Archive for August, 2011

Blue Fox Tories

“Fox hunting vote ‘killed off’ by new generation of young urban Tory women opposed to bloodsports” was the dramatic headline in the Mail on Sunday recently. There followed a flurry of media interest, probably due to political stories being a bit thin on the ground during the parliamentary recess. So what substance lies behind this bold headline and the people who support it?

Well, a quick run-through of the Conservatives Against Foxhunting website reveals considerable opposition to hunting, but not much information on what might take its place. Naive similarities are made with bear and bull baiting and dog and cock fighting, activities which were banned almost 200 years ago. Even Richard Martin, the man who championed the first animal welfare law in the world and whose work led to the formation of the RSPCA and the banning of these baiting “sports”, easily dismissed such comparisons (see Humanity Dick Martin).

So, what is said by these  “Blue Foxes” about the alternative methods of management or control of wild mammals?  Well, very little is the answer, in fact I could find nothing at all on the website.  

Let’s move on then to examine exactly what the Hunting Act does and pose the question: Do the Blue Tories really know what they are supporting? The following is what can and can’t be done under this ‘workable, principled, animal welfare law’:

  • It is legal to chase wild mammals out of cover using dogs as long as only two dogs are used and “reasonable steps” are taken to ensure the animal is shot.
  • It is illegal to use three hounds to flush out an animal and a second offence is committed if there is no intention to shoot it.
  • It legal to use a terrier underground to flush out a fox and kill it in order to protect birds to be shot for sport – e.g. pheasants.
  • It is illegal to use exactly the same method to protect farm livestock or a rare species.
  • It is legal to hunt a rabbit with dogs.
  • It is illegal to hunt a hare with dogs.
  • It is legal to hunt a hare that has already been shot and wounded.
  • It is illegal to hunt a fox that has already been shot and wounded.
  • It is legal to hunt a rat with dogs.
  • It is illegal to hunt a mouse with dog.

 The Hunting Act creates technical offences, not actual animal welfare-based ones. An example is the case of Richard Down, the huntsman with the Quantock Staghounds convicted last year of trying to catch an injured deer as soon as possible. His crime? He used three hounds instead of the legal two as required under this ridiculous law. Had he been able to use a whole pack, it is likely the animal would have been caught sooner and put out of its misery.

Can anyone truly justify this nonsense? Do they honestly think that those animals that were hunted with hounds are now living in some sort of woodland utopia? The fact is they are now being shot, perhaps well or perhaps badly, in greater numbers and, for anyone who isn’t blinded by their own propaganda, that means more wounding – something you do not get with hunting. But what do we get from one of those Blue Foxes, Ann Widdecombe, writing in the Daily Express? From the earths of a thousand woods you can hear the foxes laughing.” Pathetic, truly pathetic.

 Try to explain this, as I did at last year’s Conservative Party conference, and they simply do not want to know. Ignorance is bliss…especially when you’re not the one suffering. The fact is no one is trying to turn the clock back to the way hunting was before the Hunting Act came into force.

The message to these Blue Foxes should be this: wait and see exactly what is being put forward before making public statements on repeal of the Hunting Act. Otherwise the Blue Foxes might just end up with red faces.




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Humanity Dick Martin

The period surrounding the turn of the 18th century into the 19th saw some of the most tumultuous changes in the history of this country. Britain had lost her American colonies and brought Ireland into a United Kingdom. Slavery was still legal. The French Revolution had taken place and there was serious concern that similar change was about to occur in Britain too. Voting was confined to the landed gentry, though the Great Reform Act was to change that situation. The Industrial Revolution was underway and a war was being fought with France. At such a time, one would have thought that animal welfare would be fairly low down on the list of priorities for politicians. In the case of Colonel Richard Martin, estate owner, lawyer and politician, this was certainly not so.

Colonel Richard Martin MP

Born in 1754 in the West of Ireland to a wealthy estate-owning family, Martin had a deep concern for animals, as did the family and especially his mother, Bridget. Wherever she went she was always accompanied by her dogs.  However, as a countryman, Martin was an avid horse rider, a fox hunter, shooter and fisherman and saw no contradiction in these activities and his love of animals. So strong were his feelings that when he inherited the family estate he would punish any of his workers found being cruel to an animal by imprisoning them in a small building on Ballynahinch Lake.

