A way of life wrongly attacked or the end of a centuries-old cruel blood sport?

The welfare of foxes

The welfare of foxes

Anti-hunting lobby

The League Against Cruel Sports says there is "no evidence" that foxes are genuine pests. To deal with "rogue" foxes, copper fencing around chicken coops and bringing sheep indoors to give birth are more effective ways of reducing attacks on animals than hunting.

Pro-hunting lobby

The Countryside Alliance says that most farmers believe foxes are pests and their numbers need to be controlled. A ban will not save the life of a single fox because "pest control" would continue to be legitimate. There is a danger that the number of foxes would rise to unmanageable proportions in some areas and "shot to extinction" in others.

The verdict

The Burns report, published in 2000, concluded that "farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider it is necessary to manage fox populations in view of the damage foxes can cause to farming and game management interests". The 200 registered packs of hounds kill 21,000 to 25,000 foxes a year.

Impact on horses and hounds

Anti-hunting lobby

Horse riding is one of the biggest growth areas of leisure pursuits and a ban on hunting would have a negligible impact on the equestrian world. Hounds would be used in drag-hunting and other alternatives to fox hunts, so there would be no need for any animals to be put down.

Pro-hunting lobby

There are 20,000 fox hounds and 200,000 other dogs indirectly used in hunting whose futures could be put at risk by a ban. A further 60,000 horses are also primarily used for hunting and would face a similarly uncertain prospect if their owners could not hunt.

The verdict

Horses and hounds could be deployed to different uses, but this would mean convincing their owners that switching could work. The ban in Scotland has had no impact on horses and hounds, which now are simply used in humane hunts.

Impact on rural and hunting communities

Anti-hunting lobby

The economic impact would be small as such a tiny number of people - only 700 to 800 in the whole of England and Wales - are directly employed by hunting. Those who are indirectly unemployed, such as blacksmiths, would not lose income because other types of horse sports and rural pursuits are flourishing.

Pro-hunting lobby

More than 12,000 jobs - or 8,000 full-time equivalent posts - would be lost by a ban on hunting. The economic impact could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds, and the social cohesion among rural communities created by hunting would be destroyed.

The verdict

The Burns report estimated between 6,000 to 8,000 full-time jobs would be lost by a ban and that outlawing hunting would be "keenly felt" in some rural communities. But the report also said that within 10 years, most communities would have adjusted. There were 10 hunts in Scotland before the ban was enacted there - and not a single one has been lost.

Hunting is intrinsically barbaric

Anti-hunting lobby

Fox hunting is cruel. Hounds are bred to run slowly, thereby prolonging the chase and increasing the distress to the fox. Foxes are run to the point of exhaustion. While the actual kill may be quick, the chase to the death is slow and tortuous.

Pro-hunting lobby

No method of control is going to be entirely without pain or distress, but hunting is necessary and no more cruel than other means. The death is quick.

The verdict

Lord Burns concluded that there was a lack of clear scientific evidence about the effect of the chase on a fox, but said he was satisfied that "this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the fox". Most foxes do not die quickly from a single bite to the neck, but from massive injuries to the chest and vital organs.

A ban will criminalise innocent people

Anti-hunting lobby

Britain is a parliamentary democracy and people cannot pick and choose which laws they want to obey. The Commons has passed the Act and it is now no different from any other.

Pro-hunting lobby

Any ban will be unenforceable - people in rural communities will simply ignore the law and police forces will have to devote huge numbers of officers and time to bringing cases to court. The prospect of spy cameras in trees and village bobbies arresting renegade hunters will lead to a dangerous breakdown in trust between rural police and communities.

The verdict

Burns said that legislation could present "enforcement difficulties" but that would be up to Parliament to solve. The report accepted that some people might simply ignore the ban and rural police forces could be reluctant to give the law priority if they did not feel they had public support.

Is there popular demand for a ban?

Anti-hunting lobby

Polls by the Countryside Alliance that show huge opposition to a ban have been criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Market Research Foundation. The most recent Mori poll, from November 2003, found that 76 per cent supported a ban on hunting.

Pro-hunting lobby

The Mori poll question was unfair and included people's views on badger baiting rather than simply whether fox hunting should be banned. A recent poll for the CA found only 2 per cent of people believed a ban should be a Government priority, while more than 500,000 turned out for the protest march in London in 2002.

The verdict

Even the pro-hunt lobby privately accepts that the majority of the British public are either in favour of a ban or at the least, are not fervently supportive of their cause.

Is a ban the only option?

Anti-hunting lobby

Yes. It was included in the 1997 Labour election manifesto, has a groundswell of public support and is the only straightforward and effective way to end a barbaric sport that serves no useful purpose.

Pro-hunting lobby

No. Most people favour regulation of hunting but not an outright ban, which will only lead to chaos, confusion and the destruction of a centuries-old way of life.

The verdict

Having come this far, any climbdown would be humiliating for Labour and infuriate anti-hunt campaigners. The pro-hunt lobby refuses to even accept that a ban will ever happen, and seems committed to a period of civil disobedience if - or when - it is enacted.

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