On Wednesday 15th July there will be a Commons vote to decide whether the laws surrounding hunting should be relaxed*. We take a look at how this vote came about, what the current laws are, and what the result could be.
The Hunting Act 2004 was enacted by the last Labour government. The act explicitly prohibits hare coursing and the hunting of wild mammals with dogs (with some exceptions). It changed traditional mounted hunts, as the act meant that it was no longer legal to chase live foxes with packs of dogs. As it stands, mounted hunts can use two dogs, only to “flush” (chase) the fox so that a hunter may shoot it and only in order to protect livestock, property, game or wild birds and crops.
The act was, and is, very controversial. Those who participated in fox hunting argued that the act flew in the face of a historic traditional sport. They contended that it was possible to conduct their hunts in such a way as to prevent unnecessary suffering to the fox, and that hunting protects livestock and other wildlife that are prey to foxes.
On the other side of the argument, animal welfare advocates argue that the practice causes unnecessary suffering to the fox and puts the horses and dogs involved in danger. Additionally, they argue that if pest control is the main concern of hunters, that they are legally entitled (under the act in its current incarnation) to kill foxes humanely in order to protect livestock.
In their manifesto, the Conservatives pledged a free vote on repealing the act. Prime Minister David Cameron has vocally opposed the current version of the legislation, claiming that it has “done nothing for animal welfare”. The act came under fire very quickly under the all-Tory government and the fact that it’s already being addressed this week shows that it’s a high priority for Cameron’s party.
The proposed changes would mean that hunters could use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out diseased or injured foxes to be used for “research of observational purposes”. However, the current law, which is stricter, has proved incredibly difficult to enforce. There have been several instances where registered hunts have been prosecuted and it’s been argued that they have flagrantly flouted the act. However, the rate of conviction has been incredibly low because it’s difficult to prove that intention, and hunters have claimed they were merely “searching” for animals, which isn’t prohibited. Proving intention is very tricky, so in some instances illegal hunters may have got off on a technicality.
That doesn’t mean that every Conservative MP plans to fall into line. The sports minister, Tracey Crouch, has called for a widespread rejection of any proposed changes. The Lib Dems, the Labour Party and the Greens are all opposed to relaxing the laws as well. In fact, Labour has called on the SNP, who usually abstain from votes only affecting England, to vote in support of the current act.
According to an Ipsos MORI poll, 80% of the public think that fox hunting should stay illegal, and 88% agree with the outright ban on hare hunting and coursing. A Change.org petition have garnered in excess of 486,000 signatures in support of the hunting ban.
It is very difficult, even this close to the vote, to predict which way it’s going to go. With dissent within the Conservatives and the SNP not yet declaring whether they’ll participate or not this vote really could swing either way.
If you want to have your say in this vote, you can email your MP and tell them what you think about the Hunting Act. If you’re not sure who your MP is, use WriteToThem to get started!
*Following the publication of this blog the vote was postponed until further notice.