Richard Martin entered the Irish parliament in 1776, not to be confused with the Irish government, which was appointed by the Westminster parliament. After union with Great Britain, Irish MPs were obliged to sit at Westminster, where Martin represented Galway. Here, he was able to pursue causes close to his heart – Catholic emancipation (even though he was a Protestant), abolition of the death penalty for forgery and, of course, the protection animals.

Martin was consumed by his passion to prevent cruelty and throughout his time at Westminster he would wander the streets of London seeking out animal abuses, even to the point of physically intervening and putting himself at risk. His work did not go unnoticed in the press and it was his friend the Prince Regent, also sympathetic to Martin’s campaign, who subsequently gave him the nickname “Humanity Dick”.

Though the issue of cruelty to animals in its various forms, usually the beating of horses or the baiting “sports”, had been raised in parliament on a number of occasions, the bills had always failed. Yet slowly the numbers voting were getting tighter, thanks to Martin’s graphic descriptions of abuses and his indefatigable determination to see an end to wanton animal suffering.  On 21st July 1822 Martin’s Ill Treatment of Horses and Cattle Bill received Royal Assent. It was the first major piece of animal welfare legislation in the world. Known as ‘Martin’s Law’, it paved the way for all other animal welfare legislation.

Throughout the debates that had preceded this momentous event, detractors had made the comparison between baiting and hunting. Martin, a fox hunter himself, relied on other hunters in the House to secure his bill and made the clear distinction between the two activities. There was a world of difference, he argued, between hunting to kill and baiting to torture.

Martin continued to champion the animal welfare cause and in a case of cruelty to a donkey, he himself fought the legal battle, partly due to the lack of seriousness some magistrates regarded the new law. Martin brought the unfortunate beast into the courtroom as evidence, much to the amusement of some court correspondents and the header picture above depicts that scene.

Another supporter of animal welfare law, though someone who was securing his place in history for championing another worthy cause, was William Wilberforce and it was a meeting in 1824 attended by both men that saw the creation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The charity was later given its Royal title in 1840 by Queen Victoria.

Difficulties occurred over Martin’s subsequent election in 1826 and mounting debts caused him to flee to France, though he remained involved in the SPCA. Richard Martin died in 1834 and the following year his law was extended to cover all domestic animals.

It is ironic that the man who championed the first animal welfare law in the world and help set up the first and most known animal welfare charity was a supporter of foxhunting, an activity that would subsequently consume much RSPCA time, money and effort in banning.

It is a reminder of another person who spent much of his life in support of animal welfare, the sadly departed John Hobhouse. John, a decorated war hero, sat on the national council of the RSPCA for 20 years and was its chairman for 7 years. His radical policies, especially in setting up numerous homes for stray animals, literally saved tens of thousands of animals’ lives. He said shortly after the hunting ban, “The Hunting Act is severely flawed and unworkable… For an Act of Parliament purporting to relieve animal suffering to do the exact opposite is very sad. That the RSPCA, which does immensely important work on so many animal welfare fronts, has been party to this fiasco is a tragedy.”

For that, John was ridiculed just as Richard Martin was, except this time by animal rightists who, in their own blinkered way, simply cannot accept the truth.

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Useful quotes

Here are some interesting quotations from a variety of people involved in the hunting debate over the years. Some are revealing, some are ridiculous, all are relevant.

On Banning Hunting:

“The Hunting Act is severely flawed and unworkable… For an Act of Parliament purporting to relieve animal suffering to do the exact opposite is very sad. That the RSPCA, which does immensely important work on so many animal welfare fronts, has been party to this fiasco is a tragedy.”

John Hobhouse, Chairman of the RSPCA 1967-75, letter to The Times – 12th September 2005


“There is not a subject under the sun that is better suited to us (the Labour Party), for raising our morale in the constituencies, than a ban on fox hunting.”

Dennis Skinner MP, House of Commons – 17th June 2004


“It is not a matter of great significance in animal welfare, but it has become totemic.”

Tony Banks MP (the late Lord Stratford), BBC Radio 4 – 24th November 2003


“Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over that Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war.”

