With the large Conservative majority now embedding itself in Westminster, together with the loss of some of the more hysterical and non-objective opponents of field sports in general, and hunting in particular such as:- Chris Williamson (Lab); Mary Creagh (Lab); Zac Goldsmith (Con) and Sarah Wollaston (who knows this week?) amongst others, we have heard disturbing rumblings that some within the fantasy land that is social media “Zuckerberg World” are stating that “Now is a good time for repeal” and “ Let us get things back as they were” , that is we assume before the 2004 Hunting Act.
But a brief sanity check will show that the pursuit of such quarry as ‘repeal’ without any sort of plan to fill the void is neither the right objective nor the appropriate use of resources and goodwill at this time. Let us not ignore the fact that we still have opponents in all political parties in Westminster, even the Conservative party through the occasional but strident emotional whining of the Blue fox group.
In order to get MPs to accept that the Hunting Act has no animal welfare benefits whatsoever, the hunting community has a lot of work to do. If the objective of the Hunting Act was animal welfare it has been a total failure, we might ‘know’ this, but we need to ensure that the scientifically verifiable evidence supporting our position is presented in easily digestible ‘sound bites’. Opinion and assertion alone are not enough. Our opponents have been great at presenting pseudo-science and emotional rhetoric as fact, and we must learn from this, replacing emotional pseudo-science with peer reviewed facts. As drafted, the Act has some staunch defenders and is frequently used by the Police instead of, for example, the nineteenth century Game Acts which were their only real weapon against poaching before 2004. The fact the police find it a useful weapon was not envisaged at the time it became law but will strengthen the case for it remaining in place. Much to the delight of the cosy cabal who drafted the legislation and presented it ‘gift wrapped’ together with a donation to a Labour led government. There are still anti hunt voices that have the ear of the Prime Minister, and Baily’s understands that the single sentence in the Conservative manifesto ‘There will be no change in the Hunting Act’ represents a significant victory when compared to the gamut of ill conceived ‘wishes’ which were published under the broad heading of ‘animal welfare’ for discussion during the last party conference. It might not be the unequivocal statement of the 2016 commitment for a free vote, but the reality of the current political climate, after many years of allowing the anti voice to be almost unchallenged publicly, means that it’s the best we can hope for at this time.
However unpalatable, we must accept the new reality; it is highly unlikely that any demand for complete repeal and restoration of a pre Hunting Act environment will ever gain enough support in Westminster to be allowed to escape from political control. As we have pointed out in previous Editorials bare repeal without any consideration for ‘what happens next?’ would lead to a whole raft of unintended consequences, none of which would be of benefit to anyone involved in field sports in any capacity- staff, follower or quarry. In short, repeal in one parliament would almost certainly lead us to being consigned to historical oblivion by the spite filled directive of the next administration of an opposing hue.
Proposed changes to the current legislation, if and when the time to do so arises MUST be accompanied by evidence that there are benefits to both animal welfare and natural justice by revamping legislation that was drafted with the intent of propagating a non-existent class war. Baily’s has raised the idea previously of introducing regulation, even licensing, so that the hunting community can show that transparent governance removes the excuse for more stringent statutory control, and we still see this approach as being the only hope we have of saving hunting with hounds of all types for future generations.
We cannot be complacent about this. With the latest election results, we have a period of opportunity where we can put the measures in place that will make it more difficult for future campaigns to be run using misinformation about our community. If we wait too long, or continue to allow inertia at the top of hunting organisations we risk continuing to be targeted by AR thugs, and perversely being presented by their political supporters as the horror villains at the next general election. Now might not be the time for repeal but is time that we regain the narrative and put people in place who can think beyond ‘tradition’ and accept and direct, the need for positive transformation.