FOX HUNTING is not a big issue for those living in the countryside, junior DEFRA minister Alun Michael has told a fringe event at the Labour party conference in Brighton.

Speaking on Monday (Sept 27), at the meeting organised by the Countryside Agency Mr Michael said: “Hunting is part of my brief, but it is not an issue the government is passionate about.”

Mr Michael did acknowledge that hunting does attract strong opinions.

But he insisted that rural people – like urban people – are more concerned about issues like job creation and affordable housing.

“This has been a divisive issue for many years. We‘ve had seven or nine votes on hunting over the several years because individual MPs have raised the issue.

“That‘s why we decided to resolve it,” Mr Michael said.

He paid tribute to the backbenchers who were willing to accept a delay to the fox hunting ban coming into effect, to give people time to adjust.

“But at the end of the day, if there can be no accommodation [with the pro-hunting lobby] – the issue has to be resolved,” Mr Michael said.

Like Margaret Beckett and John Prescott the day before, Mr Michael emphasised that the government does care about rural issues.

He referred to a survey published last week (w/e Sept 24) that showed people in rural areas had roughly the same levels of satisfaction with public services as people in urban areas.