Hunting to resume as Labour accused of 'back-door' ban
FOXHUNTING WILL resume in England and Wales from December 3rd after being banned across much of the country during the Foot and Mouth crisis. All forms of hunting with dogs - apart from stag hunting - will be allowed in disease-free areas, although hunts will avoid areas bordering any infected county or region. 'Buffer Zones' have been set up as a further safeguard where the disease is prevalent in an adjacent county or region.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated that only three counties are still affected by the disease; Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria.
Hunting was initially suspended voluntarily by all hunts when the disease broke out in February, some time before the Government acted to ban it as part of the belated safety precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.
Farmers have complained that the fox population is growing unchecked and causing further predations on livestock. They were keen for the temporary ban to be lifted to allow foxes to be hunted and their numbers controlled before next year's lambing season.
However, pro-hunting critics have derided the conditions outlined last week in the Government's guidelines on the resumption of hunting, accusing Labour of initiating a 'back door ban' to 'nobble' hunting as an alternative to a legislative outright ban.
Plans to licence each meet make hunts responsible for the activities of hunt saboteurs who often try to disrupt hunting meets have been met with an outcry from hunts.
"We have reservations about some of the conditions laid down by the Government, especially the scheme to hold hunts responsible for the activities of those dedicated to disrupting them," said Campaign for Hunting chairman Sam Butler.
Alistair Jackson, director of the Masters' of Foxhounds Association, said he was delighted the sport would resume, but added that the new licensing scheme could become a virtual 'saboteurs' charter' as permits could be refused if hunt organisers failed to control the activities if anyone following on foot.
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael outlined the new measures. Under the Government's conditions to resume hunting, each Hunt will have to inform officials of the date, time and location of each meeting, details of the area of country to be covered and the numbers taking part, he said.
Hunt secretaries will also have to keep a record for up ton six months after a permit lapses of any disputes and confrontations that arise at a meet.
Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett warned the rival factions that the elimination of foot and mouth disease must remain their top priority.
"WE call on all, whether people engaged on the hunt or people who follow the hunt, whether in support of opposition, to show restraint and obey the restrictions that are in place," said Mrs Beckett.
"I don't think anybody would be forgiven if, as a result of following veterinary advice, we brought about the resumption of foot and mouth."
Ministers were quick to placate anti-hunting critics that the decision to lift the temporary hunting ban was unrelated to the continuing debate over whether the sport should be outlawed.
Labour MPs opposed to the sport joined forces again last week with the anti-hunting lobby to demand another Parliamentary vote on legislation to ban the sport. Earlier this month, more than 200 MPs from all parties signed a motion calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to honour his manifesto pledge to find time for a vote on banning hunting with hounds.
However, the Government remains steadfast in its assertion that other Bills have priority, including the current raft of anti-terrorist legislation currently being debated within the House of Commons.