Stag hunting and hare coursing will be completely banned in England and Wales, if a new hunting bill announced today by Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael passes through both Houses of Parliament.

The new law would also ban fox hunts which do not pass a utility and cruelty test administered by an independent registrar. The new body would decide whether fox hunting is the most effective method of pest control on a case-by-case basis and would accordingly issue a licence or ban. Likely beneficiaries of this plan would be upland hunts, especially in Wales, where dogs are seen as a safer option to poison or shotguns. However, it is feared many lowland hunts would not be granted a licence.

Licensing would extend to mink hunting, but Mr Michael offered a lifeline to ratting and rabbiting with dogs. The Minister also stressed that there would be no further restrictions placed on angling and shooting, and he would notseek to control falconry.

Both pro and anti-hunt activists have labelled the Government’s plans a ‘political fudge’. John Jackson, Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, immediately rejected the proposed ban on stag hunting and hare coursing.

‘The Government has provided no rational grounds for singling out these activities,’ he said. ‘However, regarding the bill’s central principle of a registration and licensing system, we would consider such a concept constructively provided that it is seen to be based on the Government’s own criteria of “principle” and “evidence”.’

Director for the Country Land and Business Association, Nick Way also questioned the proposals to ban stag hunting and hare coursing. ‘We support the guiding principle that hunting with hounds should be regulated according to the twin tests of cruelty and utility,’ he said. ‘It is essential that these tests reflect the true benefit of properly conducted hunting to the rural economy while avoiding unnecessary suffering to animals.

‘We await information on the Government’s justification for the proposed outright ban on stag hunting and hare coursing.’