The Government’s plans to amend the Hunting Act were delayed after 56 SNP MPs announced on Tuesday 14th July that they would vote alongside Labour and some Conservative members to oppose these changes to the law. The vote on the proposed amendments has been postponed, for the time being. These proposals involved plans to relax limits on the number of dogs (currently two) that can be used to track down foxes to be shot, which can legally only be done for pest control purposes. However, critics have argued that this raises the question of those who wish to hunt for pleasure disguising their activities as within the law, and the ethical and legal issues this proposed loophole would create.
The shelving of the Conservative plans comes in the wake of a retreat over the proposed ‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL) plans, as last Wednesday’s (8th July) vote on the legislation was altered to a debate in the House of Commons. The delayed vote is now expected to take place in September. EVEL consists of establishing the precedent for MPs from English constituencies to have an increased decision making power over laws that solely affect England and was initially welcomed by Scottish MPs.
The Prime Minister yesterday described the SNP’s plans to oppose the Hunting Act amendment as “entirely opportunistic”. Meanwhile the SNP announced potential plans to bring its own foxhunting legislation – which is currently more relaxed than England’s – into line with the UK as a whole. The majority of Labour MPs planed to vote against the government’s proposed relaxing of these laws.
Many wildlife and charitable organisations who campaigned against changes to the hunting legislation were delighted to learn the vote was dropped. The League Against Cruel Sports released a statement on their website from Tom Quinn, their Campaigns Director, he stated that “it would be a mistake for the Government to return to this issue in the future, and any attempts to repeal the Hunting Act by the back door would clearly be wrong”.
The organisation views the proposed changes as unwelcome, quoting statistics: “8 out of 10 people in both countryside and urban areas are against hunting, any attempt to bring it back would be deeply unpopular whenever it takes place”. They plan to “continue to highlight the cruelty involved in hunting and undermine any suggestion that hunting has anything to do with wildlife management or fox control [and are] pleased that the Scottish government have recognised that the ban in Scotland needs examining and we look forward to working with them to ensure the law is as strong as possible”.
UEA American History and Politics alumnus Chris Pitt, the Deputy Campaigns Director for the League Against Cruel Sports commented further that despite it being “good news that the government backed down from voting to amend the Hunting Act… we know they will try again”.
He described the issue of hunting with dogs as “confined to the dustbin of history 10 years ago”.
In terms of how this issue affects Norfolk and the surrounding area of East Anglia, a heavily rural and agricultural part of the country, he stated that: “it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the people in that part of England would be pro-hunting”. However, he argued that this is actually a “myth” and that the debate has “nothing to do with town vs. country, it’s about cruelty vs. compassion”.
He quoted government figures that show that “95% of lamb losses are due to poor husbandry and inclement weather” and that further studies “have also shown that less than 1% of lamb losses can actually be attributed to fox predation”. The organisation supports the use of “humane methods of control” as “far wiser than lethal ones”.
Farmers also have “reasons to love foxes as they predate rabbits”, which “benefits the agricultural industry in this country by £7m a year”. Finally he summed up the issue of fox hunting as “not a noble tradition worth saving… Hunting with hounds is a despicable practice which most people in this country understand is cruel and has no place in the world in 2015”.