For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:
protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
international wildlife protection
the badger cull
other wildlife issues
Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.
The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets. I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.
Last week, while everyone was preoccupied with the Budget, the Tories announced (very quietly) that on Wednesday 15th July there would be a vote over an amendment to the Hunting Act of 2004.
Now, it’s not news that (some of) the Tories want to see an end to the Hunting Act 2004, which banned hunting with dogs. They had a manifesto commitment to a free vote on repealing the Act. What they’ve done now is rather different – it’s not a free vote on repealing the act, it’s trying to bring in a Statutory Instrument that would undermine the Act, and make it impossible to enforce.
The proposed amendments would allow an unlimited number of hounds to ‘flush out’ a fox, as long as the plan is then to shoot it. This amendment will, in effect, allow Hunts to return to hunting with hounds. As you can probably imagine, it will be very hard to get a clean shot at a fox when it is surrounded by a pack of hounds as well as the hunters and hunt supporters themselves. It would also be hard to stop the hounds killing the fox before it can be shot.
The proposed changes cherry pick some of the bits of current Scottish legislation, without the higher penalties that are available in Scotland. The Hunting Act of 2004 is a much more successful piece of animal welfare legislation, with 64% of prosecutions under it being successful. The Scottish legislation is much harder to enforce, with only 35% of prosecutions succeeding. The proposed changes would make it impossible to police.
So, why are they using the sneaky approach? It’s probably because they realise they will never have enough support from MPs to repeal the Act. The Act is one of the most popular bits of legislation going – 80% of the British public support it. Not all Tories would vote for it to be repealed. When I contacted my Conservative MP, in the run up to the election, about his views on the Hunting Act, he wrote back reassuring me that he would vote against any repeal of the Hunting Act.
By introducing the changes like this, instead of outright repeal, I think that they hope it will pass under the radar. There’s only 90 minutes allocated to debate the changes (the original legislation was debated for 700 hours). As it’s not downright repeal, maybe some MPs will be (willingly) fooled, or not think it’s important enough to turn up and vote against. And because the proposed changes are similar to the current legislation in Scotland, I think the hope is that SNP MPs will feel like they can’t vote against the changes.
So, what can we do? It’s vital that we use the few days we have to get in touch with our MPs and urge them to vote against the legislation. Petitions are all very well, but we need every MP to have been contacted by constituents, so they know that how they vote will be scrutinised. The Hunt lobby will also be mobilising, but, if we all act, there are enough of us to outweigh them. I’ve contacted my MP asking him to vote against the changes. I urge you to as well – by email, phone, Twitter, in person… If you don’t know how to get in touch with your MP, find out who it is on http://www.theyworkforyou.com – you can send them a message through that site, or use the power of a search engine to find out their contact details once you know their name. You could also use a search engine to look for details of your MP’s office, with surgery times and contact details. Or use this simple RSPCA tool to help you send an email to your MP.
Hunting deer, foxes and hares with dogs was outlawed 10 years ago. A poll by Ipsos Mori, conducted at the end of last year, found that 80% of people in Great Britain think that fox hunting should remain illegal, 86% for deer hunting and 88% for hare hunting/coursing. These figures are about the same in both rural and urban areas (despite claims from the Countryside Alliance that only urbanites support the ban).
So why do an election focus on this issue? There can’t be much legislation that is so popular with the general public. But hunting has become an election issue, with pro-hunt campaigners actively supporting (campaigning for and financing) candidates for parties who promise to repeal the legislation.
Opponents of the Hunting Act claim that it doesn’t work, has done nothing to protect animals’ welfare, and restricts a countryside tradition. Supporters of the Act claim that it’s a highly effective piece of legislation, pointing to successful prosecutions of hunts breaking the law. Some anti-hunt groups argue that the law needs strengthening, or enforcement improving, as illegal fox hunting still continues in some areas.
So where do the parties stand on this issue? I’ve been looking into it, checking parties’ websites, emailing party head offices, and emailing the candidates standing in my constituency. I’ve only included parties standing in England, as there is different legislation in Scotland. Here’s what I’ve found.
Writing in the Countryside Alliance magazine (a pro-hunting lobby group), David Cameron said:
“The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative government will give parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”
So a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a return to hunting foxes, deer and hares with dogs.
Labour has said it would not repeal the ban. Maria Eagle, shadow environment secretary, has already stated:
“Only Labour will protect the Hunting Act. Ten years ago the Labour party ended the cruel practice of hunting with dogs, because we believe that causing defenceless animals to suffer in the name of sport has no place in a civilised society. But just as we celebrate the Hunting Act, the Tories plan to repeal it. Only Labour can protect the Hunting Act because Labour is the only major party committed to defending it. The hunting ban is a testament to the progress made since the days of bear baiting and other such barbaric blood sports.”
The Liberal Democrats haven’t responded to my emails yet, and I haven’t been able to find any policy statements about this on their website. However, it’s widely recognised that lack of support from the Liberal Democrats is the main reason why the current Coalition Government haven’t repealed the Hunting Act already.
If I hear anything from the Liberal Democrats I will update this post. In the meantime, you could ask the candidates standing in your constituency what their views on it are. The League Against Cruel Sport have an easy way to do this with their General Election Survey.
I couldn’t find anything on the UKIP website about this issue, so I emailed them. Here’s the response I received from Alan Bigwood of UKIP Headoffice:
“UKIP has absolutely no policy on Hunting, and the reason is simple. Those in favour of hunting and those opposed to it, are separated by a gulf that is in reality a chasm. There is no point in UKIP having an official policy on Hunting because it has nothing to do with pulling out of the EU, and even within UKIP itself some of the members are pro hunting and others are vehemently opposed, a mirror of wider society.
UKIP does not intend to bring hunting back even if Nigel Farage may take a different personal stance, which he has every right to do.
It is party policy to offer referendums to the public, and if enough petitioners were to demand a referendum on Hunting then a UKIP government would, of course, accede to that request… In such instances we feel that it is best to let the people decide, not an out of touch clique in Westminster, many of whom have never done a proper job in their lives.”
My Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate replied to my email, saying:
“The Green Party is committed to maintaining and strengthening the ban on hunting with dogs, and would extend this ban to all hunting of all animals for sport or pleasure.”
There’s lots more information about the Green Party’s position on other animal welfare issues, including snaring, shooting, dog fighting and greyhound racing on their website.
This is my diary of the wildlife where I live in Oxfordshire, and sometimes the places I visit. I am a 18 year old young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially Badgers and Hares. I have been blogging since May 2013 and you can read my old blog posts at www.appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk