Poll: Are the regulations introduced by the Hunting Act tough enough?

A decade since it came into force, the ban on hunting wild animals with hounds, pushed through by Labour in 2004, continues to divide opinion.

Poll: Are the regulations introduced by the Hunting Act tough enough?

The League Against Cruel Sports has described the Hunting Act as "the most successful piece of wild animal welfare legislation in history", and claims it has the backing of the wider public.

But the Countryside Alliance, which fought a long campaign to highlight the damage the Act would cause, says the legislation was pushed through "without a jot of evidence" to suggest that hunting with dogs was cruel, labelling it an "illiberal attack on a rural minority".

The law, a culmination of years of political wrangling, was pushed through by Labour backbenchers in November 2004 and brought about a total ban on hunting with dogs, outlawing fox-hunting, deer-hunting and hare coursing with dogs.

At the time the law was passed, one of the most outspoken opponents of the ban was Otis Ferry, son of Roxy Music star Brian Ferry, and joint master of the South Shropshire Hunt.

Along with seven others, he stormed into the chamber of the House of Commons during the bill's third reading, in what was the first invasion of the chamber since 1641. It was reported that he dressed up as a builder to avoid being picked up by security.

A decade on, the arguments still rage, with anti-hunting groups calling for the ban to be defended and strengthened and pro-hunt lobbyists confident that it will be repealed following a pledge by the Coalition Agreement to a free vote on the matter.

Michael Stephenson, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, says the ban has been very effective.

He says: "It averages a prosecution every week and has a 65 per cent conversion rate from prosecution to conviction. Equally important is that it is not just successful but also popular. Independent polling has found that 80 per cent of the British public do not want to see a return to hunting with dogs."

Despite the Act, hunting remains strong as a minority activity, according to the Countryside Alliance.

Each year around 300 different organisations arrange approximately 15,000 days of hunting, ranging from the well-known events such as the organised Boxing Day hunts held across Shropshire, to small operations with packs of beagles followed by just three or four people.

Countryside Alliance campaigns director Tim Bonner says: "On Boxing Day and opening meets there is a huge amount of support, with 40,000 to 45,000 hunting on a regular basis.

"The law has proved just as unworkable, pointless and wasteful as we predicted."

He claims the Hunting Act does not even benefit the foxes."Anti-hunt groups spent around £30 million to put the Hunting Act on the Statute Book– since then they have not spent a penny to show the impact it has had on animal welfare."

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