Monday, 10 March 2014

Will there be a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act?

Sadly, lack of space meant this article failed to appear in the current edition of the Landworker magazine. 

Opinion polls show the public is firmly opposed to any change.  So will the coalition government keep to the agreement they made when they took office to give MPs a free vote on repealing the 2004 Hunting Act? 

It took more than 700 hours of parliamentary debate to outlaw hunting wild animals for sport. Labour was forced to use the Parliament Act after Tory peers in the Lords repeatedly rejected the legislation.

The Countryside Alliance (CA) claimed the Act, which bans the hunting with dogs of all wild animals, and all hare coursing, would be unworkable and would lead to massive rural job losses. Yet with only one hunt subsequently forced to close the employment impact has been negligible. The number of successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act has in the meantime risen steadily each year and is approaching 300 in total.

It’s perhaps, therefore, not too surprising that the public overwhelmingly believe that fox and deer hunting belong firmly to the past. In December 2013 a poll by IPSOS Mori showed that over 80% of people – with no divide between rural and urban inhabitants – want these barbaric practices to remain outlawed.

Research by the League against Cruel Sports has also revealed that only a minority of MPs would like to repeal the law. There is even a Conservatives against Fox Hunting organisation with a number of MPs as members.

With the next election certain to be a tight run affair would it therefore be wise for any party to be seen to support hunting and the redcoats who engage in it? Votes in marginal constituencies could be lost to Labour, whose MPs overwhelmingly support the Hunting Act.

All of which, however, presents some problems to the coalition as when they combined in 2010 - to begin forcing through their austerity package - also promised, during their term in office, MPs a free vote on repealing the law. Two years later, David Cameron, re-affirmed his personal opposition to the Hunting Act and confirmed there would be a vote before the general election in 2015.

If the Conservatives fail to keep these promises they risk losing the votes of CA members, 90% of who voted for the party in 2010 and are now considering switching to UKIP.  Nigel Farage, the leader of the foreigner bashing party, which has nothing to say on saving the NHS and won’t even back calls to curb bankers’ bonuses, is pro fox-hunting.

On Boxing Day, Farage was photographed shaking hands with Mark Bycroft from the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt. A fortnight earlier the huntsman had launched a pre-meditated attack on Martin Randle, 24, from Brighton during an anti-hunt protest.

Bycroft was cautioned for common assault. As he has a number of previous convictions for assault then Bycroft appears to have been dealt with very leniently by the police. None of which concerned a smiling Farage in his battle with leading Tories to turn the clocks back to a period when the countryside was viewed by the wealthy as their playground. 

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