Archive for Government

Parliamentary Briefing – March 2010

Our monthly Parliamentary Briefing has been published today, and send to all MPs, Peers, and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates.

Download the Parliamentary Briefing – March 2010.

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Game bird welfare

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

Governments move in mysterious ways sometimes. This week it was the result of the game bird welfare consultation. The Government decided, a decision that we agree with, that the conditions under which game birds were being bred and reared led to poor bird welfare.

DEFRA acting on behalf of the Government took a similar approach to that taken with battery bred poultry. Rather than ban the use of cages all together it simply decided to radically increase the amount of space per bird. The shooters were somewhat predictably up in arms about the changes which come in on 1 October because they will make this 2010 to 2011 season the last in which such intensive rearing methods can be used in England and Wales.

The Countryside Alliance fulminated about the changes and even suggested that no change would be necessary if bits were used to prevent the birds kept in intensive conditions from seeing one and other. Seemingly they were as blind to the welfare and normal behaviour needs of the birds, as the birds which they would prefer were restricted in vision in their intensive rearing conditions.

The shooters claim to be concerned about the loss of trade to France where such restrictions on cage size do not currently apply. Their problem is that because they market game meat as the next best thing to organic free range poultry production they can hardly compete with imports by using a slogan like, intensively reared in France but killed for sport in England. Not a good seller!

There has been some shocking news coverage of late about the working conditions in abattoirs and meat plants. None of the coverage that I saw picked up on what I would have thought was the most obvious point of all. Namely that if people are called on to work with animal carcasses day after day, some so freshly killed that they are still warm and the carcasses can still twitch spasmodically, the only way that they can cope is to shut down normal human sensitivity. As a result behavioural norms are also shut down and abuse and cruelty can become common place.

Traditional hunting with its chase and kill by dogs is no less of a slaughter process than an abattoir or a meat plant, but because it has been ritualised and turned into a blood sport, people often fail to recognise the bloody business that it really is. In both cases an animal is entered into the system at one end and a disembodied carcass emerges at the other end. Daily exposure to such suffering and killing surely must coarsen and desensitise the hunters to the suffering of the hunted.

What distinguishes an abattoir from a traditional hunt is that there are inspections and licensing regimes; that procedures are put in place to minimise animal suffering and that if there is gratuitous cruelty, or the licensing conditions are not adhered to, people are sacked and plants are closed down. Yet what all the recent coverage has told us is that regulations are flouted, cruelty and suffering is rife and the people in the plants are exhibiting abnormal and unacceptable behaviour patterns, perhaps as a result.

In hunts where no such regulations apply to the hunters’ treatment of wild mammals for sport, cruelty abounds. Animals are deliberately chased with packs of dogs to provide a spectacle and sport for a paying crowd of followers.

Hunting for sport is nothing less than the commercialisation of animal suffering. It is no wonder that some of those closely involved in the ritualised and serial abuse of animals with dogs for sport, lose the plot and themselves become violent and abusive, to both people and animals.

There has been a steady procession of thugs associated with hunts to court and a stream of convictions for violence, abuse, harassment, dangerous driving and a host of other crimes. It is no secret that some of our best tip offs about illegal hunt activity come from the people who live with or near to these damaged animal abusers, but who are too scared of them and or of what they might do to them and their families, to take them on themselves. There is a deep ugliness about the tendency to violence that goes with animal abuse for sport. If causing such suffering is supposedly acceptable as entertainment, what sort of violence and abuse is actually off limits?

The live quarry hunters and shooters like to see themselves as reasonable people called upon to deal with problem animals in a way that it just so happens gives them pleasure. The truth is that the rest of society sees them as ritual and serial animal abusers and experiences them as all too often being violent and abusive to members of the public.

If a vigilante gang in any town decided to hunt in the parks with packs of attack dogs and kill all the pet dogs not on leads, because un-scooped poop was perceived to be a problem, and the gang enjoyed their pet dog control work, there would be complete uproar. Yet in the countryside we are supposed to allow gangs of wildlife vigilantes with attack dogs to roam far and free persecuting the nation’s wildlife for their own sport and recreation.

