The leader of the hunting community in the region has spoken out for the first time against the Government’s refusal to allow a vote on repealing the hunting ban.
Sir Barney White-Spunner, the Dorset-based chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, criticised the view taken by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson that a free vote must not be rushed.
It is the first such intervention from a community that had backed the government line that ministers had more important things to worry about and follows the first successful prosecution of a hunt – the Cotswolds-based Heythrop.
After Christmas, Mr Paterson said he wanted the Hunting Act repealed, but confirmed the Conservatives’ promise of a free vote on whether the issue should be debated by MPs again would not happen any time soon.
“There’s only a point having a vote if you’re going to win,” said the Environment Secretary. “At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote which we were going to lose. There needs to be more work done on MPs.”
Sir Barney said he disagreed with that view, and said he was confident the vote could be won as more MPs might changed their minds on repeal if the issue was debated again.
“While we understand the difficulties of coalition and that the numbers in the House of Commons are undoubtedly very close, we believe that a vote on repeal could be won, not least because any debate would again expose the Act as an illogical and illiberal mess,” he said.
Sir Barney believes there are fewer Conservative MPs opposed to repeal but that Scottish Labour MPs, voting on a law which affects England and Wales, are a problem.
“Support has grown to a point that we could be confident of winning a vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act among MPs in England and Wales, where the law takes effect,” he added.
Anti-hunt groups, including the League Against Cruel Sports, IFAW and the RSPCA, said the vast majority – three-quarters – of the population wanted the Act to stay.
Meanwhile, a fundraising campaign has been launched to help pay the legal bill and fines of the three huntsmen with the Heythrop Hunt, and the hunt itself, who all pleaded guilty to illegal hunting last season in the Cotswolds.
The Alliance paid tribute to Julian Barnfield, the now-retired hunt master of the Heythrop, after he admitted illegally hunting a fox three times in Gloucestershire and once in Oxfordshire. Sir Barney described the court case against him as ‘the RSPCA’s vendetta’.
“No other huntsman has had to endure so many allegations. He has never shirked from the limelight, being a consistently brilliant advocate,” said Sir Barney.
A Heythrop meet takes place in February to raise funds for the £25,000 fines and costs.