Relaxing the Hunting Act should be a referendum matter

Both public opinion and animal welfare overwhelmingly favour the ban


It was in their 1929 election manifesto that the Labour party first formally voiced their opposition to blood sports. Since the 1890s, private bills opposing hunting had been presented in parliament regularly, most of which were dismissed before a second reading.

However, two significant private members bills were held before parliament in 1949. After the first bill was thrown out, the second bill was withdrawn. The issue of hunting did not seriously come up again until the nineties, and the first real action was not taken until the Scottish pushed through their 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals Act.

Ten years on, the Conservatives are offering a free vote over whether or not the terms of the act should be relaxed. In an article for Countryside Alliance published back in March, David Cameron voiced his support for the freedom to hunt and said that ‘the Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare.’

But this is a lie. The myth that foxes are killed by a ‘quick nip’ on the back of a neck is a fallacy – many hunted foxes have been found with multiple other injuries without any evidence of the crucial and ‘painless’ bite, some even with their intestines ripped out.

Moreover, in the wild, the fox has no natural predators, meaning that the chase itself induces unnecessary stress and fear in an animal used to being at the top of the food chain. Over the last two hundred years, chases have become faster due to the development of selective breeding in hounds.

In the late 1700s, a chase would have consisted of waking up at the crack of dawn and a focus on watching the hounds track a scent. Faster dogs with more stamina mean later starts, quicker chases, and a more traumatic experience for the fox.

It’s a well-worn argument that preservation of bloodsports is an upper-class prerogative. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that two prominent working class bloodsports – cockfighting and bear baiting – were both banned in 1835, over eighty years before universal suffrage.

Due to their importance to the gentry, equally cruel sports – like fox hunting – weren’t made illegal until in England until 2004. While there may be some truth in this suggestion, it is an argument ad hominem that the hunting debate is a class war; the significance of fox hunting is embedded deeper in the rural psyche.

Back in 2014, 80 per cent of the public opposed repealing the fox hunting ban according to a poll taken by Ipsos Mori, an increase from 2004 when the figure stood at just 69 per cent.

Aside from the general public, Ricky Gervais has voiced his vehement – if crude – opinion on the matter, renowned as he is for his strong stance on animal welfare.

The Conservative Party’s manifesto, though, did not call for a referendum on whether or not the act should be repealed or amended, but for a vote within the confines of the Conservative Party, many members of which have outwardly expressed their enjoyment for fox hunting – including, as we have seen, David Cameron.

Whatever the psychological or historical reasons the Conservatives have to defend it, their decision to hold a free vote on relaxing the Act is a double standard when the public have expressed such a strong opinion in favour of keeping the ban, especially as they plan to hold a referendum on other policy decisions, like EU membership.

More importantly, all the evidence points to the conclusion that fox hunting is useless at controlling population growth and that it is a traumatic experience for the fox. Whether us urban dwellers ‘might struggle to understand’ the perceived value hunting has for the rural population is neither here nor there.

This debate really comes down to public opinion and the welfare of hunted animals, and both overwhelmingly favour the ban.

James Alston studies History at Cardiff University. Read his blog here

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.