I appreciate the strong feelings that many people have on the issues surrounding the Hunting Act 2004 and I am fully supportive of legislation to ensure the welfare of all animals. I do not, however, believe the Hunting Act has done anything for animal welfare. At present I do not know how, or when, the Government intends to address the hunting question but I would like to see the matter resolved, as it should have been originally, on the basis of principle and evidence and not prejudice.
The Hunting Act was passed in 2004 after a Government Inquiry and 700 hours of parliamentary debate. There was never any evidence to justify a ban on hunting and the Chairman of the Inquiry, Lord Burns, said during a debate on the Bill: "Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel... The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty.”
Professors Sir John Marsh and Michael Winter, members of the Burns Inquiry team wrote to the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2005 stating: “I would like to draw your attention to Lord Burn’s comment that the committee did not have sufficient evidence to reach a clear conclusion on whether hunting involves significantly worse welfare effects than other legal methods of control…Describing as we did the final moments of a hunt as ‘seriously compromising the welfare of the hunted animal’ should not be taken as a suggestion that hunting was measurably worse than other legal methods, or that abolition would improve the plight of wild animals in the countryside.”
A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds, supported by over 560 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons states that: “Hunting with hounds is the natural and most humane method of managing and controlling foxes, hares, deer and mink in the countryside”.
This opinion was reached after careful consideration of all the various methods of control and their implications for the wild animal. It is notable that four former senior executives of the League AgainstCruel Sports have all changed their minds about hunting having looked at the facts. James Barrington, ex-Director League Against Cruel Sports has stated: “The Hunting Act, instead of improving animal welfare, has actually made it worse and a detailed analysis of this law reveals illogical and unprincipled conditions that in no way can be argued as welfare-friendly.”
Moreover, 97% of successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act were unrelated to regulated hunting and could have been prosecuted under legislation in place long before the Hunting Act was passed.
Given the fact that the Act has done nothing for animal welfare, I would welcome an opportunity to see this matter sensibly resolved once and for all. I, along with the courts, police and many welfare experts, believe good legislation should be based on principle and evidence and the Hunting Act fails to meet these criteria.
Member of Parliament for St Ives