North Herefordshire MP Sir Bill Wiggin’s views on hunting have been called out by a local anti-hunt group.

Sir Bill spoke earlier this week in a parliamentary debate on whether the Hunting Act 2004, which outlawed foxhunting, needed to be tightened as the practice appears to be continuing under the guise of trail hunting.

Sir Bill, who does not hunt, said: “Trail hunting or drag hunting is where an artificial scent is laid down for hounds to follow. It is usually a rag dipped in scent, often aniseed, and it is an entirely legal alternative to hunting.”

A representative of Herefordshire Hunt Sabs (HHS), speaking anonymously due to fear of reprisals, said that confusing trail hunting and drag hunting in this way was “an elementary mistake”.

“Drag hunting is a legitimate hunting activity,” they said. “Trail hunting is nothing more than a cover for hunts which continue to hunt live quarry illegally, using a quarry-based scent, usually fox urine. No one can ever explain where they get this from.”

The debate was instigated by two parliamentary petitions set up by the campaign group Keep The Ban, both of which passed the 100,000-signature threshold to prompt a debate, believed to be the first of its kind in Parliament since 2014.

One of the petitions, called for a 'Mini’s Law' to ban trail hunts and hound exercise in residential areas or other public places – its name taken from a pet cat mauled to death by a pack exercising in a Cornish village last year.

The Government responded that there was no need to amend the Hunting Act, as the law already allows the police to intervene “where dogs are out of control and dangerous to other animals”.

Keep the Ban’s petition claimed the Mini case was “not an isolated incident, with a recent report finding that as of March 2021 there is on average one reported incident every two weeks”.

On this, Sir Bill said: “In 2019, there were actually 29 incidents, not one every two weeks. Once again, good people are being misled in order to feed prejudices and anger, which is bad for everyone.”

But simple arithmetic shows that this amounts to slightly more than one incident every two weeks.

Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell spoke in favour of a ban on trail hunting and hunting on public land and in residential areas.

Sir Bill responded that if Ms Maskell “got what she wanted, anywhere between 9,000 and 18,000 hounds would be put down”.

Keep The Ban retorted to this: “We've been told for years that old hounds are retired and many live out happy lives in new homes. Wiggin also fails to point out is that hundreds of healthy [hunting] hounds are killed across the country as it is.”

HHS’s representative said a precedent had already been set in the Mini case, with the hunt master being prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act, his subsequent appeal failing on the same day as the debate.

“No longer will the strict criteria of a Hunting Act prosecution need to be met, with intent being proven,” they said.

“All that is required is that hounds are shown to be out of control and terrorising animals or humans. We think the precedent is going to be repeated frequently from now on.”

The second petition called for Forestry England to stop giving permits for trail hunting on its land. The Government said its forests agency “has no plans to end the granting of permission for trail hunting where the terms of the permission are met”.

However, “trail hunting in the nation’s forests is currently suspended in response to confirmation that the police are investigating webinars hosted by the Hunting Office” it added – a reference to the prosecution last year of Hunting Office director Mark Hankinson for encouraging illegal hunting measures, which he has since appealed.

Sir Bill said this petition “harks back to the awful, bigoted, hate-filled nature of the debate on hunting, which always comes back to class war.

“It is constantly fed with inflammatory stories that are designed to upset kind-hearted, generous animal owners so that they fund nasty and sinister groups.”

HHS’s representative called this “an unjustified snipe, considering the broad church of groups who campaign against hunting”. These draw support from people in all walks of life in the MP’s own constituency, the group claimed.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow praised Sir Bill for having “spoken as a true countryman with a great deal of experience and knowledge”.

“The expertise he brings to the table and his knowledge of rural affairs are very important when we are talking about these issues,” she said.

Rachael Maskell asked the minister: “Why, if there is not an intention to bait a fox in trail hunting, as she said, do terriermen join those hunts and use their tools to dig out foxes?”

But Ms Pow avoided the question.