Norfolk MP demands new hunt ban inquiry

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AN INQUIRY should be set up to investigate the effects of the hunting ban on the countryside, an MP has claimed.

George Freeman, who represents Mid-Norfolk, made the call when he addressed supporters of the West Norfolk Fox Hounds at their traditional Boxing Day meeting at Fakenham Racecourse this week.

But animal welfare charities have dismissed the suggestion, insisting that the current law can and should be enforced.

Mr Freeman, who supports the abolition of the Hunting Act, condemned the ban as “illegitimate, unenforceable and ill-conceived” and said a Parliamentary inquiry should examine the evidence in favour of its repeal.

He told supporters that hunts played a vital role in supporting the rural economy and were part of the nation’s heritage.

But he added: “Hunts are only surviving because the ban is unenforceable. Their survival is fragile and unsustainable. The ban is having a hugely damaging impact.

“At a time when we need all the jobs and growth we can get, we should repeal the ban and bring hunting back within a new regulatory code of conduct for country sports with proper evidence based monitoring of the many and various animal welfare and environmental impacts of hunts.”

He said he supported the government’s commitment to allow MPs a free vote on the issue.

But he believes an inquiry should take place first in order to establish the exact impact of the ban on the countryside.

He said: “All the anecdotal evidence is that the ban is bad for animal welfare, bad for the countryside, bad for the rural economy and a waste of police resources.

“Let’s look at the evidence properly so we can decide on repeal on the basis of the facts rather than political bigotry and class war against the countryside.”

Mr Freeman highlighted former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s admission in his memoirs that the hunting ban was the piece of domestic legislation he most regretted.

And he urged the public to see their local hunts for themselves and form their own judgements based on evidence instead of what he described as “ideological politics.”

But the League Against Cruel Sports has rejected Mr Freeman’s demands, pointing out that a senior police officer supported their view that the law can be enforced as it stands.

They said the law had taken away the right of hunts to take part in what they see as an inhumane activity.

And a spokesman said: “We believe the Hunting Act is working, so an inquiry isn’t necessary.”

The league say there have been more than 180 prosecutions nationally since the ban came into force in 2005 and claim their own survey of MPs suggests that any vote in favour of repealing the act would be lost by a majority of around 70.

“I don’t think any other piece of legislation has been so closely scrutinised”, the spokesman said.

“There is not a majority in favour (of repeal) and the public do not support it.”

n: South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss has also had her say on the hunting debate. See page 12.