I have no doubt that the urban gang leader with a dog pack would soon be called the master and the man in charge of the pack would be called the huntsman. It would fast become a sport for so called bloods. No doubt others with whips and horns would don the appropriate jackets and trainers for the gang, expensive off road bikes would be bought and there would soon be a strict code of behaviour. Each gang would have its own hunting turf and woe betide anyone who sought to hunt there without their permission. Anyone seeking to monitor the activities of such a hunt would themselves become a target and violence would ensue.

The Hunting Act isn’t about toffs on horseback, it is all about gangs of thugs with attack dogs. Be they packs of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers or of supposedly well bred hounds, Greyhounds or even Jack Russell terriers, taught to fight foxes and badgers. The hunters and coursers who turn their dogs onto animals for their own sport are no different to the urban gangs described above. Cruelty is cruelty whether you drive a 4×4 to the meet or ride a BMX. Setting a dog or worse still a pack of dogs onto another animal for sport is cruel, whether it takes place in a public park in town or on a private estate in the countryside.

Allowing a repeal of the Hunting Act would open the door to thugs with packs of dogs, be they in the town or the countryside. Please do all that you can to help us Keep Cruelty History.

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Government ‘courageous’ for banning cages for game birds

The League has welcomed the government’s decision to effectively ban the use of raised cages for the rearing of game birds, describing the move as ‘courageous’.

The League Against Cruel Sports said that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had come up against strong opposition to the move, which outlaws the use of cages for the rearing of pheasants and partridges. Defra also considered the use of ‘enriched’ cages where birds are provided with more space.

Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive of the League, said:

“We knew all along that the government and leading people in the shooting industry were keen on a ban on these awful cages used for intensive gamebird rearing, but they came up against a determined group in the multi-million pound shooting industry who appeared to care more about the money to be made from intensive rearing methods than animal welfare.

“These gamebirds were being bred and reared to be used as live targets so that people can shoot at them for sport. The public are now voting with their wallets and purses on free range chicken, but unfortunately some were still hoodwinked into thinking that game meat was all free range, extensive, wild, and natural when the truth was, that most pheasants and partridges started out life in intensive conditions much like battery reared chickens. The proposed changes will at least reduce the intensity and almost industrial nature of gamebird rearing and the suffering that results from keeping birds better suited to the wild, in captivity,” Mr Batchelor said.

A number of other organisations, including the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) and the RSPCA, also backed an outright ban.

Defra have announced that all cages must be put out of use by 1st October.

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Image of the Day – 111

There’s a shooting estate adjacent to the League’s main sanctuary near Dulverton in Somerset. As a result, our staff there often find birds on the sanctuary. Here’s a beautiful male pheasant snapped by our Head of Operations, Paul Tillsley.

Most people look at pheasants and think they are wild, natural and free range. The reality is quite different, and later today DEFRA will publish new guidelines on the rearing of game birds. We expect, and hope, that they will ban the cruel and inhumane cages once and for all. Watch this space.

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Decision on game bird rearing due Friday

We heard yesterday that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – DEFRA – plan to publish their long awaited regulations on game bird rearing at the end of this week.

The League, together with a host of animal welfare charities and the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC), called on DEFRA to ban the use of cages for the rearing of game birds. Unsurprisingly, the Countryside Alliance and some shooters took issue with this and asked DEFRA to recommend the use of ‘enriched’ cages instead.

Late last year, we were told that DEFRA Ministers preferred the idea of the ban. We hope they’ve stuck to that preference.

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NI environment officials urged to use new Bill to protect animals

The League is urging the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment to use the new Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill to upgrade the protection status of the Irish hare and to make the manufacture, sale and use of snares illegal.

Responding to a consultation on the Bill the League has outlined the threat facing the Irish hare if it is not afforded full permanent protection which is possible within the scope of the new legislation. It has also put forward evidence arguing that the negative impact of snaring on the welfare of animals far outweighs any justification for their continued use.

NI Campaigner Mary Friel said: “We are delighted to be involved with the Bill process and to work with the Department on these issues. We hope our concerns will be given serious consideration and the Department will use the new Bill to implement legislation to prevent animal suffering and improve conservation”.

