Alex Massie

Why Fox-Hunting Matters

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Members of the Bicester and Whaddon Chase Hunt. Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

And so it begins. As a traditionalist when it comes to these matters, I think it best that parties wait until they win an election before they water down or abandon their promises. Apparently, however, that's an old-fashioned view these days. Despite repeated promises that there would be a government-sponsored bill to repeal the Hunting Act, it seems that Dave's Conservatives are preparing to abandon that commitment and leave the matter to a Private Members' Bill. According to Melissa Kite's Telegraph report:

The shadow cabinet member in charge of hunting last night confirmed that the party was considering the move. Nick Herbert, the shadow environment secretary, said: “We are working up various options about how we will do repeal.

“We will give time for a vote on repeal but we have also said we don’t intend to waste parliamentary time on this. We haven’t said what form repeal would take in terms of a bill.”

He added: “I’m aware of the distinction between a private member’s bill and a government bill but I don’t think it is sensible to rule out options.”

Fox-hunting is one of those pesky Important Trivial Indicators that tells you quite a bit about a political party. Few people would pretend that it's an urgent priority and perhaps the commitment to repeal the Hunting Act was easily given. But it's one of those commitments that can't or shouldn't be easily shirked, not least because if the Conservatives can't be trusted to keep their promises on hunting it's reasonable to ask what other apparently copper-bottomed commitments might also prove disposable.

I also wonder whether it is wise of Nick Herbert to talk in terms of "wasting" parliamentary time on this issue. Perhaps his words were simply ill-chosen but if I were a hunting enthusiast I might wonder if I were being taken for, well, a ride by the Conservatives. As I say, fox-hunting is, in one sense, a trivial issue. But a party that laments "Big Government" and promises to repeal draconian legislation can't complain if people expect it to honour those commitments.

This extends beyond hunting. The egregious smoking ban - a matter closer to my heart and lungs than fox-hunting - is another obvious example and candidate for repeal if for no other reason than that the original legislation was a grotesque infringement of property rights as well as being an affront to common sense. If the Conservatives are really serious about reducing government interference and blundering then they might want to repeal this bill too. (If they did then many pubs might well choose to remain smoke-free. Which is fine and their right.)

The Tories talk a decent enough game on some - though not all - of these issues, but their sincerity and the depth of their commitment remains a matter of doubt. As I say, these are not the most vital battles, but if the Tories won't man-up for these battles then what will they go to the mattresses for? Like I say, these are important trivial questions.

I've never been fox-hunting but if I were a fox I think I'd be in favour of repeal too. That's because, rather obviously, you need foxes for there to be any decent hunting. Without hunting there's no reason for farmers to tolerate the presence of foxes and every incentive, therefore, to shoot them all. If I'm a fox, I would obviously rather take my chances with the hounds than with the gun. Fox-hunting campaigners should admit that fox-hunting with hounds is perhaps the most inefficient a way of controlling the fox population. But that's obviously good for the foxes. In other words, fox-hunting is also Fox Welfare. Everyone benefits - and how often can one say that?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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