Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Labour presses Cameron on plans to repeal hunting ban

Huntsmen
The hunting ban, which came into effect in 2005, remains controversial

Labour has stepped up pressure on David Cameron over the issue of fox hunting, urging him to rule out a repeal of the ban in place since 2005.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has written to the Tory leader, saying the ban has worked and is supported by a majority of the population.

His letter comes on the fifth anniversary of the ban's introduction.

The Tories said the ban had been an "abject failure" and that MPs should be allowed a free vote on repealing it.

The party said, if elected, it would make time available during the next parliament for a vote on the issue but did not indicate how soon this might happen.

For the past five years, hounds have been allowed to follow a scent or flush out a fox, but not kill it.

'Out of touch'

The 2004 Hunting Act, which also banned stag hunting and hare coursing, has remained highly controversial despite being passed with a large parliamentary majority.

Labour maintains that repealing the ban is a "priority" for the Tories and set up a website late last year encouraging people to support the ban.

In his letter, Mr Benn said the legislation was "popular, humane and effective" and suggested Mr Cameron's "opposition" to it shows that the Conservatives remain "out of touch" with public opinion.

It is also very hard to see why this would be a priority for an incoming government
Hilary Benn

"Labour banned fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing because there is no place for animal cruelty in a modern, civilised society," he wrote.

"The ban has worked and has allowed people to continue riding with hunts without the cruelty previously involved. Five years after its introduction, the RSPCA have said that the Hunting Act compares favourably to other wildlife crime legislation currently on the statute book and is enforceable."

Suggestions that the ban would lead to the loss of thousands of job losses in already struggling rural communities had not been borne out, he added.

"The grave predictions for the rural economy following the ban have proved baseless," he said.

Mr Benn said 6,500 supporters of the ban had co-signed the letter and that the Tory leader must clarify his position given the "strength of public feeling" about the issue.

"In the light of all this, we find it impossible to understand why you are determined to legalise once again the tearing to pieces of foxes by dogs. It is also very hard to see why this would be a priority for an incoming government."

Mr Benn added: "In the countryside and in towns across Britain people are coming together to say that making animals kill each other for sport has no place in a modern, civilised society."

'Affront'

In October, shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert - who once worked for the British Field Sports Society - described the hunting ban as an "affront" to civil liberties and "completely unworkable".

He said a Conservative government would consider creating a regulatory body for fox hunting which could work towards "minimising animal suffering".

Only a small number of prosecutions under the Hunting Act have reached court since 2005 but in a report published on Thursday, animal welfare charity Ifaw in Action said 100 people had been brought to justice for breaking the law.

There was "overwhelming scientific evidence" that hunting with dogs was cruel, it said.

But pro-hunting body the Countryside Alliance says the ban is "fundamentally illiberal" and based on prejudice rather than practical evidence.

It maintains the hunting community is "united and determined" to secure its repeal.



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