MPs will be given a free vote on changes to the law on hunting in England and Wales next Wednesday.
What does this all mean?
The current legal position
Hunting a wild mammal with a dog is banned in Scotland under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and in England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004 (the “Hunting Act”).
In England and Wales hunts are currently allowed to use up to two dogs to “flush out” foxes and are allowed to use one dog below ground to flush or dig out the fox where the purpose is to prevent or reduce “serious damage to game birds or wild birds.”
The proposed changes
The government is not currently proposing to repeal the Hunting Act (although a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act is within the Conservative manifesto). Rather, the government is offering MPs a free vote on amendments to the Hunting Act, in particular:
- the number of dogs permitted to “flush out” the foxes will no longer be limited to two;
- the use of a dog below ground will also be permitted where the purpose is to prevent or reduce serious damage to livestock;
- hunting will be allowed where the hunter believes that a wild mammal is or may be injured and the hunt is undertaken for the purpose of relieving the wild mammal’s suffering.
The government has published a draft statutory instrument entitled “The Hunting Act 2004 (Exempt Hunting) (Amendment) Order 2015” which makes changes to Schedule 1 of the Hunting Act.
What this vote means in practice
A free vote means that the MPs will be able to vote independently of their parties’ whips. Given that it is not a vote to repeal the Hunting Act, it is not clear how a number of Conservative MPs will vote.
If the amendment is approved in the House of Commons it will also have to be voted through in the House of Lords and the statutory instrument could then be in force by the end of this year.
What would be the effect of the proposed amendment?
The proposed amendments are viewed by many as a ‘back door’ return to fox hunting in this country, something that the legislature has already voted that it wants to see at an end. It explicitly allows foxes to be flushed out with a pack of dogs and the composite effect of the changes are to make the legislation potentially unenforceable.
The purpose of the Hunting Act was to end hunting with dogs for sport. Exemptions were put in place to allow hunting with dogs in limited circumstances to address perceived farming and wildlife issues. However those exemptions, according to the League Against Cruel Sports, have been exploited by hunters. For example trail hunts (where fox urine is placed along a trail for the dogs to follow) have sprung up since the ban was put in place and foxes chased or killed during these trail hunts are passed off as “accidents”. Allowing an unlimited number of dogs on a hunt to “flush out” the fox allows the hunters to effectively return to their traditional hunting methods; hunters will be allowed to set off with a pack of hounds under the guise that the dogs are only present for the now legitimate purpose of “flushing out” the fox. Any foxes chased or killed in the process will be defended as “accidents” and prosecution will become extremely difficult.
Tom Quinn, Campaigns Director for the League Against Cruel Sports has said: “This is no simple amendment to the Hunting Act. The government is trying to bring back hunting by deceit. Now we know what they are proposing, any pretence that the government was trying to amend the law to enable better fox control has been blown out of the water.”
Effecting the legal process
If you have a view and want to effect the legal process the best option is to lobby your local MP urging them to vote against the amendments to the Hunting Act.
The League Against Cruel Sports has provided a draft email that you can send. Find out more here.
There is also an online petition organised by the 38 Degrees team which you can see here.