Poll: Do you agree with the Hunting Act? Should it be repealed?

The hounds get ready for the West Norfolk Fox Hounds Asscociation Boxing Day Hunt, starting from Fak

The hounds get ready for the West Norfolk Fox Hounds Asscociation Boxing Day Hunt, starting from Fakenham Race Course. Picture Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Ten years ago the Hunting Act had been passed and hunts in the region were setting off before the ban came into force the following February. With a general election looming, political editor Annabelle Dickson asks what impact the ban has had, and if things are likely to change after next May's election.

With the result of the next general election so uncertain, the future of fox hunting is even less settled.But one thing is becoming clearer. If the UK Independence Party does hold the balance of power, supporters of the activity should not be too optimistic about the prospects of overturning the ban.

Douglas Carswell, one of the party's two MPs, has said the legislation should remain in place. The East Anglian MP, who defected from the Conservatives earlier this year, said he believed there were much more pressing issues facing the area, also claiming it was not realistic that his own party's policy to hold a referendum in each county on the issue would see a ban overturned in Essex.

Speaking ahead of today's Boxing Day hunts, the University of East Anglia graduate said: 'killing small fluffy animals is not something that I am really in favour of'.

He will put himself at odds with the pro-hunting lobby which hopes that the election will herald an overturning of the ban on fox-hunting.

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Tim Bonner, from the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, blasted UKIP's policy, saying it was 'possibly the most idiotic policy on hunting that it is capable of imagining'.

'They want county by county referendums on whether hunting should be legal. Why it would be cruel to hunt a fox in Suffolk but okay in Essex? And how do you stop your hounds when you reach the border? I'm not quite sure.

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'Along with many areas of their rural policy, I think people, once they look beyond Nigel Farage's tweed jacket, find there is very little of substance in UKIP's rural agenda.

But UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Tim Bonner seemed to be 'lashing out against himself'.

'He was clearly conned by the Tories in 2010 when the Countryside Alliance poured in massive resources and delivered hundreds of thousands of leaflets for the Conservatives.

'The results of which have been nothing, no change in the law, no free vote, nothing at all. Conversely, what UKIP offer with our planned county- based referendums is a chance for rural people to have their say. It's simple, it is about democracy.'

A free vote on fox hunting was agreed in the coalition manifesto, subject to parliamentary time, but the Government has privately acknowledged that with just a few months until the election it will not take place this parliament.

But while the Conservatives have not yet published their manifesto, environment secretary Elizabeth Truss has voiced her support for a repeal.

'People should have the freedom to hunt. We've said that when parliamentary time allows there will be a free vote on this issue and I am personally committed to voting for repeal of the current legislation.'

Mr Carswell said: 'This is not even in my top 100 priorities, let alone top 10 priorities. We don't need a change in the law. I think leave things as they are. I personally would leave the ban in place as it is a the moment. When you go out with the hunt, ask yourself what it is that they want to do, that they can't do.

'People in Clacton and Frinton and Walton, they want me to try to fix the ambulance response times, they don't want me to get involved in a debate on a ban on ending hunting.'

Asked about his previous support for fox hunting as member of the Conservative Party, he said; 'It was party policy and I went along with it. But killing small fluffy animals is not something that I am really in favour of. My general view is that if you are going to hunt something eat it, but we don't eat foxes. My view is leave the ban in place.'

• Should the Hunting Act be repealed? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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