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Archive for March, 2014

League is flushed out

So now we know; the Scottish hunting ban is “unenforceable”.

The League Against Cruel Sports has finally had to come clean about the effectiveness of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and despite all the hype and bluster at the time of its introduction, this law is now regarded by the anti-hunt group as severely flawed.

Any admission about getting it wrong is certainly a rarity as far as the LACS and other anti hunting organisations are concerned, so it’s worth looking at the reason for this confession and what was said at the time the Scottish legislation was passed.

Labour MSP Mike Watson kicked off the campaign when he introduced his bill to ban hunting in the newly devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999. It was a hard fought battle, not least as it was seen as a rehearsal for the bigger campaign south of the border where there were many more hunts. LACS staff lobbied MSPs and were eager to claim the victory that eventually followed in 2002 when the law was passed.

Here’s what was said in the LACS’ magazine Wildlife Guardian in 2002, “League staff attended every Parliamentary committee meeting and briefed MSPs about the dangers of dozens of pro-hunt amendments. Many hunters’ proposals were so bad that even the Rural Affairs Committee rejected them. Others were accepted by the pro-hunt majority on the committee, even where it accepted that they ‘wrecked’ the Bill; but these amendments were set to be overturned by the full Parliament in February.”  So there can be no doubt that the final Act produced at the end of this process was what the LACS wanted. As far as the law being enforceable there were no misgivings because this legislation, “bans fox hunting, hare coursing and fox baiting. And, despite the claims of the Scottish hunters, there are no gaping loopholes or flaws.”

But that was 12 years ago and perhaps views might have changed since then? Well, no, not really. Here’s what was said just last month when LACS celebrated the anniversary of the Scottish ban, “The Protection of Wild Mammals Act is a hugely important piece of legislation, as it seeks to protect foxes and other mammals from the sickeningly cruel blood sport of hunting.”

Now we have the current debate about the two dog flushing exemption in the Hunting Act possibly being amended by the statutory instrument process. (see https://jamesbarrington.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/amendment-of-the-hunting-act/)  A similar exemption exists in the Scottish law, but permits any number of dogs. Both exemptions require the mammal to be shot as soon as possible and the only difference is the number of dogs used. So making the English and Welsh law the same as the Scottish law would seem to make sense, especially given that a scientific study shows the whole process would be more efficient and shorter using a larger number of dogs.

The Scottish hunt ban - still being celebrated?

The Scottish hunt ban – still being celebrated?

One might have thought that making the Hunting Act work, as well as shortening the flushing period, would be welcomed by the LACS, but that would be to make the mistake to think that improving animal welfare comes before preventing hunts. In their latest statement they say, This is not some minor amendment, but would effectively legalise hunting again and would have driven a coach and horses through the current legislation, rendering it effectively useless and unenforceable.”

Quite apart from not being able to appreciate that a statutory instrument cannot overturn the main aim of a law, the League was faced with a dilemma; either the Scottish law has banned hunting and is good legislation or it has not banned hunting and is flawed legislation – it cannot be both.

There are important aspects to this situation.

Numerous front bench opposition MPs have chosen to listen to the LACS, IFAW and the RSPCA regarding this amendment and made their opposition to it clear. Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said, “The hunting of wild animals belongs in the dustbin of history and any attempt by this Government to repeal or amend the Hunting Act by the back door will be vigorously opposed by the Labour Party. With Britain facing a cost of living crisis, David Cameron’s obsession to hold another vote in Parliament on fox hunting shows how out of touch he is with people’s day to day lives.”  In fact, Labour politicians have raised questions about hunting a total of 134 times since 1997 and Ms Eagle conveniently forgets that 700 hours of Parliamentary time – ten times longer than the debates on invading Iraq – were taken up to finally pass the Hunting Act.

“I was proud to vote for the Hunting Act in 2004 to prevent the brutal killing of foxes to satisfy the blood lust of a few brainless toffs.”  writes that champion of the class war John, now Lord Prescott – never one to let a good opportunity to vent his spleen pass and to show his full understanding of an issue. “The only reason for amending the fox hunting ban is to give pleasure to a bunch of ruddy-faced toffee-nosed twits.” 

These politicians are deliberately ignoring the limitations of a statutory instrument process and are blatantly playing politics with the livelihoods of farmers and animal welfare.

When politicians base their policies on the spurious and conveniently altered claims of campaign groups, it is inevitable that they too will be seen as disingenuous.

 

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Gavin Grant, the controversial Chief Executive of the RSPCA, has stepped down due to ill health. Jamie Foster considers his leadership and looks ahead to the choices the charity now faces.

This has been a time of upheaval for those with unusually radical views. The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, is struggling to hold on to her political career after the Mail exposed links between the organisation that she used to work with, the NCCL, and PIE, a group that campaigned on behalf of paedophiles. It appears that while leader of the NCCL, Patricia Hewitt, the ex Labour Health Minister, may have supported moves to lower the age of consent to ten years old. Some people have tried to defend this position on the basis that the NCCL fearlessly stood up for civil liberties in the face of extreme opposition. That argument loses much credibility when you consider that the NCCL turned into Liberty, an organisation notable by its silence on the issue of the civil liberties of the hunting community leading up to the Ban.

Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt are not the only people in the news following a dalliance with extremism. On 25 February Gavin Grant announced he was stepping down as CEO of the RSPCA due to ‘ill health.’ This was not unexpected to those of us who had been following his career since January 2012. There were various moments when we became concerned for his health. One such moment was when he stood up at the Game Fair and announced that he was very happy for people to eat what they hunted, “like coarse fishermen who always eat everything they catch.” I hope that is wasn’t meals of fried chubb and tench that made him feel unwell.

Gavin Grant was also well known for suggesting that farmers who participated in the badger cull should be ‘named and shamed’. This was oddly on the basis that shooting badgers was cruel due to the suffering that they would experience. Odd because in the run up to the Hunting Act it was the RSPCA’s position that shooting foxes would end up with no possibility of wounding whatsoever. Not content with making enemies of farmers he also venomously attacked the hunting community calling them animal abusers and calling for the sentence for someone convicted of hunting to be raised to five years. While he was calling for things he also called for Becher’s Brook to be removed from the Grand National and for all live animal exports to be stopped. Opening up conflicts on so many fronts was a definite reason to question the state of Gavin’s health.

Gavin’s campaign to halt the export of live animals was also a reason to question his judgment. He stated publically that it was ‘a vile trade that must be halted.’ It would appear that, as part of his relentless campaign to achieve this he met with representatives of Thanet Council in order to try to find a way to expose the lack of facilities for loading and unloading animals at the Port of Ramsgate and damage the live export trade fatally. On 12 September 2012 the lack of facilities were exposed when the RSPCA insisted that a consignment of sheep were unloaded due to one of them having a broken leg. This resulted in a situation where two sheep drowned and more than 40 were shot. Strangely this was claimed as a victory by Animal Rights campaigners.

It would be disingenuous to claim that the RSPCA’s move towards the Animal Rights agenda and away from their traditional core belief in Animal Welfare began with Gavin Grant. The process started in the 70s and 80s with people like Richard Ryder and Andrew Linzey starting the RSPCA reform group. Ryder and Linzey were both ‘radical intellectuals’ of the type that emerged during the 70s. They believed in ‘speciesism’ and objected to animals being called ‘pets’ because it was demeaning. Ryder went from being Chairman of the RSPCA to being part of Political Animal Lobby with Brian Davis who founded IFAW. PAL gave Tony Blair £1M as an incentive to bring the Hunting Act into law.

So to be fair Gavin didn’t create the problem that the RSPCA is facing but he was certainly a major symptom of it. Gavin came from the lunatic fringe of the Liberal Democrats for whom believing that a cat had the same rights as a child was not a stretch of the imagination. During his tenure as CEO the RSPCA spent £327,000 on a day in the Magistrates   Court to prosecute the Heythrop and managed to alienate a large proportion of the animal loving British public. No mean feat.

Now it seems the RSPCA is having a long hard look at itself. I have spoken to Stephen Wooler, the man who is conducting the review of the RSPCA’s prosecution policy, because he approached me to provide a perspective on the difficulties surrounding the RSPCA. It will be fascinating to see what he reports, but whatever conclusion he comes to it will not be for lack of being told what the problems are.

In fairness the RSPCA are not unaware of their difficulties themselves. A leaked memo from their current Chairman Paul Draycott began, rather aptly in the current circumstances, to warn the RSPCA to learn lessons from the Crimean War. The Charge of the Light Brigade, Mr Draycott pointed out, was a disaster because the person in charge was not aware of the full facts, and couldn’t see the dangers he faced. Ironically it was not long between the memo being put to the Board and the person in charge of the RSPCA going off to spend more time with his family. The memo identified that the RSPCA was in financial crisis and that the new ‘political’ direction of the Society was not likely to help that situation.

I wish the RSPCA well in their current introspection. I would advise them to consider other changes of personnel. They know who the Animal Rights enthusiasts are within their number and they ought to consider whether those people might have a brighter future with one of the more extreme fringe groups like LACS or Animal Aid. They might also consider whether Brian May’s health is everything it used to be. A continued association with a man who compared the Bader Cull to the Holocaust may not be entirely profitable. I would also advise that the Society to embrace any suggestions they may get from Mr Woller and others to consider passing on their evidence to the CPS and standing back from prosecution, and any suggestions that proper oversight of their activities is vital to regain any public confidence. I would counsel against listening to the yapping voices of those dyed in the wool fans of the Society who have that wool pulled firmly over their eyes when it comes to recognising the problems that the Society is facing. Finally I would wish Mr Grant a speedy recovery and hope that maybe he considers a return to public life by bringing his PR skills to another organisation that would benefit from his particular abilities.

Any chance of masterminding the Lib Dems election campaign in 2015 Gavin?

 

Jamie Foster is a Partner in the solicitors firm of Clarke Willmott. He is a Solicitor-Advocate with Higher Rights of Audience in all courts. He specialises in regulatory law, advising and representing clients involved in environmental prosecutions, health and safety prosecutions and animal welfare cases.

The above article will also appear in the forthcoming issue of Countryman’s Weekly http://www.countrymansweekly.com/

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