Download our Consultation Response from our website.

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A bad week for greyhounds

Last spring, the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) published a public consultation document on their Draft Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations.

The League was delighted to see the government taking the issue of racing greyhound welfare seriously, and we felt that proposed new regulations were a logical next step after administrative changes and the creation of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain to have a statutory role overseeing the multi-million pound greyhound racing industry.

Animal welfare charities including the League, Dog’s Trust and the RSPCA were pleased to see a full and open consultation process, and we took a semi-collaborative approach to responding. In the end well over a thousand animal welfare charities responded to the consultation.

The bitter pill in all this is that the government may just as well left those animal welfare responses in the envelope in which they arrived. Government failed to act on any of the recommedations made by animal welfare organisations. We had wasted our time and it was a punch in the guts.

Towards Christmas, the consultation over, the government published the regulations which required the approval of Parliament. They were presented to Parliament and then withdrawn, and then presented again. The House of Commons and the House of Lords both considered the regulations this week, and passed them without amendment.

Despite this all being depressing stuff, we were encouraged to see questions raised in the Lords about the problems we had flagged up. One of the key issues for us is that whilst greyhound tracks are required to keep records in relation to the dogs that race at that track, together with information on injuries and other incidents, there is no requirement to disclose those records to any external third party, thus rendering the whole record keeping process rather pointless.

Despite all this, we will continue in our campaign on greyhound racing, applying pressure to politicians and government to force this industry to pull its socks up and give a lot more consideration to the dogs that line their pockets.

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A positive day in Northern Ireland

Yesterday, the League’s Chief Executive, Douglas Batchelor, led a party from the League Against Cruel Sports to the Stormont assembly to give evidence to a committee there on why the manufacture, sale and use of snares should be ended.

Douglas reports back that the mood was upbeat and, whilst it’s clear that we are a long way from a straight victory, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are clearly open – as MSPs have been in Scotland – to exploring ways in which needless animal suffering in snares can be brought to an end.

We will keep supporters updated of developments. In the meantime, you can watch some of the news coverage here, here and here.

Whilst Douglas and team were in Belfast, other staff were busy in Westminster yesterday. We met with seven MPs, all committed to keeping the Hunting Act on the statute book and doing all they can to ensure we Keep Cruelty History. From that meeting we went to another meeting, this time with government officials, working equally hard to uphold and enforce the Hunting Act, which approaches its fifth birthday later this month.

A productive and promising day, all around.

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Time for democracy

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

As every week goes by the temperature seems to rise on the hunting issue. In part it is a symptom of the 24/7 world we all now inhabit and in part it is connected with the lead up to the forthcoming general election.

As has long been their practice the hunters now seem to be well into their usual habit of shooting the messenger. The attacks are getting more and more personal, and they are now delivered by email, and blog, Facebook and Twitter as well as in the news and letters columns of the media. Rather than face up to public debates about why they want to chase and to kill for fun, the hunters put more and more effort into denial, and into denigrating all and any who oppose them.

This week I fully expected the hunters to try and use the report of the ‘Better Government Initiative’ (BGI) to claim that it was wrong of Tony Blair’s Government to pass the Hunting Act 2004, and I was right. That particular dead horse got very little coverage but that didn’t stop them flogging it.

Hunting presents a real issue in a democratic sense. When the majority find the practice of hunting for sport morally and ethically indefensible, to us it seems reasonable to enact that judgement in law, as Parliament finally did in 2004.

To the hunters, and apparently to the retired mandarins at the BGI as well, that isn’t how they see the political process at all. For the mandarins it is all about the scientific evidence and not about public opinion. For the hunters it is all about what they claim as their personal right to be free to do as they wish, never mind the science and the morality of it.

The same dilemma affecting the decision making process plays out with every single decision in government, regardless of its political complexion. To use the ‘Yes, Minister’ analogy, Sir Humphrey will tell the minister,

“this is bound to be a contentious decision. The opponents of the decision will quite likely seek Judicial Review in the courts if they can’t get their way in Parliament. If it goes to court you will have to show the reasonable basis on which you took that decision. To do that, Minister, I recommend that you hold an inquiry and that you then undertake a full public consultation on what you propose. In that way no one will be able to say that there was not due process when you bring forward your recommendations.”

