Environment secretary George Eustice said there was a “settled consensus” for the Hunting Act to remain unchanged, amid controversy that trail-hunting was being used as a “smokescreen” for the banned practice.
It comes after the National Trust and Forestry England decided this week to suspend licences for trail hunting on their land while police investigate webinars by the governing body The Hunting Office, which discussed the activity.
Trail hunting is a legal activity which involves following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles to replicate a hunt, but animal rights campaigners argue it offers little protection for foxes. Eustice said that despite there being “strongly held views” on both sides of the debate, there are no plans to change the Hunting Act, which has banned fox hunting since 2005.
Speaking to ITV News, he said:
At a political level, there’s a settled consensus now that the Hunting Act should stay.
When asked for his view on Boxing Day hunts, he said:
I don’t think there’ll be any reason for that to change. They’re going out trail hunting as they have since the Hunting Act was introduced, and where there is law-breaking, where people breach the provisions of the Hunting Act, the police do take action.
The Lake District National Park, United Utilities, and Natural Resources Wales are the latest landowners to suspend trail hunting while police investigate two leaked training webinars involving huntsmen discussing trail hunting.
The Hunting Office, which administrates hunting across the UK, said the purpose of the webinars was to discuss legal hunting, while animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports claimed it was being used as a “smokescreen” for the chasing and killing of foxes.