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Archive for July, 2015

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”

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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

 

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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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