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Labour must end fox hunting for good

On 5 July Labour formed a new government after winning the General Election with a huge majority. The party has pledged to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004, closing the trail hunting loophole. Protect the Wild argues that they can go a huge step further. This article explains how.

The hunting industry is on its last legs, and prior to the election did its best to lobby the predicted incoming government not to ban trail hunting. Labour, so far, hasn’t bowed to their pressure, and with such a strong position in Parliament neither should they. In the upcoming months, we will be campaigning for the government to do more than strengthen the Hunting Act, though. We will be campaigning for Westminster to scrap the current law completely, replacing it with legislation that leaves no grey areas.

We have commissioned lawyers at Advocates for Animals to draft the Hunting of Mammals Bill. If it became law, the Bill would ban hunting with dogs once and for all, closing all loopholes that hunts currently use.

The Bill would, among other things:

  • Make it a crime to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ hunt a wild mammal with a dog. Adding a reckless clause to any legislation is of paramount importance, as it ensures that a hunter can no longer claim that the killing of an animal is accidental.
  • Ban trail hunting by making it a crime to use dogs to follow an animal-based scent trail (so hunts will no longer be able to claim it is a ‘legal activity’).
  • Make it a crime for a landowner to permit a hunting crime to take place on their land.
  • Ensure that those hunts that are registered as businesses can be made legally liable for crimes committed. Under the current law, rarely do we see hunts themselves being prosecuted under the Hunting Act – usually responsibility for the crime falls on individuals such as huntsmen.

 

Why not just strengthen the Hunting Act?

Protect the Wild has been in many discussions about strengthening the Hunting Act over the last few years (we began life as Keep the Ban after all) but we have decided we need something different, something better.

The loopholes and exemptions that hunts use need to be removed entirely, not argued about for years to come. The ‘research and observation’ exemption, for example, is less well-known than the trail hunting loophole, but is used to chase and kill stags with impunity.

On top of this, because ‘trail hunting’ has been categorised as a ‘lawful activity’ it has led to police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) bias. Protect the Wild’s comprehensive new report on the 2023/24 hunting season, due to be released imminently, will demonstrate that the trail hunting loophole has enabled hunters to chase 335 foxes in the last season alone. Whether the police genuinely believe that trail hunting is lawful or not, it gives forces and landowners the excuse not to take action against hunts. And even if the police do decide to investigate and prosecute a hunt, the CPS then needs to prove that the hunter in question set out to intentionally kill a fox that day. This requirement to prove intent makes convictions hard to come by. The CPS will drop cases when it feels the likelihood of conviction is low.

Loopholes such as these were written into the Hunting Act by pro-hunt members of Parliament. Protect the Wild argues that these loopholes and exemptions have changed a straightforward piece of legislation banning the hunting of wild mammals with hounds into something far more uncertain and malleable.

Campaigning for the Hunting Act to be strengthened will give remaining pro-hunting politicians on the opposition benches the opportunity to ensure that the law will remain tenuous. We can not give them the chance to derail animal welfare legislation yet again.

The first real chance for change since 2010

Growing public awareness and a seismic change in the politics that has seen many pro-hunting Tories thrown out of parliament, gives us the perfect opportunity to build a better future for wildlife.

On top of the more than 4oo seats won by Labour, 71 seats were taken by the Liberal Democrats. Disappointingly, the Lib Dems didn’t mention a hunting ban in their manifesto, but leader Ed Davey has consistently voted for a ban. The Greens – the most pro-wildlife of all the parties – won four seats. Six seats were won by independent candidates, including Jeremy Corbyn, who has also consistently voted for the ban. Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party held on to nine seats. The SNP were largely responsible for scuppering David Cameron’s attempts to legalise hunting back in 2010. This is all looking very positive for those of us who want to finally see an end to hunting.

 

With your help, Protect the Wild will seize this opportunity and campaign hard for a proper ban on hunting. You can join us by adding your name to our petition and open letter to the government. More than 118,000 people have signed so far – let’s get to 150,000.

  • Sign the petition, calling for the implementation of the Hunting of Mammals Bill, here.
  • Read our proposed Bill here.