This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.
Justice and prosecutions for wildlife crime now hang in the political balance. The result of yesterday’s general election shows that there isn’t a clear and overall parliamentary majority of MPs of any single party.
First and most obviously the result means that no party can point to its manifesto and claim that the majority of voters supported their policies. Put at its simplest the country voted for a hung parliament, where no one party has overall control.
From an animal welfare perspective that makes for a difficult situation in the new parliament. The Conservative Party were committed to a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act, the Labour Party were opposed to repeal and the Liberal Democrats said that they would establish an Animal Protection Commission to investigate abuses, educate the public and enforce the law.
All the major parties have long said that hunting is a free vote issue. Individual MPs of all parties range in view, from passionate and considered support for the ban on hunting and coursing for sport at one end of the spectrum, while others at the other end of the spectrum are passionate in their determination to repeal the Hunting Act if they possibly can. Somewhere between those two groups lie the vast majority of MPs.
Most MPs are very well aware that while a tiny minority of their voters are passionate hunters wanting them to turn the clock backwards to allow the hunters and coursers to be cruel to animals for sport, the vast majority of their electors are opposed to hunting, coursing and killing for sport.
On a free vote issue, individual MPs have to make up their own minds. The government of the day cannot use the whips to march the government payroll vote (about 130 MPs from the ruling party or group) through the lobbies and they cannot tell individual MPs how to vote, however much they might want to do so.
Individual MPs will be faced with stark choices if there is any attempt to repeal the Hunting Act. Do they follow their leader through his chosen lobby? If they follow their leaders, the majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs would vote against repeal, while the majority of Conservatives would vote for repeal. If those MPs of all parties were to do what the majority of their electors want on hunting, they would vote against repeal. If MPs make their own choices the current indications are that the new parliament will be split down the middle between pro- and anti-repeal MPs.
So the real truth to be gathered from last night is that the future of the Hunting Act now lies in the hands of 650 MPs of all parties. While the party leaders are haggling over what is and isn’t to be in the Queen’s Speech and what is and isn’t part of any agreed program for government, all of us will need to make it clear to MPs of all parties, that we do not want repeal of the Hunting Act to be on the political agenda in the new parliament. The message to the new MPs and to the hunters and to those inclined to support them, should be very clear. The peoples answer to cruelty for sport is: no, not in our name you don’t. Not with our consent do you chase and kill for sport. Animal abuse and cruelty for sport is a crime and it should stay a crime.
So the inevitable question is, what are we all going to do about it? And by us, I mean the League and all its supporters. It is clearly down to us now that the electors have decided who they want as their MPs. The election result wasn’t decided on the hunting and coursing issue. There is widespread agreement amongst the political commentators that the key issue was the desire for change. When the votes were cast and counted, a lot of seats changed hands. Some stalwart defenders of the Hunting Act lost their seats; some hunting supporters lost their seats. Some new arrivals are pro-repeal and some are against.
What the changes in the make up of the new parliament undoubtedly mean is that the hunting issue could be back on the political agenda as early as the Queen’s Speech, if it is a Conservative led government. It is also clear that the result of any free vote on repeal of the Act cannot now be predicted with confidence. It now looks as if we may well have to fight the hunting campaign battles all over again in this new parliament.
The hunters’ agenda is to ram through a Hunting Act repeal bill in the early days of a new parliament amongst a group of other repeal bills. Their plan is to get the bad news out of the way as fast as possible, and to do it in time for the next hunting season. They assume that their best chance of getting repeal is when it is too early for any sort of back bench rebellion which could bring down the new minority government. Our agenda will be to make sure that MPs free votes scupper their plans.
The hunters’ and Vote-OK goal of a Conservative led government with a sufficiently large majority to overcome the parliamentary resistance to turning the clock back to cruelty is not what the voting public have delivered. What the hunters, the Countryside Alliance and Vote-OK will have to live with is a weak coalition of sorts, that will stand or fall bill by bill in the new minority party led parliament. By concerted action we can ensure that the Hunting Act is not repealed on a free vote.
Because there are so many new MPs, many of whom will not know about the ins and outs of parliamentary processes, and because repeal of the Hunting Act has not been anywhere near the top of the political agenda, many of the new intake of MPs will not know what repeal of the Act might mean, or how it could be achieved or stopped. It will be our job to make sure that they do know what repeal could mean to our wildlife and what it would mean to you, and that they know how to stop it happening.
As soon as the MPs are in Westminster and have email and postal addresses we will be asking you to contact them to let them know where you stand and to tell them what is at risk for hunted and coursed animals and for all those whose lives are impacted by the abusive and violent behaviour of the hunts.
The vast majority in this country do not want to turn the clock backwards to cruelty to animals for sport. Animal abuse for sport is a crime, and let’s keep it that way. When the political dust settles after the weekend’s haggling and it is clear which party will be taking the lead in parliament, we will be ready to act, with your help to help Keep Cruelty History!