When Theresa May said after the 2017 election that there would not be a vote on the Hunting Act, she was simply accepting the mathematical reality. Since 2010 there has been a Conservative/ Lib Dem coalition, a Conservative Government with a wafer-thin majority of 12, and now a minority Conservative administration with just a few other issues on its plate. However, frustrating it is for us, and for many in Parliament, the reality is that politics is not about policies or persuasion, but about maths and the sums simply do not stack up for hunting.
The contrast with the position Tony Blair found himself in when he was elected in 1997 is huge. He had a majority of 179, and was re-elected in 2001 with a majority of 165. It was the maths which meant that, even though it took 7 years and the use of the Parliament Acts, the ban on hunting was inevitable.
A minority like the hunting community can only have a marginal impact on the result of any election so it is sometimes tempting to think that campaigning for a change in the law is pointless, but it is not. We must continue to make the case against the Hunting Act firstly because in doing so we remind everyone just what an appalling piece of legislation it is, and secondly so that when the moment of opportunity comes, we are ready to take advantage.
That is why the publication of the first peer reviewed study into hunting foxes with dogs is important. The research, carried out for the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs, compares the use of two dogs to flush out and shoot foxes as proscribed by the law in England and Wales, to the use of packs of dogs as is allowed in Scotland. The results are fairly obvious. The pack of hounds found and flushed many more foxes, and the foxes that were found were flushed much more quickly. Lord Bonomy, who reviewed the Scottish legislation for the SNP government, accepted these findings and rejected the argument for further restrictions on hunting in Scotland.
There is no justification for any part of the Hunting Act, but the ‘two dog’ restriction is particularly vindictive. The Welsh farmers’ packs in particular were developed for the sole purpose of controlling foxes to limit the predation of lambs using the only practical method in a mountainous region with huge expanses of commercial forestry.
The limit of two dogs was plucked out of nowhere. There is no evidence or logical justification for it. Anti-hunting organisations have even admitted that: “pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns”. With farm incomes in upland Wales amongst the lowest in the country it is simply not acceptable that farmers are not able to properly protect their livestock.
When the political mathematics change and we have a moment of opportunity to at least amend the Hunting Act to allow the use of packs of dogs to flush foxes the argument will be backed by peer-reviewed science. Some will still oppose the change for reasons that have nothing to do with logic or animal welfare, but for those who are untainted by prejudice the choice will be straightforward.