Labour has been accused of “reverting to class war” after it emerged it is considering plans to end the badger cull and crack down on people who flout the foxhunting ban.
The Telegraph has learnt that the proposals are likely to be included in the party’s new Animal Welfare Manifesto, to be published later this month.
The row came less than 24 hours after Labour clashed with gamekeepers over suggestions it could consider banning grouse shooting as part of a government-led review if it won power, having described the start of the shooting season as the “Inglorious Twelfth”.
According to a senior Labour figure, the party is planning to toughen up the Hunting Act introduced by Tony Blair in order to address concerns that foxes are still being hunted illegally. The manifesto will also set out concerns that the badger cull has failed to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) and call for a “science-led approach” involving more research into vaccinations.
It follows reports that the slaughter of badgers was massively accelerated during Michael Gove’s tenure as environment secretary, with more than 32,000 killed in England between September and November last year.
The source said Labour intended to “strengthen” the Hunting Act and focus on the issue of police supervision at hunts and enforcement of the law through the courts. On the badger cull, they claimed that the current policy was “incredibly expensive” and that the evidence from recent years suggested that “it doesn’t work”.
Tim Bonner, president of the Countryside Alliance, accused Labour of “pandering to the extremes” of the animal rights movement.
“We can’t get any straight answers on what the problem (with foxhunting) is or what solutions Labour have, other than they seem to desperately want people who wear red coats and ride horses in court.
“I’m afraid this is Labour reverting to the class war agenda. They don’t care about foxes – they want to get rid of hunts … This has always been a dog-whistle issue for the Left.”
On Monday night, ministers dismissed Labour’s calls for a review on grouse moors, arguing that they provided “many benefits to the rural economy” and played an important role in the conservation of wildlife and habitats.
However, a Labour Party insider insisted there was a “huge appetite” among voters for tougher action.
“The badger cull is incredibly expensive, but on the key rationale of why it is being done, it’s not delivering because it’s not stopping the spread of TB,” said the source. “So why, as taxpayers, are we spending huge sums of money killing swathes of wildlife?”
However, the National Farmers’ Union argues that the cull plays an important role in limiting the spread of TB, which led to more than 33,000 cattle being slaughtered in England last year.
A spokesman said: “The Government’s vets say that we must apply a comprehensive strategy which uses all available options – cattle testing, cattle movement controls, on-farm biosecurity, vaccination of badgers in areas on the edge of disease spread, and control of badgers in areas where their presence may contribute to the spread of disease.”