This issue has been raised with me many times since I became your M.P. My position is that, I will seek the views of my constituents in order to reflect their views in the free vote that the Party has said will take place and I will vote with the majority. Conservative Party policy is to bring the Hunting with Dogs Act 2004 back before Parliament and offer a free vote to all MPs. In order to galvanize opinion I have asked for the two sides to put together a synopsis of their views. These have not been written or edited by me and reflect the opinions of each side of the argument.
I have put them on my website in no particular order and that order cannot be taken to represent my personal views. I have simply spun a coin to select the order. I have said all along I will vote with the majority and that continues to be the case.
Why the Hunting Act 2004 needs Repealing
The Hunting Act 2004 banned hunting with dogs. Basically if you have more than two dogs which chase an animal you could face criminal prosecution. It is frequently stated that the Act is about improving animal welfare, but you can hunt a mammal with two hounds but not three! You can chase a rabbit but not a hare! Kill a rat but not a mouse! No one is prevented from killing as many foxes or hares as they like by other means.
The Act potentially criminalises a whole swathe of the population. There are four hunts operating in the South Hams, including one foot pack. These hunts are regulated by a national body and they have continued to hunt within the law since the ban came into force in February 2005. Every time a hunt goes out, operating under this confusing law, they risk a criminal prosecution.
Hunting is an arrangement with mutual benefits to farmers, landowners, hunt supporters and the countryside and provides balanced control of foxes and deer. It more closely matches natural selection than any other form of control. For those concerned about the welfare of foxes, deer and hares, controlling the numbers of these animals is critical. People who hunt are seeking to preserve these animals in manageable numbers, providing as they do their role in the biodiversity of our countryside and a delight for all to see.
Hunting involves a wide mix of people of all ages and economic and social groups. Whether you are eight or eighty and following on foot, on a bicycle, in a car or on a horse, you can join in and be part of a hunting day. The cost to a foot follower is about £40 per year. Hunting, like any other social or club activity involves a continuous round of fund raising events like quizzes, dinners, pub nights, dog shows and point to points. These events form an important part of the fabric of rural society. People give their time and support them because their local hunt is important to them. In many parts of the countryside hunts play an indispensable role in holding rural society together.
It should not matter, in our society that the supporters of hunting may be in a minority (if indeed they are). They do not ask people with no interest to take up hunting or even to support it. They only ask for tolerance. No one is denying anyone's right to oppose something, but to use what has been termed "the tyranny of the majority" in an attempt to regulate human behaviour is nothing to do with democracy. We all look to democracy to protect the rights of minorities.
Hunting is threatened by the loss of big areas of land to roads and building and the break up of farms into smaller units. It will be challenge enough in the future without the threat of criminalising the many young people who have or wish to be involved with hunting and hounds.
The Coalition Government promises a free vote on whether the 2004 Hunting Act should be repealed. The reason for this is that the Act is not working, that it was passed into law using highly questionable parliamentary tactics, including the sledge hammer of the Parliament Act, and against the advice of the House of Lords and senior Ministers. We now know that Tony Blair himself regrets the Act more than any other domestic measure he passed! Despite the massive amount of time expended by the police, only 5 prosecutions of organised hunts have ever been successful.
The Hunting Act is a bad law and we urge you to support its repeal.
Why the Hunting Act 2004 must stay in place.
It has been over 6 years since the Hunting Act came into force in England and Wales and yet, tragically, there is still a significant threat to this landmark piece of animal welfare legislation. The people pushing for a repeal are, of course, the hunters themselves, a minority élite who consider chasing wild animals to death, or having them ripped apart by a pack of hounds, pleasurable - but their arguments fall down miserably under inspection.
The Hunting Act doesn't work, they say. That's simply not the case. The Hunting Act bans a cruel, barbaric 'sport' and as far as its enforcement goes, to date there have been over 150 convictions, which makes it one of the most effective pieces of animal welfare legislation on the statute book. Undoubtedly, it would be even more effective if some elements of our police force weren't persuaded by this powerful, wealthy pro-hunt minority into turning 'a blind eye.' In a democratic society the very notion of selectively policing the laws of the land is dangerous and unacceptable.
It is claimed that the Hunting Act is illiberal; that it infringes on civil liberties. That very much depends on how we define a 'liberty.' Can the infliction of deliberate cruelty on another living, sentient being ever be considered a civil liberty? By the same skewed reasoning we are currently denying paedophiles and sadists their 'liberties' in protecting their vulnerable victims from sexual abuse and torture. The argument is ethically untenable. And no one is forbidding the hunters their day's riding; their chance to gather en masse to enjoy our glorious countryside and have drinks parties – the issue is purely about their persecuted, much maligned 'quarry.'
Perversely, it is claimed the Hunting Act does nothing to protect wild animals, and is in many cases actually detrimental to animal welfare. There is no scientific evidence to support this whatsoever.
The Hunting Act does not prevent legitimate pest control either. (Although significantly, research shows that foxes are not overall pests. Conversely, they save British arable farmers hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by keeping down rabbit and rodent populations.) It was specifically devised to allow for this where circumstances are deemed absolutely necessary. What it has made illegal is the spectacle of killing a wild mammal purely for the sake of entertainment. And it has taken the worst cruelty elements out of hunting for 'sport.' Hunters are no longer permitted to use packs of dogs to chase and kill wild animals – a move that the vast majority of the British public fully supports.
Indeed, the hunters' false claim that the Act is somehow divisive, that it pits the countryside against the towns, and incites class warfare is also a desperate nonsense. Opinion polls consistently show that over 75% of people, across regions, ages, gender, political persuasion, religion and socio-economic group, do not want to see hunting made legal again. That is because hunting is barbaric and has no place in a civilised, modern society. Not all traditions deserve to be upheld; some, like slavery, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, - and hunting with hounds - have rightly been relegated to the dark recesses of our history.
The pro-hunt lobby insists that the Burns inquiry into the effects of hunting failed to conclude that hunting was more cruel than other forms of wildlife management, such as shooting, trapping, and snaring. It indeed accepted that possibility – but it also stated clearly that the actions undertaken during a fox hunt "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox."
That's putting it mildly. Even most seasoned hunters are not so keen to face the kill. Few will look their mutilated victims in the bloody eye, once the dreadful deed has finally been accomplished. And when hunters go after newborn fox cubs in August, literally digging them out of their holes with spades - the desperate vixen completely unable to protect her young - you could certainly say that their welfare had been "seriously compromised."
I'm 'country' and have seen these horrors. Thank goodness the 2004 Hunting Act makes them illegal – along with their equally ugly sisters: stag hunting and hare coursing. Long may it remain.
What do you think?
Please do contact me with your views and provide your address, all views will be recorded and there is a system in place that will avoid any duplication. This will give me a clear picture of the majority view.