Peter Bradley, former Labour MP for The Wrekin, Sunday Telegraph – 21st November 2004


“Within a couple of months it would all be over and everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about.”

John Bryant, League Against Cruel Sports, Daily Telegraph – 6th January 1996


“This has nothing to do with animal welfare – this is for the miners”

Dennis Skinner MP, Labour Party Conference – September 2004


“This is a dispute we must win, having long ago ceased to be about the fate of a few thousand deer and foxes. It’s about who governs us. Us or them?”

Chris Mullin, former Labour MP for Sunderland South – A View from the Foothills (2009)


“I’m not particularly in favour of foxhunting myself, but in the end I came to the conclusion that it was a mistake to have gone down this path.”

Tony Blair, Interview with Andrew Marr, BBC TV-  1st September 2010


On Saving Lives:

“The League sees the Prosecution Fighting Fund as the next important step in the campaign to stop hunt barbarity forever. As we take more hunts that have broken the law to the courts and proven them guilty, more are going to think twice before continuing their disgusting hobby. A regular gift of £5 a month helps us to achieve this. Your donation can save lives.” 

League Against Cruel Sports, Support the Hunting campaign webpage – 15th March 2007


“As one of those who voted for the Act, I made it clear beforehand in many discussions with the pro-hunting lobby that I expected farmers to shoot more foxes (an acknowledged agricultural pest) after the Act was passed.”

David Rendel, former Liberal Democrat MP for Newbury, letter to the Independent – 1st December 2006


“They are being shot by farmers, caught in snares and still hunted, despite the ban. I think it’s had virtually no effect.”

John Bryant – Protect Our Wild Animals, the Independent – 2nd November 2007


On improving Animal Welfare:

“…the RSPCA heralds this ban on hunting with dogs as marking a watershed in the development of a more civilised society for people and animals.”

John Rolls, RSPCA Director of Animal Welfare Promotion – 18th November 2004

“The ban on hunting with dogs will
radically change the landscape of animal welfare in the UK…”

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, former UK Director, IFAW – 18th February 2005

“The hunting ban is a massive leap forwards to the creation of a decent and humane society.”

John Cooper, Chairman  League Against Cruel Sports – 18th February 2005


  • In July 2005, the RSPCA announced a 78% rise in animal cruelty cases
  • In July 2006, the RSPCA said that conviction cases had risen by 20%
  • In April 2007, the RSPCA revealed that its workload had increased by 50%.
  • In April 2008, the RSPCA states that cases of abandoned pets rose by 25%
  • In May 2011, the RSPCA states that cases of alleged cruelty rose by 10%

On Policing:

“I do not have any dedicated resources to police hunts…the resources have to come from
elsewhere. I am concerned that a hunting ban could cause difficulties.”

Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, Western Morning News -24th February 2004

“…our duty as police officers….. is to try and enforce the law without fear or favour and that does
become increasingly difficult when a law is particularly unfavourable.    It will be extremely difficult to police
and it will be extremely resource intensive…”

Chief Inspector Jan Berry, BBC Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’ – 23rd October 2004


“People can go up above the hunt in a helicopter that has monitoring equipment.” 

Ann Widdecombe MP , House of Commons – 22nd March 2007


On Interpretation and Enforcement:

“We need to ask why the ban is not being properly enforced…If the police are rather torpid on the issue, the Crown Prosecution Service is even worse.”

Ann Widdecombe MP , House of Commons – 22nd March 2007


“It is now clear that the Act is straightforward and enforceable.”

Alun Michael MP, The House Magazine – 21st January 2008


We observe at the outset that the experience of this case has led us to the conclusion that it seems to us that the relevant law is far from simple to interpret or apply; any given set of facts may be susceptible to differing interpretations. The result is an unhappy state of affairs which leaves all those involved in a position of uncertainty.”

Judge Graham Cottle, Tony Wright Appeal judgment, Exeter Crown Court – 30thNovember 2007

“The Act is difficult to enforce, as there are so many exemptions…”

Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor of the Daily Telegraph and BBC commentator on law, April 2007

“Over the last 20 years, the public and the media have come to regard several events as notorious examples of bad government: the Community Charge (now remembered as the Poll Tax) in 1990, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the failure of the Child Support Agency, the Hunting Act 2004, the story of the Millennium Dome.”

