THE MASTER of an East Lancashire hunt today warned that its hounds will be shot if their blood sport is banned by MPs. Arnold Greenhalgh, head of the Holcombe Harriers, which hunts foxes and hares, spoke out just a day before Parliament is due to vote on the issue for the third and final time.
His statement has been slammed by the RSPCA, which said it had called on hunts to reduce the numbers of hounds being bred ahead of tomorrow’s crucial vote. And Dawn Preston, from the North West Hunt Saboteurs Association, said: “This is just another attempt by the hunting fraternity to divert the hunting debate from the real issue — that of animal cruelty.”
The hunting bill gives MPs three options – allowing hunting with dogs to continue with voluntary regulations, hunting with dogs under licence from a new hunting authority, or a complete ban. Mr Greenhalgh, of Brindle, joint master of the hunt, spent Boxing Day hunting on the moors above Rivington and regularly visits Rossendale and Hyndburn. He said if an all-out ban was approved, then his group would have no choice but to shoot the hounds who have faithfully served the Holcombe Harriers. He said: “We are, to be honest, expecting it to be banned. We don’t know what we will do. The hounds will be of no use to us and they can’t be retrained. They will have to be shot. “They have been bred for the purpose of participating in fox hunts and live as a pack in lodgings. They can’t become pets because they can’t live on their own.
“Everyone seems opposed to foxhunting, and we do live in a democracy so people are entitled to their opinions, but a lot of the facts have been lost in the chaos caused by the hunt saboteurs. If fox hunting is banned, these dogs will be shot. The anti-hunt lobby say the lives of foxes will be saved, but only 16,000 out of 400,000 foxes killed annually are killed by hunts. No foxes will be saved at all.” Mr Greenhalgh was the target of hunt saboteurs in November 1996 after they claimed a fox was left to die in agony after being trampled on by a pack of horses.
A spokesman for the RSPCA said today: “We believe the hounds can be retrained as pets or to take part in drag hunts, when a man-made scent is set up with a decoy at the end, which causes no suffering. “The hunts have been aware of this Bill in Parliament and should have reduced the number of hounds being bred.” Four of East Lancashire’s six MPs will vote to ban hunting tomorrow, Wednesday.
Home Secretary and Blackburn MP Jack Straw will chart a middle course of regulation of the blood sport while Ribble Valley Tory Nigel Evans will vote against a ban. But Hyndburn’s Greg Pope, Rossendale and Darwen’s Janet Anderson, Burnley’s Peter Pike and Pendle’s Gordon Prentice will vote for a total prohibition on hunting with hounds. Mr Pope said he refused to be swayed by the Holcombe Hunt threat to kill their hounds if the ban went ahead. He said: “I very much doubt that they will slaughter their dogs. I won’t be swayed by that sort of pressure. “It’s not a sport. It’s unnecessarily cruel, barbaric and medieval and it needs to go.” Labour backbencher Mr Pike said: “I shall vote for a total ban. It’s not a sport. It’s barbaric and it needs to be banned.”