Leading article: Blair's folly

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The debate over hunting with hounds will go down as one of the greatest wastes of time in political history. It took eight years of bitter debate before the ban on hunting reached the statute book. And what has been the upshot?

Today the opening meets of the fox-hunting season will take place. Some 50,000 people are expected to attend. Foxes will be killed, many possibly illegally. We don't yet know for sure.

At the root of legal uncertainty is the fact that exercising hounds is still allowed. So too is flushing out foxes from the undergrowth. Yet it is virtually impossible to distinguish between such activities and illegal hunts. After all, what is to stop hounds running after a fleeing fox?

This newspaper has long taken the view that pursuing foxes on horseback and then savaging them to death with hounds is an odd, perhaps even cruel, practice. But we have never believed it should be banned. A badly drafted and illiberal law is now resented and ignored in equal measure. The Hunting Act has become a tragic symbol of the follies of the Blair era.

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