THE number of fox hunting supporters in South Lakeland who would be prepared to break the law if a ban was introduced will become clearer at a major rally in the Lake District later this month, reports Ellis Butcher.

Hundreds are expected at the Countryside Alliance’s demonstration at Rydal Park, Ambleside on October 31, where hunt supporters will be invited to sign a declaration to state they will never accept an “unjust law” and are prepared to accept the legal consequences for doing so.

It follows whispers at shows throughout the area this summer that the Government faced a rural rebellion if a ban was introduced, and indications from leading figures in the Countryside Alliance that “thousands” would openly disobey the law.

Some hunt supporters have taken encouragement from statements by Alastair McWhirter, Chief Constable of Suffolk Police, and rural spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said many fellow officers “dreaded” any ban being introduced, and that it would pose “practical difficulties for enforcement.” This month’s mass gathering, held on the eve of what has been branded Declaration Day, will be the catalyst for 12 other similar events across Britain in a nationwide show of strength.

The declaration states it represents: “An opportunity for those who support the freedom to hunt to demonstrate that we will never accept unjust law. Critically, it aims to convey in an unambiguous way that enough people are committed to either refusing to accept any law that comes into effect (if it does) and that any such law would be unenforceable and so fail.” It adds: “We the undersigned declare our intention to disobey peacefully, any law purporting to ban hunting.” Roger Westmoreland, of the Coniston Foxhounds, said: “I am quite prepared to break the law and go to jail and there are thousands more like me.” Asked what form civil disobedience or law-breaking would take, he said: “I was always taught that surprise is the best element of attack and I wouldn’t tell the Government what we are going to do.” Countryside Alliance Regional Director for Cumbria Tom Fell said the gatherings would make clear their intention to take part in “peaceful but committed civil disobedience.” The Hunting Bill, which proposes a total ban on hunting with dogs, is due to be discussed again by the House Of Lords on October 21, which has been set aside as the first day of debate for amendments to be made.

The Lords, which has expressed support for fox hunting, is widely tipped to “tear apart” the bill and return it to the House of Commons in a form which allows the practice to continue but with regulations which could see the Government force it through under the Parliament Act.

Liam Slattery, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “This planned event by the hunters’ alliance shows desperation at the progress of the Hunting Bill through Parliament.

Public events to celebrate the so-called sport of chasing wild animals with dogs, will not discourage the vast majority of the public seeking a total end to hunting.”