Labour to double number of police officers enforcing fox hunting ban

Party would beef up rural crimes units across the country

Jon Stone
Tuesday 19 November 2019 00:18
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The new deputy chairman of Natural England is a long-time supporter of hunting
The new deputy chairman of Natural England is a long-time supporter of hunting

Labour has unveiled plans to double the number of police officers tasked with enforcing the fox hunting ban and other wildlife crimes.

The party says it will put £4.5m into cracking down on bloodsports like hare coursing, badger baiting and stag hunting.

The number of officers in rural crimes units across the country would rise from 88 to 170 under the proposals in the party’s animal welfare manifesto, which is being released on Tuesday.

Other policies included in the document include closing loopholes in the 2004 Hunting Act that allow in practice illegal hunts to continue.

They would remove exemptions such as hunts being allowed for “research and observation” and on the “use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting”.

Prison sentences would also be introduced illegal hunting, bring it into line with other offences, and penalties around wildlife crimes would be reviews more widely.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party views fox hunting in particular as a key Tory weakness, with voters at odds with many Conservatives’ pro-hunting views on the issue.

The Independent revealed earlier this month that Labour was running an under-the-radar campaign against the Tories over the issue using targeted Facebook ads.

Fox hunting was a stealth issue at the 2017 general election: though rarely covered by broadcasters during the campaign, pollsters were later surprised to discover that it was one of just a handful of Tory policies voters remembered.

We are calling time on those who have been allowed to get away with illegally hunting, maiming and killing wild animals such as deer, hen harriers, foxes and hares

Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary

YouGov found that fox hunting was just behind the so-called “dementia tax”, Brexit, and means-testing winter fuel allowance in terms of policy recognition by voters.

The issue is fertile ground for the opposition party, because polls show around 85-90 per cent of voters want to keep the bloodsport banned.

Theresa May’s 2017 Tory manifesto included a pledge for a free vote on bringing back fox hunting. The plan was dropped in January 2018, however, partly in response to the backlash during the election.

Boris Johnson repeatedly voted against Labour’s ban on fox hunting in 2000, in the previous decade when he was MP for Henley. As London mayor in 2013, he suggested introducing hunting in the capital to control its urban fox population, saying: “This will cause massive unpopularity but I don’t care”.

But it is not clear whether the policy will make it into the Conservative manifesto this year. Over the summer, cabinet minister Liz Truss – an ally of Mr Johnson – said that the policy would not make the cut. Other senior Tories like Jeremy Hunt have said they still support a vote.

It comes as the Tories target Jeremy Corbyn’s party over its plans to bring in a financial transaction tax. The Conservatives say the plan to raise billions from the City would affect share prices, which they claim could affect some pensions.

Sue Hayman, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, said: “Labour’s animal welfare manifesto is the most radical animal welfare plan anywhere in the world.

“While the Tories continue with their mass slaughter of badgers and flip flop on bringing back fox hunting, Labour is determined to bring animal welfare policy into the 21st Century, based on the latest science and understanding.

“We are calling time on those who have been allowed to get away with illegally hunting, maiming and killing wild animals such as deer, hen harriers, foxes and hares.

“By increasing the number of wildlife and rural police forces across the country we will help protect both wild animals and property in rural communities, and ensure a crackdown on the types of crimes against animals that this Tory government has turned a blind eye to. Labour is the true party of real change when it comes to animal welfare.”

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