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Archive for December, 2014

Boxing Day 2014

The Boxing Day meets this year, being the 10th anniversary of the hunting ban, showed that those who disagree with the Hunting Act have not gone away and, if anything, are stronger than ever.

National and local newspapers ran numerous stories of town squares and high streets up and down the country packed with people coming out to support their local hunt. All this despite that show of bravado by the League Against Cruel Sports years ago when they claimed that everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about just a couple of months after a hunting ban.

Thousands of supporters attended the Beaufort Hunt meet this year

Thousands of supporters attended the Beaufort Hunt meet this year

It poses a dilemma for anti-hunting groups who, on one hand, like to claim this is a dying sport, but then faced with the images of hundreds of thousands of hunt supporters quickly change their tune to say this is because hunting has now been made ‘cruelty-free’ by the Hunting Act. However, that creates another problem, which is the apparent contradictory claim made throughout the year that many hunts have been breaking the law, hence the recent calls for the Hunting Act to be strengthened.

But hold on a minute…this new demand runs counter to what was said many times before by the LACS and others that the Hunting Act is a highly successful and workable piece of legislation which, if true, begs the question, “Why are you calling for it to be amended?”

Perhaps part of the answer lies in this example, given that if you don’t understand a complex activity, you won’t be able to draft legislation robust enough to ban it. I took part in a number of radio interviews over the Christmas period and in one, while debating with a senior LACS spokesman, it transpired that he had never even seen a hunt, arguing that an act does not have to be witnessed to outlaw it. The argument goes something like this: you don’t have to see a murder or a sexual assault to know it’s wrong and therefore you don’t have to see hunting to know this is wrong too. No one could really dispute the first point, but the second?

The Hunting Act 2004 - a law that eve the antis finally accept is flawed.

The Hunting Act 2004 – a law that even the antis have now finally accepted is flawed.

Can this view apply to all issues, especially activities that have significant support from a sizeable number of respectable, law-abiding individuals? If we take that LACS’ proposition to its logical conclusion it will inevitably result in decisions being made and laws being passed on little more than snapshot opinions. Anyone with a degree of first-hand experience and detailed knowledge of a subject would simply be swept aside by the far greater number of individuals who can now be asked loaded questions in opinion polls or via social media, shown edited films and told that hunting has no purpose other than ‘killing for fun’. This is the modus operandi of the anti-hunting groups and, with a general election looming next year, politicians will undoubtedly be targeted relentlessly with these messages.

The likelihood of repeal of the flawed Hunting Act being included in at least one political party manifesto has made some people a bit jumpy, even to the point where the antis have to get their tame journalists to create scare headlines, as the Daily Express did with Top Tories warned that attempting to repeal the hunting ban could be toxic”, though it doesn’t say who in the Conservative Party is making the call. (If it is the so-called Blue Foxes group of anti-hunting Tories, it might be a sobering fact to note that they couldn’t find even one Conservative MP speaker at their fringe meeting this year who was solidly behind the Hunting Act).

The twists and turns of the antis’ arguments, often put by people who, by their own admission, haven’t even seen the activity they so vehemently condemn or indeed those things that may replace it, should make any serious politician or commentator think carefully about who and what they believe. Unless, of course, the aim is to simply score political points in the same cynical way in which the anti-hunting groups do business.

Lord Donoughue's Wild Mammals Welfare Bill is principled, workable and fair.

Lord Donoughue’s Wild Mammals Welfare Bill is principled, workable and could resolve the hunting debate.

The media and, more importantly, politicians should remember these facts when being bombarded with e-mails, postcards and phone calls in this pre-election period. They should also be made aware of the way in which the hunting debate can be properly settled in a manner that addresses genuine cruelty to wild animals, while accepting the need for wildlife management. Labour Peer Lord Donoughue has proposed a principled, fair and workable law, which would prohibit all deliberate unnecessary suffering to any wild mammal. Any conviction under such legislation would be based on sound evidence and not opinion or prejudice, as in the Hunting Act. (see Wild mammal welfare and the Donoughue principle ) 

In its coverage on the Boxing Day hunts, the Independent said hunting was a “tradition that refuses to die” and nor will it until a sensible conclusion is reached. So while the media and political debate revolves around repeal of the Hunting Act, the way in which it will finally be brought to an end is by following the Donoughue principle and putting something far better in its place.

If the groundwork is laid for this to happen in 2015 it will indeed be a very good New Year.

 

 

 

 

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Recently I was asked by a college to take part in a debate on foxhunting.

The students had arranged the event themselves and invited representatives from the League Against Cruel Sports and Countryside Alliance to put their respective arguments. Despite giving the LACS enough notice, the anti-hunting group chose not to accept the invitation to speak and instead simply sent a small package of literature. This was a little odd given the statement in a League press release earlier in the year which said, “We believe those who want to use animals for cruel sports should be prepared to debate why in public.”

The students had produced an excellent visual presentation for the day giving both sides of the argument, though clearly they would have preferred a speaker from each side be present for a ‘question and answer’ session. But it was not to be, leaving me to give a short talk.

A vote was taken at the end and the result proved to be uncomfortable for the LACS – or it would have been had someone from that organisation bothered to turn up. Not one student voted for the Hunting Act, while virtually the whole class voted for repeal with only a few abstentions.

It’s easy to gloat about this outcome, but there are some important points to be made here.

I’ve long held the view that talking to people about issues surrounding hunting and wildlife management is vital. While some might argue that public opinion can never be changed, I see a very different reaction when a logical case is put – and hunting does indeed have a very logical case. This is why I spend time talking to schools, colleges and a variety of riding and young farmers clubs.

So I find it odd that organisations such as the LACS are reluctant to counter a view that is diametrically opposed to theirs. Don’t they say the anti-hunting argument is so over-whelming that only a tiny minority oppose it? Don’t they have paid staff to put their case? As a charity, don’t they seek funding on that basis? And, as a charity, isn’t their position on hunting supposed to be formed on a sound evidential basis, as required by the Charity Commission?

If all this is true, why avoid appearing in an open debate to prove me wrong?

It might just be that, for all the talk about the vast majority of the public being opposed to hunting, the reality is the support for the antis’ position is a good bit flakier than they would have us believe. The need to include dog fighting and badger baiting in public opinion polls, as if somehow these obscenities could also be legalised with repeal of the Hunting Act, is a stark indication of how results can be manipulated to achieve the desired figures. Furthermore, ask the public – without prompting – what issues concern them when it comes to voting at a general election and hunting hardly registers at all.

It might also be the case that the LACS has no one on its staff with any real experience of hunting at all, nor the alternative methods that inevitably fill the vacuum where hunting is prevented. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if some of them came straight out of an urban anti-hunting politician’s office.

When the news of the vote at the college appeared on social media, the reaction of the antis was interesting, albeit somewhat expected. The students “must have been given only one side of the argument”, it was a “posh school”, the students were “pro-hunting replicates”. All sorts of reasons why they voted the way they did, apart from the real one.

The fact is, most people are reasonable and when a sensible case for wildlife management is made, and how hunting with scenting hounds plays a crucial part in that process, they get it…and that’s what really touches a raw nerve with the anti –hunt groups.

 

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