Emperor’s New Clothes? May 2022

Posted on Monday, May 30, 2022
In: Editorial
Written by: The Editor

To counter some of the own goals and the wider negative public perception of hunting with hounds a new assessment and accreditation process for hunts has been announced by the MFHA to be launched this year. The new regime will have a regulatory and a governing arm that will  ”… be responsible for setting the standards and rules to which all members and member hunts must adhere,” we are told whereas the regulatory arm will be a separate (our emphasis)  regulatory authority that will be tasked with the administration of all regulation and disciplinary matters for members and member hunts, in accordance with the rules set by the governing body.
The aim of this restructure will be to deliver a platform from which  hunting can be open and positive about its activities and “provide consistency across all hunts while offering reassurance to other stakeholders, such as institutional landowners,”

It will be possible to openly demonstrate how hunting can adapt to meet the changing demands of modern society, correcting the misconceptions that exist surrounding our lawful activities.

“Hunting’s reputation relies on every one of us upholding high standards and, with this in mind, the new governing body will be initiating a program of accreditation for hunts wishing to be registered with the organisation. This is not a new concept in the workplace, professional or any sporting spheres and will ensure members and registered hunts are operating to appropriate levels.”

“The new accreditation system will be introduced to validate the high standards of hunting activities in the field and animal welfare in hunt kennels, while individuals will have to show competency and professional conduct, undertaking training as required.”

It all sounds very laudable, doesn’t it? It is without doubt a faltering, and tentative step in the right direction….. But, hang on.. ‘Hold ‘Ard There!’…. haven’t we been here before?

Way back in the dim dark corners of history the Phelps Review of Hunting with Hounds (1997) made a recommendation which led to the creation of The Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting (ISAH) in 1999 and the foundation stones of an independent Hunting Regulatory Authority (HRA) proposed by and Chaired by Lord Bernard Donoughoe, which we covered in an article in 2010.

As envisioned back then the HRA’s original brief was to provide a route for genuine complaints to be heard and processed; to establish independent regulation of hunting, coursing and terrier work; to administer justice fairly where rules are breached; and, not least, to promote and protect good practice. It would have achieved this through the production of a code, or codes of conduct, that would govern the activities of all hunts to achieve in the words of Lord Donoughue “a proper balance between the needs of animal welfare, the need to avoid deliberate cruelty and the rights of the countryside to pursue its sports such as hunting.”

At the time Lord Donoughue argued that the HRA and a properly constituted independent body to oversee hunting would lead to repeal of the Hunting Act (HA), which was never intended as an animal welfare measure and would be seen by the reasonable majority as superfluous. There would be no point in any MP truly concerned with animal welfare arguing to retain the HA as it does nothing for the welfare of animals; the proposals under this “package” provide a more robust route to enforcement for the appropriate authorities, and the HRA would be the vehicle that would provide the assurance they require. Of the highest importance was that it would not return to a pre Hunting Act era, instead providing an evidenced based platform for accountability in the management of, and participation in, hunting with hounds.

In following this route, the greyhound industry provides a good guide to what can be done, in transitioning as it did from a setup that was often portrayed as being ‘dodgy’ and allegedly rife with illegality, to one under which proper controls ensure good welfare, good regulation and the correct governance structures were achieved through effective, transparent self-regulation.
The Greyhound Regulatory Authority has demonstrated the benefits to all stakeholders of the independence of the regulatory arm and gives them confidence that it will provide to reasonable members an environment under which it can operate properly and that any breaches will be swiftly, independently, and fairly dealt with while keeping the concepts of proportionality and fairness in mind.

For the regulatory board to be seen to be fully independent, it must be constituted so that it does not exhibit sympathies or bias in order to ensure the stakeholders are fully engaged and involved, but it will govern according to strict terms of reference, agreed with a variety of interested parties, and properly documented to be available to anyone who wishes to see them. This includes setting out the potential sanctions for different types of infringement, and how investigations are to be carried out to ensure that sanctions are applied when appropriate in a fair manner regardless of the types of hound involved or that it must be seen to apply equitably to a several-day-a-week professional foxhound pack through to a college foot pack where everything is done by amateurs.

Although we appreciate that good things come to those who wait, twelve years does seem an awfully long time to be still in the starting line with proposals that were seemingly ‘gift wrapped’ by Lord Donoughue. Why his proposals were effectively buried in the long grass is difficult to understand or rationalise, perhaps it was the common ‘fear of change’ combined with a distant hope that it would just go away if we pretended it wasn’t happening and thus inadvertently side-lining an approach that may be the best hope for saving our way of life.

When the MFHA was originally constituted most of the ‘Master’ members were also landowners and pack owners. Few if any had committees to question decision making or pseudo governmental bodies that provided licensed access. This does not mean that there were no disputes(!) amongst these prime stakeholders but ii did mean that issues were largely dealt with successfully informally with only occasional recourse to lawyer’s letters or packs sold at auction at Rugby. Today, societal changes and the Pandora’s box of social media critique have given today’s hunts and their supporters a new set of challenges and yet we seem unable or unwilling to admit that the post HA landscape requires a completely new set of plans and skills- is the revamp of plans that were written in a different decade really the best governance we can offer? We have no doubt that it would have worked at the time but such regimes rely on public confidence and that ingredient is something that, through a number of elementary own goals we have allowed to become fickle and today it is currently in short supply.

For some years now Baily’s has felt like we are the child who points out the Emperor’s nakedness, but the townsfolk have been too focused on their own view to listen. Is it possible that in reality the Emperor does not need new clothes – but a change of tailor?