Last October the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs (FWFP) published research they had commissioned on the use of dogs to flush foxes to guns. The study, which was carried out in Scotland, where there is no limit on the number of dogs that can be used to flush, proved the blindingly obvious: that using a pack of hounds was much more effective in finding and flushing than using just two as the law requires in Wales and England. Interestingly it also produced a clear finding that the time between a fox being found and being flushed into the open where it could be shot was much shorter with a pack of hounds than with two. For those who consider the ‘pursuit’ of foxes with dogs to be ‘cruel’ the use of a pack should therefore cause less concern than the use of two dogs.
Again this should be no surprise as in their response to the Government Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs, to which the FWFP contributed in detail, the RSPCA, LACS and IFAW stated: “that in flushing, the dogs do not chase the fox and death can be caused humanely by shooting at close range” and supported the inclusion of an exemption for flushing in any hunting legislation.
The FWFP also sent the research to Defra with a request that it consider the obvious conclusions and amend the Hunting Act to remove the two dog limit. The Alliance supported that proposal, although it would only be of use to farmers in a limited number of situations and was in no way a substitute for the full repeal of the law.
Defra said it would consider the research and the Prime Minister let it be known that he was “sympathetic”, but other than that nothing has happened. There has been no official response to the proposal, to our knowledge no Statutory Instrument (the means by which the law could be amended) has been drafted, and certainly the process of taking an amendment through Parliament had not even seen the starting grid. Meanwhile excitable politicians, mostly Labour MPs, have jumped up and down asking questions, and ill-informed journalists have written ridiculous stories about debates which could not happen. The Prime Minister first said there might be a vote, then yesterday that there would probably not be one, but no-one on the Government benches, or in the Labour Party, has actually addressed the principal of the proposal.
As ever the mere mention of the word ‘hunting’ at Westminster saw logic leave the building. That, however, will not be good enough for those at the sharp end in rural Britain. The Government needs to give a proper explanation of why it will not make a change in the law which would protect both lambs and the welfare of foxes. Hill farmers are not interested in party political blame games. Likewise Labour needs to explain how its ridiculous obsession with fighting the class war through a debate on wildlife management fits with its increasingly tenuous claim to be a ‘one nation’ party.
The conclusion of this skirmish is that both the Hunting Act and all the political parties have been brought even further into disrepute. The Act has been shown once again to be as far from logical and evidence based legislation as any law on the Statute Book. The coalition parties have failed to respond to an immensely reasonable proposal for reasons which, whatever they are, can do neither party any credit. Labour meanwhile seem more obsessed with hunting than ever and seems to have completely abandoned any concern about engaging with large swathes of rural Britain. A sad story perhaps, especially if you are lambing in the hills, but one which only redoubles our determination to keep hunting and builds even further the case for repeal.