It may be a new year but it’s the same old story in Westminster. As the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill winds its way through the legislative process, two opportunistic backbenchers have seized their chance to further their anti-hunting campaign. Professional Boris-basher Sir Roger Gale has today teamed up with Chagossian champion Henry Smith to put down an amendment which would ban animal based scents for hunting activities.
The pair are two of the loudest advocates for animal welfare in the Commons, with both men being staunch critics of fox hunting. So far, so laudable. But, much like the government’s controversial Animal Sentience Bill, could this be another classic case of good intentions leading to bad policy? For Mr S understands the proposal has already caused serious concerns among rural groups about the unintended consequences of a ban on scent based hunts. Hunting a live mammal with dogs is of course already illegal under the Hunting Act, but this new measure would make it illegal to hunt or participate in the hunting of the scent of a dead animal. This would obviously make it much harder to train dogs to follow scents, with big implications for other issues of animal welfare.
One such example is the case of wounded deer. The RSPCA estimates that some 74,000 are involved in car accidents every year. Of these 10,000 deer are severely injured but not killed instantly when hit by vehicles. They may suffer for prolonged periods until someone can attend to humanely dispatch them. Some manage to move away from the roadside but so badly that they need to be euthanised. Dogs are used to detect their scent and track them down, putting the poor animals out of their misery. Gale and Smith’s amendment risks criminalising such practices, ironically leading to fatally wounded creatures suffering more in the name of animal welfare.
The amendment as worded could also ban drag-hunting – or so-called 'clean boot' hunting – whereby bloodhounds follow a human scent. Bloodhound drag hunting is a separate long-standing form of hunting which has never involved chasing an animal but rather a human scent. As humans are obviously animals, rural groups fear the implications for drag-hunting. None of these practices would be covered by the proposed vague exemptions of ‘legitimate medical or law enforcement activity.’ Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said:
“This amendment is completely ignorant of both how the countryside works and how dogs work. It would criminalise legitimate animal rights activities and could ban drag-hunting for no discernible purpose whatsoever.
Given the furore caused whenever animal welfare is debated, Steerpike suspects Gale and Smith’s colleagues might not thank them for opening such a can of worms