and Wales, soon were riding again, under the guise of trail hunting.
However, they lay trails only so that those investigating their legality follow this false trail, while the hunts pursue their prey.
We are not fools. They never intended to stop. They said as much when the legislation reached the statute books. The tenacious work of committed saboteurs, organisations like the League Against Cruel Sports and Keep the Ban, have hunted down what has been going on: near business as usual.
They observed how terrier men were present at 78 per cent of hunts. These are the people who dig out the foxes at the end of a chase for slaughter. Had foxes not been the target of their chase, then clearly these people would not have been needed.
Hunts have betrayed the trust placed in them to stay within the law and stay away from foxes
Then in 2020, evidence came to light from leaked Hunting Office and the Master of Fox Hounds Association reports, where three online Zoom webinars exposed how hunts were making meticulous plans to use the 2004 Act as a smokescreen and to deflect from their continued hunting obsessions.
Major landowners, like the National Trust and Forestry England, studied the evidence. They have now pulled their licenses and prevented hunts on their land. We need all landowners to follow their example and end this trespass on our British countryside.
The 2004 Act has resulted in more than 500 prosecutions since the law passed 18 years ago. However, without a complete ban on hunting, trail hunting continues. This was seen as the compromise to protect foxes while, in response to the now crocodile tears of the hunts who claimed that their hounds would be euthanised, allowing hunts to continue to ride with the exception that foxes were not to be their target.
Hunts have betrayed the trust placed in them to stay within the law and stay away from foxes. This can only mean one thing: there must be a complete ban on trail hunting. No exemptions, no loopholes, no excuses. They have had their chance.
While I will be seeking to amend the Hunting Act 2004 in due course, Parliament has the opportunity to advance legislation before the Commons right now. The Animal Welfare Bill sets out to protect domestic animals and livestock.
Hunts not only rip up the countryside, they also terrorise livestock, in the bill termed “worrying livestock”. Bringing an amendment to this will bring immediate reprieve to cattle and sheep and means that hunts will not be able to access land used for grazing. It may not be everything, but is one more step forward.
Momentum behind the Mini’s Law campaign has also grown, after Mini the cat was mauled to death by an out of control pack of hounds. Other domestic pets have suffered the same fate. Every other week, on average, sees livestock or domestic animals killed by the continuation of hunting. This is why the Animal Welfare Bill is so relevant.
With 85 per cent of the population believing that all forms of hunting for foxes should be illegal, Parliament cannot stand by while loopholes in the legislation are being exploited to perpetrate wildlife crime. It is clear that repealing exemptions within the Hunting Act 2004 is urgently required to end the barbarism of hunting with hounds.
Rachael Maskell is the Labour MP for York Central.
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