Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
Hundreds of thousands of people came out today to support their local hunts, whilst hundreds of thousands more were shooting, racing, fishing and enjoying the best of our countryside. Boxing Day is a wonderful celebration of our rural way of life and will ever remain so.
It has also become an annual illustration of the determination of the hunting community not to beaten by the Hunting Act. Eleven years on from that dreadful law coming into force hundreds of hunts are still meeting and support for them in the rural community is as strong as ever. Meanwhile, it is over two years since anyone connected to a registered hunt has been convicted of a Hunting Act offence.
We must not, however, allow these headlines to mask the real damage that the Act continues to do. Animal rights groups are still spending hundreds of thousands of pounds (often of charitable donations) carrying out hunt ‘investigations’, sometimes involving lengthy covert surveillance operations, which inevitably lead to vindictive allegations being made to the police who have a duty to investigate, however much their resources could be better used elsewhere.
The dwindling number of animal rights activists who remain obsessed with the issue are angry that hunts have maintained their infrastructure, their kennels and their hounds, whilst support in the rural community has if anything grown. The law that was supposed to have got rid of hunts is now being used as little more than a vehicle to harass them and the taxpayer is picking up the bill.
The Act also continues to sit as a dreadful precedent, not just in relation to legislation on wildlife, but the worst possible example of a law that was passed as an attack on a minority in society. The reality is that the primary purpose that the Act’s supporters wanted it to achieve was to get rid of hunts. As one anti-hunting Labour MP famously admitted as soon as the law was passed: “Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war”.
This issue is not, therefore, going to go away because it is about much more than just packs of hounds and foxes. It has become less a debate about animal welfare, and more about the ability of one group of people in society to impose its will on another. In the end the Hunting Act is a deeply prejudiced judgement on people who hunt, rather than a reasoned assessment of the impact of hunting on animal welfare and wildlife management. That is why people will not stop hunting and why the Hunting Act will remain on the political agenda in this Parliament, the next Parliament and the one after that until the debate is settled on the basis of principle and evidence, rather than bigotry and lies.
Follow Tim on Twitter @CA_TimB
Read more from Tim in today’s article ‘Calls grow for Hunting Act to be scrapped as figures reveal there have been no successful prosecutions for two years‘.