Archive for Parliament & Politics

The election

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!

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The “period of silence” comes to an end

The period of silence from the Countryside Alliance has finally come to an end.

This morning, they tweeted that they had voted (quite how an organisation votes is unclear, but we won’t go into that) and that was their first tweet since 22nd April.

Clearly the most amusing aspect of the silence from the Alliance has been their attempts to insist that hunting isn’t an election issue – and yet they have spent the entire time since the Hunting Act was passed talking about the need to elect a government which will repeal it.

But it’s also clear that there isn’t even the support for their campaign from hunters themselves. Remember that the Alliance claim that twenty-seven squillion people took part in the Countryside March, but only 32,000 people have signed up to their repeal website. And there’s hardly a tsunami of support flocking to that website – it has attracted little over 2,000 new supporters in the last three months (rising from 30,100 on 19th February to 32,165 today).

With their period of silence over, we look forward to the resumption of their “campaign” with baited breath.

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League announces plans for election night

In what is believed to be a groundbreaking move for a charity, the League Against Cruel Sports is launching a major operation to monitor election results as they come in.

Having campaigned for over eighty years to have hunting with dogs made illegal, the League says the overnight project is necessary to ensure the charity is fully aware of any risks to the Hunting Act. Some politicians have pledged to repeal the Hunting Act, and a free vote on the matter has been pledged in the Conservative Party’s manifesto.

The League’s Parliamentary and Political Officer, Joshua Kaile, said: “We will have a team of five people working through the night, updating our records and publishing information online through our website, blog and twitter pages. We have an excellent reputation in Westminster and it’s essential that we maintain this with the new intake of MPs from today’s elections.”

Full coverage will be provided on the League’s website and blog  from 2200hrs this evening.

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Fox Tour ends… almost where it started

The Fox Tour drew to a close in the East Midlands constituency of Rutland and Melton, just 25 miles from where the Tour started in Corby two and a half weeks ago.

It’s very clear to us that the Fox Tour has been an enormous success. Local and regional media have covered the Tour in almost all the constituencies we visited, and we spoke to many people in towns and villages up and down the country. Our inbox, postbag and phone lines all show just how important this issue is to the public.

We are most grateful to the volunteers, members of the public, candidates and our staff who gave so much to make the Fox Tour a success. Thank you.

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Fox Tour visits Gedling, Nottinghamshire

For the penultimate destination on the Fox Tour, Fergus headed for Gedling, east of Nottingham.

Gedling turned out to be another of those seats with a range of views. The UKIP candidate told us that he’d abstain. The Conservative would hold meetings with constituents, as he would on all free vote issues. The Labour candidate said he’d keep the ban.

In the afternoon, Fergus headed for Nottingham railway station to catch a train to London for the premiere of ‘A Minority Pastime’. The Curzon Cinema in Soho was the venue for a very well attended screening of this most powerful film.

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Fox Tour finds another anti-hunting Conservative

From St Ives in Cornwall, we headed over 300 miles north to the Derby North constituency.

We were delighted to find another anti-hunting Conservative, together with a very clear commitment to the ban from the Labour candidate.

There are two days to go on the Fox Tour, and this afternoon Fergus the Fox will head to London to see the premiere of A Minority Pastime. The film of today’s Fox Tour antics will be online tomorrow.

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Image of the Day – 165

At a film premiere this afternoon, the truth and reality of hunting in the twenty-first century will be laid bare.

The Curzon Cinema in Soho is the venue for an invited audience to see A Minority Pastime, a project the League has been delighted to contribute to over the last year. It is a tour de force against the lies the hunting lobby like to present.

Hunts really don’t give a damn about the havoc they cause, to people or to the animals they hunt. The image above is rather tame by the standards of some of the activities exposed in the film.

Here’s the trailer for the film. Please do make an effort to go and see the film at a screening near you. If there isn’t one already set up, why not organise one?

Further information can be found on the film’s website.

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Camera shy Conservatives

The most noticeable thing about Saturday’s Fox Tour visit to St Ives in Cornwall was the extent to which local Conservatives were camera shy.

Asked if he knew the whereabouts of the candidate, a man canvassing for the Party in a shopping centre could only manage evasive questions about permission to film. Similarly, when asked at the candidate’s office if an interview would be possible, the staff member walked away from the camera.

The Cornish Democrat, Labour and Mebyon Kernow candidates proved similarly difficult to find. We were delighted to hear such firm commitments to the Hunting Act from the Liberal Democrat and Green candidates, however.

Today the Fox Tour heads back north, away from the West Country, and all will be revealed later today on our Twitter feed.

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Fox Tour finds consensus against hunting

The English Riviera saw the arrival of the Fox Tour yesterday, in the Torbay constituency.

As it turned out, the candidates for all three main parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat – oppose a return to hunting. The fact that this is in Devon, often considered one of the heartlands of hunting, should not be forgotten.

Today the Fox Tour is heading further west, to the St Ives constituency in Cornwall.

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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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