Norfolk MP says fox hunting ban has had “damaging impact” on countryside

A Norfolk MP is calling for a parliamentary committee to set up, to review the impact of the fox hunting ban on the countryside.

Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman's comments came as Britain's biggest animal welfare group said the ban and subsequent enforcement have been increasingly successful when it comes to combating cruelty in the countryside, pointing to an increase in successful prosecutions.

As members of the West Norfolk Hunt and their followers gather at Fakenham Racecourse today, Mr Freeman said: 'The annual Boxing Day meets are part of our national heritage.

'Tens of thousands of people across Britain – from the upland Fell packs to the West Norfolk – will be showing their support for their local hunts.

'Through their employment of people in often remote areas, their membership and events, support for pony clubs and the wider equestrian economy, local hunts play a vital role in the rural economy.

'Horse racing in particular is dependent on the hunts for the network of point to points which underpin National Hunt Racing.'

Mr Freeman said hunts had survived because the ban was unenforceable. Cash-strapped police forces acrosss the land do not see hunting as a major priority on the operational front.

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'Their survival is fragile and unsustainable,' said Mr Freeman. '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.

'I am pleased that the coalition government has committed to a free vote on the ban in its coalition agreement.

'But before we have that vote, let's set up a parliamentary committee of inquiry to find out what effect the ban is really having.

'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.'

Along with the West Norfolk, the North Norfolk Harriers will be meeting at Sennowe Park today, the Waveney Harriers at Bungay and the Dunston Harriers at Wymondham.

As hunts prepared for a day which has become a show of defiance since the Hunting Act became law in 2005, a new report from one of their main opponents claimed it was working well and had been more successful than other pieces of legislation aimed at tackling wildlife crime.

The RSPCA said 73pc of the 49 prosecutions taken out against those suspected of hunting with dogs in 2010 were successful.

The 36 convictions representing an increase of 10pc on 2009.

Claire Robinson, the society's government relations manager, said: 'The Act is now in its seventh year and remains pivotal in protecting wildlife and preventing cruelty in this country – any suggestions that it does not work are ridiculous.

'It seems incredible to me that anyone ever thought it was acceptable to pursue and attack a wild animal with a pack of dogs – leading to an utterly pointless death.

'This act has ensured this vile practice is a thing of the past, and I hope it stays that way.'

The RSPCA says it is 'extremely alarmed' by the prospect of a free vote on repeal.

It claims a YouGov poll this month showed that nearly 80pc of the public thought hunting was outdated, while 8pc considered it acceptable and 2pc thought it was humane.

What worries the RSPCA is obvious. While they did not quite achieve a big enough majority to form a government without forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives are the biggest party in parliament.

There has been frustration behind the scenes in some quarters that 18 months after the election, there is still no timescale regarding a repeal vote.

'The prime minister made it clear at the last election that we would have a vote on repeal this parliament and that commitment is retained ion the coalition agreement; I'm confident that will be honoured,' said Mr Freeman.

'The issue is to make sure that the decision is made in a way that reflects what has actually happened since the ban was passed.

'We've got 250 new MPs, we've got a new government and, crucially, we've got several years of experience of the ban and its actual impact.'

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