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Taxpayer to foot bill for hunting opponents


ANTI-HUNTING GROUPS would be paid by the Government to contest the right of anyone who wishes to hunt with dogs under a clause of the Hunting Bill which had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Monday of this week, writes Nick Mays.

Plans to make grants to prescribed animal organisations, hidden in the small print of the Bill, aroused fierce criticism last night from Opposition MPs and from hunts, which will have to pay to be registered under the Bill to use dogs for pest control.

The provision could mean that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the League Against Cruel Sports or the International Fund for Animal Welfare would be paid by the state to contest every application to register to carry out hunting legally under the Bill. Applications are expected not only from the 201 fox hunts in England and Wales but also from tens of thousands of individuals who want to be able to hunt vermin with dogs.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was unable to provide details of how the grants would work or how much hunting bodies or individuals would have to pay for registration.

Opposition MPs complain that they are being asked to vote for a Bill the cost implications of which have yet to be calculated.

James Gray, the Conservative rural affairs spokesman, said it was "disgraceful and absurd" to make grants to animal welfare bodies and not to hunts, lurcher owners and gamekeepers who would be caught up in the Bill's red tape.

Necessary

He said that the grants would make it possible for such groups to employ full-time staff to contest any application to hunt and to ensure that it was referred to the Hunting Tribunal, the body set up by the Bill to adjudicate on whether hunts passed the twin tests of being necessary and causing least suffering.

He said: "I want to know who these animal welfare groups are. I assume it is going to be the RSPCA, the League and IFAW, but if so how much are they going to be paid and why? This could not have anything to do with the £1 million paid to the Labour Party before the last election by the Political Animal Lobby, IFAW's sister organisation, could it?"

Simon Hart, the director of the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Hunting, said: "It really is outrageous that so-called animal welfare groups should be paid by the taxpayer to object to registration while hunts are expected to pay to for the privilege of being registered."

Animal welfare groups themselves criticised the proposal to pay objectors to contest hunting applications. John Rolls of the RSPCA said: "There is a real possibility that this system could be a bureaucratic nightmare. Certainly it has the potential to be very costly but our aim is to see an outright ban on hunting."

However, Mr Rolls did not rule out the possibility of the Society applying for funds to contest applications.