Fundamental world

Fundamentalism is a marvellous thing.

No struggling with inconvenient truths about views that don’t quite add up. Awkward aspects of a position can just be pushed aside as irrelevant if they don’t fit the argument and of course there must be no hint at all of anything approaching self-doubt. Listen to some of those involved in any fundamentalist group and the overriding message is clear: “We are right and anyone who disagrees is simply wrong.”

Fundamentalism can reveal itself in numerous forms. In the extreme, one manifestation is what some would see as the next logical step, which is that anything done in the name of their ‘cause’ must therefore be justified. Violence to people or property is not uncommon, nor is the weapon of intimidation – the most horrific example of  a combination of all three having occurred in Paris just days ago.

Gemma McCormick

Gemma McCormick

Another incident, though of course not on the same scale, nevertheless follows that pattern of peddling hate. Comments of delight made by some anti-hunters were made via the internet following the death of Gemma McCormick, Joint Master of the Cottesmore Hunt. Gemma tragically died in a riding accident at the opening meet of the Fitzwilliam Hunt a few weeks ago.

Despite the fact that she was hunting within the law – just as the Hunting Act and its anti-hunting promoters demand – she was still regarded by fundamentalists as a target for hate. That speaks volumes about the motivation of some of these “compassionate” people, who clearly have no concerns about grieving relatives and have obviously swallowed the propaganda produced by anti-hunt groups that most hunts are breaking the law by pursuing a live quarry.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. This lady certainly is for turning.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. This lady certainly is for turning.

The fundamentalist mustn’t be deterred from achieving his or her goal and if that means bribing politicians then so be it.  In June this year a meeting took place between a Scottish National Party MP and an anti-hunting group linked to the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) – a body that had donated £1 million to the Labour Party before it introduced the Hunting Act. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said in February, “The SNP have a long-standing position of not voting on matters that purely affect England — such as fox-hunting south of the border, for example — and we stand by that.”  But she didn’t stand by that and now it’s been revealed that the SNP received a donation of £10,000 from PAL. Money and fundamentalism is a toxic mix.

Language, too, can feed fundamentalism. I doubt that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to a police ‘shoot to kill’ policy has done much to make any would-be terrorist think again about committing another heinous act of barbarism and I’m fairly sure that shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s call for MI5 to be disbanded will not be seen as a peace offering by any mad jihadist.  At a different level, comparing people who hunt with rapists, murderers and child abusers, as one academic did, can only fire up the more extreme anti-hunt individuals and I wonder if the RSPCA is happy with its Vice-President, Brian May, calling all hunt supporters bastards?

Then there is the low-level fundamentalism of just being so blinkered that history is re-written when it doesn’t suit. The validity of an article about Richard Martin, the Member of Parliament who championed the first animal welfare legislation back in the early 1800s was recently questioned. (https://jamesbarrington.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/humanity-dick-martin/)  Martin’s original law provided the basis for further legislation that led to the outlawing of the baiting “sports” and he helped create the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later becoming the RSPCA. What clearly stuck in this doubter’s throat was the fact that Martin was a foxhunter.

Foxhunter Richard Martin MP, founder of the RSPCA and animal welfare champion

Foxhunter Richard Martin MP, founder of the RSPCA and animal welfare champion

As so often is the case, the person making the challenge hid his or her real identity by using a pseudonym and soon other keyboard warriors on social media had joined in the chase, Where is documentary evidence that Richard Martin MP: a) Founded SPCA b) Hunted Foxes? #CAlies

“We all know Martin myth came from you Barrington. He’d turn in his grave if knew CA trying to use him.”

Even Brian May’s ‘Save Me’ campaign chipped in, “Hunts, Stunts & Spin at it again, trying to support a cruel pastime with lies as its all they have.”

Clearly, in-depth research is not something fundamentalists like to do – probably finds too many inconsistencies – so the keyboard warriors had a short period tweeting and retweeting what they thought was a nice little story about nasty pro-hunters denigrating a key person in the history of animal welfare. It was short lived however, because Richard Martin was indeed a hunter and a shooter, a fact confirmed in numerous books about his life and the history of animal welfare legislation. If they had bothered to look a little harder, they would have discovered that Martin, like many other individuals at the time who were concerned about animal suffering, saw the horrendous cruelty inflicted on domestic animals every minute of every day as rightly being the priority.

