This article was written by /u/Jas1066, the Leader of the House of Lords.
When my bill titled the Hunting (Amendment) Bill went before the House of Commons on Monday, I should imagine some people immediately assumed I had somehow duped the government into supporting pro-Hunting legislation. They might have assumed that because my first and strongest held political opinion was that the Hunting Act 2004 is an illiberal, discriminatory and ill-informed concession to the far left, this bill must go some way towards legalising hunting in this country. However, this is simply not the case. After a few amendments to the initial draft even those within my own party who had been contributors to the somewhat cringingly named Hunting Act (Strengthening) Act , came to withdraw their objections, and after a delightful hour explaining the ins and outs of modern hunting to the leader of the LPUK, my bill was signed off by both parties in government. Neither would have happened if this was a “pro-hunting” bill. No, this is a purely technical bill, with the aim of going some way towards restoring a little faith in Westminster – I would say this bill goes nowhere near far enough in this, but I am not an ideologue, and hope that the compromises that have been made whilst drafting it enable it to gain sufficient support to become law.
As a bit of background information, it may be useful to explain the current state of hunting in the UK and specifically England and Wales. “Hunting” refers to the pursuit of a wild mammal by a number of dogs, or hounds, often perused by a number of observers, sometimes mounted. This is vastly different to the American concept of hunting, which does cause some confusing – the closest we have in the UK to this is “stalking”, which is a whole new can of worms. Hunting was banned by the Blair government in 2005, after colourful parliamentary shenanigans, including the fourth use of the 1949 Parliaments Act ever and subsequently several landmark legal cases, an invasion of the chamber of the House of Commons and 700 hours of parliamentary time spent on debate (as opposed to 7 on the Invasion of Iraq). It was replaced, largely, by trail hunting, which is where artificially laid trails are used to as closely as possible simulate hunting a living animal. This is opposed the drag hunting, where a scent is laid in an often somewhat linear manner, intending to give followers a fast paced and exciting ride. Trail hunting is therefore more centred on watching the hounds figure out the scent, whilst drag hunting is essentially an equestrian sport. However, trail hunting is controversial as the hounds sometimes switch onto live animals, which can then be killed.
Arguably the worst thing about the Hunting Act (Strengthening) Act is the definition of “trail and drag hunting”. As opposed to the common definitions I outlined above, it redefined them as “the act whereby mounted riders hunt the trail of an artificially laid scent of a wild mammal with a group of more than 2 dogs”. Trail hunting can be done on foot (as can fox hunting) and whilst it is true many trail hunts (but not drag hunts) use animal-based scents, this is far from a defining feature – these days aniseed is often used instead. So, neither trail hunting or drag hunting have been banned, but following an animal scent is. Whilst some might argue that this means hounds are unable to distinguish between the scent of a live animal and a laid trail, meaning there might be occasions where during a hunt the hounds might accidentally start chasing a live animal, this argument assumes that a foxhound needs to be trained to hunt a fox – it should be obvious to anyone who has any experience of these wonderful creatures that they do it for the love of it, and need absolutely no encouragement. If a foxhound will hunt a fox, even if it is trained to hunt an artificial trail, surely there is no reason to ban the use of animal based scents, other than perhaps in some misguided attempt to make it more difficult for trail hunts to enjoy their sport?
The bill also reintroduces an exemption that allows the use of dogs to track injured animals. Organisations such as UK Deer Track and Recovery use carefully controlled dogs to hunt animals that have been hit by a poor shot, allowing the stalker to put them out of their misery. Some in the debate suggest that this allows some ambiguity for hunters, and would allow them to get away with hunting for sport; this is unlikely, as reasonable steps must be taken to ensure the dogs are kept under sufficiently close control to ensure they do not obstruct the relief of suffering. Prior to the 2019 act, some hunts, particularly the deer hunts, used the research exemption to “dodge” the law, but the reintroduction of this is purposefully not included in my bill, precisely to avoid any controversy. There is a clear animal welfare gain in allowing the hunting of injured animals, under the conditions imposed by the exemption, and any suggesting to the contrary are unfounded.
Finally, there is the matter of the 2 hound limit on flushing to guns. Recently the Federation of Welsh Farmers’ Packs commissioned a study which reported that the use of a pack was far more efficient at finding and flushing foxes than a pair – if one of the key factors in determining if the hunted animal is suffering is the length of the chase, surely increasing the length between the hunt starting and the fox being shot represents an improvement for animal welfare? Some might argue that the exemption could simply be used as a convenient front for fox hunts, however surely that is a matter of enforcement, and should not be an excuse for restricting the liberties of farmers to control pests?
There is nothing “pro-Hunting” in my bill. It is specifically designed to be as acceptable to as many people as possible. All it does is make a few technical adjustments that will have either have a neutral or positive impact of animal welfare. To those parliamentarians who still have their doubts, please get in touch, and I can attempt to explain away any objections you might have.
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