Next Tuesday MPs will be voting on an 'amendment' to the Hunting Act that outlaws fox hunting and other cruel sports, writes Robbie Marsland. But its effect would be to make the law a dead letter - so full of holes as to permit the return of full-blown hunting with dogs. MPs must vote down this 'repeal by stealth'.
By Robbie Marsland
Jul 10, 2015
When the government announced on Wednesday that they were aiming to amend the Hunting Act, there was understandable outcry.
Hidden in the language of 'flushing to guns' and 'a minor amendment' was basically a cynical attempt to make it easier for hunts to chase and kill foxes. It would also make it harder for hunts to be convicted when they break the law.
Now we have seen the full details of what the government are proposing. And it's a whole lot worse than we thought.
The changes to the Hunting Act are not minor or subtle, they are massive. This is not a 'tweak' to facilitate pest control, this is nothing short of repeal.
All of the exemptions to the Act have been altered to allow an unlimited number of dogs, not just the flushing exemption. So a full pack could be used to:
- Retrieve an injured or diseased animal
- Carry out research and observation
- Flush a mammal to waiting guns
What this means is that any hunt can go out with a full pack of dogs and just pick the exemption that suits them best on the day. They'll never even have to have a gun present, they can claim to be carrying out observation. Or that they spotted a diseased fox or hare, or even deer, and were retrieving it to be shot, but, uh oh, the hounds killed it first.
What all this means is that prosecution under the Hunting Act will be extremely difficult, or even impossible.
The myth of 'pest control'
They are also relaxing the exemption for terrier work, allowing it to be used to protect livestock as well as birds reared for shooting, and not requiring the perpetrators to carry written permission from landowners.
What is terrier work? This is the despicable practice of sending terrier dogs down under the ground to do battle with foxes who have escaped. You can only imagine the fear and the damage inflicted on both animals. This should be outlawed, full stop, but through this amendment the Government will make it legal.
For the record, do the arguments about 'pest' or 'fox control' have any substance? The main argument being used to justify this change is that farmers who need to kill foxes to protect their livestock cannot do it by only using two dogs to 'flush to guns' - that means chase the foxes from cover into a waiting shotgun.
In Scotland they can use an unlimited number of dogs, and this is what the amendment in England and Wales is claiming to try and achieve.
All this might sound reasonable until you look into it a bit deeper. Yes, foxes do kill lambs - but by no means to the extent that is implied by the pro-hunt lobby. Evidence and the Government's own figures show that a tiny proportion of lamb deaths can be attributed to foxes.
One study attributed only 1% of lamb deaths to foxes, the other 99% are due to inclement weather and failures of husbandry. We've had farmers come to us to say that lethal fox control is completely unnecessary.
What it's really all about - the fun of killing
But the point is, this is actually nothing to do with flushing to guns or pest control. This is not about hunting foxes for pest control, it's about hunting foxes for fun. Let's get real - hunts talk about the 'thrill of the chase' - they don't talk about the 'thrill of surrounding some trees so the fox can get shot'.
And if fox hunting has anything to do with pest control, why would hunts, or closely connected individuals, be feeding up foxes with offal piles in the woods and even 'farming' fox cubs - as revealed in The Ecologist?
Hunting has been illegal for ten years, but in many places it has continued. There have been over 400 convictions under the Hunting Act making it very successful, but hunts have also found many ways to jump through loopholes. The new amendments being suggested will turn those loopholes into one massive blackhole.
If amended in this way it will run a coach and horses through the legislation and will allow hunts to get away with chasing wild animals across the countryside to allow the hounds to rip them apart.
And remember: these are the people who spent years arguing that the Hunting Act was a bad and ineffective law, when the real problem was that it worked all too well. Now, with this amendment, they are trying to make sure that it's a bad and ineffective law.
MPs' decision time
The question is, will MPs let this happen? We know that eight out of ten people in this country are opposed to hunting. We know that the majority of opposition MPs are opposed to hunting - including those of the Scottish National Party, whose participation in the vote is not yet guaranteed.
We also know that at least 40 Conservative MPs are opposed to hunting, along with seven out of ten Conservative voters are opposed to hunting. So could this actually go through? The sad truth is yes, if MPs allow it.
Our somewhat archaic Parliamentary system means that only people attending the session can vote, so we need to ensure that everyone opposed to fox hunting is present. All it will take to bring back hunting is for anti-hunting MPs not to turn up.
The government is being canny by proceeding this way, however. The initial manifesto pledge was for a free vote on 'repeal of the Hunting Act'. Over the last few weeks they have obviously seen how much opposition there would be to that, and realised they wouldn't win.
We then heard rumours of a so-called 'middle way' option - something that would potentially have the same impact as repeal, but would somehow be more appealing to wavering or nervous Conservative MPs and voters. And this is it.
So we need to ensure that every MP understands that this 'amendment' is nothing less than repeal by the back door - and to make sure that they vote against it!
Robbie Marsland is Director of the League Against Cruel Sports.
Contact your MP at www.league.org.uk/savetheact. Please do this before anything else as it will be far more effective than signing a petition!
Action: The League Against Cruel Sports will be joining Team Fox for a rally against the amendments at Old Palace Yard, SW1, on Tuesday, starting 11am.
Please sign either or both of these petitions - but only after you have contacted your MP!