"I think you're a bunch of lying bastards." Brian May, Vice-president, RSPCA

“I think you’re a bunch of lying bastards.” Brian May, Vice-President, RSPCA  on the BBC’s Newsnight

Indeed, it could very well be the case that had it not been for the support from such hunting people, that first animal welfare law put forward by Martin may not have been passed in 1822.

So back to our fundamentalist friend who, despite being given references proving Richard Martin was a foxhunter, still refuses to believe the fact. At least he (or she) is continuing to adhere to the spirit of fundamentalism, which is to never accept any evidence, no matter how compelling, that you might just be wrong. No doubt such people feel much happier in that strange little fantasy world.

All this is far from those who hold strong views, as most of us do on various issues, yet are prepared to listen to alternative arguments. This is blind faith that dares not even question a belief even if a stack of evidence points in the other direction. Best of all, it allows you to believe what you want to believe, regardless of the facts.

Yes, fundamental world certainly is a very easy and comfortable place in which to live.

All-party parliamentary groups exist at Westminster to cover a whole range of issues and subjects from cancer to cheese. They involve MPs and Peers from across the political divide and are useful forums for more detailed debate. One such group is the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW).

APGAWWhen the Labour Party was in power and considering the introduction of a hunting bill, APGAW was chaired by a Labour MP and while certain aspects of the hunting debate, such as the re-homing of hounds, were addressed one very important piece of research was deliberately ignored. In the reams of anti-hunting literature produced by the coalition of groups determined to see a ban, little was said about the alternative methods left legal for wildlife management that would inevitably fill the vacuum. When pushed, “humane shooting” was put forward, to be undertaken by a “professional”.

Of course in reality there was absolutely no guarantee that all shooting, in particular of foxes, would always be humane and it would certainly not always be done by a “professional”. Even less clear was who would pay for these shooters. Research was commissioned by another group, the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group, and undertaken by the appropriately named Dr Nick Fox. Dr Fox and his team showed that wounding rates in foxes that were shot (via a range of legal weapons, ammunition, distances and abilities) were much higher than previously thought. While the study was attacked by the anti-hunting groups as well as some shooting people, the aim was never an attack on all shooting; it was to destroy the myth – created solely to justify a hunt ban – that appeared to say all hunting was bad and all shooting was good. The study was peer-reviewed and published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare *.  Two studies were commissioned to counter Dr Fox’s research and though their ‘conclusions’ were widely quoted in the media in an attempt to rubbish his findings, neither was validated by being peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal.

So, back to APGAW. As hunting was obviously the most pressing animal welfare issue when the Labour Party took power in 1997, you might have thought that research into the welfare aspects of the main alternative method being advocated would have been uppermost in peoples’ minds and a top priority for debate. Not a bit of it.

Dr Nick Fox and his team found that wounding rates in shot foxes were much higher than anti hunt groups claimed

Ignored: Dr Nick Fox and his team found that wounding rates in shot foxes were much higher than anti hunt groups claimed.

Despite numerous requests to MP Ian Cawsey, the Labour Chair of APGAW at the time, and after a number of courteous replies along the lines of “We’ll see if we can get you in”, no opportunity was given to even raise the issue, let alone explain and analyse the shooting study. Literally millions of pounds have been spent in support of the Hunting Act, but not a penny spent by anti-hunt groups to assess its effect on wildlife – the consequences have simply been ignored. In the precisely the same way, any research that might have derailed the all-important campaign to ban hunting with dogs was also ignored. The 700 hours of Parliamentary time consumed to pass this law was somehow worthwhile, but a couple of hours couldn’t be found to look at research that would give an insight into the animal welfare consequences of that law.

I know that there are Labour MPs and Peers who strongly disagree with the more commonly held views held in their party on the Hunting Act and they must have a very frustrating time trying to knock some sense into the heads of their colleagues. I suspect that task will only become more difficult under Jeremy Corbyn, given that he was, and maybe still, a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. It was therefore a welcome change when the new Conservative Co-Chairs of APGAW, MPs Rebecca Pow and Henry Smith, wanted to dedicate a session to examining the Hunting Act. That event took place a few weeks ago, with two speakers on each side debating the merits of the Hunting Act. Dr Jeremy Naylor and I both criticised the Hunting Act, while David Bowles from the RSPCA and Dr Toni Shepherd from the League Against Cruel Sports spoke in its favour. A report on the meeting will be sent to DEFRA ministers and other MPs, but the minutes are available here: http://www.apgaw.org/Data/Sites/1/15th-september-2015-apgaw-minutes.pdf

Rather than pre-empt that report, which presumably will be available for public consumption at some point, it is worth noting that a parliamentary group set up specifically to address animal welfare issues has moved to a far more neutral position on hunting with dogs. Can you imagine that situation with regard to dog fighting or badger baiting, activities that antis often like to compare to hunting?

