Derby MP Chris Williamson speaks out against hunting in Commons debate
DERBY North MP Chris Williamson branded some fox-hunters "violent thugs" as he accused senior ministers of "tacitly approving" hunts breaking the law, during a Commons debate.
Mr Williamson called the debate in the wake of continued support from several Tory MPs for reform of the Hunting Act 2004, which bans hunting foxes with dogs.
In the Coalition Agreement struck in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron promised MPs a free vote on overturning the ban as soon as parliamentary time was available.
Mr Williamson said he believed the Tory proposals encouraged hunts to break the law and that this was leading to sometimes violent incidents involving hunters and anti-hunt demonstrators.
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He said during the House of Commons debate: "I am not suggesting that everyone who participates in hunting is an arrogant, violent thug.
"Indeed, I am sure that most hunt followers obey the law.
"However, worryingly, a significant minority are arrogant, violent thugs, which is why urgent action is needed to tackle this flagrant disregard for the law."
One prominent hunt supporter, Tory Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, responded that he had "spent 20 years compiling a list of violence against legitimate country people and hunt supporters, particularly by members of the hunt saboteurs in balaclavas".
Mr Williamson said he believed the "rhetoric of senior ministers" was "tantamount to tacit approval for those who are transgressing the Hunting Act to continue to do so."
He added: "I am sure that ministers would not encourage people to break the law.
"But does the minister not understand how the hunting fraternity might take that as tacit approval to break the Hunting Act?"
Tory Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice Damian Green said that "every party at every election makes promises to change the law".
He said: "Nobody takes that as tacit approval to break the law. If they did, no party would, responsibly, ever promise to change the law at any election and, therefore, there would be no point in having elections."
Mr Green added that the Government was "not prioritising reform of the Hunting Act at the moment".
After the debate, Mr Williamson said he was pleased it was not a priority but he believed there was enough Commons support for the current law for proposals to bring back hunting with dogs to be rejected by MPs.
He said: "There are sufficient numbers in the House to vote down any attempt to repeal the act. There are enough Tory MPs who would vote with us. We will continue to press the Government in relation to the lawful activities of people going about their business observing hunts."
Nobody at The Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt, which operates in Derbyshire, was available to comment.