Labour vows to ban hunting with dogs

Labour has vowed that it will properly ban hunting with dogs if it gets into power.

Shadow environment secretary Steve Reed stated:

“People have seen the images of packs of hounds getting into private back gardens, killing cats, ripping flocks apart. There’s not a majority in any part of the country that wants to see that continue.

The hunting ban was passed under the last Labour government and it has been maintained under this Conservative government. So that seems fairly settled to me.

“But there are loopholes in it, drag hunting, for instance, that allow hunting to continue, and foxes – and indeed domestic cats and other mammals – are still getting killed as a result of those loopholes, and we will close those loopholes.”

The need to be accurate

Protect the Wild can only assume that Reed actually means trail hunting (supposedly laying a scent trail ahead of a hunt for hounds to follow) rather than drag hunting when he refers to loopholes in the Hunting Act 2004.

Trail hunting has only existed since the Act was introduced twenty years ago. It has been used as a guise or ‘smokescreen’ by hunts across the country to pretend that hounds are following an artificially-laid scent, when they are chasing wildlife as usual. Sometimes hunts actually do lay a scent, but the trail is very short, conveniently laid where wildlife are known to be, such as in coverts, and is done for appearances rather than a genuine move away from traditional hunting. Essentially, the trail is laid to give a hunt an alibi for any potential police investigations or court cases. Drag hunting, on the other hand, is a legitimate alternative to real hunting, where hounds follow a non-animal scent on a designated course that avoids known wildlife habitats.

Reed has stated that Labour will properly ban hunting within its first five years of being in power. As welcome as the news is, it isn’t clear why it would take the party so long to bring the legislation in.

Chris Woodward when he was huntsman with the Wynnstay Hunt
Chris Woodward when he was huntsman with the Wynnstay Hunt

‘A huge amount to play for’

It is unsurprising that the Countryside Alliance (CA), which lobbies for a repeal of the Hunting Act, is outraged by Reed’s announcement. The CA’s Polly Portwin (widely nicknamed ‘Pinocchio’ for the way she spins the facts) stated:

“Mr Reed does not seem to have any understanding of what either trail or drag hunting entail and that they are currently lawful pursuits…”

For once, Protect the Wild and the CA can agree on one thing: that Reed lacks the understanding needed to differentiate between trail, drag, and clean boot hunting. But Portwin herself clearly doesn’t understand the concept of trail hunting, either, because she continues to parrot at every opportunity that it is a “lawful pursuit”. The nation now knows that trail hunting is simply a smokescreen to kill wildlife; it is absurd that Portwin continues to try to persuade the public otherwise.

Portwin went on to announce:

“Despite being slightly unclear on what Mr Reed is really calling for, it is a reminder that any debate on hunting could result in a variety of amendments to the Hunting Act, ranging from unnecessary and restrictive changes to the Hunting Act to those which could mean that taking any pack of hounds into the countryside is no longer permitted.

History suggests that a Labour government will not be in control of where that legislation ends up. The Hunting Bill first introduced in 2002 to license hunting was turned into a draconian ban. Whatever it is Labour actually intends, the entire future of hunting with hounds is at stake.”

It is, of course, ludicrous that Portwin calls the Hunting Act a “draconian ban” when hunts have carried on killing mammals as if the law didn’t exist, and have largely got away with it. Maybe she is alluding to the small – but growing – number of hunt staff like serial criminal Chris Woodward who are finding themselves in court for hunting and killing foxes.

She continued:

“There is a huge amount to play for. The Alliance will continue to take action to protect hunting’s future in the lead up to the general election and we need the help of everyone who cares about hunting and about hounds.”

Indeed, it will be in the CA’s interest to keep the current government – with its passions for hunting and shooting – in power. And if Labour does win the next election, we can expect to see frenzied attempts by the CA to lobby against a proper ban on hunting.



The Hunting of Mammals Bill

Protect the Wild cautiously welcomes the news that Labour will close the very loopholes that the party itself introduced into the Hunting Act. However, it certainly isn’t the first time that it has announced this, and it is still unclear exactly how it will implement the ban. Rather than closing loopholes, let’s urge Labour to consider scrapping the Hunting Act altogether if it gets into power. We need a new law, much like the Hunting With Dogs Act that Scotland has introduced.

Protect the Wild commissioned lawyers at Advocates for Animals to help develop new legislation – The Hunting of Mammals Bill. Our new Bill is far more than just an update of the Hunting Act 2004. Among other things, it closes all loopholes such as trail hunting; it adds a reckless clause by making it a crime to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ hunt a wild mammal with a dog; and it makes it a crime for a landowner to ‘assist’ a hunt by ‘knowingly causing or permitting’ a hunting crime to take place on their land. We recommend that Labour implements such as Bill; the loopholes and exemptions that hunts use need to be removed entirely, not argued about for years to come.

  • Now is the time to work for a proper ban on hunting! Sign our petition for a proper ban on all hunting with hounds. More than 79,000 people have taken action so far. Help us to get to 100,000 signatures. Add your name here.