Hunting Act should stay, says Environment Secretary George Eustice

Fox hunting is banned. Credit: PA

Words by ITV News Wales and West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

In his first interview since ITV News revealed that police were investigating online meetings held by hunting’s governing body, Environment Secretary George Eustice says "there’s a settled agreement that the Hunting Act should stay".

This may surprise some as the Act is often cited as "bad law" by both supporters of hunting, many of whom would like it repealed, and animal rights activists who argue exemptions in the law offer little protection to foxes. 

In a week that has seen major landowners such as the National Trust, Forestry England and Natural Resources Wales suspend hunting on their land, Mr Eustice said: "It's always been the case that individual farmers and individual landowners will take their own view about whether or not they want hands on their land."

He believes that "things have moved on” and despite “strongly held views on both sides of this debate we don’t plan to change it [the hunting act]".

Asked whether he thought it right that hunts should gather as they traditionally do in large numbers on Boxing Day, he said: "I don't think there'll be any reason for that to change they're going out trail hunting as they have since the Hunting Act was introduced, and where there is law breaking where people breach the provisions of the Hunting Act, the police do take action."

The list of major landowners who have suspended hunting until police complete their work continues to grow with the Lake District National Park and Natural Resources Wales joining England’s largest landowner United Utilities, Forestry England & the National Trust. 

Governing body The Hunting Office say the content of their web meetings "dealt with legal trail hunting and managing animal rights activism" and have been taken out of context.

Trail hunting is when hunts lay a fake scent for hounds to follow, anti-hunting activists argue trail laying is a cover giving legal protection to hunts to chase and kill foxes which has been illegal since 2004.

In the meetings, words like “smokescreen” are used when discussing trail hunting, leading to large numbers of complaints to the police.

Hunting and the killing of foxes, legally or illegally, continues to cause friction in the countryside and the fact that a government minister believes the issue is settled is unlikely to make it go away.