Huntsmen round on Labour plans for ban

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Indy Politics
The Labour Party was accused yesterday of "sounding the death knell" for hundreds of dogs and horses, after it proposed suspending permission for hunting with hounds on Forestry Commission and MoD land.

Hunts and field sports bodies reacted angrily after being surprised by the move, which could severely curtail their activities long before any anti-hunting legislation bites.

Elliot Morley, Labour's animal welfare spokesman, said yesterday that hunting with hounds on Forestry Commission and MoD land will be suspended within months if Tony Blair wins the general election.

Some 100 hunts make use of these two vast public estates. Each season, beginning in September, the Ministry of Defence issues licences to about 25 hunts. Packs enter forestry land by agreement, although it is commission policy not to allow hunting in areas where there is no local tradition of hunting.

During the suspension, a review would be conducted on the "suitability" of hunting in relation to other forest uses, including leisure and conservation, and its efficacy in controlling foxes and deer, said Mr Morley.

But Chris Compton, Master of the New Forest Buckhounds, said even suspension was a death knell for their animals. The Buckhounds, which took over from the Royal Deer Hounds in 1883, hunt fallow deer, almost exclusively on Forestry Commission land.

Mrs Compton hotly rejected Mr Morley's charge that hunting fallow deer was "particularly cruel and unjustified". There had only been one incident, two seasons ago, when the dogs had attacked a cornered deer before the huntsman could shoot it, she said.

"Mr Morley is the spokesman on animal welfare. How about the welfare of our animals? Is he going to come and watch while we put all the hounds and horses down? I think not." Mrs Compton's pack has about 50 hounds which are followed by 40 to 50 riders on a normal outing. The hunt kills about 20 deer in a season.

Labour's proposals were high on the agenda of a British Field Sports' Society meeting in the New Forest last night. A local pack of fox hounds would also be hard hit, as would the Royal Artillery Hunt and the Tedworth on Salisbury Plain, the Border Hunt and two northern fell packs. Some 40 packs would lose a couple of days hunting and 50 others suffer minor inconvenience, said the BFSS.

A spokeswoman said the society would be taking legal advice to see if there was a case for judicial review if suspensions went ahead.

In the longer term, Labour is committed to a free Commons vote on abolishing hunting with dogs.