Failed attempt to bring back fox hunting
In July 2015, the Government announced that it intended to amend the legislation to remove the limit on the number of dogs, and instead replace it with a requirement that the number of dogs used is appropriate to the terrain and any other relevant circumstance. The Government’s stated aim is to bring the legislation in line with that in Scotland.
The current legislation in England and Wales
1.1 The level of proof required for a court of law was established in a High Court ruling in 2009 which held that the burden was not on a defendant to prove the exemptions set out in Schedule 1 to the Hunting Act 2004 applied and that the term “hunt” did not include the activity of searching for a wild animal for the purpose of stalking or flushing it.
1. Defra, Brief guide to the Hunting Act 2004, 21 February 2011
1.1 CPS, The Hunting Act 2004: Legal Guidance, [accessed 25 March 2014]
1.2 Director of Public Prosecutions v Wright  EWHC 105 (Admin) (04 February 2009)
2 Following criticism of the RSPCA for the effort and cost involved in some of its private prosecutions of hunts the organisation decided to examine how it took its decisions on whether or not to prosecute, it commissioned Stephen Woller, a former Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, to carry out an independent review One of the conclusions of his report, published in 2014, was that the legislation as it currently stood risked public confidence in the ability to uphold the criminal law. 2.1 One of the conclusions of his report, published in 2014, was that the legislation as it currently stood risked public confidence in the ability to uphold criminal law. The evidence reviewed leaves no room for doubt that, despite the 2004 legislation, traditional fox hunting remains “business as usual” in many parts of the country. Extensive flouting of the law risks bringing Parliament, the police and prosecuting authorities into disrepute. Widely publicised criticism of the RSPCA over the costs of the Heythrop Hunt case undoubtedly caused it repetitional damage even though the prosecution itself was fully justified. Two further consequences are likely: first, public confidence is damaged when the authorities appear unable to uphold criminal law; secondly, there is a risk of public disorder and violence as the result of confrontations between on the one hand followers and supporters of hunting, and on the other hand those who seek to protest or gather evidence of suspected illegality.
3.The current legislation in Scotland
Fox hunting in Scotland is covered under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. As introduced to the Parliament, section 1 of the Bill would have ended hunting with dogs in Scotland. During debates on the Bill Parliament was persuaded that it needed to be amended to allow dogs to be used to flush foxes from dense cover, e.g. forestry plantations, with the intention of shooting them. Several packs of hounds are kept by gamekeepers and shepherds in upland areas for this purpose. The Bill was therefore amended, and section 2 of the Act includes an exemption which allows any number of dogs to be used for the purpose of flushing a wild mammal from cover.
The Scottish Act lists a series of exemptions, similar to those in England and Wales, for which a dog can be used. However it goes on to set out the meaning of dog as: references to hunting with, or the use of, “a dog” are to be interpreted as also applying to hunting with, or (as the case may be) the use of, two or more dogs. There have been no successful prosecutions of a hunt in Scotland under the Act. In 2004 a prosecution was brought in Fraser v Adams for deliberately hunting a fox with 20 dogs; The case made clear that the burden of proof was on the Crown to establish deliberate hunting of a wild mammal with dogs. The exemption has allowed hunts to continue in Scotland, where packs of hounds are used to flush foxes, with the intention of shooting them.
4 Public opinion on fox hunting
An Ipsos Mori national poll on hunting commissioned by the League against Cruel Sports found in December 2014 that 80% of respondents did not think fox hunting should be made legal again;17% thought it should be and 3% undecided. In rural areas, results were similar with 78% opposing a change to legalise fox hunting and19% supporting it. The region with most support for hunting was the south, excluding London, although even there the majority still supported the ban.
5 Procedure to amend the Act
5.1 Section 2 of the Hunting Act 2004 on exempt hunting allows for the hunting exemptions contained in Schedule 1 to be amended by Statutory Instrument:
(1) Hunting is exempt if it is within a class specified in Schedule 1.
(2) The Secretary of State may by order amend Schedule 1 so as to vary a class of exempt hunting.
Any amendment would require approval by both Houses as set out in the Explanatory Notes: Subsection (2) confers a power on the Secretary of State to vary a class of exempt hunting by order, which under section 14 may not be made unless a draft has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
A statutory Instrument is a form of secondary legislation. In this case, approval of each House is required and both Houses will have a chance to debate the Instrument. However, there will not be an opportunity to amend it (as there would be in the case of primary legislation).
5.2 July 2015 announcement
5.3 The Conservative manifesto contained the following commitment to repeal the Hunting Act: A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.
5.4 On the 8 July 2015, the Telegraph reported that MPs would get a free vote to relax fox hunting ban the following week.
On 9 July 2015 Defra published a statement setting out proposals for what it referred to as a small number of technical amendments to the Hunting Act 2004. In this the minister stated the aim was to more closely align the legislation with Scotland:
5.1 HC Deb c887, 5 March 2014
5.2HC Deb 26 Mar 2014 : Column 346
5.3Conservative Party Manifesto 2015
5.4 The Daily Telegraph, MPs to get free vote to relax fox hunting ban next week, 8 July
July 9th 2015: The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP; Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced the proposed amendments .
A small number of technical amendments to the Hunting Act have been proposed to more closely align legislation in England and Wales with that in Scotland while maintaining safeguards. The amendments to the Act would enable farmers and gamekeepers to make a judgement, based on the terrain and other circumstances, to use more than two dogs to flush out and stalk wild animals for effective and humane shooting as part of the existing exemption in the Act that allows for pest control. This is important in upland areas where the current limit of using two dogs across large and often wooded areas is not regarded as effective or practical for pest control purposes. There is no limit on the number of dogs that can be used to flush out or stalk an animal in this way in Scotland. The Hunting Act will remain in place and will still prohibit the pursuit and killing of a wild animal by dogs.
