The Way Ahead?

Posted on Thursday, July 18, 2019
In: Editorial
Written by: The Editor

It may seem odd, but to look at the way forward we have to visit the past. Although this was written some time ago it does provide a foundation stone for a future that includes a future for hunting with hounds.

Baily’s was fortunate enough to be invited to a private dinner with Lord Donoghue to hear proposals for a Bill under which the promotion of a principle based approach to hunting and animal welfare is paramount. It is now patently clear that a viable way forward cannot just be repeal and a return to the days before the Hunting act – the world has moved on and hunting people must move with it. It is hoped that his approach to the issues concerning hunting with hounds will lead to the delivery of a long term solution.
In his approach to other matters concerned with animal welfare Lord Donoghue has previously been able to demonstrate that good welfare is derived from good regulation, and good regulation is derived from having the appropriate governance structures in place. This solution must be free from future political interference and provide a real opportunity for politicians from all sides to deliver a robust evidence based platform of governance, free from AR dogma or party politics. However the solution must also provide certainty to the means by which the police (and no other organisation) can ultimately challenge certain behaviour in the courts.

Lord Donoghue’s proposed approach is made up of three parts:- 1) would be the formation of an Independent Hunting Regulatory Authority. 2) Provide the rationale for the second the repeal of the Hunting Act, to be replaced by the wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill .

The Hunting Regulatory Authority would oversee the production of the code, or codes, that would govern the activities of all hunts to achieve as Lord Donoghue put it “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.”

The Hunting Regulatory Authority would have the power to recognise or reject any body as the proper authority for making a code and approve any code produced by that body so for example it could decide to recognise the AMHB and or MFHA or suggest variations.

The natural consequence of a properly constituted independent body to oversee hunting would be the repeal of the Hunting Act 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 and the proposals under this “package” provide a more robust route to enforcement for the appropriate authorities and the HRA would provide the assurance they require.
The Hunting Act was never intended to be evidence based or have animal welfare concerns at its heart so the three pronged approach should have good cross party support from all MPs who believe in true animal welfare as it does not return to a pre Hunting Act era but provides an evidenced based platform for accountability. The precedent for such a regime already exists in the greyhound industry, similarly regulations laid under the bill would give effect to the Government’s preference that the welfare standards in the sport should be set by central government but, whenever possible, the standards should be enforced by the governing body and the costs borne not by government but by the participants. This is because Lord Donoghue has shown that good welfare, good regulation and the correct governance structures are achieved when this type of activity is self-regulated. This is preferable as it is less bureaucratic and more cost-effective. Appropriate independence of the regulatory arm is essential as is the confidence that it will provide to most members of the public that hunting can be seen to be operating properly and that any breaches will be swiftly, independently and fairly dealt with; negating any spurious need for ‘independent monitors’ funded by AR pressure groups.
Under Lord Donoghue’s proposals it will be an offence for any person to intentionally cause undue suffering to any wild mammal. However, there will be a defence if what is done is either:-

1) Done in accordance with a recognised code, or

2) Done in the normal and humane conduct of a lawful and customary activity, unless any unecessasry suffering should reasonably have been avoided or substantially alleviated.

This would include elements such as terrier work which under appropriate conditions is vital for animal welfare and must be allowed to continue but the welfare test must still be fairly and objectively applied. Failure of the hunts to police themselves to an adequate level would lead to severe consequences.

For those to whom the HRA is not acceptable, enactment of the Bill will enable them to test their view in court based solely on evidence, not opinion or prejudice.

There is no doubt that the police have used the Hunting Act successfully in other areas of ‘hunting with dogs’  to control the activities of those engaged in illegal coursing for example and for some forces it has become a preferred mechanism for initiating arrest and reporting for prosecution over more appropriate but more specific Game and anti-poaching legislation. Under the proposed changes the police will have similar powers which will give front line officers more certainty and clarity regarding potential offences than is available currently.

There are some in society who feel that the concept of animal welfare should be extended to include causing cruelty by neglect and by accident which should also be made illegal. However this would be unreasonable in the case of wild animals, which are not generally under direct human control.

To be seen as legitimate and successful any proposed regulatory authority will be built on the well tried and tested models that now successfully regulate such things as the greyhound industry and the starting price of horses in a race. Both bodies have to deal with varying sizes of participant from large ventures to the keen but necessarily part time amateur which are all part of the sport. Designed with the concepts of proportionality and fairness in mind it must take account of the needs of a several-day-a-week professional foxhound pack to a college foot pack where everything is done by amateurs, and everything in between, and be seen to act fairly. However in order to offer such regulation there will be a cost to participants which must take into account the revenue of the pack concerned and be levied proportionally.

In addition to have credibility the regulatory board must be seen to be independent; it must be constituted so that is 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, but that any proposition would need independent support to succeed.

If an event occurs that may lead to a complaint to the board the first point of reference will be the master or hunt committee, if the complaint is serious and cannot or should not be dealt with internally or locally then it will be for the various governing bodies to determine whether and how they censure the hunt or individual concerned. The final resolution for any internal matter will be the HRA which will have powers to punish the hunt or individual.

The regulatory regime will also cover all subscribers and regular followers so that if a complaint is made about foot, or car followers driving over land or crops then it shall initially be for the hunt committee to put the matter right overseen if required by the governing body.

If any person has evidence of wrong doing can present that evidence to the police for consideration for prosecution so if there is no governing body that can or will regulate the activity of its members or the ‘hunt’ does not recognise any control, then it will be up to the police when presented with a factual evidence based account of an event to initiate an investigation and potentially report for prosecution.

Whilst there will be some in the hunting world that still demand a return to the days prior to the ban, it is our view that away forward based upon Lord Donoghue’s principle-based approach is the option that offers the best chance of acceptance by the wider public.

It is strongly hoped that, despite the current challenges facing the country and potential opposition from people with their own political agendas, time can be found to make this well-structured and pragmatic proposal a reality to replace a badly designed, unworkable Act based on prejudice.