A Labour MP called hunts out for having “betrayed” public trust. And is now demanding the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to end its licensing of hunting.
On 12 May, the Yorkshire Post published a part of a speech by Labour MP Rachael Maskell demanding the government to ban “trail hunting and hunting on public land”. She said hunts have repeatedly “betrayed the trust placed in them to stay within the spirit and letter of the law”, leaving no other option but a “complete ban” on trail hunting. The MP also highlighted the MOD’s ongoing licensing of hunts as a particular aberration in a time when every other major public landowner has suspended or halted their licences.
The Yorkshire Post article is a paired down version of Maskell’s speech during a Westminster debate on 25 April. The debate occurred after two petitions pushed by Keep The Ban on the government website exceeded 100,000 signatures. One was to end Forestry England’s hunting licences, the other to introduce legislation against hunting in residential areas or other public spaces. This was also known as Mini’s Law, after a cat killed by hounds of the Western Hunt.
Maskell’s wide-ranging indictment of trail hunting and the Hunting Act highlighted the scale of convictions under the Hunting Act. She said the law has “resulted in 448 prosecutions and 228 convictions”. Despite the extent of known crimes, Maskell points out that many more go without prosecution, saying “without a complete ban on hunting, foxes and hares will be targeted”. And these unaccountable crimes are good reason for the Ministry of Defence needs to ban hunting on its land.
This isn’t the first time Maskell has spoken out publicly against hunting. On 27 December 2021, as that year’s Boxing Day hunts were going ahead, local paper The Northern Echo reported that Maskell planned to tighten up hunting legislation. Having recently stepped down as a cabinet front bencher at the time, the paper said Maskell was now able to propose such amendments and “was determined to do so”.
Following the 25 April debate, Keep The Ban published a reflection on the “long time coming” event asking if it was “worth the wait”. Founder Rob Pownall, who was present at the event, asked “was anything meaningful said?”, before answering bluntly:
“the short and perhaps pessimistic answer is a straight no.”
Nonetheless, what the debate brought up – and the Yorkshire Post article has helped promote – is the need to end hunting on MOD land. The ministry is the last major public landowner to have continued licensing hunts after others including National Trust, Forestry England and Natural Resources Wales pulled their schemes.
During the Westminster debate, another Labour MP backed the campaign to stop hunts using public land. Ruth Jones, the shadow environment minister, said:
“We need action and we need this Government to stand up and be counted. We need to stop public land being used by those seeking to play around with the rules. Despite the exposure of trail hunting as a smokescreen for illegal hunting, the Government have continued to allow and license trail hunting on Government land—particularly land owned by the Ministry of Defence.”
Taking country away from hunts is one of the most effective means of tackling them. The transition of the New Forest Hounds into a bloodhound pack following hunting licence suspension by Forestry England shows that.
With the MOD having licensed 23 hunts during the 2021/22 season, a suspension or termination would prove a major blow. And with a court case for illegal hunting on MOD land coming up in June, the end of the campaign may be worth the wait.
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