Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Head to head: Fox hunting
The fox hunting debate provokes impassioned argument
Tony Blair has pledged to ban fox hunting before the next general election.
His bold claim, on BBC's Question Time on Thursday evening, that "we will get a vote to ban it as soon as we possibly can" has re-ignited the bitter argument between pro- and anti-hunting groups.
The debate has been smouldering since last year, when Labour MP Michael Foster withdrew his Private Members' Bill aimed at securing a ban after it ran out of time.
But amid all the accusations and recriminations, it is easy to forget the basic arguments that motivate either side.
Here the League Against Cruel Sports puts the case for a ban, while the Countryside Alliance explains why hunting should remain.
League Against Cruel Sports: A recent Mori poll suggested that 72% of the public want a ban on hunting with dogs - only 12% oppose a ban. The public know that hunting is cruel and should be abolished.
In February, "Copper", a fox chased by a hunt in West Sussex, was subsequently treated by a vet. The fox had been bitten on the hind legs - not exactly consistent with a "quick kill to the back of the neck", claimed by hunters.
However, the bite marks were not life threatening. The stress of the chase was.
The vet said: "He was severely shocked and would have died without treatment." Proof that hunting is cruel.
Death is painful
Other vets who have performed post-mortems on foxes killed by hounds say that the death is painful, resulting from loss of blood and injuries to the abdomen.
Another argument used by animal abusers is that the fox is a pest. But this does not explain why hunts use artificial earths to encourage fox numbers, and why investigators from the league discovered fox cubs trapped in artificial earth on land belonging to a hunt last year.
In April this year a gamekeeper from a well-known estate let the secret out in "Shooting Times" magazine.
He said: "For more than 30 years I have had to produce foxes and pheasants ... if you are in hunting country you should always make sure there are enough foxes for the hunt."
Danger to family pets
The hunts pose a danger to family pets, and farm livestock. Six cats were torn apart by foxhounds in the last year as hunts ran out of control, and hounds were frequently killed after being hit by trains or cars.
It would appear that hunts show a lack of care, not only for the hounds, but also for the travelling public.
Many hounds are shot if they do not make good hunting dogs or they are too old - the League videoed one hunt shooting dogs in the head and dumping them in bins.
Finally, a hunting ban will not affect jobs, if hunts now prepare for a wholesome switch to drag hunting. The hounds, the horses and the redcoats will still be part of the countryside, but instead chase an artificial scent.
At present, 27 of Britain's hunts do this. Now we hope there will be many more.
Countryside Alliance: Countryside communities do not merely defend hunting, they actively endorse the practice because of its benefits as a humane and ecological way to conserve the fox population at a controllable level, which can be reconciled with the claims of farming and other wildlife species.
Moreover, the RSPB still culls foxes to protect birds in bird sanctuaries, and informed anti-hunting groups agree that some form of fox control is necessary.
There are only four legal methods of control in this country: Hunting with hounds, shooting, trapping with snares and digging using terriers. No single method is entirely suitable or sufficient for all circumstances.
Hunting is humane
But hunting has an important place: hounds are the experts. They tend to catch the weaker foxes, those that do the damage, leaving the healthiest ones to face the winter and breed. Hounds do their work more quickly than trapping, snaring, or shooting. Let us emphasise that fox hunting is not cruel but humane.
The social aspects of foxhunting provide great benefit to many people from all backgrounds and income levels. It is thus an important part of the social fabric of most rural areas of the United Kingdom.
Hunting also creates employment and trade, contributes significantly to the conservation of the landscape and wildlife. It is well organised and conducted according to strict rules and regulations.
These aspects separately, or in any combination, would not justify hunting if it were evidenced that the fox population would be better off without it. There are some on the anti-hunting side who choose not to face the difficult questions, one of which is whether suffering to the fox would be increased after a ban on hunting.
Ban not stop cruelty
Illicit cruelty to foxes by baiters, trappers and poachers using lurchers, invariably takes place in areas where properly organised hunts cannot operate. A ban on hunting will not stop these activities.
The country people who support hunting often work with livestock and they care more for animals and animal welfare than anti hunters could ever imagine. The more people understand about nature, the more they understand and support hunting. The less they know, the less they support it.
Hunting people practised conservation before the word was invested. This year New Scientist magazine said: "Areas where fox hunting is common often have more hedgerows and thickets which benefit other wildlife besides the fox. These would disappear if hunting were banned."