Question 24/21

Question:

I am writing to urge you to please help protect the rights of those living within your area by supporting the continuation of a lawful activity which sometimes takes place on council owned land.

With an extraordinary lack of objectivity given the huge pressure that local councils, along with everyone else, have been under during the Covid crisis, animal rights activists are lobbying local councils to withdraw access for hunts to operate on their land as part of a nationwide campaign. Their campaign uses spurious allegations of law-breaking and cynical suggestions of health and safety issues in an attempt to deny people the opportunity to enjoy themselves.

Many of the country’s 250 registered trail hunts meet in council-owned public spaces either on Boxing Day – or at some other time throughout the year – where hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of local residents turn out to support, either by participating or spectating. Trail hunting – where an artificial scent is laid across the countryside for the hounds to follow – is a lawful activity that is enjoyed by thousands of participants.

The Hunting Act came into force in February 2005 which restricted traditional quarry hunting with hounds. It therefore does not matter whether one is in favour of traditional hunting or opposed to it when it comes to considering the future of trail hunting on council-owned land. What matters is that people are treated equally and fairly when seeking to undertake lawful activities on public land. There should be a presumption in favour of lawful activity on publicly owned land and the council should be seeking to maximise, not restrict, public enjoyment of any land held as a public asset for everyone.

The banning of people from council land without evidence of their wrong doing goes against all concepts of justice, where a person is innocent until proven guilty. If any person or group is to be banned from council land it should be as a result of that person or group having been found guilty of some offence.

Councils allow – and can only allow – lawful activity and they should continue to do so without discrimination. If there is evidence of unlawful activity by any person or group operating on council land then that is a matter of evidence for the police and courts so should be reported and investigated appropriately.

Where local councils – including Essex County Council, North Northamptonshire Council and Cherwell District Council – have been asked to vote on this matter, evidence and reason have continued to prevail, with all three authorities resisting the pressure from a small group of activists. Councils across the country continue to permit hunts to meet on their land however, there are concerns that some activists are trying to stop these legal activities “through the back door”.

Health and safety matters are taken very seriously by registered hunts and regular discussions are held between the hunt officials and their local council representatives to ensure they meet the necessary requirements ahead of any meet on council land. There is no evidence to suggest that public safety is at risk by allowing meets to continue in these areas and every effort is made to minimise disruption on the day.

I am writing to show my support to all the local councils that continue to allow meets on their land and to urge you as a councillor, to contact the Countryside Alliance (via hunting@countryside-alliance.org) or your local hunt directly if there are any motions proposed which may threaten the future of meets on council-owned or managed land.

I am very much looking forward to seeing large crowds continuing to greet hounds on council-owned land and I hope to have your support to ensure that can happen. (05/12/2021)

Answer:

Trail hunting does not occur on any land owned or managed by the authority, therefore the Council does not have a policy on this matter. (10/12/2021)