18/02/2016 18:46 GMT | Updated 18/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Happy Anniversary, Hunting Act!

Much maligned, the Hunting Act, which banned hunting mammals with dogs, has suffered a lot in the last 11 years. But it bravely carries on, and today is its 11th anniversary. Congratulations!

We often hear negative things about the Hunting Act, but these are frequently delivered by the people who want to see it repealed. Frankly, that's a bit like burglars complaining about the Theft Act. Even the burglars understand how ridiculous that would be.

Unfortunately, the people who want rid of the Hunting Act have friends in high places, and even this weekend we heard confirmation from a Conservative spokesperson that the Government pledge to repeal the Act remains on the table.

However, there was some good news too - this time from a government that is looking forward, rather than looking backwards. In Northern Ireland last week, penalties for animal cruelty crimes were more than doubled, with the maximum time in prison for the worst crimes going from two years to five years. Maximum fines went up from £5000 to £20000.

The incentive to make these changes came from the public, who put pressure on the Executive. There have been some high profile animal cruelty cases in Northern Ireland, including dog fighting, and the people were clearly saying 'enough is enough'. Congratulations to the politicians for listening.

A report commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports late last year revealed that a dog fight takes place in the UK at least once a day. That is pretty shocking, and shows that one of the worst forms of animal abuse is still alive and well, in spite of being banned around 180 years ago.

That's not all though. Hare coursing is still all too common, with a record number of people being arrested in Lincolnshire alone in the past five months. And back to hunting - packs continue in their attempts to flout the law by pretending to lay a trail, then allowing their packs to illegally pursue and kill foxes, hares and deer.

Let's be honest - what's the real difference between setting one dog on another, and setting a pack of dogs onto a fox? There's no difference. It's the same cruelty, and the same mentality behind it.

Today, we're asking David Cameron to take a close look at animal abuse - in all its forms - and follow the lead of Northern Ireland. We need stronger penalties in England and Wales if we're going to stamp out animal cruelty once and for all. An open letter to the Prime Minister has been sent, and can be seen on our website.

And please, let's stop this nonsense about repealing the Hunting Act and legalising something that is abhorrent to most people. In the most recent Ipsos Mori poll, taken in December, a record 83% of people polled said that fox hunting should not be made legal again. Interestingly, if you just look at people from rural areas, the figure is 84% - rising from 69% in just three years. Those who support hunting like to claim that those who support the Hunting Act, are know-nothing townies, whereas people in the countryside really understand what hunting is about.

On that last point, we can agree - clearly, rural people do understand what hunting is about - and that is why they oppose it in ever increasing numbers.

If public opinion is not enough, there are increasing numbers supporting the Hunting Act within an influential group: at the League we analysed responses from Conservative MPs as to whether or not they would support repeal of the Act, and found over 50 who opposed repeal. Any above board attempt to bring back hunting with dogs would fail.

So on the anniversary of the Hunting Act, it is time to look forwards, not backwards - to a time when we don't kill, abuse, torment or inflict pain on animals for the sake of sport.