15 March 2002

Hunting debate masks the real crisis in country

By Stephen Howe and Mike Stones

THE governments focus on hunting with dogs is hijacking attention from real rural concerns, warns Countryside Alliance chief executive Richard Burge.

"Bringing hunting back on the agenda is allowing the government to conceal the deep crisis which exists in the countryside," he said.

"Attention is being deflected from important issues such as the aftermath of foot-and-mouth, lack of profitability in rural businesses and inadequate public services including transport, health care and education."

Most MPs are more concerned with attracting votes from towns and cities in their constituencies where most of their voters live, he added.

Even in the 83 or so marginal rural constituencies, in many cases fewer than 25% of the population lives in rural parishes.

Nevertheless, there is much rural people can do to make their feelings known, said Mr Burge.

"Those who care about rural issues and hunting should note which way their MP votes on Monday (Mar 18) and act accordingly at the next election."

MPs and peers will be given the chance to vote for three options: A total ban; statutory control through regulation or status-quo, known as self regulation.

farmers weekly contacted six MPs from rural marginal constituencies representing all three major parties to canvass their voting intentions. &#42

&#8226 1000 people are employed directly by hunts in England and Wales. 14,000 people in jobs that would be lost if hunting was banned. 30,000 part-time workers could be affected, according to the Countryside Alliance.

&#8226 The Burns Report (Dec 99). An estimated 6000-8000 full-time equivalent jobs depend on hunting. The inquiry noted the difficulty of finding firm figures.

&#8226 Total hunt revenue expenditure is estimated at £14.07m/yr, 40% is direct employment with capital expenditure averaging £2.9m in total.

&#8226 About 200 hunts collect 366,000 head of fallen stock/year. Hunts estimate they spend a total of £3.37m/yr on this service or £9.20/animal.

Hilton Dawson

Party: Labour.

Constituency: Lancaster and Wyre.

Majority: 481.

Intention: Vote for a total ban.

Reasons: "Hunting is cruel and unnecessary and has no place in the twenty-first century. Farmers who need to deal with foxes will shoot them. A ban wont put people out of work as far as I can see."

Adrian Flook

Party: Conservative.

Constituency: Taunton, Somerset.

Majority: 235.

Intention: Vote to maintain status quo.

Reasons: "People should be allowed to carry out their lawful business and that includes hunting. Im not interested in a compromise."

Norman Lamb

Party: LibDem.

Constituency: North Norfolk.

Majority: 483.

Intention: Vote for statutory control via self regulation.

Reasons: "As a Liberal, I feel concerned about banning things. Banning hunts wouldnt result in fewer foxes being killed; they would just be killed in a different way. Theres a danger of the urban elite getting into a battle with rural people and its not helpful to create a divide at this time."

Diana Organ

Party: Labour.

Constituency: Forest of Dean, Glos.

Majority: 2049.

Intention: Unable to vote but would have supported a total ban.

Reasons: Ms Organ is unable to vote because she is accompanying a select committee visit to New Zealand, said her constituency organiser Annie Lapington. "Diana is a long-term opponent of hunting. She believes it is morally wrong to chase and kill one animal with another animal."

David Tredinnick

Party: Conservative.

Constituency: Bosworth, Leics.

Majority 2280.

Intention: Unable to vote but supports status quo. Paired with ban supporter.

Reasons: "As a former Master of Hounds, I have always been a great supporter of hunting. I think it is a matter of personal liberty and a substantial number of jobs depend on hunting. Many people in my constituency – and elsewhere – will suffer tremendously if hunting is banned."

Gareth Thomas

Party: Labour.

Constiuency: Clwyd West, north Wales.

Majority 1115.

Intention: Not to support a ban on hunting.

Reasons: "In my view, its not appropriate for the state to intervene in this matter to criminalise activities that have been taking place for many years. I accept this is a minority view in my party and Ive received flack from my constituency office. Im considering my position on which option to back."