Tony Blair agreed to ban fox hunting after a £1 million donation to Labour from an animal rights group, Peter Mandelson claims
By Jason Groves – published 14 December 2023
Tony Blair agreed to ban fox hunting ‘under pressure’ because of a £1million donation to Labour from an animal rights organisation, Peter Mandelson has claimed.
The Labour peer, who is now an adviser to Sir Keir Starmer, did not name the group involved. However, his comments appear to be a reference to a £1million donation given by the late animal rights campaigner Brian Davies, who founded the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Asked about whether donors had ever tried to buy influence, he said: ‘I can offer you an example from 1997 when an organisation – it was a fund to do with the welfare of animals – got pretty transactional with us. It was the first and last time I can remember this.
‘They wanted a ban on hunting in return for a very sizeable amount of money. And Blair and Co were sort of reluctant obviously to enter into some sort of trade over this policy.
‘However, there were a lot of people in the party who wanted that ban – there were a lot of MPs coming and demanding it – and we got into a difficult situation where frankly we went a little bit too far – further than Blair wanted – in making this commitment in our manifesto.
‘It was, frankly, under not duress but under some sort of pressure. It wasn’t attractive and it’s not been repeated.’
His comments will raise fresh questions about political sleaze. Labour has been trying to woo wealthy donors in the same manner as it did in the run-up to the 1997 election.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, which led the campaign against the ban on hunting, said: ‘Tony Blair has already admitted that the hunting ban was one of the legislative measures he most regrets.
‘The Hunting Act has failed at every level, not least in the damage it has caused to the countryside and biodiversity. A future Labour government should right the wrongs of the past and remove this running sore in Labour’s relationship with rural communities.’
But a spokesman for Sir Tony said it was a ‘misinterpretation’ of Lord Mandelson’s comments to suggest that Labour’s policy had been influenced by the donation.
They added: ‘There was no such agreement, he is clearly saying there were a lot of people who had passionate views on the subject.’
Legislation to ban hunting was not finally introduced until 2003 and did not come into force until 2005 following a titanic parliamentary battle.
In his political memoir, Sir Tony voiced regret about the ban and revealed that he had deliberately left loopholes in the legislation that would allow hunting to continue provided certain steps were taken to prevent cruelty.
He said he had not realised the ‘primeval’ passions that the ban would cause among rural communities.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare did not respond to a request for comment. The Labour Party has yet to comment on the matter.