HUNT WORKERS will be offered compensation packages of up to £50,000 per person to give up their jobs under confidential plans being drawn up by the Government to strengthen its plans to ban hunting with dogs.
Ministers hope that the ‘generous’ compensation package hunt workers will relocate with the money, possibly even abroad, and that this will undermine the cause of supporters of hunting by removing some of their most determined backers.
Under the secret plan, which is circulating within a tight group of ministerial advisers, payments would be offered to each of the 700 hunt employees who live in tied property and who depend on hunting for their home and income.
Ministers have suggested privately that hunt workers could be helped to relocate to Ireland or France, where hunting is legal.
Labour will portray the package as evidence that it is not abandoning working class people who would otherwise have the party's support, effectively undermining the claim that the Government doesn’t care about hunt workers by the Countryside Alliance and the Conservative Opposition
However, Jeremy Reed, a professional huntsman from north Wales, said that no amount of money could compensate him for the loss of a vocation that he had pursued since leaving school at 17. Mr Reed, 42, described the offer of compensation as "an insult". He said: "You can't measure what I've got here in money. I don't want to change my way of life. I would do this job for nothing because I love it that much."
He lives rent free with his wife, Lucy, and two children, Charlotte, 11, and Ben, nine, in a tied cottage at St Asaph, north Wales. It is provided as part of the payment he receives for looking after the hounds of the Flint and Denbigh hunt, based in the kennels next door.
Mr Read is paid a relatively low wage, but says that his home is idyllic and his outdoor life enviable. "How can the Government say they want to pay off a way of life? Telling me to retrain is some romantic idea they have, but they haven't got a clue. It's like 'let them eat cake' in the French Revolution."
Ministers had previously insisted that there would be no financial recompense for hunt employees, largely on the basis that the Burns report into hunting recommended only that consideration should be given to compensation for the destruction of hounds.
There is no provision in the Hunting Bill for compensation, but a separate Treasury order could be presented to Parliament. Last month, in an exclusive interview with OUR DOGS, anti-hunting MP Tony Banks said that he "didn’t have a problem" with giving hunt workers compensation.
"I don’t have any objection to compensation and I’ve argued in the House for it," said Mr Banks. "I don’t see a problem with it, depending on what the size of the cheque is, but when you think of the billions of pounds we paid out in compensation for the slaughter of healthy animals during Foot and Mouth and the BSE crisis, it doesn’t even begin to compare.
"So when you’re talking about a few thousand jobs around the countryside, even the most creaking economy could support compensation for that and we’re far from a creaking economy nowadays, we’re a very prosperous and active economy. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss the impact of someone losing their job, by if they’re prepared to accept alternatives to fox hunting such as drag hunting, then you could have even more people employed than before."
The compensation plan is the result of lobbying by Labour MPs in poor rural constituencies where many hunting people are former miners and factory workers who hunt on foot with Terriers and Lurchers, by far the most followed form of the sport.
A recent report by independent auditors of the likely claim from a typical hunt estimated a demand of £692,036 for redundancies and loss of business and a potential claim of £173 million nationwide.
One minister suggested that the offer currently being worked on would be closer to £10 million and would be highly selective. "We have to do something about the people who will be worst affected, essentially those who will lose their homes," he said.
"Compared with the miners' and steel workers' compensation, this is not a big deal. We could put a lot right with £10 million. Some of them will want to relocate, some might even want to emigrate and start a new life in a country where they still have hunting. We should help them to do that."
John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said: "Where there are people in tied accommodation it is clear that they should be compensated. It is a traditional union principle and I will be asking the TUC to back the proposal."
A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance dismissed the idea, saying: "They just don't get it do they? They have got absolutely no understanding of the commitment of hunting people."