Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: Today (18 February) marks 11 years since the Hunting Act 2004 came into force. You’d have thought it would be old news by now. But, ask your local MP which issue appears most often in their inbox and there is a fair bet that he or she will say, not the NHS nor Syria and not the EU, but hunting.
The reason for the extraordinary priority given to this largely irrelevant issue is that the debate was never really about foxes, hounds or managing wildlife. It has always been, as the late Tony Banks put it, a totemic issue for the Labour Party; and particularly that part of it which still wants to fight class war.
The prejudice and bigotry behind the ban on hunting is the main reason it has been opposed so determinedly by hunts and why tens of thousands of people across the country will be supporting their local hunts this week, as they have ever since the Act came in.
Last year the Government brought forward proposals to amend the law in England and Wales to allow hunts to use hounds to find and flush foxes so they can be shot, just as they are currently allowed to do in Scotland. That proposal was withdrawn, not because there was any logical argument against it but because the SNP MPs decided that political opportunism was preferable to refraining from voting on issues that do not affect Scotland. Once again hunting was used as a political football.
A free vote on hunting was one of the Government’s manifesto promises and it continues to be committed to this end. The arguments for scrapping the Hunting Act have not gone away. Hunts will keep meeting, and until this issue is resolved on the basis of principle and evidence, rather than prejudice and bigotry, this law will remain a stain on our democracy.
Follow Tim on Twitter @CA_TimB