Other events this year strengthen the point that hunting with dogs and the Hunting Act are not necessarily seen by reasonable people in the way that anti-hunt groups would have us believe. Their propaganda constantly refers to the outcomes of public opinion polls that usually show a large majority against repealing the Hunting Act. Antis on social media are apoplectic with the thought that their precious law could be ditched, yet they can’t seem to understand that the country is not run via Twitter or on the findings of dodgy polls that blatantly imply repeal of the Hunting Act would legalise dog fighting and badger baiting.

Hunting with hounds; seen as necessary, natural and humane by many veterinarians.

Hunting with hounds: seen as necessary, natural and humane by many veterinarians.

It is all the more gratifying, therefore, that debates organised by student veterinarians tend to see things in a different way. A talk to the Royal Veterinary College earlier this year resulted in a very positive response – the only criticism being why such pro-hunting information is not seen more frequently! A couple of weeks ago a debate organised by students at Liverpool University’s School of Veterinary Science came down in favour of hunting with dogs. Further debates at other universities are in the pipeline.

Why would people who know and understand animals see things this way? Why is it that a parliamentary group specifically formed to address animal welfare issues does not condemn hunting? Presumably it’s because they don’t go blindly along with the unscientific and often bigoted views expressed by some groups and instead are willing to question the propaganda they produce that claims all hunting with dogs must be inherently cruel. It’s an important point worth remembering.


*Wounding rates in shooting foxes (Vulpes vulpes), by N.C. Fox, N. Blay, A.G. Greenwood, D.Wise, E.Potapov,  Animal Welfare, 2005, Vol 14, No 2.

Corbyn’s countryside

A Labour MP who had been invited to this year’s CLA Game Fair said words to the effect that if Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party she would be out of her front bench position, Labour would lose the next general election and the Hunting Act would probably be repealed. Well, for now the first prediction has come true.

I suspect she, along with most people at that time, never really thought that he would actually manage it – but he has, and now we are in a truly extraordinary political period. Though some liken the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn to that of Michael Foot’s in the early eighties, there are important differences. I don’t recall experienced Labour politicians on the Right of the party refusing in such numbers to sit on the opposition front bench. So not only do we have a leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition who has never held any ministerial office, but it appears that only a few of those who have accepted his invitation to be in the shadow Cabinet have such experience. If the Westminster rumours are correct, Jeremy Corbyn was scrabbling around virtually begging MPs to join him. You don’t have to be an avid viewer of the BBC’s Daily Politics to know that it’s usually the other way round.IMG_1192

So it should come as no surprise that the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is Kerry McCarthy, an anti-hunting, anti-badger cull vegan and a vice president of the League Against Cruel Sports. Now, I speak as a vegetarian of many years and I certainly do not criticise people who wish to abstain from eating meat, but I also appreciate that just opposing everything you don’t like doesn’t necessarily result in good outcomes.

For my part, I want British farming to flourish and I want to see high standards when it comes to animal welfare. I want people who shoot for the pot and avoid the extremes of factory farming to be praised, not criticised. I want to see a diverse countryside in which those who create that diversity are congratulated, not condemned or banned. I want diseases in wildlife, especially those that affect humans and other species, to be brought under control as much as possible. I want politicians who are prepared to stand up to the social media bullies and make the correct decisions, even if it means implementing unpopular measures. In short, I want wildlife to be properly, sensitively and humanely managed by various methods and that includes using the unique qualities of dogs.

Does Kerry McCarthy see things that way and does her appointment inspire the countryside lobby? I doubt it somehow, yet the various organisations representing the differing aspects of country life will meet with the new shadow minister and, as usual, be courteous and accommodating. But will they really take her seriously? Just as importantly, will she be swayed more by the tweets of celebrities and will her policies be influenced more by pressure groups rather than the realities of country life? It’s worth noting that at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, the newly-appointed shadow DEFRA minister could not find time to attend a fringe meeting organised by the National Farmers Union, but could find space in her diary to speak at the RSPCA and LACS fringes. Of course there is never enough time to do all the meetings at these conferences, but to some commentators her priorities appear to be a little skewed.

