Saddled with a bad law by misguided anti-hunt supporters

Jim Barrington explains why a wild mammals welfare law should replace the Hunting Act in his article for the Western Morning News.

Jim Barrington explains why a wild mammals welfare law should replace the Hunting Act.

With the Conservative Party stating that they will allow a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act and the Labour Party committed to defending it, the battle lines are drawn in these last few weeks before the general election.

Hunting isn’t the only contentious issue at election time that suffers from being reduced down to simplistic level, while ignoring a much more complex situation. The problem is if such a route is followed the inevitable result is a law based on perception rather than reality. The Hunting Act 2004 is the perfect example.

Recent comments in the Western Morning News on the RSPCA’s change of heart in relation to prosecuting hunts shows the very obvious frustration felt by some anti-hunting groups, which now see their work in supporting the Hunting Act unravelling. The reason for this should be evident; build your campaign around ignorance, doubtful ‘scientific’ evidence (and throw in a healthy portion of prejudice) and you have the perfect ingredients for legislation that is bound to fail… and fail at all levels.

Is the Hunting Act good law? Not according to judges, senior civil servants and other legal minds who say it is difficult to interpret and apply and, frankly, a bad law.

Can the Act be easily policed? Not according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, who say it is badly drafted and hard to enforce.

Is the Hunting Act good for wildlife? Not if you look at what has happened to the species that were hunted and are now subject to other forms of control that may not be properly regulated.

Has the Hunting Act saved lives? The simple answer is no.

Before the Hunting Act was passed, it was claimed that once a law was on the statute book the whole issue would be forgotten in months – ten years on and that prediction has obviously failed. Another prediction that didn’t come true was the public statement of many hunting people who said they would break this law. The fact is it was so badly drafted they didn’t have to!

The Hunting Act cost those groups seeking a ban around £30 million. That figure does not include costs accumulated subsequently through parliamentary time, police and CPS time and not forgetting the failed prosecutions, many of which had the court costs paid out of public funds.

Hopefully, we will now see an end to large amounts of charitable money being thrown at these prosecutions if the RSPCA has genuinely started to see sense, but what can’t be ignored is that some of the smaller anti-hunt groups have a vested interest in keeping this battle going. Producing propaganda that says hunting must be the worst thing any wild animal faces keeps the issue contentious in the public mind. It’s their funding lifeline.

Now a new call has gone out to ban trail hunting – in which a scent is laid for the hounds to hunt – leading to further confusion and more requests for police and legal action. It is a clear indication that not only is the Hunting Act not working, but that it is the people involved who are the target of this campaign.

As a consequence, hunting and its role in the management of wildlife is seen through a distorting prism. Take a step back and understand that the use of the scenting hound is unique in this context, being selective, testing and non-wounding, and perhaps a different picture emerges.

In all of this, the central point about cruelty is almost forgotten in what has become a war of attrition. For all the money that anti-hunt groups have put into this campaign, not a penny has been spent on research to examine the effect the ban has had on wildlife. You would have thought that if the case against hunting with dogs was so strong, a good piece of sound scientific information would be easy to obtain and be extremely useful.

One important aspect in this long-running debate points to the true nature of those involved in the anti-hunting campaigns and goes straight to the heart of the cruelty question.

If the welfare of wild animals is indeed the genuine concern of those opposed to hunting, surely a law that protects all wild mammals in all circumstances from deliberate cruelty would be preferable to one that simply prevents the use of dogs? If the anti-hunting case is so solid, sound evidence of cruelty should be easy to obtain and that would be an end to the debate and an end to hunting with hounds.

Yet those who are so keen to tell the public and politicians what they regard as cruel, run shy of supporting a wild mammals welfare law; the only reason being they would have to provide evidence, not opinion, to gain a successful prosecution.

To any independent-minded observer, clinging to a crumbling Hunting Act while opposing a genuine welfare proposal shows that banning something is far more important to the antis than improving animal welfare.

Jim Barrington was director of the League Against Cruel Sports and now works as a consultant for the Middle Way Group and Countryside Alliance.

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