ARCHIVE: Government Position
- Was a ban on hunting with dogs Government policy?
- What was the Government's Manifesto Commitment?
- Shouldn't the Government have more important priorities than hunting?
- The Government said that the solution to the hunting issue should 'flow from the evidence', and based its earlier Bill on this principle. Doesn't this Act contradict this principle?
- Many members of the Government previously voted in favour of the regulation of hunting rather than a ban. Isn't that inconsistent?
- Isn't this a case of the Government being vindictive?
- Very few hunt followers ever actually see the kill, so how can you brand them cruel?
- Didn’t Lord Burns say that hunting foxes wasn’t cruel?
- Why are you persecuting hunters when you have done nothing about animal rights protesters?
- Why does the Government allow religious slaughter while banning hunting with dogs?
- Can Hunts declare themselves religions and use this as a way of evading the Act?
- Are there any circumstances in which a Minister would break an unjust law?
Not specifically. The Labour Party had a manifesto commitment in 2001 to "enable Parliament to reach a conclusion" on the issue of hunting with dogs. The Hunting Act 2004 was passed by the House of Commons by a large majority, including MPs from all major parties, on a free vote, and the Parliament Acts applied to ensure that the will of the elected chamber prevailed when it proved impossible to reach agreement with the House of Lords on this issue. The Government's role in this was one of facilitation, rather than policy implementation. The ban on hunting is a decision of the House of Commons rather than the outcome of a specific Government objective.
The Government’s election manifesto in 2001 stated that:
“The House of Commons elected in 1997 made clear its wish to ban foxhunting. The House of Lords took a different view (and reform has been blocked). Such issues are rightly a matter for a free vote and we will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to express its view. We will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue. If the issue continues to be blocked we will look at how the issue can be resolved.”
The Government met this commitment.
It does. The issue of hunting is clearly not of the same importance as health, education, crime or employment which are at the heart of the Government’s legislative programme. Nor is it one of the main elements of the Government’s rural policy, which was set out in the Rural Strategy 2004.
While very few people see hunting as the most important issue to be dealt with, it is an important issue which is of concern to a lot of people, and they did want to see it resolved once and for all. The Act does just this.
The Government said that the solution to the hunting issue should ‘flow from the evidence’, and based its earlier Bill on this principle. Doesn’t this Act contradict this principle?
No. The Government considered all of the available evidence on this issue, and indeed generated much of it through the Burns Inquiry and the Portcullis House hearings. Much of this evidence supported a ban on hunting with dogs and on hare coursing events.
Moreover, Parliament listened to and debated the evidence extensively, and MPs from all main parties repeatedly voted for a ban by large majorities. The Government, therefore, simply facilitated the will of Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons. The High Court has accepted that it was entirely appropriate for Parliament to reach its decision to ban hunting on the basis of the competing evidence before it.
Many members of the Government previously voted in favour of the regulation of hunting rather than a ban. Isn’t that inconsistent?
Hunting is a matter of conscience and has always been the subject of a free vote on the Government side. The Government as such does not have a policy either to ban or to support hunting. Members of all parties have consistently opposed hunting by a large majority, and those who previously supported a registration scheme were free to vote for a ban when it became clear that this was not a viable option.
No. While a hunting ban is not Government policy, the House of Commons has repeatedly voted for a ban by a large majority. This decision was taken by individual Members of Parliament on a free vote. Following their individual conscience, each is accountable to his or her own electorate. The Government’s election manifesto promised to enable this Parliament to resolve the issue. As a compromise between the two Houses proved impossible, the will of the elected House of Commons prevailed, as is proper in a democratic society.
The Government is not branding anyone cruel, although hunting is perceived by many, including an overwhelming majority of MPs, as a cruel and outdated activity. The suggestion that few people actually witness the kill does not alter the fact that it takes place, or lessen the abhorrence which many people feel about it. Nor is it a justification for the continuation of hunting live quarry as opposed to drag hunting or trail hunting which do not result in a kill.
No. The Burns Report does not say that hunting is not cruel, nor does it say that it is less cruel than other forms of fox control. The Burns Report is broadly accepted by all sides as a definitive statement on the issues, but it has been interpreted differently by different parties and its findings used to justify their views. The Report (paragraphs 6.41-6.61) does not state whether hunting foxes with dogs is cruel or not, and it emphasises that there is a lack of firm scientific evidence on the relative welfare merits of the various forms of legal pest control. The report notes that “none of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective” and states that, like other methods, hunting with dogs “seriously compromises the welfare of the fox”. It concludes that, of all the available methods, lamping, if done correctly, is the most satisfactory method of controlling foxes (paragraphs 6.58-6.60).
Lord Burns returned to this issue in his remarks during the debate in the House of Lords on 12 October 2004, when he said “My view remains that hunting with dogs falls short of what we would like to think of in other contexts as “humane killing” but the sad fact is that so do many of the other methods likely to be used”.
The Government is very clear that peaceful protest is entirely legitimate in whatever cause. Animal rights supporters and hunters have an equal right to make their views known but violence and intimidation are wrong and unacceptable whatever the cause. They also have the same obligation to obey the law. The Government has made clear its determination to tackle animal rights extremists and a number of changes to strengthen the law on protests outside homes and harassment were announced in the Queen's Speech in November 2004. These will strengthen the current police power to direct protesters away from people’s homes; introduce a new offence related to protesting outside people’s homes; and amend existing legislation to broaden the scope of illegal harassment. These powers would apply equally to the small number of extremists on both sides of the argument who seek to harass those who disagree with them.
The Government prefers to see animals stunned before slaughter, but accepts that certain communities may only eat meat from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, and does not believe that banning slaughter without prior stunning would be compatible with the requirements for religious slaughter of Jewish and Muslim groups.
There is no parallel with the Hunting Act 2004, which was introduced by an overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals chased and killed for sport or pleasure.
No. The rules governing the religious slaughter of animals for food are very clear. They are set out in the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations, 1995 (as amended). Among other things, the rules only allow for religious slaughter to be conducted in a slaughterhouse, and it must be undertaken by a licensed Jewish or Muslim slaughterman. Hunting is not a religion and the rules governing the conduct of religious slaughter would not apply in the open field. As well as trivialising the beliefs of these established faith groups, any suggestion that this could be a means of evading the Act would be yet another fanciful attempt to find a convoluted way of doing something (killing a wild mammal) which is already perfectly legal, by means other than hunting with dogs, and would serve to demonstrate that those involved were not primarily interested in either pest control or animal welfare.
A decision to break the law must be a matter of personal conscience, but it would clearly be incompatible with Ministerial office. Alun Michael, the then Rural Affairs Minister, made it clear in the House of Commons on 15 September 2004 that, while protesting is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society, disobeying democratically-made laws was not. As he noted on that occasion, “respect for the law and the decision of Parliament is bigger than any specific issue, including hunting”. He also referred to the fact that he and many others who opposed the Poll Tax – which he described as a “genuinely unjust law” – had argued strongly against law breaking and non-payment since it was for the House of Commons to decide or change the law.
Page last modified:
21 February, 2011
Page published: 28 September, 2004