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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Hunting debate sparks war of words
Hunting with dogs
The Houses of Parliament voted differently on the issue
Anti-hunt campaigners have produced no evidence to support their contention that hunting with dogs should be banned, according to a leading light in the Countryside Alliance.

Richard Burge, the group's chief executive, accused animal welfare supporters of being "prejudiced and bigoted" against the countryside pastime.


The hounds literally, rip it apart

John Rolls
But John Rolls, of the RSPCA, claimed evidence produced by the Countryside Alliance was "anecdotal at best and whimsy at worst".

The war of words came just hours before the start of the second day of a three-day consultation on the future of hunting with dogs, which is being chaired by Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael.

The hearing is part of six months of consultation to find common ground between the opposing sides as a basis for future legislation.

'No crime'

Mr Burge told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that no evidence had yet been presented that hunting should not continue on utility grounds.

"The anti-hunt movement refused to address issues which are crucial to the core ... that culture and society should be important elements of these decisions," he said.

"You can't proceed to a prosecution without evidence and you can't proceed to a prosecution without even a feeling there is a crime having taken place.

Alun Michael
Mr Michael is chairing the three-day public hearing
"Why people go hunting is because what they are doing is engaging in an activity which is part and parcel of the portfolio of tools that people use in the countryside to manage wild species."

He added: "No evidence is not a reason to ban people from engaging in an activity."

'Lengthy chase'

But Mr Rolls, from the RSPCA, said evidence from the world's leading scientific journal Nature indicated that a hunting ban would have no effect on fox numbers.

"Quite frankly, the so-called evidence produced by the Countryside Alliance was anecdotal at best and whimsy at worst," he told Today.

"If it can be demonstrated that perhaps a rogue fox is causing damage then the best way of dealing with this would be using rifles, lamping at night, in order to have a clean kill."

Mr Rolls said hunting involved a fox being chased for considerable distances and in some cases, for up to an hour, before "the hounds literally, rip it apart".

But Mr Burge said Lord Burns, the former civil servant who led a government-commissioned inquiry into the effects of hunting, had found that foxes were "killed instantaneously" in a hunt.

Turning to Mr Rolls, he said: "You are prejudiced and bigoted."

Job implications

Lord Burns, who opened the hearing on Monday, outlined the difficulties of finding hard evidence in the hunting debate.

"There is always a range of uncertainties about whatever it is you are doing," he said.

"There is a range of uncertainty about what the implications for jobs might be, a range of uncertainty about what the social implications would be and a lot of uncertainty about some of the animal welfare implications."

Earlier this year the House of Commons voted for an outright ban on hunting, while the House of Lords voted for hunting to continue under licence.

Evidence to the inquiry is being considered by the Countryside Alliance, the Middle Way Group and the Campaigning to Protect Hunted Animals.

On Tuesday the focus is on scientists giving their views on suffering hunting causes animals.

Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Fox hunting
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See also:

04 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
21 Mar 02 | Politics
19 Mar 02 | Politics
19 Mar 02 | Politics
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