Good Government a report by the Better Government Initiative, January 2010


“…the Hunting Act is working well…”

League Against Cruel Sports website 2010

“…the Hunting Act contains loop-holes big enough to drive a pack hounds through…” 

Protect Our Wild Animals website 2010

On Shooting:

“There simply aren’t any wounded foxes from shooting in the countryside as far as I’m concerned.”

Prof. Stephen Harris (scientist commissioned by the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal), Shooting Times – 12th June 2003

There is not absolute proof that wounded foxes suffer…”

Jackie Ballard, former Director General RSPCA, Letter – 9th May 2005

“..the notion that gun packs merely use dogs to flush foxes out into the open where they can be humanely shot is false….such hunts involve great cruelty.”

League Against Cruel Sports, Letter – 28th May 1997

“Using dogs to flush (the fox)…to be shot…has to be 100 miles better than the current situation for animal welfare.”

Jackie Ballard, former Director General RSPCA, BBC Radio 4 – 17th June 2003

“Game shooting is horrible and nasty… the RSPCA will get around to try and end this.”

Jackie Ballard, former Director General RSPCA  – February 2003

On Pest Control:

“If hunting is not an efficient pesticide, it has no purpose.”

Ann Widdecombe MP, House of Commons – 18th March 2002


“In pest control, welfare is treated as a secondary priority over efficiency in many cases…it appears, across the board, that ‘pest control’ has been the justification for some of the worst excesses in animal welfare.”

Dr Nick Fox, Welfare Aspects of Shooting Foxes Report (2003)


On Wild Mammal Welfare:

We need to achieve a proper balance between the needs of animal welfare, the need to avoid deliberate cruelty and the rights of the countryside to pursue its sports such as hunting.”

Lord Donoughue, Sunday Telegraph – 4th July 2010 (on his Bill to give all wild mammals protection from cruelty)


Lord Donoughue is apparently planning to put forward some sort of Private Members Bill in the House of Lords which would make it an offence to be cruel to a wild mammal. The problem with that suggestion is that someone would actually have to be cruel to the animal before they could be charged with any offence.”

Douglas Batchelor, former Chief Executive, League Against Cruel Sports LACS website – 9th July 2010


Relevant extracts regarding hunting from A Journey  by Tony Blair- 2010 :

“The fox hunting subject resulted in one of the domestic legislative measures I most regret..”

“I was ignorant about the sport. I thought it a bit weird that people wanted to gallivant around hunting a fox, but having read my Trollope I understood it is a part of our history. What I didn’t understand –but boy, I understood it later – was that it is a rather large part of our rural present.”

“We went to lunch with some of their friends and there happened to be a woman who was mistress of a hunt near Oxford, I think. Instead of berating me, she took me calmly and persuasively through what they did, the jobs that were dependent on it, the social contribution of keeping the hunt and social consequence of banning it, and did it with an effect that completely convinced me.”



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Hunting and rioting

The terrible scenes of rioting and criminal activity witnessed across parts of London and other major cities over the past few days have shocked the nation. Yet for some such incidents will always provide an opportunity to make political capital. A case in point is the latest blog by the League Against Cruel Sports’ new Chief Executive, Joe Duckworth.

Amazingly, Mr Duckworth has linked the riots with “hunt havoc” and in doing so reveals just a little of his class prejudice. He says, “So, is hunt havoc the same as urban anti-social behaviour? In terms of the effect on victims’ lives and methods of bullying and harassment used there are clear parallels. But I think hunt havoc is worse because of the nature of the perpetrators.”

Mr Duckworth, giving a nod to his previous job as Chief Executive of Newham Borough Council, makes a bold claim in saying, “What struck me was that this victim of hunt havoc in the rural idyll sounded exactly the same as a victim of anti-social behaviour on a council estate in East London. They felt the same. There is a common sense of injustice that “these people” can just get away with it, a sense of hopelessness that nobody can do anything to stop them, a sense of isolation and that they are suffering alone. A sense that “these people” know the damage they are doing to peoples’ lives but they simply don’t care. The good news is that in urban areas these issues have been tackled and communities are better places to live – result, people feel better about everything.”  That last point might be a matter of opinion.