Labours long-standing opposition to hunting with dogs has never had a scientific basis.

Labour’s long-standing opposition to hunting with dogs has never had a scientific basis.

Labour’s new leader has said that he wants to introduce a new kind of politics and that he will listen to all views on a wide range of issues. Clearly he already faces challenges on a variety of views even within his own cabinet, let alone the Labour Party as a whole and saying that everything is up for review may be a useful tactic to avoid giving a straight answer, but what he seems to be forgetting is that, after considering and reviewing all these opinions, at some point decisions have to be made. That is, after all, the role of a leader.

As everything in the Labour party now appears to be up for a review, isn’t it reasonable to include the Hunting Act?  It’s a law that has been criticised not only by hunting people, but also many unconnected to hunting such as judges, veterinarians, police, senior civil servants, legal experts and even Tony Blair (though including him in the list may have the reverse effect, given that Jeremy Corbyn voted against virtually everything Blair tried to do)

Some years ago, before the Hunting Act was passed, Jeremy Corbyn came to a ‘drop-in’ session in parliament to discuss hunting with dogs. Former anti-hunt people were present to explain that a simple ban would not be beneficial to wildlife and certainly not improve welfare. He listened intently, but made no real comment, yet since then Jeremy Corbyn has consistently voted against hunting with dogs and supported a hunting ban. Was there any evidence ever produced to justify the Hunting Act? Could the fact that Jeremy Corbyn was a member of the League Against Cruel Sports in his native Shropshire have clouded his judgement? Will he, as his record shows, continue to just go along with the Left’s perception of what nasty Conservatives do to animals.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn  addresses the 2015 conference.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
addresses the 2015 conference.

It’s worth remembering that during his leadership election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn used the slogan “straight-talking, honest politics”. Let’s see if that holds true in a Corbyn-led Labour party… or in a Corbyn government if ever it came about.
We hear so much about what campaign groups dislike, but we rarely hear what they accept. They’re very good at issuing demands from on high, expecting those on the ground to simply comply as if we all see things in a similar way. Just what is Labour’s vision for the countryside, its wildlife and its management? This question should be put to the new Labour leader and his new shadow DEFRA secretary in as many meetings and forums as possible, because, as seems to be the case, if the Labour party would prefer to take a lead from the LACS instead of the NFU then we really should fear for our countryside.

“Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture.”  

Most level-headed people would see this statement as absolutely ludicrous. They would be even more surprised to know that it is made by an academic, the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey. It’s a sentiment echoed in a letter written by Douglas Batchelor, a former chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports and no doubt chimes with the thinking of certain individuals who hold extreme views on animal rights and see all hunting as being abhorrent.

What such a position doesn’t do is distinguish between the different forms of hunting that exist, along with the motives and justifications behind each particular activity. This suits some very well in their campaigns to hoodwink the public and influence politicians. (An excellent article by Roger Scruton in The Spectator explains why MPs should not listen to such nonsense  http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9605652/why-mps-have-a-duty-to-resist-online-petitions)

The shooting of Cecil the lion just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe made headlines around the world, much of it publicised through social network. It certainly had consequences. Dr Walter Palmer, who shot the lion, went into hiding after the media storm and may still be subject to extradition to face a charge of illegal hunting. It’s not the first time Palmer has had trouble with illegal hunting; he pleaded guilty to giving a false statement and fined $3000 for killing a bear in the USA. The organiser of the African lion hunt, Theo Bronkhorst, has already been arrested. UK Foreign Office Minister, Grant Shapps, has written to the Zimbabwean government calling the shooting ‘barbaric’.  The importation into the UK of body parts of certain species is being re-examined and Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed that the UK government will be at the forefront of the battle against wildlife crime.

Yet animals in this country are shot every day, so what made the shooting of Cecil so upsetting?

Walter Palmer (left) with his trophy.

Walter Palmer (left) with his trophy.

Clearly it was the method and motivation behind trophy hunting that caused such disgust, coupled with the general public’s limited knowledge of wildlife management in countries like Africa. According to reports, the lion was lured out of its protection zone in the National Park; the hunt was therefore illegal. Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow, something that would be illegal in this country, but not Zimbabwe, though why such a weapon would be used when modern-day guns and ammunition are available can only point to a certain desire on the part of the shooter to do things in a more ‘traditional’ way. “It’s more silent. If you want to do anything illegal, that’s the way to do it” one conservationist told the BBC.  Dr Palmer apparently arrived late at the agreed meeting site as night was falling, yet was still determined to go and get his beast in conditions that would be frowned upon by many shooters in this country.

