The Government has decided to bring forward a Statutory Instrument to make amendments to the exempt hunting provisions included in the Hunting Act 2004. It is clear that while this is in no sense repeal, the proposed amendments are necessary, and a sensible and reasonable response to the current political situation.
The Hunting Act prohibits the pursuit and killing of wild mammals with dogs. This would remain unchanged under the proposed amendments. The Hunting Act was never a total ban on the use of dogs, as the courts have recognised. Those who proposed and supported the Act recognised the need for exemptions so that dogs could be used for certain wildlife management purposes, subject to conditions. They also included a power for the Secretary of State to vary the conditions of those exemptions.
In the light of experience, and on the basis of principle and evidence, the Secretary of State is proposing a small number of amendments to the conditions of the existing exemptions in order to ensure that those exemptions really work for the purposes for which they were originally included in the Act.
Furthermore, the proposed amendments will closely align the position in England and Wales with that in Scotland, where the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act has been in place since 2002. Inevitable claims that this is “repeal by the back door” are simply untrue, not least because a Statutory Instrument could not, as a matter of law, be used to defeat the purpose of the original Act which is to ban the pursuit and killing of wild mammals with dogs.
In the current circumstances these amendments are a positive step forward in improving the Act for farmers and land managers and the welfare of wild mammals. On any objective assessment, regardless of where you stand on hunting, these changes should be supported by everyone on the basis that they make the exemptions fit for purpose.
Member of Parliament for St Ives