At the close of 2012 the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, dismissed any government move in 2013 to introduce draft legislation to repeal the ban on hunting foxes with hounds.
Under the coalition agreement, government MPs are entitled to vote freely on repealing the legislation which made hunting with hounds illegal in England and Wales in 2005 and Scotland in 2002. The recent RSPCA prosecution of the Heythrop hunt, in addition to the host of hunts held over the festive period, throws the issue once again into topical discussion.
Paterson nonetheless insisted that the policy remained a government intention. The government dropped any short term plans to repeal the ban because it knows it would be unable to win a vote. The more mellowed attitudes towards fox hunting among the new cohort of Conservative MPs would necessitate the government to enforce a very strong whip to have any hope of achieving a majority vote in the House of Commons.
In such tough times, a move to re-introduce fox hunting with dogs would devastatingly expose the government as out of touch with the concerns of those feeling the fierce and disproportionate impact of the government’s policy of austerity. The government tries to justify these policies by playing at class division over issues such as welfare, and a move to repeal the fox hunting ban will reveal a class priority that it would struggle to justify.
It is strongly supposed that David Cameron will make an election issue of the hunting ban prior to the 2015 election. The Conservative-led government may attempt to introduce a bill in the last session of this parliament, and upon its failure argue that if a voter desires the law’s repeal, then they should vote Conservative.
While debating the Wild Mammals Protection bill in 1992, the now deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes added the insight that hunting was not an appropriate activity for civilised human beings. Fox hunting is a cruel blood sport which is as distasteful as bull fighting. As the legendary Labour MP Tony Benn acknowledged, cruelty to entertain is wholly abhorrent. Hunting foxes with hounds has been and remains a barbarous escapade of the wealthy.
A recent Ipsos Mori poll of almost 2000 people found 76% were against repealing the current ban, providing a credible indication of the public attitude. Given the indication of support for current legislation, the future of the hunting ban lays in the enforcement of the law.
Champion of animal welfare, Baroness Smith of Basildon unfortunately regards it as unlikely that the government will take any positive action to uphold a progressive law passed by the last Labour government. Despite this, the successful prosecution of the Heythrop hunt, with very clear evidence by the RSPCA, illustrates the resources available to enforce the ban, and that enforcement is possible.