On the tenth anniversary of the Hunting Act, and with a general election looming, hunting is back on the political agenda.
The Act, which came into force on 18 February 2005 after being pushed through by Labour backbenchers, bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, such as foxes, deer and badgers. Despite the ruling, nearly all of the 300-plus registered hunts around the UK are still operating today.
The Countryside Alliance is calling for the law to be repealed, calling it ‘completely unworkable’. According to Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, 97 percent of cases brought under the Act don’t involve fox hunting.
“The law has proved just as unworkable, pointless and wasteful as we predicted,” said Tim. “A law which was passed because of MPs’ obsession with fox hunting has been used almost exclusively to prosecute poachers.”
“There has been no improvement in welfare – just as many foxes are being killed as were before the ban.”
However, Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports told H&C the Hunting Act was never solely aimed at registered hunts, but at anyone hunting with dogs for sport.
“A criminal is a criminal; whether they wear a red coat or belong to a club is irrelevant,” said Joe. “The Hunting Act was brought in to stop cruelty to animals in the name of sport, regardless of the perpetrator."
The League is even calling for changes to 'strengthen' the Act, including prohibiting the use of dogs below ground, ensuring the killing of wild mammals during a trail hunt cannot be passed off as an ‘unfortunate accident’, and increasing the punishments available to the courts so the Act is brought into line with other animal protection legislation.
The RSPCA, which has attracted criticism for using charitable funds to bring legal action against hunts, also supports the continuation of the Hunting Act.
Head of public affairs David Bowles said: "The RSPCA firmly believes that the cruel practice of chasing and killing live animals with dogs is a barbaric and outdated pastime and has no place in modern Britain. This is a sentiment echoed by the vast majority of the British public.
"A decade on, public feeling towards the hunting ban is still strong. The fact remains that it is only a tiny minority of people who seek a return to cruelty.
“The RSPCA also believes that the Hunting Act is a workable, enforceable piece of legislation."
In contrast, the Countryside Alliance is calling for the next Government to ensure the ban is repealed, claiming it is more about class politics than animal welfare.
“The law is completely unworkable,” said Tim. “Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and thousands of hours of police time continue to be wasted on spurious allegations under the Hunting Act.
“This issue will never be resolved until we have legislation based on evidence and principle, rather than prejudice and political point scoring.”
The Countryside Alliance has recently made calls to 'unmask' hunt saboteurs who carry out violent acts while hiding their faces behind balaclavas.
What are your views on hunting? Email [email protected] with your viewpoints.