Archive for January, 2013

Debatable tactics

Perhaps I might be a little old-fashioned, but I always thought that compliments were supposed to be passed to others, rather than given to oneself.

So to hear Joe Duckworth, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, ‘tweeting’ how he supposedly won a debate with me is odd. The debate, entitled “The rights and wrongs of hunting” was organised by the School of Law at Middlesex University and I spoke as an animal welfare consultant to the Countryside Alliance and Council of Hunting Associations. I say it’s odd because while I’ve witnessed all forms of hunting with hounds in the UK and abroad, apparently Mr Duckworth has never seen a hunt and so has gained all his knowledge from sitting watching films shot by other people who presumably don’t like hunts either.

There was no vote at the end of this debate, so unless he was somehow aware that the majority of people in the room were his supporters, he couldn’t possibly claim he’d won. Maybe that’s why he brought some of his LACS staff with him as insurance and in any case, in this world of social media, all that matters is getting your message out quickly, ‘retweet’ it and soon it becomes the truth.

But in reality the aptly named Mr Duckworth ducked a number of relevant questions. He argued that the Hunting Act was good legislation. What then was his response to the list of critics of the Act, including politicians from all parties, journalists, police, animal welfare experts, legal experts, veterinarians, senior civil servants and even former Prime Minister, Tony Blair? No answer.

What was his explanation for the numerous illogical clauses in the Hunting Act? No answer.

He described terrier work in graphic detail, but when asked why, if it is so bad, is it legal under the Hunting Act? No answer.

Why, when literally millions of pounds have been spent supporting and enforcing the Hunting Act, not a penny has been spent on researching its effects on wildlife? No answer.

Was wildlife management acceptable or needed? No.

What about the illogical, unprincipled exemptions in the Hunting Act? Get rid of all the exemptions, said Mr Duckworth.

One of the LACS staff members wanted to know why terrier work was legal under the Hunting Act. (One would have though she should know) It was due to the Labour Party’s original promise to deal with hunting, but not to affect shooting. When it became apparent that gamekeepers sometimes use terriers to flush out and kill foxes to protect birds to be shot, an exemption had to be made. Once again very odd if, as the LACS claim, they oppose killing for sport.

I made it absolutely clear that all the activities involving wild mammals, (hunting, shooting, gamekeeping and aspects of farming) could be done well or they could be done badly. So would Mr Duckworth accept a law prohibiting cruelty to all wild mammals in all circumstances, based on evidence rather than opinion? No answer, though he was soon on Twitter seeking to stir up concerns within the shooting world about my comments. He should try to understand that debating is not just about pontificating on what you believe, but answering questions too.

The manner in which he conducted his argument was predictable. It followed the same, tired old lines about “bloodsports fanatics”, how morally reprehensible hunting is, how the people who take part conspire to break the law and even how those undertaking terrier work were often involved in other serious crimes. Ironic really when one recalls that it was only last year that the LACS’ head of campaigns and communications was jailed for 16 months for fraud.

All designed to stir up anger… and all from someone who has never seen a hunt.

The pro hunting people in the audience could not have been further removed from the image Mr Duckworth and his supporters wish to create and it isn’t surprising that many simply don’t bother talking to those antis who have closed minds and have swallowed their own propaganda.

The issues involved in hunting and wildlife management are complex, a fact acknowledged and emphasised by the organisers of the debate. The American writer, Henry Mencken once said,For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat…and wrong.”  That succinctly describes the Hunting Act. Those who think otherwise are only fooling themselves.  


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