After locating Cecil, a shot was taken which only wounded the lion. It took some 40 hours tracking the animal for him to be found and put out of his misery. The lion was being studied by Oxford University and had been fitted with a tracking collar, which Bronkhorst then hid in a tree. Following his arrest, he said that it couldn’t be seen at night (an obvious response might be what do you expect when taking a shot like this in darkness?).

A further problem could have been that killing Cecil, being head of his pride, might have allowed another lion to move in and kill the cubs he had fathered – a common occurrence when a new dominant male takes over a group of lionesses. Thankfully, it appears that his brother filled that role and the cubs survived, but by removing the biggest and best animals so desired by those who want magnificent heads to hang on their walls, their actions seem to fly in the face of true conservation. This is a major problem with trophy hunting, but by no means the only one.

It is a fact that such big game shooting does put a considerable amount of money into conservation work and local communities in Africa and other countries (Palmer apparently paid $35,000 for the privilege of shooting Cecil) resulting in wildlife being regarded more as an asset than a pest or a danger and helps to fund anti-poaching patrols. But surely this must be tempered to prevent the difficulties outlined above? To what degree ‘photographic tourism’ could bring the same outcomes is certainly worth exploring, but it doesn’t alter the fact that wild animals often die in ways that would horrify us if applied to our pets or domestic stock. That is the consequence of “leaving it all to nature”, a phrase so often used by those who have obviously not thought through that view.

Prince Harry assisting vets with a sedated lion in Namibia Picture: Simson Uri-Khop

Prince Harry assisting vets with a sedated lion in Namibia
Picture: Simson Uri-Khop

That social network storm often contained comments likening the illegal shooting of Cecil to hunting with hounds, yet the method, the motive and the justification could not be more dissimilar.  Princes William and Harry, both of whom shoot and have hunted with hounds, are not being hypocritical when they campaign for the protection of endangered species and support the efforts to curb wildlife crime. Harry was recently photographed helping vets in Africa and has spent time with soldiers on anti-rhino poaching patrols. It was notable that at this year’s CLA Game Fair, an event once described by a previous LACS director as a ‘bloodfest’, numerous hunting people said how much they disapproved of the shooting of Cecil. They were right to make such distinctions for the simple reason there is good hunting and bad hunting.

It’s in the interest of anti-hunting groups to confuse the two in the public’s mind and it’s one of the reasons they cling to the flawed Hunting Act when a far better law as suggested by Labour Peer Lord Donoughue could properly address genuine cruelty to wild animals. Having to prove cruelty on the basis of evidence is not something they’d wish, or in many cases are able, to do.

No reasonable person would see the use of scenting hounds hunting a fox in the same light as the shooting of Cecil the lion…unless, of course, they see all hunting as being the same as rape or child abuse.

The constitutional debate surrounding animal welfare and in particular the welfare of wild animals subject to control is not something new.
In the UK we have lead theScottish CA logo way in legislating the methods and methodology used, seasonal protection even the religious question has been considered but nothing has proven as divisive as the control of foxes with hounds.
Despite well over 1,000 hours of debate in two parliaments the political and public division still stands, however the events of 14th July 2015 brings the debate to an all-time low.
For reasons that had no meaningful contribution to the debate or indeed animal welfare the Scottish National Party MPs elected to side with the Labour party to vote against the Government proposals and in doing so forced the Government to withdraw. It is important to understand that there had been discussions between the government and the SNP prior to the introduction of the amendments, and that they would not have been brought forward had the SNP signalled that it was going to enter the debate.
The Scottish Countryside Alliance Director Jamie Stewart said the decision to withdraw the vote was ‘the correct one’, because the issue had now become a constitutional one, rather than a debate over animal welfare.
“The Government was due to introduce amendments to the Hunting Act under a free vote, which would have represented a significant improvement,” he said. “The amendments would have removed the arbitrary two dog limit in exempt hunting, making it legal to flush and shoot foxes.If the changes had been passed it would have been legal to manage foxes and some other wild mammals in a more effective and welfare friendly manner whilst representing a significant improvement for many farmers and wider biodiversity and moving the law into line with our own Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

“For reasons that have little, if anything, to do with the amendments under consideration or indeed animal welfare, the SNP have decided to break their often repeated commitment not to vote on the Hunting Act which only affects England and Wales.

