When Bill Clinton was asked if he had ever smoked marijuana he uttered the infamous cop-out that he had smoked it but had not inhaled. David Cameron’s position on hunting has been similar. He cannot deny that he once rode to hounds with his friends in the beautiful English countryside where he spends weekends. But he has never said much about the experience other than it was terribly challenging to stay on the horse. Rather than saying ‘I enjoyed it’, he has always been careful to give the impression that hunting was going on around him, so he did it, and he survived to tell the tale. But he didn’t inhale, so to speak.
Whatever the truth, Mr Cameron knows he has to deliver something to the hunting fraternity now that he leads a majority government, because he promised a vote on overturning the ban in his manifesto. The trouble is that he can’t risk a free vote on repeal, which only entrenches the hunting ban if it goes against him. So a solution has been hit upon that involves amending the Hunting Act by statutory instrument.
The idea is to change the conditions that exempt particular sorts of hunting for pest-control purposes. At present it’s legal to hunt with two hounds to flush a fox to a gun. If the proposed change went ahead, the exemption would cover using as many hounds as were necessary for wildlife management. This would help farmers, especially in upland areas, who have struggled to protect livestock from foxes since the ban. It would also, incidentally, help foxes who are wandering around covered in mange and dying a slow, lingering death.
That means that the most controversial types of hunting, such as hare-coursing, will not come back. It brings the situation in line with the law in Scotland, so it will be difficult for the SNP to object. And because it’s a statutory instrument it will take 90 minutes of debate, not days and weeks of valuable parliamentary time. Cameron will put the idea to his party’s 1922 Committee tomorrow. If the Tories go for it, the statutory instrument could then be debated as early as next week. If passed by MPs, it would go to the Lords for debate in the autumn. If approved there, it would take effect immediately, so the new regime would begin this winter.
It cannot begin soon enough. We are ten years on and the ban has been arguably the most shameful piece of bad law enacted in our time. Even Tony Blair says he’s ashamed of doing it. It is almost unique in having no benefit to anyone or anything. It has cost the taxpayer millions as police try to enforce it, dragging innocent people through the courts in the process, and not one animal rights organisation has been able to demonstrate any benefit to wildlife or animal welfare.
I don’t want to challenge, yet again, the soul-destroying arguments against hunting here now. I think I would rather argue with an atheist about whether God exists. But I will tell just one anecdote to illustrate my point of view. Recently, I went on a date with a guy who took me to a Moroccan restaurant serving, in his view, the best lamb tagine. As we tucked in, he repeatedly gasped in ecstasy at the flavour. Then he drove me home and as we neared my house a fox ran out in front of us. ‘Damn thing,’ I said, watching it flee with a ripped up garbage bag strewn in the road behind it.
‘Beautiful creature!’ he corrected me. ‘Really?’ I said, thinking how smug and unattractive he suddenly looked. ‘Yes,’ he said, adding pompously: ‘I don’t agree with the killing of sentient creatures for fun.’
I stewed on this all night and in the morning sent him an email explaining that I did not wish to see him again and a big part of the reason for that was that I could not reconcile his lurid, lip-smacking enjoyment of a piece of a sheep that had been killed for his delectation and his professed opposition to the killing of a fox ‘for pleasure’.
‘Let’s face it,’ I wrote, ‘if you really don’t want a sentient creature to suffer for your pleasure you could have eaten a bowl of dry old couscous and halloumi cheese.’
But of course, the question of man’s position at the top of the food chain, his right to hunt to enjoy meat, and his right to hunt to control the pests that plague the natural environment producing that meat, will again be a fraught one when the issue comes before Parliament.
For some reason, we just don’t want to admit we have an innate duty to order the world around us any more. It is part of our detachment from nature. Put all slaughter — even horribly cruel halal slaughter — behind closed doors and pretend it doesn’t exist. Then shrink-wrap the results.
As such, I am dreading this being debated again. MPs will, as usual, get all worked up about killing foxes then slope off to fancy restaurants to eat free-range chickens and lambs that could never have been bred if foxes weren’t controlled. As they mount their high horses, they won’t admit that hunting not only makes sense, but is kinder and quicker than what is done daily in the name of mass food production and ritualistic religious slaughter. But above all, as the hypocrisy reaches hysteria levels, no one on any side will admit that it might be perfectly natural for hunting to be pleasurable.