The Westminster rumour mill

A few weeks ago, after the party conferences, we reported that there were divisions in the bloodsports lobby and that a simple repeal of the Hunting Act was not likely because politicians know that so many voters of all parties are against it.

Now rumours are reaching us that while the Countryside Alliance are talking up the prospects of a very simple Repeal Bill, that is not what is actually being planned by some of the politicians who have been telling the hunters that they will vote for repeal.

As is often the case, close attention needs to be paid to the small print and the weasel words. It now appears that when some politicians talk to the hunters about repeal that does not mean repeal with nothing to replace the bulk of the Hunting Act 2004. The plan, it appears, is strictly limited to bringing back fox hunting for sport as a legal activity, leaving stag hunting and hare coursing illegal.

If these rumours are correct, it will mean that there will not be a simple repeal bill, but instead there will be a free vote in Parliament about whether or not there should even be a bill. Then, a long way down the line, probably after yet another public inquiry and consultation, there may finally be a new bill which, surprise surprise, could repeal the Hunting Act and at the same time maintain the bans on deer hunting, hare hunting and coursing and fox hunting for sport. All that would actually be allowed would be supposedly humane fox control, where necessary with more than two dogs.

Clearly this isn’t what the bloodsports lobby want or expect from the promises they have received, but rumour has it, that this is as much as they are ever really going to get. They will say that it’s not true, and some politicians will seek to reassure them that this isn’t what is planned, at least until the election has passed. But we have already seen a confidential copy of the draft bill that would do what exactly that, so at the very least there is some tangible evidence to support the rumours we are hearing.

Many readers will remember the long journey to the Hunting Act of 2004. Now it seems that the hunters too are being set up by politicians seeking their votes, for their own long march during which the Hunting Act is likely to remain on the statute book for years to come. By the time it is judged practicable by politicians to return to the hunting issue in Parliament, hunting for sport will have been banned for over ten years. What chance do the hunters really have of turning the clock back then?

It is time that those politicians talking up the possibility of repealing the Hunting Act spoke clearly to all voters about what they really intend. At the moment there is far too much effort going into being anything but clear. On animal welfare, clarity is not difficult to manage if there is a will to be clear. Let those who really support cruelty to animals for sport make that clear to voters. The rest who do not should be equally clear. The current vote gathering equivocation is not what the vast majority on either side of the hunting issue want to hear from the nations politicians. Honesty and clarity would be a far better policy.

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