The most disappointing outcome for those operating fox control under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 has been the calls for review and tightening of our legislation, something that hasn’t until now been on the cards. Indeed I received a letter from the Minister on 1st July 2015 stating that there was no intention to amend the Act.

I am therefore hugely disappointed in the position taken by the SNP and indeed the comments from Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson in calling David Cameron arrogant and suggesting a tightening of the Scottish legislation covering wildlife control, the two things are poles apart.

Consequently despite her previous public statements the SNP would not engage on this issue she has painted the Scottish Government into a corner and we now find ourselves a political pawn in the constitutional divide between our two parliaments and sadly animal welfare and biodiversity might suffer at that hands of parliamentary posturing. The hunting world is as one over this issue and Scotland ‘s interests are also English and Welsh interests”

CA logoTomorrow the Government was due to introduce amendments to the Hunting Act under a free vote, which would have represented a significant improvement. The amendments would have removed the arbitrary two dog limit in exempt hunting, making it legal to flush and shoot foxes using packs of hounds. If the changes had been passed it would have been legal to manage foxes and some other wild mammals using packs of hounds representing a significant improvement for many farmers and hunts, whilst moving the law into line with Scotland. The requirement to take reasonable steps to shoot would, however, have remained. 

For reasons that have little, if anything, to do with the amendments under consideration, the SNP have decided to break their often repeated commitment not to vote on the Hunting Act which only affects England and Wales.

As recently as February Nicola Sturgeon said: “The SNP have a longstanding position of not voting on matters that purely affect England – such as foxhunting south of the border, for example – and we stand by that.”

Yesterday, however, the SNP said that they would be voting against the proposals to remind “an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is”.
In the face of the SNP’s u-turn the Government has postponed the vote. This was the correct decision. This is now clearly a constitutional issue rather than one about wildlife management or animal welfare and we look forward to the Government bringing the amendments back to Parliament in due course.

This will be a deep disappointment to many of you, but we can take heart from the fact that we have shown that there is a clear majority of support for the proposals amongst English and Welsh MPs. The fact that the Labour party were ready to whip their MPs on the vote shows how desperate they were.

We cannot stress enough the appreciation we have for all those of you who have taken part in our campaign for fair, effective and humane law. It is far from over.


Sir Barney White-Spunner

Executive Chairman


This week will see an important vote in the House of Commons on the future of the Hunting Act; the consequences are equally important for the fox, farmers and other land managers.

This is not repeal of the Hunting Act and the Prime Minister’s official spokesman stated that the government will stand by its commitment in the Conservative manifesto to hold a free vote on repealing this law at some point.

It is important, therefore, to be absolutely clear on precisely what the proposed measure coming forward this week can and cannot do. The vote will be on amendments to the Hunting Act by way of a Statutory Instrument, a process by which an act of parliament can be altered in a minor way when it becomes clear that certain aspects of a law do not work. Crucially, these changes cannot overturn the prime purpose of that legislation. Hunting would still remain illegal.

The Hunting Act 2004 does not prevent the use of dogs in wildlife management in all circumstances and exemptions are included within the legislation that lay down conditions and restrictions on their use. What has prompted this particular move is the fact that some of these exemptions simply do not work. Unlike the hunting law in Scotland, which allows any number of dogs to be used to flush a wild mammal out of cover to be shot, the legislation for England and Wales permits the use of only two dogs.

"Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns" LACS, 2005

“Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns” LACS, 2005

Why? Well, anti-hunting groups saw that hunts could still operate legally under the Scottish law and they insisted upon the two dog limit when the Hunting Act was being passed in England and Wales. Where the scientific or veterinary basis for the magic number two comes from is anyone’s guess, but the likelihood is that two dogs cannot be regarded as a ‘pack’ and remember the aim here was always to ban hunting with dogs; improving wild animal welfare was never the real concern of the anti-hunting groups or many of the politicians who backed them.

