Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Hunting for the future

Keeping cruelty history: what’s your local candidate’s view on hunting?

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Like many people, I watched from the wings as Labour swept to power in 1997. There was a sense of real urgency, but also of enormously competing policy agendas and, to an extent, everyone wanting delivery of the manifesto – and they wanted it within the magical first one hundred days. Of course, lots of people were still waiting by the time we got to the 2001 election, not least my organisation, the League Against Cruel Sports, which had spent the best part of eighty years campaigning for a ban on hunting.

And five years ago the government did deliver on its manifesto promise, with the passage of the Hunting Act in late 2004. But the passage of that act was far from an easy ride due largely to the hysteria whipped up by the pro-bloodsports lobby who had led many people into believing that the countryside was facing economic armageddon if hunting was banned. The enormous effort that we put into achieving the ban on hunting for ‘sport’ was catalogued in great detail by the press on a day by day basis. The Parliament Square riot, and the invasion of the House of Commons by Otis Ferry and his incorrigible pals, served only to keep the issue at the top of the news agenda.

In recent months it has come back high on that news agenda. We know from repeated polling – the most recent by Ipsos MORI in September 2009 – that 75% of the public support the ban on fox hunting, 85% on hare coursing, and figures remain above 70% in rural communities. But as much as the public care enough to have a view, they think that the passage of the Hunting Act means the issue has been dealt with, and don’t realise that repeal is on the agenda.

Our experience of the last few months of running the ‘Keep Cruelty History’ campaign shows that the public are shocked to discover that some politicians are promising to repeal the Hunting Act. Prospective parliamentary candidates who oppose hunting and who are standing against pro-hunt candidates may be missing a trick if they don’t capitalise on the overwhelming public support for the ban. After all, we know that most pro-hunting candidates aren’t talking about hunting because they recognise how unpopular it is with the majority of voters, although in some key constituencies they are drawing support from the hunting community through the ambiguously named ‘Vote OK’.

We were delighted when, on Boxing Day, environment secretary Hilary Benn launched the ‘Back the Ban’ campaign in the media. We’ve been similarly encouraged by Nick Clegg’s statements that repeal of the Hunting Act “isn’t on the Liberal Democrat agenda”. We’re disappointed to see a free vote on repeal on the Conservative agenda, possibly due to the presence on their frontbench of Nick Herbert, the former head of political affairs at the pro-bloodsports Countryside Alliance.

As we approach the fifth anniversary next month of the Hunting Act coming into force, it’s worth reminding ourselves why this is such a seminal piece of legislation. There have been well in excess of 130 prosecutions under the Hunting Act and, as the RSPCA pointed out in December, it has seen more prosecutions in recent years than other key wildlife legislation, and prosecutions have a 77 per cent success rate. The countryside hasn’t collapsed economically or socially, and in December the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the hunters’ latest attempt to suggest that the ban on hunting breaches human rights.

The public can find out how their prospective parliamentary candidates say they would vote on repeal of the Hunting Act on our Keep Cruelty History website. And whilst 76 per cent of all candidates who’ve responded to us so far say they would vote to keep the Hunting Act, the minority who favour repeal or who have not yet clearly declared their position remain to be persuaded of the strength of public opinion and have yet to promise to Keep Cruelty History.

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Douglas Batchelor

is chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports


  • Waffle as ever – can we nail one truth, there have only been a handful of prosecutions to what most people would call “Hunts” and some of those have been subsequently overturned. The vast majority of these prosecutions are for individuals or small loose groups of people coursing or hunting foxes with long-dogs and this would have been illegal before the ban with the prosecutions easily mounted under poaching legislation.

    The League Against Cruel Sports must be the only people on the planet who think that the ban is actually working – it was your bill, we have now missed the best chance in decades to properly ban all hunting for ever.

    A real ban may not have sat with the New Labour desire to please everybody all of the time, but it would have resulted in the nationwide conversion to drag hunting and actually been positive for those on both sides of the argument in the long run.

  • I don’t think it’s waffle, I think it’s an important issue.

    Labour did good when they banned hunting. The current law might not be perfect, but it’s better than no law. And as I remember it, the original Bill proposed by the League through Alun Michael was watertight. It was only when the Tories got hold of it that they filled it with exemptions.

    I think the ban’s working because it clearly says to every hunter in the land that they are breaking the law. If they choose to ignore that, then they are saying even more about their attitude to civil society than their sick bloodsport does alone.

