Fox-hunting: Ministers misleading public over proposed changes to ban, say campaigners

They claim amendments the Government wants would provide a host of apparently legitimate excuses for illegal hunting

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The Government’s newly published proposals on relaxing the fox-hunting ban are much more extensive than the Tories have led the public to believe and will provide numerous covers for illegal hunts, animal rights campaigners have said.

Hunting opponents accused the Conservatives of deliberately seeking to mislead the public about the scope of the amendments it plans to make to the 10-year-old ban, which MPs are due to vote on on 15 July.

They say the Government’s justification for the amendment – that it will help farmers control pests and bring the law in England and Wales into line with Scotland – is only part of the story and the proposed changes go much further, amounting to amendments which would provide a host of apparently legitimate excuses for illegal hunting.

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The hounds of the Atherstone Hunt are exercised by Hunstman Stuart Barton before they go out on a hunt on March 5, 2015 in Bosworth, England

The full extent of the proposed changes only emerged in a largely unnoticed draft order for the amendments, released this week.

“This is no simple amendment to the Hunting Act. The Government is trying to bring back hunting by deceit,” said Tom Quinn, campaigns director for the League Against Cruel Sports. “Now we know what they are proposing, any pretence that the Government was trying to amend the law to enable better fox control has been blown out of the water.” He added: “MPs need to be very clear on what they’re voting for. Claims that these are minor technical adjustments are wildly misleading. The suite of changes will destroy the Act and the Government knows it.”

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The hounds of the Atherstone Hunt are led by Hunstman Stuart Barton on March 5, 2015 in Bosworth, England

Under the current ban, hunts in England and Wales are allowed to use two dogs to flush out foxes which can then be shot for pest control purposes. The amendment would allow for an unlimited number of hounds to be used for this purpose, the Government arguing that this will bring the situation in line with Scotland, which has a similar ban to the one in England and Wales.

Critics say that amendment alone would make it much easier for illegal hunts to happen by providing the hunters with an excuse for their activities.

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The hounds of the Atherstone Hunt wait for their master to go out on a hunt on March 5, 2015 in Bosworth, England

But the full draft of the proposed amendments reveals that they also include proposals to allow an unlimited number of dogs to be used to flush out diseased or injured foxes and to conduct “research and observation” in the area.

Opponents argue that “research and observation” is a vague category which will give hunters a wide range of “excuses” to hunt – by claiming they are doing a fox population count, for example, or assessing levels of disease in the area. Furthermore, the ban in Scotland has no “research and observation” provision, which raises questions over the Government’s claim to merely be bringing the law into line with Edinburgh, protesters contend.

And while Scotland does allow unlimited dog use for pest control and to flush out injured foxes, it doesn’t apply to diseased animals – meaning the Conservatives are proposing two amendments for England and Wales that do not exist in Scotland.

“I think the Government is relying on MPs being unaware of the dreadful and cruel ramifications of what it’s proposing. The Government knows full well that a greater number of Conservative MPs than it had bargained for would oppose Repeal of the Hunting Act. And so it has concocted this idea of a harmless amendment that brings us into line with Scotland. But that’s simply dishonest,” said Wendy Higgins, of Humane Society International.

The Countryside Alliance has consistently said that its members hunt within the law and that the majority of the 378 convictions under the Hunting Act have had no connection with registered hunts. It says claims that the Government is trying to repeal the hunting ban through the back door are “patently nonsense”. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was yet to comment last night.

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