Labour's Hunting Act remains a complete farce
Hunters, after centuries of freely embracing the countryside with horse and hound, suddenly became the centre of abuse not just from militant animal rights groups, but uninformed Westminster know-it-alls comprising MPs from virtually all of Labour, the Lib-Dems and, sadly, a few Conservatives. Let's scrap it
The much needed debate on the controversial Hunting Act, was reignited on Boxing Day, following a report that a Conservative majority government could abolish legislation introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2005.
This is news that will no doubt please many hundreds of thousands of countryside folk, liberty lovers, hunt supporters and general opponents of class warfare politics.
There are multiple reasons to repeal the Hunting Act and the Conservatives are right to give this law a rethink.
The Hunting Act, regardless of your view on fox hunting and other forms of animal hunting with hounds, was and remains a complete farce.
This was legislation designed to punish those that failed to conform to New Labour’s ideal, metropolitan, urban and ‘modern’ image of the ideal citizen. Labour and supporters of the ban, focused desperately on portraying hunters as out-of-touch, rich-toffs who enjoyed nothing more than killing, whilst conveniently using animal cruelty as a way of tainting public opinion.
Almost out of nowhere, hunters and hunt supporters, after centuries of freely embracing the countryside with horse and hound, suddenly became the centre of abuse not just from militant animal rights groups, but uninformed Westminster know-it-alls comprised of MPs from virtually all of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and sadly, a small number of Conservatives.
Despite one of the largest civil liberty marches in British history to oppose the ban -- bringing together participants from a diverse range of backgrounds -- the Hunting Act was introduced in 2005 and heralded by the Labour spin machine as ground-breaking legislation for animal welfare.
However since its introduction, the Act hasn’t done anything to prevent the suffering of the fox, nor to safeguard foxes’ welfare. The number of foxes being killed hasn’t gone down. After all, the Labour government accepted (and rightfully) that controlling the number of foxes was necessary when managing the population of wild animals.
Farmers are encouraged to instead increase the laying of traps, which although effective, cause greater distress to the fox and other species of wildlife, not forgetting the farmer who has to deal with the mess afterwards.
Increasingly, foxes are now having to chew their own legs off in desperate attempts to escape traps, rather than outrunning and escaping hounds -- all because Labour thought it was about time to attack the quiet, law abiding rural- hunting community.
There is no evidence to suggest trapping the fox or other wild animal, is in anyway more humane than the quick kill by hounds.
Tony Blair himself, has since denounced the Act, stating in his 2010 auto-biography “that it was not one of my finest policy moments” and that the move was fuelled more a result of his naïve view of what he thought fox hunters and supporters looked and sounded like, rather than taking the time to understand that the hunting community is made up of all sorts of people.
Failing to actually restrict or stop the culling of wild animals at the expense of dividing rural and urban communities is not the only reason the Hunting Act isn’t fit for purpose.
If there’s one thing worse than narrow minded-metropolitan snobbery, it's sloppy legislation. The Hunting Act is by far one of the most ineffective pieces of legislation to come out of Westminster. And indeed, one of the most befuddling.
For example, the Act does not outright ban all hunting with dogs. You can hunt rabbits with dogs, but not hares. Hunts are also able to lay artificial fox smells for dogs to follow, rather than following the scent of a live fox.
All this might lead one to feel rather sorry for the fox, who would no doubt be just as confused at where it stands legally as we are.
Not only have critics slammed the legislation for wasting valuable police time, but also for only leading to a small number of successful prosecutions. Data from the Ministry of Justice between 2005- 2011 found that a mere 8 of 237 people convicted under the Hunting Act, actually came from registered hunts.
This meant that 97 percent of Hunting Act convictions didn’t actually involve the very hunts that Labour were so keen on going after.
Despite the Hunting Act, hunts across England and Wales continue to grow. The recent Boxing Day meets were well attended and hunts are continuing to find more and more ways to partake in the activity legally. The hunt brings people and families together. Sure, it may not conform to what the Labour Party see as a community event, but it certainly does in the areas where the hunt meet.
It will be the job of organisations like the Countryside Alliance, to continue the campaign to inform the British public of how hunts serve the countryside by providing the most humane form of wild animal management.
Conservatives would be right to put the existing law to a vote if elected with a majority, as the current Hunting Act is unworkable and exists not to protect animals, but (ineffectively) to punish countryside communities and hunts.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher is a Conservative Party member and activist. He tweets @mometfisher
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