The Party Whips will tell the minister that they have a lot of business to get through both Houses and that contentious measure will simply stuff up the progress on a load of other more important work, while the opponents of the bill play it as long as they possibly can. To put it bluntly, a contentious bill is one for the last six months before an election; until then one should play for time.

The Minister will leap up and down, bang the desk and say, “I told people I was going to do this as soon as I got in”. Sir Humphrey will say,

“Yes Minister, but that was then and this is now. I am sure the Cabinet will understand and support you in the inquiry and consultation you plan. My fellow mandarins will help with that. And of course you can hold a vote now to see if there is a will to do anything at all about the issue, because that doesn’t actually commit you to anything! However, you will be able to say that you said you would do it and you have, so now back off and wait till the time is right. I’ve got a lot of other more pressing business to deal with. So reasonable an approach minister!”

What is so disturbing about the way government actually works is that most of the decisions taken are pragmatic rather than principled. They are pragmatic in that they try to balance and almost cancel out the opposing forces with a ‘something for everyone’ approach, if they can find one. They take decisions based as much on what they think they can get through the parliamentary system quickly as much as on what is morally right. The result is that people distrust the process and the politicians and civil servants who run it. People see that lack of principle, the politics of legislative convenience and they then lose interest in the whole political process.

As a result of all this you can be quite sure that the retired mandarins would criticise the time and effort put into the passage of the Hunting Act. As they would see it, too much time was taken on it and the better solution would have been a licensing system that ministers of successive governments could have bent with the political wind of the day. That would have been Sir Humphrey’s solution; practical not moral.

The trouble with the Sir Humphrey’s of this world is that they don’t live in our real world. The Hunting Act is a classic example of that, where over 75% of the public agree with it, think it should be enforced and are against its repeal. For the vast majority of the public, hunting with dogs for sport is a moral and ethical issue and not one for pragmatism. As far as they are concerned it is wrong, and it is a crime. For Sir Humphrey, seven hundred hours of parliamentary time and the civil service workload associated with that just doesn’t compute. The fact that it was those opposed to the Act who made it take so long, doesn’t change his view, it simply leads him to say that a compromise would have been far better, whatever your principles.

For politicians the hunting issue is a grade one political banana skin. A small minority passionately want the Hunting Act repealed. The vast majority think the issue has already been dealt with and as far as they are concerned it would be nonsensical to spend more time turning the clock back to cruelty. There will be hardly a constituency in the country where hunters are a significant sector of the local vote. Typically with over 60,000 constituents the average constituency will have less than a hundred passionate hunt supporters. Even the most rural and ‘hunting heartland’ of seats will probably have less than three hundred passionate hunt supporters in it.

When candidates are looking at the realpolitik of trying to get elected, they have to balance the views and support of the few hundred vociferous hunters in their constituency against the usually much quieter 45,000 who support the Hunting Act and are opposed to its repeal. Their choice is whether to go with public opinion or with the noisy bloodsporting minority? For some candidates who have supported hunting for sport it seemingly isn’t an easy choice. Because hunting is regarded as a free vote issue, they have to consider where they personally stand on the principle of cruelty to animals for sport, as well as what their possible constituents think.

Significant numbers of candidates who have reportedly previously pledged support for hunting to the hunters are now not saying publicly where they stand on the hunting issue. Others are saying they will decide how to vote when they see the proposals. The beauty of the Keep Cruelty History website is that you can use the site to tell candidates what you think. You can tell them that you want them to support the Act and oppose repeal. As a voter you can make your views and concerns clear to the possible decision makers. That is democracy. What the quiet majority should do is take the time to make themselves heard! Hopefully politicians of all parties will then listen to what they have to say and will vote to prevent cruelty to animals for sport.

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Countryside mismanagement

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

The hunters and the shooters have at least one thing in common and that is their claim to be managing the countryside and its wildlife. They make that claim without even pausing to wonder about the stunning arrogance of it and without the evidence to back up their claims in relation to national objectives that we the public are bought into.

