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 After the first bill was thrown out, the second bill was withdrawn.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

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21 Responses to “Relaxing the Hunting Act should be a referendum matter”

  1. Selohesra

    If only Labour had been keener on referendums before last election – refusing the public a say on EU must have cost many a vote to UKIP

  2. David Lindsay

    Oh, don’t be silly.

    Even the Government that was launching the Iraq War could sell itself as Labour merely by pretending to ban foxhunting. Likewise, although this Government’s Thatcherite credentials are in fact very strong (as were the Coalition’s), it can nevertheless deflect criticism from the ultra-Right by pretending to relax what is in practice that nonexistent ban.

    If it manages to do even that. Recalling the Commons majorities for a ban in the Major years, Wednesday’s division is set to go to the wire. If the proposal passes, then it might very well pass on the vote of Kate Hoey.

    If foxhunting is not officially brought back this time, then it never will be. That would not happen in the next Parliament, 15 to 20 years after the ban. Rather, if the will of the House of Commons this time is to keep the ban, then it really might be time for the Police and the CPS to consider making some sort of effort to enforce it. Or not enforce all sorts of other things that happened to be the law enacted by Parliament, and explain why not.

  3. stevep

    “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” – Oscar Wilde. Referring to the foxhunting establishment.

    Cruel people need cruel sports. Enough said.

  4. swat

    Its a ‘Sport’ and I do wish the Hunting Lobby would stop denying that it is. We had Patterson on telly yesterday, saying its ‘animal management’. Absolute rot. Where else do you deck yourself out in your best regalia, mount your trusty steed, and tally ho! with drinks all round,and at the end attend a Hunt’s Ball in the evening, followed by roast pheasants for supper? Where else do you go out of your way to breed foxes for the hunt, and give your dogs the exercise of a jolly good run?
    But lets not have a Referendum on Hunting, but a Referendum on restoring the Death Penalty for Murder and Terrorism.

  5. damon

    Don’t be silly. Foxes are just wild animals and killing a few of them harms no one but gives a lot of pleasure. There are foxes all over our towns and cities and there’s no need to be sentimental about them.
    I feed the ones that come in my garden sometimes, but don’t think it’s particularly tragic when I see a dead one on the road.
    The anti Fox hunting thing is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.
    Why spoil something that is pretty harmless but so many people are passionate about?

  6. stevep

    There`s nothing harmless about ripping wild animals apart for fun. It`s sick and twisted. Sentiment doesn`t come into it.
    As for silliness and pleasure, I like both, in moderation, but not when it comes to wilfully harming foxes or any other sentient creatures.
    Get a grip. You should be ashamed.

  7. James Alston

    Did you even read the article? It’s extremely cruel. It may not harm humans that much, but it certainly harms the foxes. Also, we’re talking democracy here, and, as I said in the article, most people think the ban is a good thing. Isn’t that what really matters here?

  8. Patrick Nelson

    On all three.

  9. Patrick Nelson

    “Foxes are just wild animals and killing a few of them … gives a lot of pleasure.”

    Killing for pleasure? They say they always start on animals…

  10. WilliamKGraham

    ^^^^^Reset your job with leftfootforward. < ***** Find Here

  11. damon

    I did, but there are different opinions on it.
    Mine are closer to Roger Scruton’s.

    And that magazine ”Spiked” where the piece was published.

  12. damon

    Not at all. I like animals, and my mum has a lovely little dog that is about the size and shape of a Fox. I love to take him for walks in the woods and the park because he doesn’t get much chance to get out otherwise.
    But he’s different to a Fox because of he’s part of a human family and plays a very good roll of keeping my mother company.
    See the links I did to Spiked magazine above.
    I really think the harm done to foxes is far outweighed by the cultural and social riches it gives the people who take part in it.
    It should be seen as a harmless minority activity much in the same way that Morris Dancing is. A bit eccentric, but harmless (overall) all the same.
    Btw, I’d say similar about bullfighting in Spain.
    I’d never agree with bullfighting being introduced into the UK because it has no roots here, but in Spain it’s up to them.

  13. Eddy Boyband

    If people want to be legally cruel to animals they should take up fishing.

  14. stevep

    NO! NO! NO!

  15. damon

    ”NO! NO! NO!”
    That’s not much of an argument.

    Try this one by Brendan O’Neill.
    The real reason fox hunting should be unbanned: because it is rollicking, raucous, devilish fun

  16. stevep

    It`s not worth arguing with you. You obviously think Foxhunting is fun and that`s your point of view. Personally I cannot comprehend, even in the dimmest corner of my brain, how anyone humane can hold that view. This discussion with you has been distasteful and unilluminating.

  17. James Alston

    Look, just because an issue isn’t as important as ‘war’ or ‘constitutional crisis’, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t an issue which needs to be discussed. Moreover, as I said in the article, hunting foxes is an ineffective way to control their population. And most importantly, it doesn’t matter one bit if fox hunting is the glue holding these traditional, rural (upper class) ‘cultures’ together; fox hunting is a blood sport. Working class blood sports were absolished a long time ago. Fox hunting is just as cruel as other blood sports. It doesn’t have a place in a society if society deems it should be banned, WHICH SOCIETY DOES.

  18. damon

    Stevep – all it is that we disagree. That should be no big deal – people have different opinions on all kinds of things.
    I just think that the price of some foxes lives is not a big enough reason for denying tens of thousands of people of their tradition and passion. Did you not even read any of those links I did. In the big world, people have different ideas.
    Maybe you just have to understand that and deal with it.
    It’s not like I was justifying the Islamic State or anything really important.
    Fox hunting is obviously fun for those people who do it.
    I never have, but as it’s relatively harmless, I see no reason for the state to ban it.

  19. damon

    Well I just disagree with you, but I agree that a majority seem to want it banned.
    Majorities can be pretty stupid and unthinking on issues though.
    This is one of them I think.
    Of course it’s not important like war etc, but as it was pretty harmless given the pleasure it gave, I think it was mean spirited to ban it.
    You brought in the class issue.
    I’ve never been on a hunt, but I thought all classes were involved.
    My mother grew up in rural Ireland and she remembers following the hunt with her brothers, on foot, just because it was the event of the week or month out where they lived in the country. And they were definitely not the rich upper class.
    No one even thought about any cruelty to animals in the modern way.
    Maybe because they were surrounded by animals and people caught rabbits, and pigs were killed on the farm etc.
    It’s a lot of nonsense in my opinion, but that’s all my view is.

  20. James Alston

    You keep saying that it’s harmless. I don’t know what I can say which will prove to you that fox hunting is NOT HARMLESS FOR FOXES. Animals experience pain, physically and emotionally, and therefore a ‘hunt’ is harmful to foxes. Do you understand that?

  21. damon

    Or debate is fruitless only if you don’t accept that people you disagree with can also have a perfectly good case sometimes.
    Not all the time of course. On matters of politics and war and really important stuff it’s quite OK to be terribly partisan and one sided.
    But on animals (for one area of debate) people have all kinds of different opinions and I think people should be allowed for the most part to have the freedom to do things that aren’t particularly harmful. Of course Fox hunting is harmful to the foxes chased and killed, but it’s the level of pain and suffering and cruelty that’s important, and as I see dead foxes on the road every week, I’m not that upset by the thought of one dying.
    A dead cat on the road is terribly sad though.

    Some people want horse racing banned. They even disrupted the Grand National last year. Those people remind me of the idiots who invaded the runway at Heathrow airport the other way. Totally selfish and narcissistic.
    And many of those hunt sab people were seriously weird. Ranters.

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