15 March 2002

ATOTALTRAVESTYWHENHUNTINGWITHDOGSISTOPPOLITICALPRIORITY

The injustice is almost perfect. Public services in rural and urban areas are grinding to a halt. The rural economy is struggling to recover from foot-and-mouth and profitability is at an all-time low. So to what does government devote valuable parliamentary time?

Perhaps failing public transport services leaving some country people prisoners in their own community? Perhaps law and order to remedy the rising tide of rural crime? Perhaps the appalling length of hospital waiting lists that puts some rural people in Wales more than two hours away from emergency hospitals? Perhaps another pressing problem that threatens to mire our country in yet more doubt and confusion?

No. It is hunting with hounds that this government considers merits precious parliamentary time. It is no secret that many Labour MPs wish to ban hunting. We believe that would be a tragedy for free choice. Its not that FW supports hunting; rather we support the right of individuals to decide for themselves.

We also recognise that the 318 registered hound packs in England and Wales generate untold £ms for the rural economy. Not least the 200 hunts which spend nearly £3.5m collecting 366,000 head of fallen stock each year.

Taking into account the value of hunt horses, probably about £1.7m, livery stables and equine supplies, total hunt expenditure reaches £14m; making hunting one of the biggest businesses in our countryside.

Businesses that Back Bench zealots wish to snuff out in the name of namby pamby animal welfare that owes more to Beatrix Potter than to the realities of modern rural life.

For once it would be good to see justice in our countryside. Freedom cannot, nor should be defined as the ability of the many to impose their wishes on the few. Lets hope that parliament can be persuaded to avoid an outright ban: For the sake of individual choice and the viability of rural businesses. Natural justice demands no less.