Shrill argument will always prevent a reasoned discussion
The hunting debate is as lively as ever. Solicitor Jamie Foster puts the case for relaxing the ban.
On October 16 Philip Bowern wrote an article designed to engender a measured and intelligent debate on the subject of managing wild animals. I admired the thinking behind this approach but held out little hope that such a debate was possible.
I have spent quite some time trying to discuss these issues rationally with people who are not apparently interested in logic or reason at all, so I was afraid that Philip's best endeavours might not bear the fruit he was hoping for.
On October 17 Lorraine Platt wrote an article that contained all the shrill uncompromising argument that has characterised the debate for so long. She employed the age-old anti tactic of comparing fox hunting to dog fighting or badger baiting. I have no doubt that she is unable to see a distinction, but that says far more about the observer than what is being observed.
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She also sought to set farmer against farmer by suggesting that farmers were not in favour of hunting. I accept one or two may not be, but my working life takes me into contact with a huge number of farmers and I can count on one hand the number who have told me they are opposed to hunting.
In essence she used her article to fan the flames of bigotry and unswerving opposition rather than engaging with the subject on any meaningful level.
This is a real shame, because her article was ostensibly about a proposal being supported by MPs from across all parties to amend the Hunting Act so that exempt hunting can be conducted in a manner that benefits the fox.
The proposal is based on research conducted at the behest of the Federation of Welsh Farmers' packs. The research shows that there are clear welfare benefits for foxes being flushed to guns if a full pack of hounds is used rather than two. The proposal is designed to amend the Hunting Act so that a full pack of hounds can be used for this purpose.
Most of the anti-hunt supporters who commented on this proposal don't appear to even understand it. Bill Oddie came out on Twitter to suggest that it would be better to allow farmers to shoot foxes, which was a slightly odd statement given his stance on badgers.
It was completely incomprehensible when you realise that is exactly what the flushing exemption does. The exemption is not about traditional hunting at all. It merely allows a person to use hounds to flush a fox or other mammal from cover so that it can be shot as soon as possible by a competent person.
Lorraine Platt and others have suggested this is just a first step to repeal. In truth it has nothing to do with repeal at all, and if anything is a step away from repeal. It is designed to make an extraordinarily inept piece of legislation a tiny bit more realistic and therefore useful. Requiring someone to do something that is against the welfare of a fox in order to avoid breaking the law is absurd. Hopefully this amendment can go some small way to removing that absurdity.
The problem is that when anyone approaches this area to try to make any change that would rationalise the legislation, the anti-hunting lobby does everything in its power to prevent it. I know this because I assisted in putting together a new proposal for a redrafted Wild Mammals Protection Act. I did this because at present there is no law that prevents a person from intentionally causing unnecessary suffering to a wild mammal. This is a serious offence if it involves a domestic animal but there is no similar protection for a hedgehog, a fox or a rabbit in the wild.
The Hunting Act only prohibits the pursuit of certain wild mammals under certain situations. It is illegal to chase a fox with hounds even if the hounds come nowhere near catching the fox. On the other hand it is entirely legal to use a full pack to catch and kill a rabbit. The law doesn't consider whether unnecessary suffering was caused or intended in either case. To me this appears bizarre. There can be no reason for criminalising a pursuit if it doesn't cause unnecessary suffering, nor can there be any good reason for not criminalising an act which is intended to cause unnecessary suffering to a wild animal. Most normal people could see that a law that prevented intentionally causing unnecessary suffering to all wild mammals would be more far reaching, fairer and more welfare friendly than a law that prohibited chasing some wild animals on some occasions.
You would have thought that a law designed to prevent intentional unnecessary suffering being caused to wild mammals would bring together people from both sides of the argument. I knew that it had the support of the majority of the hunting community because they instructed me to redraft it. The proposal was opposed by the RSPCA, the League against Cruel Sports and all other anti-hunt organisations. They said it was trying to get repeal through the back door. That is what they say every single time.
The problem is that in reality this debate has nothing to do with animal welfare and everything to do with an intractable hatred that goes back generations. It is for this reason that I think Philip's noble attempt to engender a reasoned debate may be doomed to failure. I would be delighted to be proved wrong.
Jamie Foster, a specialist in rural issues, is a partner with solicitors Clarke Willmott in Taunton