Labour vows to ‘eliminate’ fox hunting

Under the Hunting Act it is illegal to hunt wild animals with dogs
Under the Hunting Act, it is illegal to hunt wild animals with dogs - LUKE MACGREGOR/ALAMY

Labour has vowed to eliminate fox hunting within its first five years in power, saying there is not a majority in “any part of the country” that wants it to continue.

Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, said the party would close loopholes in the existing ban that allow some types of hunting to go on, claiming it would prevent hounds killing pets and livestock.

Labour has already vowed to toughen the Hunting Act, including banning trail hunting – where dogs follow a pre-laid scent rather than a wild animal.

It has been urged to abandon the plans by country campaigners, who warned the party to end its “running attack on rural communities”.

But Mr Reed said the policy was not about “telling country people how to live their lives”, insisting it was something rural voters wanted to see.

Labour may feel emboldened to make more controversial announcements by its commanding lead in the polls, sitting around 20 points ahead of the Tories.

The 2004 Hunting Act, introduced by Sir Tony Blair’s administration, was seen by some as an act of class warfare rather than an attempt to improve animal welfare.

The Tories previously pledged to give MPs a chance to repeal it with a free vote, but the pledge was dropped in Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto.

The current law makes it an offence to hunt wild animals with dogs, but it is still legal to lay trails using artificial scents, which critics claim serves as a smokescreen for the real thing.

Mr Reed said: “People have seen the images of packs of hounds getting into private back gardens, killing cats, ripping flocks apart. There’s not a majority in any part of the country that wants to see that continue.

“The hunting ban was passed under the last Labour government and it has been maintained under this Conservative government. So that seems fairly settled to me.

“But there are loopholes in it, drag hunting, for instance, that allow hunting to continue, and foxes – and indeed domestic cats and other mammals – are still getting killed as a result of those loopholes, and we will close those loopholes.”

Last year, the Countryside Alliance urged Labour not to bring forward new legislation to toughen the ban, demanding an end to its “running attack on rural communities”.

Tim Bonner, the chief executive, said his organisation would oppose any new restrictions, adding: “It is utterly bizarre that Labour is still making hunting its priority in the countryside.

“Rural people are desperately concerned about affordable housing, access to services, agricultural transition and a thousand other more important issues, yet Labour wants to return to fight the culture war of 20 years ago.

“Ultimately, the countryside doesn’t want to have to have a fight over hunting again, but it will not sit back and allow itself to be bullied and become victim to a toxic culture war.”

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