Prison sentences could be in store for those who illegally hunt wild animals with dogs, under a Labour government.
Ahead of the annual Boxing Day hunts, shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said the party would review penalties under the Hunting Act 2004 to ensure it is an effective deterrent.
It would include a consultation on the introduction of custodial sentences, bringing it in line with the penalties for other wildlife crimes.
Currently, unlimited fines are the most severe punishment.
Hayman said Labour would also consider measures to stop people exploiting “loopholes” in the legislation, which covers England and Wales.
It could include the introduction of a new “recklessness” clause to prevent trail or drag hunts being used as cover for the illegal hunting of wild mammals.
Boxing Day traditionally sees hundreds of thousands of people either watch or take part in hunts across England, Wales and Scotland.
Hounds can still chase a scent as long as they do not kill a fox, and artificial hunts are laid down.
Hayman said they would also look at removing an exemption for the use of dogs underground to protect game birds as it risks fights between hounds and wild animals.
“Labour’s 2004 Hunting Act was a key milestone in banning this cruel blood sport, but since then new practices have developed to exploit loopholes in the legislation,” she said.
“While Theresa May proposed scrapping the Hunting Act all together, Labour is today calling time on those who defy the law by announcing several measures that would clampdown on illegal hunting.
“Labour is the true party of animal welfare. These new proposals form part of the next chapter in striving to ensure our laws and regulations on animal welfare are up to date and fit for purpose.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said: “The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs and completely bans hare coursing. However, the Act also sets out tightly-drawn exemptions under which dogs may be used to hunt wild mammals, but these are subject to very strict conditions.
“Those found guilty under the Act are also subject to harsh penalties, including the possibility of an unlimited fine. We are also increasing maximum sentences for those who commit the most heinous acts of animal cruelty tenfold, to five years in jail.”
Labour’s promise came as a poll commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports found only one in six (16%) rural residents believe hunting with dogs reflects countryside values.
The polling by Survation found that over nine out of 10 (91%) rural residents think that observing nature reflects countryside values.
The poll found only 4% said they ever participate in hunting, compared to 63% who observe wildlife at least once a month, 59% who take part in walking or hiking at least once a month, 39% who participate in running, cycling or horse riding at least once a month and 52% who visit pubs at least once a month.
Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Hunting is claimed by a minority to be a cornerstone of country life, yet it is revealing that people living in the countryside get far more enjoyment from watching wildlife rather than killing it.
“Modern day countryside values are based around respect for nature, not the abuse of nature for entertainment. This polling confirms that we are a nation of animal lovers and that hunting needs to be consigned to history.”