Polls reveal hunting ban divisions

STEVE DOWNES The controversial ban on hunting with hounds was back in the spotlight last night as the public had its say in two contrasting votes. Almost 2,600 people voted on the EDP website on whether to repeal the 2004 law - with a significant majority saying they wanted to keep it.

STEVE DOWNES

The controversial ban on hunting with hounds was back in the spotlight last night as the public had its say in two contrasting votes.

Almost 2,600 people voted on the EDP website on whether to repeal the 2004 law - with a significant majority saying they wanted to keep it.

But a national radio poll, asking which law people most wanted to scrap in 2007, saw more than half of voters opt for abolishing the hunting act.

The confusion deepened as pro-hunting lobby groups were accused of distorting it by conducting a concerted drive to encourage activists to vote.

The two votes come a week after record numbers of supporters turned out for the traditional Boxing Day hunts in East Anglia, with many calling for the end of the “farcical” law.

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The poll results rekindle an issue that refuses to go away - as demonstrated by the large number of people who had their say in the EDP24 online poll.

Of the 2,590 votes, 1,437 (55pc) said the ban should stay, 1,086 (42pc) said it should be repealed and 67 people said they did not care.

Meanwhile the poll for Radio Four's Today programme saw 52.8pc of listeners call for the repeal of the hunting act - well ahead of the 29.7pc who wanted to see the back of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the Common Market in 1972.

The Countryside Alliance admitted it had encouraged people to vote, but eastern regional director Liz Mort said the outcome was a fair reflection of public feeling on the issue.

She said: “The vast majority of people in the country couldn't care less because hunting doesn't affect them. For those involved in hunting, they feel enormously strongly that it should keep going.

“A small proportion of people want to get rid of it.”

Mrs Mort said the law was “farcical”.

“I'm allowed to let my dog catch a rat in the kitchen but not a mouse. I can let the cat chase either of them. This law does nothing for animal welfare. It is an anti-people act. I think it will be overturned.”

Last night it was revealed that the panel which selected five acts to be included in Today's end-of-year poll considered excluding the hunting ban because of evidence of a concerted campaign to skew the result.

Presenter Ed Stourton said there were “suspicions that there was an organised campaign at work”.

And Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, an opponent of hunting and member of the panel which assessed nominations for the poll, said: “Undeniably, the Countryside Alliance pulled out every last stop to get this result.

“We did hesitate on the panel to put this one forward because there was already evidence of links from the Countryside Alliance - encouragement etc - and of course we had the Boxing Day meets, when just about everybody who actively supports hunting would have been out and could have been reminded.”

Since December 22, visitors to the Countryside Alliance website have seen an appeal to vote in the poll, along with a link to the Today site to make it easier for them to take part.

A message from chief executive Simon Hart read: “Of course this government is not going to admit the gross error of allowing the hunting act on to the statute book by legislating for its removal, but winning this vote will add to the growing momentum for a future parliament to scrap it.”

t The 2004 act made hunting with dogs a criminal offence although exercising hounds chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot are all still legal.

Loopholes in the law are continually being exploited such as an exemption that allows the hunting of dogs with a bird of prey.