Defra minister Jim Paice attends Masters of Foxhounds Association AGM

Jim Paice attended the AGM of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) last week — the first time a Defra minister has done so in living memory.

MFHA members greeted Mr Paice warmly, as the MP for South-East Cambridgeshire and Minister of State for Defra reiterated the coalition government’s commitment to giving MPs a free vote on the repeal of the 2004 Hunting Act.

Though he gave no indication of timescale, the minister emphasised that if repeal is achieved, it must not mean “the turning back of the clock” to pre-ban hunting.

In line with that, MFHA chairman Stephen Lambert had just announced at the AGM in Cheltenham that Labour peer Lord Donoughue would be the first chairman of the Hunting Regulatory Authority (HRA) when it goes “live” post-repeal.

An independent body, the HRA aims to provide effective scrutiny for hunting, by ensuring a hearing for genuine complaints; administering justice fairly where rules are breached; and by promoting and protecting good practice.

Mr Lambert told the meeting: “Lord Donoughue is a highly distinguished politician and acknowledged as a champion of animal welfare and wildlife management.

“His presence as chairman of the HRA will reassure the media and public that by voting to repeal the Hunting Act, parliament will not be voting to turn the clock back.

“A strong system of independent regulation will be in place to ensure that hunting remains fully accountable and well managed.”

Mr Lambert thanked Charles Mann, his wife Chips and their Vote-OK team for their efforts in the lead up to the general election and said that Vote-OK’s work would continue.

“The organisation moves into a different phase, but its work must be sustained,” he said.

“There are by-elections for which we must prepare and we must be on the alert for a general election.”

He also urged masters to keep in contact with their local MPs, “particularly those who might not have won without us”, and to make sure that the topic of repeal remains current.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (17 June, ’10)