Opposition to Festival of Hunting in Peterborough defeated after fractious debate
A vote on whether Peterborough should show its opposition to the Festival of Hunting has been defeated.
City councillors voted on Wednesday on a motion which, if approved, would have forced the authority’s leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald to write to the chairman of the East of England Agricultural Society to request that it does not host the event at the Showground in the future.
However, votes from the Conservatives saw the motion defeated after a fractious debate.
The decision was celebrated from the Countryside Alliance which has criticised the motion for “wasting vital council time”.
The annual festival was held for the 133rd time last week, while the city council has previously banned all forms of hunting on its land.
The motion at Full Council was brought by Cllr Ansar Ali, Labour and Co-operative member for North ward, and seconded by Cllr Julie Howell, Green Party member for Orton Waterville.
Cllr Ali said it was “totally incorrect and absurd” to suggest he was discriminating against rural communities.
He added: “This cruel sport, its celebrations, is not supported by all sections of our rural community.
“I fail to understand how our fellow human beings can celebrate a so-called sport which is so cruel, (with) the suffering of these helpless creatures for fun, for a hobby. I say to those who seek a thrill in this barbaric and cruel sport, please find another hobby.”
In response, cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Coles said: “Are you seriously suggesting we ask a private company, on their own land, who have come to a contract with another private organisation, to run a lawful event, that we should write to them and say ‘oh, you can’t do that’?
“Are you seriously suggesting that?
“You suggest that trail hunting is a cruel sport. Occasionally there are accidents - we accept that happens - but it’s not actually a cruel sport.”
Cllr Coles, Conservative member for Fletton and Woodston, said no foxes would be harmed at the festival, adding: “If you really want to ban lawful events perhaps we should stop the dog show down there because it’s a companion animal and animal extremists don’t like the idea of companion animals because we’re obviously abusing them.
“Or maybe we’d like to ban Truckfest because it might be environmentally unsafe to support people driving lorries.
“I’m sorry, but this is a ridiculous motion.”
Cllr David Over, Conservative member for Barnack, said: “A Labour councillor from the centre of Peterborough is trying to tell people in the countryside exactly what to do and how to behave. Nonsense.”
Cllr Peter Hiller, cabinet member for strategic planning and commercial strategy and investments, described the motion as “divisive and discriminatory,” calling it “gesture politics” and suggesting it was a waste of officers’ time and taxpayers’ money.
Conservative member for Wittering Cllr Gavin Elsey said agreeing the motion could alienate the East of England Agriculture Society so it moves out of the city, while Cllr Irene Walsh, cabinet member for integrated adult social care, health and public health, questioned why a motion was being brought forward which delivered “moral judgements”.
She added: “Why not write to the people who can change things, like your MP.”
Opposition councillors, though, were not to be dissuaded.
Lib Dem member for Paston and Walton Cllr Simon Barkham said it was a “barbaric, outdated, cruel sport”.
He added: “If something isn’t illegal, it doesn’t make it right. In our British history slavery wasn’t illegal - did that make it right?
“This also needs to be changed.
“We’re asking for a simple letter. How much will that cost, how much time will that take?
“All you’re protecting is a tradition which makes no sense to any moral and progressive person. It’s a right wing of politics which is protecting this.”
He said opposition to the motion was based on elitism, something he claimed in turn leads to sexism and racism.
Labour and Co-operative member for Ravensthorpe Cllr Ed Murphy was next to speak. He said: “We need to focus on the abhorrent here. It’s not about trying to drive a business out of Peterborough.
“Glorifying cruelty is just wrong.”
Lib Dem member for Gunthorpe Cllr Sandra Bond said she had first-hand experience of fox hunting, adding: “I have seen the cubs ripped apart.
“If you think this is something we should be celebrating in a festival, then I am sad to say you are wrong.”
The party’s leader Cllr Nick Sandford (Paston and Walton) said: “It’s entirely right the council should express its opinion and that the festival celebrating this is simply not acceptable and should not be happening here in Peterborough.”
Cllr Fitzgerald then addressed the meeting to hit out at the “nonsense” motion and “political posturing”.
He continued: “Have we got any vegans in here? Because I’m sure somebody would like to write to me to ask that I lobby McDonald’s to stop selling hamburgers, and perhaps they might consider that.
“That’s how crazy this is.”
Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz (Park ward) described the council leader’s language as “divisive” and “patronising”.
Cllr Howell wanted to make it clear that the motion was not a criticism of the agricultural society or the Showground team, praising both for their contribution to the city.
She said the motion was “specific” and aimed at a one-day festival, adding: “Fox hunting was banned in this country in 2005. So why in 2021 is Peterborough providing a home to an event which celebrates it?”
Following the vote, the Countryside Alliance tweeted: “JUST IN: Pleased to see that councillors at Peterborough’s full Council meeting have voted DOWN a motion instructing the authority to outline its opposition to the annual Festival of Hunting, which is now proudly in its 133rd year. Thank you to those councillors.
“If it had passed, it would have achieved nothing but it would have wasted vital council time and resources which would be better spent on helping Peterborough residents out of this pandemic.”
The motion was defeated by 30 votes to 25 following some cries of “shame”.