The Hunting Act 2004 was brought in by the last Labour government, and prohibited hare coursing and the hunting of wild mammals with dogs (with some exceptions). It was controversial, with strong, loud voices on both sides of the debate. In fact, pro-hunt protesters stormed the House of Commons on the day of the vote.
Detractors claim that fox populations (foxes being the main targets) require management, and that mounted fox hunting is a British institution with a history that reaches back centuries. Animal welfare advocates argue that the practice is cruel, causes unnecessary suffering to the fox and puts the horses and dogs involved in danger.
The Tories have pledged a free vote on repealing the act, with Prime Minister David Cameron in staunch opposition of the legislation, claiming that it has “done nothing for animal welfare”. UKIP have suggested a county-by-country referendum on repeal, wishing to give local people a choice on whether hunting is allowed in their areas. The Labour party, on the other hand, have vowed to defend the act they brought in, with shadow secretary for DEFRA, Maria Eagle, stating that Labour are the only major party committed to defending the act. The Greens plan to extend the act further to ban the use of all snares, and ban all hunting for sport or pleasure.
What is clear is that the act, in its current incarnation, is difficult to enforce and hard to prosecute under. Despite numerous cases made against hunt leaders and organisers, the rate of prosecution is incredibly low. As it stands, the act is tricky to work with.
According to an Ipsos MORI poll, 80% of the public think that fox hunting should stay illegal, and 88% agree with the ban on hare hunting and coursing. Our survey of pet owners placed the Hunting Act as the 5th most important animal welfare issue.