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 Not all Tories would vote for it to be repealed.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.