Archive for April, 2010

A changing debate

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

This election campaign has produced some seismic changes in the wider politics of the hunting issue. Speakers from the three main political parties have said that revisiting hunting is not a priority issue for a new Parliament despite all the efforts of the Countryside Alliance and Vote-OK to put the hunting issue on the political agenda.

Perhaps more interestingly still, speakers from all the major parties have during the campaign made it clear, albeit in different words, that they accept the general principle that when man engages with an animal he owes it a duty of care.

The fact that the pro-hunt lobby are going to have to accept that if the target animal suffers as a result of their activities, they will not be able to lawfully carry them out in future, is a massive shift in the political reality. Even where there is talk of repeal there is also acceptance that animal welfare must be safeguarded. Quite how this is to be achieved is less clear, but the principle and the need is an accepted political reality.

The pro-hunt lobby has found that its own issues are massively unpopular with voters of all political persuasions and have been doing their best to keep the hunting issue out of the headlines and the political debates and hustings. While some candidates have clearly said in their meetings with bloodsports enthusiasts that they will use any free vote to vote for repeal, for the most part they are not saying that in their election literature or voluntarily on the hustings, unless asked a direct question on the subject.

Where once the hunters’ and shooters’ help and support was seen by candidates as conferring electoral advantage on the candidates that they supported, now reportedly many politicians want to make it clear that they do not support the bloodsports lobby. By publicly raising the issues with candidates, voters are making sure the issues are aired in the public debates and that voters know where candidates stand on the issue.

For years the pro-bloodsports lobby have funded a massive campaign to protect and preserve hunting and shooting for sport. Millions of pounds have been spent on campaigning, on court cases and on organising opposition to the Hunting Act and any other legislation which curtails bloodsports. Tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds have been given by bloodsports supporters to politicians who are known to be personally committed to repeal of the Hunting Act and other legislation which restricts bloodsports. Whilst this is allowed, if declared, it is a matter of concern.

Politicians of all persuasions can see a lost argument – like hunting and shooting for sport – and usually do not want to be publicly associated with a position which the majority of their own voters are not happy with. Of course individual politicians will and can take a personal stand on a moral and ethical issue on principle, and not because it is popular with their electors, but that is generally the parliamentary exception rather than the rule.

The problem that the Hunting Act really faces is not just the test of public opinion, it is the test of whether or not it does or can achieves the objectives that those who voted for it set out to achieve?

Those who oppose the Act and seek to repeal it claim that “it does not work”, that it “cannot work” and in some cases that “it is being widely disregarded” and that it therefore brings the law into disrepute.

One of the things that the passage of the Hunting Act has achieved is a public recognition that setting dogs onto animals for sport is wrong and that it is a crime. Even the most ardent bloodsports lobbyists are no longer trying to argue for the preservation of a bloodsport. Their arguments are now couched in terms of pest control allegedly being necessary and or hunting with dogs allegedly being the least worst animal welfare option. It is worth remembering that the bloodsports lobby used to lobby for their sport, now it seems that even they accept that their activities are no longer acceptable if their purpose is for sport and recreation. That change in itself is a massive move forwards. Score one to the Act: it has changed what people think about setting dogs onto animals for sport.

The next and obvious thing that the Act has achieved is that it has caused those hunts and hunters who obey the law to change what they do. For the most part that means and has meant a change to trail hunting. Those who want to break the law now know that every time they go out with that intent, they run the risk of prosecution. Even the most ardent law breaker does not feel comfortable breaking the law in full and public view. Where hunts are obeying the law, fewer wild mammals are chased and killed for sport. That too is progress brought about by the passage of the Act.

Then there are the claims that the Act cannot work, to which the short answer is over 130 convictions. The Act does work, and in fact works better than a lot of other legislation in the wildlife protection field. And yes there are problems, not the least of which is the relatively restricted access to land to monitor the activity of hunts and of those who plan to break the law.

It is true that the majority of convictions are of hare coursers and or huntsmen or other hunt staff and associates, rather than the masters of the hunts. But that is not surprising in that it is the hunt servants who are the active hunters, at their master’s behest. But nonetheless it is quite clear that if the evidence is compelling, the criminals are convicted under the Act. That too is progress brought by the passage of the Act.

Then there is the charge that the law is being widely disregarded. That is clearly true but disregard for a law that offers society protection from cruelty to animals for sport, is not a reasonable justification for repealing that law. No one is seriously arguing that the laws with regard to the welfare of farmed and domestic animals should be repealed because some people are cruel to animals. Wild animals should also be protected by law from cruelty.

The real issue that has to be faced is why do some people choose to disregard the law and further what should society do about people who regularly and repeatedly engage in criminal activity? The answer is not to make the currently illegal legal again by repealing the Hunting Act, it is to enforce the law without fear or favour, and to bring cases to court where there is evidence of wrong doing. Only that way can society ensure that no animal should suffer for sport. Please do all you can to help.

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The Fox Tour meets Ann Widdecombe

The Fox Tour continued its journey west yesterday, with a visit to Exeter.

Ann Widdecombe’s support for anti-hunting legislation has been immensely helpful, as has Ben Bradshaw’s. It’s a shame that Ann’s party candidate in the seat doesn’t agree with her.

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Image of the Day – 161

What a great way to bring up a child…

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Candidate complains “Your fox has no teeth” on Fox Tour

On what was reported to be the hottest day of the year so far, the Fox Tour headed west, into the North East Somerset constituency – formerly known as Wansdyke.

The most remarkable interview yesterday was with Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative candidate. He said that he supported repeal, but when challenged that a repeal of the Hunting Act would bring back hare coursing and stag hunting too, he said he’d only talk about those issues if we brought a costume of that animal. He was also disappointed that Fergus the Fox had no visible teeth.

Today we venture deeper into the West Country. This is an area where hunting is sometimes regarded as something similar to religion, and yet we know from our vast number of supporters in the region, and from opinion polling, that support for the ban on hunting remains a huge majority.

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Image of the Day – 160

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Fox Tour hits … home, South West Surrey

Yesterday the Fox Tour didn’t venture far. The Fox and his team spent the day looking around the South West Surrey constituency in which our head office is based – and despite our local presence, and that of the WWF and Compassion in World Farming, a number of the eight candidates were somewhat elusive.

We were encouraged by Mike Simpson’s comment about our activities in the run up to the election, and by the unequivocal commitments to retain the Hunting Act from Mike and the Labour, Green and UK Independence Party candidates.

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Image of the Day – 159

Another fox meets its end as part of this perverted spectacle.

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