  • James

    The truth is the exact opposite. Alun Michael introduced a bill to licence hunting in Dec 2002. LACS and its friends went beserk and amended it to what became the Hunting Act after the Parliament Acts were used in 2004. They and their friends in the Labour party are entirely responsible for this mess.

    See the Better Government Inititive report published this morning. The Hunting Act is “a notorious example of bad government”….


  • There have only been three prosecutions for fox hunting. As far as the fox is concerned there is no ban, because hunters are acting as if they are above the law. I know this because I live in the country. As someone who voted Labour because of their promise to ban all hunting with dogs, I urge the Government to stop turning a blind eye to what is really going on in the countryside and give a promise to strengthen the Hunting Act by adding a reckless behaviour clause.

  • Dear Douglas is spouting his untruths again, distorting numbers, the poll was ordered by his own group, The LACS so they had to find in his favour, they probably carried out their survey at our local RSPCA Headquarters in Southwater so no surprise there. The so called prosecutions would have happened without this ban in place as there has been next to no succesful prosecutions of Fox Hunting people, this wonderful triumph of a ban has been a great succes in having more Foxes killed in far worse ways than ever before so if that is counted as a succes for the LACS it shows one what a wierd bunch they are. One of their former leaders is against the keeping of any animal as a pet so it would be goodbye to all your pet dogs and cats oh horses and of course he would not want us to keep chickens, cattle, sheep the list just goes on and on. This is the thinking behind one of their leaders so god knows what the rest think. Foxhunting with Hounds is the best form of local fox control, go on Douggie admit it, you know it makes sense.

  • I agree with Helen Weeks that the ban needs strengthening. However, a vote for the Tories will see the ban cast into the wilderness and hunting conintue legally and wild animals killed with impunity. It is necessary to both stop any repeal of the Hunting Act 2004 and to put pressure on the Labour Party to add a recklessnes clause. This latter is important to stop hunters flouting the law and bleating about accidental killings. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for many years and want them to finish effectively what they started, a ban on the hunting of wild animals.

  • There are some 70 hunts out of 300 according to indications who think they are above the law. That means some 225 are following the ban. So it’s wrong to assume the ban is not working. Sure some aspects could be better but that’s the same with all law until they bed in. Now the ban is vital and can never be judged on just numbers prosecuted. The test is on how many obey the law. There is not one reason for repeal of the hunting ban… It should be used as a major issues by all Labour candidates who support the ban. The ban is more then the silly and irrelevant views of the hunting lobby or their endless propaganda. It represents animal welfare and protection that is vital to our wildlife. The hunting lobby and the tiny amount that support bloodsport do not speak for society or rural people. They speak for their selfish selves and have no compassion for animals. Cameron has no concept of democracy as he only sees those against hunting as people to be ignored. The hunting ban works and can be improved to do so we need a Labour Government to continue to protect it. If we lose the ban then not just animal cruelty will be given a free hand in the countryside. For our standing in the world will be harmed along with our ability to speak out against animal abuse will be diminished. We will also be seen as a society which is not decent even though it’s a tiny group of the population who seek that. We will all suffer as a result. It is hard to imagine that because of David Cameron the Conservative Party is actively campaigning to bring back animal cruelty. You can’t make it up… For that reason alone, Cameron must be stopped and the ban protected. Fox in Parliament is helping lead this issue to support Labour and speak up for the decent majority against repealing the ban. Its a fight thats important to us all.

  • Could Mr Batchelor answer the following – 1)Why has one chairman, two chief executives, one chief of operations , one undercover operative, and least five senior members left the League and now openly support the continuation of hunting on the grounds of animal welfare???? 2)Could he please explain why the Leagues own deer stalker left in disgust over the terrible state of health of the deer on their on reserves in the West Country???? 3)What is the Leagues membership today and how does it compare to that of the countryside alliance and the BASC ?????

  • Christine Harris is right about not voting for the Tories. Not only will they repeal the Hunting Act, because although hunters wilfully and routinely break the hunting law, they fear it, because as long as it is on the statute book it can be strengthend. And it must be strengthened if it is to work as the MPs intended. David Cameron, if elected, will also introduce a badger cull.

  • “There are some 70 hunts out of 300 according to indications who think they are above the law”

    I don’t know where Gary Hills gets that from but he is quite wrong. All the hunts are sticking two fingers up at the law and speak to anyone actively monitoring in any part of the country and they will tell you the same.

    The ban must be kept but also made stronger so that it actually does what it says on the tin.

  • Jon Burgess, mabe you should find out the answers to your questions by asking the league directly before making statements like this. Sounds very far fetched to me.

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