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Tim Bonner: Churchill, change and the future of hunting

A gathering of the hunting community in Westminster has not been a common event since the passing of the Hunting Act nearly 19 years ago, but on Tuesday around a hundred (or perhaps 50 couple) of the Alliance’s hunting members met for a briefing from politicians and pollsters.

The subject was the continuing political obsession with hunting, the changes that are being made within hunting and that will be required, and the potential to secure hunting’s future.

Nicholas (Lord) Soames started proceedings and reminded us of his grandfather, Winston Churchill’s, response to the first Bill to ban hunting in 1948 when he held a meet at home and stayed out with hounds for two hours despite being well into his 70s. Lord Soames was, however, very clear that however unjustified further restrictions on trail hunting would be, it was incumbent on everyone who hunts to uphold the highest standards - on and off the hunting field - at all times and that not doing so was simply handing ammunition to our opponents.

The briefing then heard about recent research on opinion from both the hunting community and the wider public. Polling had once again found that hunting was at the bottom of the list of the public’s political priorities. As far as the hunting community is concerned, the pride that people have for their hunts was pronounced and the clearest finding was that the priority is to protect what we have and oppose any further legal restrictions on trail hunting.

Our Chairman, Lord Herbert, then laid out the clear threat posed by a possible change of government in 2024 highlighted by Labour’s commitment to strengthen the Hunting Act and ban trail hunting. He outlined the Alliance’s work in ensuring that trail hunting had been kept off the political agenda in recent years, but warned that legislation was now likely if there is a change in government and that hunting’s future would be very much in its own hands. He concluded with a strong message that hunting has the ability to secure its future for decades to come if it makes the right choices.

Greg Smith MP and Baroness Mallalieu outlined the situation as they see it in the House of Commons and the House of Lords respectively, and Baroness Mallalieu also gave her view of Labour’s approach and reminded the audience of the work that the Alliance has done over several years with the Fabian Society and others to focus Labour policy on real rural priorities.

Finally, Olly Hughes from the British Hound Sports Association, explained its role and that of the Hound Sports Regulatory Authority. He briefed the audience on their approach and the work they are doing to raise standards across hunting.

There were several references during the briefing to the formation of the Countryside Alliance and the first great hunting rally in Hyde Park in 1997 which signalled the start of the campaign against the hunting ban. If there was one message that I hope everyone attending the briefing went away with it was that this time around we must act now and not delay reform until a government is elected with a commitment to legislate against hunting.


Image credit: Hattie Austin Photography

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