Over the years I have come across a number of incidents in which people have been harassed by an individual or individuals from within a hunt. Sometimes it is little more than hounds running after something they shouldn’t (oddly enough also known as ‘rioting’) though on other occasions a few hunt supporters certainly have been guilty of serious harassment.  There wasn’t and never could be any excuse for such callousness and I don’t know any senior hunting person who would even try to justify these actions. Indeed, they know full well how damaging such incidents can be to a way of life they hold dear. Hunts are accountable. The names of their masters and organisers are publicly available and action can be taken against them via various channels, including the hunting authorities or the police, if the evidence is forthcoming.

But remember, it also true that many hunting people have had to contend with harassment and far worse from anti-hunting groups, either on hunting days or at their homes. Extremists are not confined to one side in this argument.

However, with that said, the sheer insensitivity of comparing the hurt, loss and devastation that many people are now suffering with what at worse may be a serious local dispute can only be described as astounding. Yet the picture that is being painted here for the many who will never attend a hunt, never meet a hunting person and will simply accept the image that is being portrayed by the League, is one of a mafia-style feudal system that keeps its peasants in check and stamps on anyone who gets in its way of its animal-killing fun.

If that is the way in which the Hunting Act has to be preserved, this legislation is even weaker than I thought.

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My attention was drawn recently to a ‘blog’ by the new Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports. It was the title “The use and misuse of science” that particularly stood out. This sounds very similar to a report published in 2007 by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management and the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group, except here the full title is “The use, misuse and abuse of science in support of the Hunting Act 2004” but this is where the similarity ends.

Quite correctly, the LACS article states that science can inform us on certain issues, but can only take us so far. There is a moral aspect that must also be addressed and that, in legislative terms, is where politicians come in. So one would have thought that there would be some sort of common ground between pro and anti hunting groups in the accuracy of what is stated publicly via the media and what is put before politicians. Well, no.

A question raised in the article is “do hunted animals suffer?”  The answer, according to LACS, is that “for all the science when you see a poor fox or stag surrounded by hounds it’s obvious what the poor animal is feeling.”   In other words, science doesn’t count here – apparently it’s what we see and assume that matters. In a way, that sums up the argument put by the LACS, IFAW and the RSPCA before and after the passing of the Hunting Act.

In early 2004, the then Director General of the RSPCA stated, “The RSPCA’s policy on hunting, which has been developed over many years on the basis of a large body of scientific and technical evidence, is clear..”. Yet despite numerous requests from politicians to the RSPCA over a two-year period requesting them to provide just one valid scientific study that shows hunting with dogs causes an unacceptable degree of suffering to the quarry, no such research has been forthcoming.

 There are numerous other examples of science being invented or ignored to suit a desired end:

  • Peer-reviewed research on wounding rates in shot foxes was dismissed and instead clearly flawed and unpublished work was hailed by the anti-hunting organisations (see Hunting, shooting and spinning).
  • Results of work monitoring the fox population during the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001 were claimed to be evidence of hunting playing no part in fox population control.
  •  Two separate scientific studies of foxes in America were grossly misinterpreted and rolled into one piece of work, giving a totally false conclusion. The results were, nevertheless, submitted to both the Burns Inquiry and the Portcullis House hearings, despite strong denials from the scientist involved.
  • A study on the biodiversity benefits of fieldsports was ignored.
  • An authoritative paper supported by over 550 veterinarians was ignored.

Nothing more than opinions seemed to be given the same degree of importance, or indeed even greater importance, to validated and published research. For example one scientist said, “it seems likely that the welfare of these animals would also be poor when they are the subject of a chase” and amazingly another claimed that hunting with hounds was on the same level as the use of a harpoons on whales and indeed worse than the leg-hold trap.

In all of this, thought to what may take the place of the use of scenting hounds was hardly given space and that is where a truly moral consideration should have been made.

So yes, by all means examine the use, misuse and abuse of science, but let’s be clear who doing the choosing and abusing.

 The use, misuse and abuse of science in support of the Hunting Act 2004  is available on the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management website:


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