28 November 1997

How the fox-hunting

Bill was born

FOX-HUNTING has thrown Michael Foster under the nations spotlight in a manner that few incoming MPs could have dreamed.

A keen politician since he was 16, Mr Foster took the Worcester seat for Labour with a comfortable majority in the May landslide, following a stint as secretary of Redditch Labour Party.

Born in the old mining community of Great Worley, Staffs, Mr Foster says he had a fairly rural upbringing, but always believed hunting was inherently cruel.

"Although there were no hunts in the local area because of the mineshafts, I cannot ever remember being in favour of hunting."

He believes much can be taken from Professor Batesons report The Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer, which was published in April.

In that study, Prof Bateson said there was clear-cut scientific evidence that hunting with hounds imposed extreme stress on red deer, and that shooting produced much lower levels of suffering.

"Prof Batesons report looks at the stress in the chase. Foxes are known as quick sprinters, but have little stamina, while hounds have been bred to have little speed but lots of stamina.

"The chase is designed to tire the fox out and then the animal face seconds of sheer terror as it is ripped apart by the hounds."

Mr Foster believes the use of dogs to flush foxes out from holes is also poor practice, and firmly believes that public opinion is behind him in his quest to ban fox hunting. He claims that 57% of the rural population, and 70% overall, want an end to the practice. Self-regulation by the hunts has failed, and a ban is essential, he claims.

He questions whether foxes are the pests that the farming community make them out to be. He believes that sick or rogue foxes are more likely to attack new-born lambs, piglets and chickens because they are unable to hunt other quarry.

And he says these rogue foxes can be shot, either by the farmer, or more preferably, by a skilled marksman, who would guarantee a quick kill.

While accepting that lambs do get killed by foxes, the MP says a far greater proportion die from cold and malnutrition.

Like many, he admits to being slightly surprised by the vociferous opposition of the pro-hunting lobby, which has included death threats to him and his wife.

The Countryside Rally, which saw 100,000 people descend on Hyde Park this summer was, he claims, an example of rural issues being hi-jacked by the hunting fraternity.

"Where was the talk about rural schools and education and rural transport issues?"

Mr Foster says he does not find Labours claim to be the party of the countryside incompatible with the ending of fox-hunting. "The Labour government wants to help rural communities," he stresses.

And he questions the claims that up to 25,000 jobs would be lost with a ban on fox hunting, saying mechanisation and CAP reform would continue to have a much larger impact than the Bill.

With the government not providing any extra parliamentary time, Mr Foster admits there may be a danger of opposition MPs trying to talk the Bill out, but he is hopeful of success.

The hunting lobby has claimed that once hunting is abolished, the Labour party will turn its eyes to angling and shooting, but Mr Foster vehemently denies the allegations.

"Comparing hunting to angling is like chalk and cheese, while people shoot to eat, which cannot be said for fox hunting, there are no plans to abolish these pastimes."

Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill

The bill covers hunting foxes, mink, deer and stag with dogs but will exempt wild rodents and rabbits, which are considered major agricultural pests.

&#8226 Police will have extra powers to search, and can make arrests without warrants – jail sentences of up to six months.

&#8226 Vehicles involved can be detained.

&#8226 Fines for injuring wild mammals of up to £5,000 per offence.

&#8226 Disqualification of keeping dogs if found guilty

&#8226 Wild animals can be flushed out by dogs from cover and lawfully shot for pest control purposes.

&#8226 One single dog can locate/recover any disabled wild mammal.

Farriers are among the many rural workers who could suffer frm a ban.

The second reading of Michael Fosters

hunting with hounds Bill takes place

today (Fri). Tony McDougal takes a

look at the views on both sides

of the divide.