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Hare coursing. Photo: via C Duggan / Flickr (CC BY-NC).
Hare coursing. Photo: via C Duggan / Flickr (CC BY-NC).
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Bring back fox hunting and hare coursing? Not on our watch

Chris Pitt

22nd May 2015

Fresh from his surprise election victory, David Cameron is facing calls to expedite a 'free vote' in Parliament to repeal the law that forbids hunting with dogs, writes Chris Pitt. We must make sure our MPs vote to protect wild animals from the horrendous cruelty that resumed hunting would inflict on them.

Hunting with hounds is not pest control, nor 'wildlife management'. It's not a class issue, nor a town-vs-country argument. It's nothing but a cruel sport that was consigned to the history books, and that's where it should remain.

And so it has begun again. Pro-hunt supporters have jumped onto David Cameron's pre-election pledge to hold a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act 2004 like, well, hounds leaping onto an exhausted fox.

Despite there being a number of seemingly more important issues needing to be dealt with by the government (the economy, unemployment, education, that kind of thing), those wishing to take up the reins of fox-hunting have been quick to call for the vote to happen as soon as possible.

The key question currently being debated therefore is this - if the promised free vote was held, would a majority of MPs vote for repeal?

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance believe they would win - or at least that's what they're saying in public. Local media reported their claims that 286 is the magic figure for the number of MPs needed to get the Act repealed, with (so they claim) just 12 Conservative MPs opposed to hunting.

But does the claim hold water? Don't bet on it ...

But their figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. It's clear that far more than 12 Conservative MPs oppose hunting. An organisation called Conservatives Against Fox Hunting had 28 MPs as members, and that was before the election. Moreover not all anti-hunting Conservatives will be members of that organisation.

We have also noticed that every new election brings in more anti-hunt Conservatives. And we're finding it hard to imagine modern 'one nation' Conservatives wanting to reintroduce a blood sport into the 21st century.

The claim therefore that only 12 will vote against repeal is perhaps an attempt to persuade any wavering Conservative MPs that repeal is a foregone conclusion. It isn't.

It's also difficult to put a number on exactly how many MPs will be needed to win the vote, because at the moment it's unknown how many are going to abstain. Focus is being piled onto the SNP, as both sides recognise that their 56 MPs could play a crucial role, one way or the other.

Wildlife lovers in England and Wales would love to see the SNP weigh in against repeal, while pro-hunt MPs will want anti-hunting Scottish MPs to stay out of it - although the sole Conservative MP in Scotland is on record as supporting a repeal.

We understand how difficult this issue is for Nicola Sturgeon's party, because they are working from a point of principle in staying out of non-Scottish issues.

However we do know that many SNP MPs are vehemently anti-hunting, and that the party has campaigned against bullfighting, so we'd like to see their MPs given a free vote on this issue.

SNP MPs could also argue that this is an matter of conscience which transcends the England-Scotland border. Just as human rights represent universal, not purely national values, so does the moral principle of avoiding, and preventing, needless cruelty to animals.

The Hunting Act - what's the real story?

While the discussion is currently focussing on majorities and abstentions, it is easy to forget what we're actually talking about. We're talking about a law that bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs. Those words don't really do justice to what actually happens. Try this:

Foxes are ripped apart by hounds, often while still alive. 'Cub' hunting involves areas of woodland being surrounded by hunt members who prevent young foxes from escaping when the hounds are sent in.

Deer are chased by dogs to an exhausted standstill. Hares are forced to take part in the 'sport' of hare coursing, in which two dogs race to catch it, before ripping it apart, often in a gruesome tug of war.

Some try to claim that this kind of activity is somehow 'natural'. It's not. When foxes are chased, they will bolt down holes to escape. As part of a fox hunt, the holes will be surrounded then terrier dogs sent down to trap and/or fight with the fox.

This leads to horrific injuries and perhaps death for both animals. If you don't care about the fox, please think about the dogs - the abuse of terriers in this way is a real hidden horror of hunting.

So does the Hunting Act work?

Yes, it does. There have been over 400 successful convictions under the Act in 10 years, making it the most successful piece of animal welfare legislation in this country. These prosecutions have involved registered hunts, hare coursers and others hunting or chasing mammals with dogs. All were breaking the law and causing animal cruelty.

An argument being used right now is that somehow the Hunting Act hasn't benefited animal welfare, so therefore should be scrapped. I personally can't quite get my head around how an Act that bans chasing and ripping apart animals is somehow not benefitting animal welfare.

They will also say that more foxes have been killed since the Act came into force - there is no evidence for this. The Hunting Act, by the way, wasn't intended to stop people from killing foxes (or deer, hares and so on), it was intended to stop them from doing it in the cruellest of ways.

Another point here that needs to be made is that the reputation of foxes as a 'pest' or 'vermin' is based on prejudice, not fact. The impact on the farming industry is nowhere near as negative as is made out - in fact many farms benefit from the presence of foxes which kill rabbits, which in turn do a lot of crop damage. Less than 1% of annual lamb losses can be directly attributed to foxes.

Ultimately, there is no problem with the Hunting Act - but there is a problem with those that flout it yet avoid prosecution. At the League Against Cruel Sports we believe it could be strengthened a bit to stop people from jumping through loopholes, but basically it's a vital and successful piece of legislation.

In amongst the statistics and the bluster, there's one simple truth that cannot be ignored. Hunting was banned because it is hideously cruel.

Minority versus majority

Mori polling from December 2014 showed that 80% of people in Britain want fox hunting to remain illegal. 86% want deer hunting to remain illegal, and the figure is 88% for hare hunting.

Any argument that those opposed to hunting are 'townies who know nothing' is dispelled by the rural-urban breakdown in the same poll - 78% of those in rural areas want fox hunting to remain illegal. It's also not a 'class' issue, shown by the fact that 66% of Conservative voters are also anti-fox hunting.

For those who think 'hunting' should continue because it's a grand old British tradition - it can. Drag hunting, in which the hunt follows a false trail, involves all the elements of the sport, but without killing anything.

So let's be clear, hunting with hounds is not pest control, nor 'wildlife management'. It's not a class issue, nor a town-vs-country argument.

It's nothing but a cruel sport that was consigned to the history books, and that's where it should remain.

We believe that there will be enough MPs who will vote to make sure it stays there. But to make sure of it, contact your MP and urge them to use their vote against animal cruelty.



Action: The League Against Cruel Sports is currently offering people the chance to contact their MP about the Hunting Act. Take the simple League Against Cruel Sports action.

Chris Pitt is Deputy Director of Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports.


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