It’s hard to believe a whole decade has passed since the Hunting Act was passed on 18 November 2004. This legislation, undeniably one of the most contentious seen in modern political times, outlawed the killing of foxes, hares, mink and deer by dogs, ending centuries of cruelty.
Over that period of time we have seen governments and Prime Ministers come and go, and yet the same arguments and political tensions over the Act persist. Just this year the Government abandoned any plans to weaken the Act, since it was clear they didn’t have sufficient Parliamentary support to proceed.
The recent debate gave an opportunity for the pro-repeal lobby to make their case about the Act’s supposed ineffectiveness. However, a decisive indicator of enforceability is a law’s conviction rate, and in terms of convictions the Act has been a marked success. Ministry of Justice figures show the Act out-performs all other wild mammal legislation in England and Wales, having the highest number of convictions since it was introduced (341 between 2005 and 2013).
People sometimes argue the ban was wrong because it ended centuries of tradition. One might have said the same thing about sending small boys up chimneys, yet of course we don’t have the same sentimentality about that! There is, of course, one enduring tradition to keep in mind, the tradition of Britain being a national of animal lovers.
Then there is the claim that hunting was ‘a way of managing the countryside’. Let’s be clear, traditional hunting was never about pest control, but bloodsports – pure and simple. Foxes are territorial animals and, where one fox is taken out, another will often take its place within days.
Some point out that illegal hunting still takes place. Unfortunately this is true, and like everything from drug laws to speed limits – the problem lies not with the Act, but with those who flout the law. However, the Act can be strengthened with some simple improvements; such as prohibiting the use of dogs below ground, inserting provision to ensure 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, bringing the Act in line with other animal welfare legislation.
It should also be remembered that the Act remains very popular with voters. Polling from Ipsos MORI, conducted for the League Against Cruel Sports, shows that 8 out of 10 people think fox hunting should remain illegal, with similar numbers agreeing that deer and hare hunting should remain illegal too. More than 80 percent surveyed (in both urban and rural areas) believe hunting with dogs should remain against the law. Public opinion seems settled on this matter, and to my mind it’s the responsibility of Parliament to reflect this.
The Hunting Act has survived ten testing years. It has proven to be successful and popular, and the focus should be not on repeal but rather how we can make an already good law even better, so that more animals are spared from a horrific fate in the name of an inhumane & archaic sport.
Caroline Dinenage is the Conservative member for Gosport