OTLEY and Yeadon's MP is backing calls to toughen fox hunting legislation.

The Hunting Act 2004 made it illegal to hunt wild mammals - including foxes, deer, mink and hares - with dogs in England and Wales.

It has been criticised, however, by both pro-hunt groups and animal welfare campaigners.

The hunting support lobby points out a number of inconsistencies in the act, while anti-hunt groups say it has many loopholes which are being exploited.

Coming down firmly on the 'anti' side of the debate, Alex Sobel (Lab, Leeds North West) has just signed a petition to strengthen the law and close the loopholes.

Launched by the League Against Cruel Sports charity, the petition states that: "Despite hunting with dogs being banned in England, Wales and Scotland for more than ten years, not to mention it still being legal in Northern Ireland, hunts are still killing wildlife.

"Hunts have found many ways to circumvent the law and get away with killing wildlife.

"Whether through so-called ‘trail’ hunting, abusing exemptions in the law or exploiting legal loopholes, thousands of animals are being killed across the UK every year with impunity."

It goes on to state that the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 should be strengthened, while hunting should be banned in Northern Ireland.

It adds: "Land owners should no longer allow hunts access to their land for any reason."

Mr Sobel said: "I’m delighted to be supporting the League’s petition to stop the killing of animals by fox hunts because in modern day society there can be no excuses or justification to this blatant act of wildlife cruelty.

"Many of my constituents would be rightly horrified if they knew that something that we all thought was banned is still actually going on.

"I’m proud to have signed the petition and I hope you will too."

The MP added that the League Against Cruel Sports had briefed him on how trail hunting - where hounds follow a scent rather than a fox - was being used in some cases as a cover for illegal hunts.

Director of Campaigns for the charity, Chris Luffingham, said: "One of the reasons hunting was banned was because animals suffer terribly when chased by a hunt.

"It’s cruel, it’s illegal and it’s time we strengthened legislation and prevented the cruel minority from flouting the law."

The League claims that trail hunting is allowing hunts to continue and then, when foxes and other wildlife are killed, they can claim it was accidental.

Its petition can be viewed at https://www.league.org.uk/hunting-act .