The hunters and the shooters equate their misspent effort and money with management, and mistakenly claim to be managing the countryside on the nation’s behalf. It is worth looking more closely at their claims.

The week’s most glaring example of dysfunctional decision making with regard to countryside management are the badger cull trials in Wales. The science shows quite clearly that a badger cull that falls short of species extinction will make matters worse rather than better in relation to the transmission of tuberculosis (TB).

The effect of taking out badgers by culling is that the survivors move about more, either to exploit the vacant territories or possibly to escape from the area of the cull. The science also shows that as a consequence other animal populations, where there was previously territorial competition, will exploit the territorial changes. In particular there will be a radical increase in the fox populations.

At the same time as effort is being devoted to culling badgers in the mistaken belief that it will solve the problem of TB in cattle, the chances are that insufficient attention will be paid to dealing with the problems associated with cross contamination on farms and at markets. Only restrictions on livestock movements and contacts will cut down the spread of disease.

The tragedy is the refusal of the farming industry to accept that they are wrong in calling for a cull. And whilst all this is going on, the financial consequences of compensating farmers for the costs of culling infected cattle will fall on the taxpayer. This cannot continue: future policy proposals that farmers should pay the costs of their own compensation schemes may eventually lead to some changes of attitude.

Fox hunting is another such wasted resource and cruel enterprise. The science shows that years of misguided persecution of foxes has had minimal effect on the fox population. The Burns Inquiry showed that while farmers thought that the culling had a beneficial effect in reducing losses, the economic and scientific evidence did not back that up. Other research has shown that eliminating the fox population in a local area simply vacates fox territories and creates competition between incomers in the fox population, which can actually make matters worse rather than better.

Common sense dictates that if there isn’t much water in the well it doesn’t take many people to drink the well dry. With slow growing Caledonian pine it doesn’t take many grazing animals, be they small or large, to nibble off the succulent green shoots. Likewise with suitable trees for knocking the velvet off antlers, in a forest full of options some trees are going to be used for the purpose however many deer are out there. The only answer for regeneration of the forest is not culling, but fencing – either of enclosures or by protecting individual trees.

The reality with deer populations is that they rise and fall with the available feed and the condition of the female deer at conception and when the young are born. If populations are marginally reduced by culling, deer condition improves and more survive. The hunters and killers are actually increasing the population by their actions, albeit marginally. If the real objective was to minimise the deer population, they would stand aside and let the population resume its normal cyclical pattern of boom in numbers followed by starvation and bust. That is nature’s way of ensuring the long term survival of the fittest. Human meddling for sport and trophy hunting or ‘management’, just gets in the way of the Darwinian process of natural selection.

When it comes to looking at the population of hares and rabbits the same sort of scientific considerations apply. Habitat and feed provide the real population drivers. The absence of natural predators will also play its part in determining the population size.

With apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller who famously spoke out against the Nazis:

First the farmers, the gamekeepers and the hunters came for the mice and the rats, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what the country folk said about them being a pest and them eating their grain.

Then they came for the stoats and the weasels that take game bird eggs because they said they were a pest too, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what they said about managing the countryside.

Then they came for the hares and the rabbits that the foxes and stoats had kept under control, because they said that they ate their grass and their cereals, and the young heather shoots that their grouse might otherwise eat, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what they said about pest control in the countryside.

Then they came for the foxes and the badgers because they said they were a pest as well and the countryside had to be managed to safeguard farm livestock, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what they said about countryside management and the need to control wild animal populations.

Then they came for the deer and the wild boar because they said they were a pest too and had to be controlled because of the damage that they did to the trees, but I didn’t speak out, because I believed what they said about pest control and wildlife management.

Then the countryside I used to love fell silent, there was no wildlife left to see, and because at last I spoke out, and because there was nothing else left for them to hunt and chase and kill for sport; they came for me.

There comes a time when all people who care must speak out, before it is too late! With an election looming which could lead to the clock being turned back to cruelty to animals for sport, now is the time to speak out and to make it clear that we don’t want that to happen.

Please don’t stay silent and let it all happen. Please get your friends and family working as hard as they can, pointing out the dangers to the nation’s wildlife and helping us to

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