Essex & Suffolk MPs split on planned amendments to fox hunting ban

Last year's Boxing Day hunt in Hadleigh.

Last year's Boxing Day hunt in Hadleigh. - Credit: Archant

Hunt organisers in Suffolk and Essex say they welcome proposed changes to the ban on fox hunting – but are disappointed it does not go any further.

James Buckle

James Buckle - Credit: Archant

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced this week it was putting forward some “technical amendments” to the Hunting Act.

It would bring the law in line with Scotland by allowing more than two dogs to be used to flush out prey to then be killed by a bird of prey or by shooting under an exemption for pest control.

However, it will still be illegal for wild animals to be killed by dogs.

MPs will be given a free vote on the issue – meaning they will not be guided by party whips – expected to be on Wednesday.

Last year's Bury St Edmunds' Boxing Day Hunt sets off from Hawstead, Pinford End.

Last year's Bury St Edmunds' Boxing Day Hunt sets off from Hawstead, Pinford End. - Credit: Archant

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James Buckle, master at the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, said he welcomed anything that makes hunting easier – but said if this was all that was being offered then he was disappointed.

He said: “This vote does not make much difference to us here, but in Wales and in hilly country it will make it much easier to manage the fox population.

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“Two hounds is clearly a joke. This makes the law slightly more logical but it is still barking mad.

“I would much prefer an overall vote on the ban as a whole. They promised a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act and this is clearly not that.

“I imagine we will end up with neither side very happy.”

Mr Buckle added that despite the ban, introduced under Labour in 2005, the sport was still going strong.

“Hunting is in rude good health,” he added.

Lesley Henniker-Major, master of the Suffolk Hunt, said: “Any reform of the Hunting Act has got to be a good thing. It’s as simple as that.”

Anti-hunt campaigners have described the vote as a way of getting round the ban.

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “This is nothing but sneaking hunting in through the back door.

“By amending the Hunting Act like this, the Government are deliberately and cynically making it easier for hunts to chase and kill foxes, and harder for them to be

convicted when they break the law.

“This is not about hunting foxes for pest control. It’s about hunting foxes for fun.

“What will this change actually mean in reality? It means bringing back hunting, as simple as that.

The region’s MPs are split on the controversial issue, with many backing the changes as purely technical amendments.

James Cleverly, Braintree’s MP, said the government was doing what it could to make the ban workable, and with such a divisive issue there was not an opportunity to do anything more fundamental with it.

Describing the amendments as “a step in the right direction” he added: “Having spoken to people in the constituency who hunt, nobody is in the mood for another very contentious long drawn-out review, particularly because a lot of people realise there’s really important stuff to be getting on with.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he would be supporting the amendments to “harmonise with Scotland” saying it was “silly” to have different laws on the issue between Scotland and England, and adding that a ban “does not protect the welfare of animals”.

Therese Coffey, Suffolk Coastal representative, agreed saying the small changes were “proportionate and common sense” making the ban more “workable”, while Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said he could not understand how anyone could object to the adjustment to match the law in Scotland.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous also backed bringing the law in line with Scotland.

Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, said he had heard passionate views from both sides of the debate but personally felt hunting had a part to play in rural life.

He added: “Hunting provides rural employment and an effective way to control the fox population. I welcome these amendments and intend to vote in favour of them.”

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge said he had received a large amount of correspondence from both sides of the debate and he backed the changes as a “sensible” way of moving to a position which “respects the liberty of those who hunt, but for those concerned about animal welfare would have the consolation this would not be a full repeal”.

However he added: “Parliament has expended a huge amount of time and energy on hunting, and I hope that is a fair basis to finally move on to the many other critical issues the nation has to focus on.”

Not all the region’s MPs are in favour of the changes.

Dan Poulter, north Ipswich and central Suffolk MP, said he intended to vote against the changes while new Colchester MP Will Quince said: “I share the concerns which the people of Colchester have about fox hunting and will vote accordingly.”

Douglas Carswell has previously said he does not support hunting and that the issue is not a priority, while his party has proposed individual referendums on the issue in each county.

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