News that the government will next week attempt to relax the controversial hunting ban has been welcomed by countryside campaigners in Britain.
MPs will get a free vote on whether to scrap a restriction that says only two dog may be used to flush out foxes, as well as allowing farmers to use dogs to control foxes to protect livestock. Farmers will also be able to use dogs to hunt wild animals that are injured or suffering disease, rather than leave them to suffer a lingering death.
The Hunting Act was passed by the then-Labour government in 2004 after a long, divisive campaign. The debate over hunting was one of the great cultural battles in British society in the late 1990s and early 2000s, pitting urban metropolitans – who wanted a ban – against more traditional rural residents – who wanted the freedom to carry on their pursuit.
Although Labour succeeded in passing the ban, there is little evidence it has had any real effect, with hunts continuing to experience high levels of popularity in rural areas.
The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance has welcomed the proposed changes, saying they “represent a significant improvement for many farmers and hunts.”
“We still believe that the Hunting Act needs to be scrapped, but in the circumstances these amendments meet the immediate needs of the rural community.
“The amendments are logical and evidence-based, and would ensure that farmers are able to decide how to manage the fox population in the most effective and humane manner.”
A spokeswoman told Breitbart London that the group hopes to lobby MPs in person next Thursday, the day that the amendments are being debated and voted upon.
She also said that the Alliance has set up e-lobbying campaign to get supporters to write to their own MPs asking them to vote for the amendments.
Pro-hunting MP Simon Hart believes the changes will address some of the practical difficulties of the ban while placating animal rights activists. He said:
“It irons out some of the practical deficiencies at the same time as recognising there are those with animal welfare concerns who did not want to wipe this off the statute book.”
“This route stands the best chance of closing the chapter. OK it doesn’t go the whole distance – but it recognises there are problems which we are attempting to deal with.
“The Government is planning to do as much as it reasonably can do in the circumstances and I think that it would be churlish of me to criticise it.
“It has moved quickly and is taking into account everybody’s concerns. I am a purist, but as a pragmatist I think this is a sensible way forward and the PM should be congratulated for it.”
The Conservatives had pledged to hold a free vote on a full repeal of the ban, but hunt supporters expressed concerns at the surprisingly high number of Conservative MPs who may vote against such a move.
In the 2010 election, many Conservative candidates across the country received help from pro-hunting group Vote OK who sent hundreds of activists to campaign for them on the understanding they would vote for a repeal of the Hunting Act.
One Conservative opposed even to touching the ban is Sports Minister Tracy Crouch, who said that “anything the pro-hunt lobby feel good about can’t be good.”
A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We will bring forward technical amendments to the Hunting Act before the summer recess to more closely align the legislation in England and Wales with Scotland. It would not be appropriate to comment further until amendments have bee laid before parliament.”