More than 430 convictions under the Hunting Act have been secured over a decade, figures reveal amid demands to strengthen the law as Boxing Day parades get under way.
Labour recommitted to closing “loopholes” in the law and warned trail hunting – where a scent is laid for hounds to follow – is being used as a “smokescreen” for the illegal hunting of foxes.
Official figures compiled by the party show 438 convictions – including 42 last year – were secured since 2010 under the Act that banned hunting wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.
Separately, the League Against Cruel Sports said there have been 303 reports of either suspected illegal hunting or hunt “havoc”, such as trespass, road interference and disturbing animals, over five weeks up to December 7.
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon: “The government must do more to close the loopholes that allow people to break the law, and to consign hunting to the history books.
“Labour is the party of animal welfare and in Government we will go further to protect animal welfare by putting an end to trail hunting.”
The Countryside Alliance, which campaigns for the return of the bloodsport, accused Labour of harbouring a “pointless political vendetta against hunting” that would “waste even more legislative time”.
Chairman Nick Herbert said: “Labour’s position is utterly illogical and the large number of prosecutions under the Hunting Act only shows that the legislation is perfectly effective.
“Labour is drawing battle lines in the countryside when it should be trying to unite the country.”
For fox hunters, the Boxing Day meet is traditionally the largest of the year.
It can be a fractious, violent occasion. ITV News learned that just under half of all police forces have put plans in place for this year’s meets in an attempt to keep the peace between pro-hunters and their "anti" fox-hunting opponents.
League Against Cruel Sports campaigns chief Emma Judd argued their figures show hunting has a “negative impact” on rural communities and it is “time for change”.
“People will see the hunts out today and not know that behind the finery is a so-called sport that sees public lives endangered on roads and railways, livestock worried by out-of-control hounds, and in some cases domestic pets killed,” she said.
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“Only by strengthening the law on hunting can communities, wildlife and rural values be protected.”
In Scotland, environment minister Mairi McAllan said loopholes around fox hunting will be closed as the Hunting With Dogs Bill goes through its final stage in 2023.
Since 2002, it has been against the law there to hunt a wild mammal with a dog, but exceptions have been allowed in some circumstances and the Bill aims to minimise the risk of wild animals being caught.
Ministers in Westminster, however, have no plans to strengthen the legislation.
A UK government spokesman said: “The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs and anyone who believes that an offence has taken place should report the matter to the police.
“Those found guilty under the Act are subject to the full force of the law.”