Minister visits local hunt and reignites big debate

TRADITION: Master of the Hounds George Adams, centre, leads the Fitzwilliam Hunt out of Stilton on Boxing Day. (METP-26-12-11PF213) Pictures: PAUL FRANKS

TRADITION: Master of the Hounds George Adams, centre, leads the Fitzwilliam Hunt out of Stilton on Boxing Day. (METP-26-12-11PF213) Pictures: PAUL FRANKS

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AGRICULTURE Minister Jim Paice claimed that the Hunting Act is not working when he met the sport’s supporters at a post-Christmas meet in Peterborough.

Mr Paice visited kennels in Milton Park which house 100 dogs that are used by the Fitzwilliam Hunt and during the visit he said: “The current law simply doesn’t work.

“I am in favour of hunting with dogs – and the coalition agreement clearly states that we will have a free vote on whether to repeal the act.”

His comments came shortly before hunting enthusiasts turned out in force to enjoy the traditional sight of the Fitzwilliam Hunt’s annual Boxing Day meet at Stilton.

The meeting attracted about 600 people who watched 40 dogs and 60 horses take part in the bloodless hunt, which took place in and around the village on Monday.

Since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005, hounds have not been able to pursue foxes, deer, hares and mink.

But supporters of hunting continue meeting in a bid to repeal the ban and maintain finances and membership in the hope the ban will be overturned.

On the Boxing Day Hunt none of the English fox hound dogs were muzzled, but organisers stringently stuck to the law they want to repeal.

George Bowyer, master of the Fitzwilliam Hunt, said: “The law was brought in because the Labour government didn’t want to see upper class twits like myself hunting.

“What they don’t realise is that it affects everybody, and the rural community know that hunting is the best way of dealing with the problems caused by foxes.

“The anti-brigade say hunting is immoral, but the ban says we can hunt mice and rabbits, but not foxes or deer. That shows it is not a question of morality. We had a lot of people out to show their support for the hunting traditions on Boxing Day. It was the first time we have been able to get out on a hunt for the last two years because the weather was so bad. Even though the ban is in place we are not scaling things down. We need to keep a presence.”

The hunt involves dogs sniffing out fox urine imported from America and daubed around the area by officials, but not chasing the animals.

However, hunting critics maintain that hunting is still outdated and the ban should remain.

League Against Cruel Sports chief executive Joe Duckworth said: “It is appalling that people can think chasing a wild animal with hounds to the point of exhaustion and then watch it be killed is acceptable.”

The hunt will meet to celebrate the new year. It will meet at noon outside the Haycock Hotel, London Road, Wansford on January 2.