378 people have convicted under the Hunting Act over the last ten years, it has been revealed; a figure which equates to one person every fortnight being handed a criminal record for hunting with dogs. Those convicted faced fines of up to £5000 each.
A further 200 innocent people were scrutinised in investigations before being cleared of wrongdoing. It is unclear whether the figures reflect convictions which have been overturned on appeal.
The findings, revealed via a Parliamentary question, have prompted pro-hunting campaigners to renew their calls for the Conservative government to hold to it’s pledge to hold a free vote on repealing the legislation, first introduced by the Blair government in 2005.
A pro-hunting Conservative MP has told the Telegraph that the Prime Minister David Cameron is personally committed to seeing the vote take place. “I don’t think we should underestimate the Prime Minister’s personal enthusiasm for the subject,” the MP said. “This is one area of activity he does feel quite strongly about.”
But there are concerns within the party that a vote would fail, leaving the fate of hunting in England and Wales potentially hanging in the balance. To the disappointment of pro-hunting Conservative MPs, there were no announcements on hunting contained with the Queen’s Speech at the opening of Parliament, which sets the legislative agenda for the year.
The legislation has been repeatedly criticised not only for outlawing a traditional part of Britain’s culture, but also for being ineffective and unworkable. That criticism appears to be borne out in the figures, as they show that the majority of convictions were for poaching, which was already illegal before the Hunting Act was passed, and not for organised hunts.
Tim Bonner, director of campaign of Countryside Alliance said: “It is ironic that whilst Labour MPs spent 700 hours of parliamentary time pursuing red coated fox hunters the vast majority of prosecutions under the Hunting Act have nothing to do with hunts.
“Many of those convicted are poachers, such as those using lurchers to hunt hares, and could have been prosecuted under legislation that predates the Hunting Act.”
Hunting campaigners believe that 300 votes to the affirmative will be enough to scrap the law. But while the Conservative Party currently has 331 Members of Parliament, 21 are expected to vote to keep the current legislation, and a further 30 are undecided.
Just six Labour MPs are expected to vote to repeal the law. But the biggest threat would come from the Scottish National Party deciding to take part in the vote.
The Party traditionally abstains on matters which don’t affect Scotland (hunting was restricted north of the border by the Scottish Parliament in 2002). SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has previously indicated that they would do the same in a vote on repealing the Hunting Act, but in recent weeks senior SNP figures in Westminster have moved away from that position recently, as the temptation to sabotage the Conservatives on the matter grows.