Wildlife Crime — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:30 pm, 20th March 2019

Not only do I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I suspect—I cannot point to any evidence with me right now—that there is an element of organised crime behind some of that hare coursing. That would be damaging to farmers and rural communities, which perhaps have not been exposed to that level of organised crime in the past.

The NFU highlights the lack of resources for tackling wildlife crime, but crucially it has identified how the law can be toughened by extending criminal behaviour orders across a wider area than just the county in which the offence took place and by amending the Game Act 1831 to give police and magistrates the powers to seize dogs and reclaim associated kennelling costs from offenders.

Nowhere is the need for tougher laws more apparent than in the case of foxhunting. Local monitors have witnessed at least six foxes being killed by hunts in my own county of Cheshire this season. There were at least 10 additional reports of foxes being chased in the county and multiple reports of badger setts being blocked in the vicinity of hunts in Cheshire. Over the Christmas period, I and hon. Friends from the county were contacted by many constituents who shared horrific images and videos of foxes being slaughtered in hunts. It was those images and reports that led my hon. Friends and me to seek this debate in the House.

Laws were introduced for Scotland in 2002, and then for England and Wales in 2005 under the Hunting Act 2004, which was passed by the then Labour Government and banned the use of dogs to hunt foxes and wild mammals in England and Wales. Although those were welcome and hard-fought pieces of legislation, over- whelming evidence suggests that they are regularly being ignored or exploited by hunts. The 2004 Act bans the hunting of wild mammals—notably foxes, deer, hares and mink—with dogs in England and Wales. However, the Act does not cover the use of dogs in the process of flushing out a wild animal, nor does it affect trail hunting, where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent. The Government’s lack of political inclination to enforce or strengthen the laws lies at the heart of the issue.