This is undoubtedly a highly emotive issue and I recognise the depth of concern for the welfare of our animals and wildlife that lies at the heart of it.
While I appreciate the strength of feeling around this issue and calls for a new ‘Hunting of Mammals Act’, I am not aware of any plans for the Hunting Act 2004 to be amended or for new legislation to be introduced to Parliament.
The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs except where it is carried out in accordance with the exemptions in the Act. Those found guilty under the Act are subject to the full force of the law.
I am aware that many hunts have turned to trail hunting since the introduction of the Hunting Act in a pack of hounds follows an artificially laid, animal-based scent so does not involve a hunt for a live fox, and therefore is not banned.
Trail and drag hunting on the Defence estate remain legal activities provided they are carried out within the provisions of the Hunting Act 2004. A range of people and activities are allowed access to the MOD estate subject to prior controls. You might be interested to know in 2020-21, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation granted 18 licences for trail hunting, down from 26 in 2019-20.
I do recognise it is possible that dogs used for trail hunting may on occasion pick up and follow the scent of live foxes during a trail hunt. If that occurs, it is the responsibility of the huntsmen and women and other members of hunt staff to control their hounds and, if necessary, stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following the trail that has been laid.
I know that failure to prevent dogs from chasing or killing a fox may be taken as intent to break the law. Anyone who believes that an offence has taken place should report the matter to the police, as the police deal with complaints of illegal hunting.
Decisions on the arrest and prosecution of those taking part in illegal hunting activities are matters for the police and prosecuting authorities. They will, among other things, need to take into account any failure on behalf of the huntsman to prevent the dogs from chasing or killing a fox. If anybody is found to be breaking the law on this sort of activity, I would fully welcome prosecutions being brought.
Enforcement of the Hunting Act is an operational matter for the police. It is for individual Chief Constables to determine how their resources are deployed, and it is for locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners to hold their forces to account. This includes consideration of how the police tackle crimes that matter most to residents and businesses in rural and urban areas alike.