Tim Bonner

If this is a debate about animal welfare, we must repeal the Hunting Act and start again

If this is a debate about animal welfare, we must repeal the Hunting Act and start again
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Today marks ten years of a ban on hunting a wild mammal with hounds in England and Wales, except under certain exemptions. To understand what a fundamentally bad law the Hunting Act is, and why it must be repealed, it is best to start at the beginning with the original purpose of the ban.

For all the talk of animal welfare the long battle over hunting legislation was not predominantly about foxes or other mammal species it was about class, politics and a gratuitous misrepresentation of hunting and the people who do it. This is not my interpretation, but the reality as admitted by many of those who promoted the ban.

Peter Bradley, then Labour MP for The Wrekin, said shortly after the Act came into force: 'Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war'. The late Tony Banks, who pursued a ban on hunting from his inner London constituency for decades, proclaimed that hunting was simply 'a totemic issue for the Labour Party', whilst Tony Blair himself admitted in his biography: 'I didn't quite understand, and I reproach myself for this, that for a group of people in our society in the countryside this was a fundamental part of their way of life' and that the result was a 'disaster'.

The Hunting Act has nothing to do with animal welfare and everything to do with class politics and prejudice which is why the resulting law is completely unworkable.

Parliament had plenty of opportunities during the 700 hours it debated the issue to opt for legislation that addressed the welfare of wild mammals, but instead opted for a law that banned one method of killing foxes whilst leaving people free to kill them in nearly any other way.

It is not illegal to shoot a fox, to trap a fox, to snare a fox or even to gas a fox, but for 10 years it has been illegal to hunt a fox, despite a complete absence of evidence that hunting is any less humane than other methods of control. Anti-hunt groups spent around £30 million to put the Hunting Act on the Statute Book – since then they have not spent a penny to show the impact it has had on animal welfare. This is because there has been no improvement in welfare – just as many foxes are being killed as were before the ban.

Meanwhile the police are spending hundreds of hours investigating allegations of illegal hunting and thousands of pounds of your taxes are being wasted on pointless prosecutions. This law which was passed because of MPs’ obsession with fox hunting has been used almost exclusively to prosecute poachers – 97% of cases brought under the Act do not involve registered hunts.

If you think it is acceptable for Parliament to legislate against a group of people because it does not like them, then fine, leave the Hunting Act in place. If, however, this is a debate about wildlife management and animal welfare, then we need to repeal the Hunting Act and start again.

This issue will never be resolved until we have legislation based on evidence and principle, rather than prejudice and political point scoring.

Tim Bonner is Director of Campaigns for the Countryside Alliance