Sheep farmers, especially those near large areas of forestry, found fox control using only two dogs difficult as the fox could double back time and time again and draw out the whole process. The proposed amendments allow the use of an appropriate number of dogs for a particular terrain and other relevant circumstances. Once flushed out of cover, reasonable steps must still be taken to shoot it dead. Research commissioned by the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs showed that using a larger number of dogs would be more efficient and shorten the whole process, ironically reducing the pursuit period to which the antis object. (see http://fedwfp.co.uk/ )

Some other restrictions in these exemptions are odd to say the least. A terrier can be used underground to flush out a fox and for it to be killed for the protection of birds preserved to be shot. But exactly the same process cannot be used to protect a farmer’s lamb or indeed a rare ground-nesting bird. This came about because anti-hunting MPs (and probably those animal rights groups advising them) did not realise that gamekeepers use terriers too. As the Labour Party had promised the hunting legislation would not affect shooting, this exemption had to be hurriedly drafted and included. This was just one of numerous unprincipled exemptions that make up this strange, almost anti-dog law. The proposed amendment would alter this exemption to permit terriers to be used in the same way for the prevention and reduction of serious damage to livestock.

Finding such awkward realities was a recurring problem during the passage of the Hunting Act, as it became clear that a blanket ban on the use of all dogs in wildlife management would be unworkable. Hounds and other dogs are used in pest control, following and finding wounded animals and also for scientific research and observation. So a whole range of exemptions had to be included and crucially these were agreed by both sides of the hunting debate. Bear in mind that those opposed to hunting were in the majority at the time in both the committee stage and in the House of Commons. The Hunting Act is therefore entirely the product of the anti-hunting world and these exemptions were included with the claim by MPs and anti-hunt groups that they would work. But this would be to assume that those opposed to hunting are really acting in the best interests of animal welfare and that they have knowledge of the difficulties farmers and other land managers face.

What we now see is the duplicitous nature of anti-hunting groups and their political friends coming to the fore. Adverts in the national press claim that the Hunting Act is being sabotaged. It’s not true, of course, as previously explained, but it is an indication of how far a campaigning group, and a charity at that, is prepared to lie about the government proposal. No doubt at some point the Charity Commission will be examining this advert very closely.

As the director of the League Against Cruel Sports in 2005 revealed in a leaked memo, “Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns.” So why were these exemptions included in the Hunting Act if they were never intended to work?

Why did anti-hunting groups hail the Scottish law just last year as, “a hugely important piece of legislation, as it seeks to protect foxes and other mammals from the sickeningly cruel blood sport of hunting.”  Yet in trying to bring the English and Welsh law into line with Scotland, this is now something akin to repeal. Either Scotland has banned hunting or it hasn’t – it cannot be both.

Why do anti-hunting MPs and groups claim this is repeal of the Hunting Act when they should know full well that the  Statutory Instrument process cannot overturn the main purpose of a law?

The LACS advertisement giving blatantly false information.

The LACS advertisement giving blatantly false information.

Will the Scottish National Party MPs hold to their public statement that they will not vote on purely English and Welsh issues? There could not be a clearer case of a law that is totally devoid of any Scottish angle or involvement.

Why, in what should be a free vote, is the Labour Party so obsessed with banning hunting that it is now apparently whipping its MPs to vote against amendments to improve exemptions they agreed should be included in the Hunting Act in the first place?

It is vital that people, both pro and anti–hunting, as well as the politicians and the media understand what is going on here. Looking at some of the unbelievably misinformed press stories it goes without saying that many individuals do not know what they are talking about. It’s also clear that the situation is being blatantly exploited by certain groups for their own ends.

We elect politicians to make decisions for us and not to simply weigh-up the views on both sides of any awkward argument and vote according to numbers. We expect politicians to analyse all the available evidence and come to a conclusion that they can honestly say is the right one, rather than the one public opinion polls or social media campaigns demand. If they get it wrong too often they can be voted out of office – that is how our system of having parliamentary representatives should work. The alternative is that we do away with politicians all together and instead run the country via Twitter. Where would that lead us?

So often people say that all politicians are the same, but that’s not true and they can be divided into two groups. There are many in all parties who are honourable, hard-working and will do the right thing, but when it comes to hunting there are some, many in the Labour Party but also a few in the Liberal Democrats, who will play party politics with people’s livelihoods and unashamedly use issues, in this instance animal welfare, for their own prejudiced point-scoring ends. The Conservative Party is not without its small group of dissenting MPs, who should be asked some of the questions outlined above and why they too are playing along with the antis’ duplicitous game.

The 15th of July vote will reveal some answers and then we will know precisely which of our Members of Parliament fall into each category.


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