6. Proposed amendments to Schedule 1
A draft statutory instrument setting out the proposed amendments, with just a 90-minute debate was to take place in the House of Commons on Wednesday 15th July. This has now been withdrawn by the government after Team Fox rallied supporters to contact their MP’s. If approved it was expected that the amendments would have been debated in the Lords after the summer recess, and come into force the following day.
This was an incredibly short time scale that the government clearly believed allowed us no time to respond; however, they had underestimated the will and conviction of the animal-loving British public whose incredible resolve and response in contacting their MPs, telling them they supported the Hunting Act and did not want hunting with hounds to return - ever.
The proposed amendments to Schedule 1 of the Act would increase the maximum number of dogs that can be used for some exempted activities, including stalking and flushing, from two to a number that is “appropriate to the terrain and any other relevant circumstance”, although these are not defined.
The proposed amendments would also add diseased mammals to those that can be hunted in the paragraph in the Schedule on Rescue of Wild Mammals. This would then read “first condition is that the hunter reasonably believes that the wild mammal is or may be injured or diseased”. In addition the use of dogs underground to protect birds for shooting would be extended to include the protection of livestock.
The provisions are not the same as those in Scotland, and therefore, would not have bought the two acts into line. Scotland has no limits on the number of dogs that can be used or the specific circumstances of when they can be used. With regards to diseased animals the exceptions allowed in Scotland is stalking and flushing of wild mammals to “prevent the spread of disease” an very different interpretation.
The Scottish act also has Prison sentences and significantly higher fines for anyone convicted of hunting with animals, totally undermining the governments argument of aligning the acts.
After Angus Robertson the SNP leader in Westminster declared at the team Fox rally in London on Tuesday that the SNP had decided they vote against any amendments to the Hunting Act, the leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling was forced into an emergency withdrawal of the vote as the government knew they would not win. In an attempt to maintain the “we’re the majority party” aura they had no other option earning Mr Grayling a sharper rebuke from the speaker for late notice and opening the government up to legitimate acquisitions from MP’s as to the shambles they had made of the situation. The Hansard’s transcript is detailed belo
Hansards Tuesday 14th July 2015 Business of the House 1.21 pm
The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): Since this is a business statement rather than on the matter for tomorrow, I will answer the questions in more detail tomorrow. Suffice it to say that rather than publishing a draft order at the end of business last night, it was published at the start of business today.
Mr Speaker: I emphasise that this is a supplementary business statement. Forgive me if new Members are not familiar with the concept, but the notion of a supplementary business statement is that the Leader of the House will come to announce what is usually quite a modest variation in business, at least in terms of the number of items subject to change. Questioning is therefore on the relatively narrow changes plural, or change singular. It is not a general business statement; it is on the matter of the change announced, and possibly on what might be called any consequentials.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I observe for my right hon. Friend that the Scottish National party has only one objective in this House, which is to foment the break-up of the United Kingdom? Unless all Unionist parties in this House work together to frustrate that aim, instead of continuing the usual games we play in this House, we will help them to achieve that objective.
Chris Grayling: I am surprised that the Scottish nationalists have chosen to move away from what they have done for many years, which is to abstain on matters that do not affect Scotland. They have clearly taken a decision to change policy. It is up to other Unionist parties to decide whether they will help them in that approach.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): What an utter and absolute shambles! That is the only way that this could possibly be described. It seems to me that a number of things need to happen. First, this looks very much like the Tories knew they would not win the vote tomorrow, so they want to change the rules. The Leader of the House has to come back not with a “mini” business statement, but a full business statement. The plans need to be withdrawn from the House absolutely and totally, as they are a complete and utter mess. He needs to bring back a proper approach to dealing with this—[Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) is chuntering away, because he knows the Tories would be defeated if they were left on their own We need a proper Bill, a proper piece of legislation, and proper scrutiny and examination. Will the Leader of the House now withdraw the plans for English votes for English laws, come back with a total rethink, and allow the House proper scrutiny, so that we can look at this properly and in order?
Chris Grayling: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, this matter is nothing to do with English votes for English laws, which will be debated extensively tomorrow. In fact, the debate on that matter will now be longer than it would otherwise have been. The issue of hunting and the debate that might have taken place tomorrow has nothing to do with English votes for English laws. If the hon. Gentleman had read the small print of our proposals, he would know there is no connection between the two.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): May I invite my right hon. Friend to say how incredulous he is that the SNP, which thought we should have had a longer discussion on English votes for English laws—the people of Crawley certainly want that—is now complaining that we have more time to discuss this very important issue?
Chris Grayling: I fear that what we are seeing on the Opposition Benches is the shape of the Government we thankfully did not get in May; a collaboration between a party that claims to be Unionist but behaves in the opposite way and a party that wants to break up the United Kingdom. All I can say is thank goodness the electorate saw through them.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is not the real reason the Government have withdrawn the hunting amendment that they would have lost the vote with or without the votes of the SNP, given the very large number of Conservative MPs, including the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and two of my near neighbours the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who do not want to reintroduce cruelty? Given the huge public interest in this issue, when will the Leader of the House bring the matter back before the House?
Chris Grayling: There are different opinions on both sides of the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it appropriate for this matter to be decided in a mature way by English and Welsh MPs who would be affected by the change, and not by Members of Parliament whose constituents would be unaffected by the change and are saying that they will vote against the law as it currently applies in Scotland?
Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): The Leader of the House suggests that only English and Welsh MPs should vote on this matter. Does that not completely contradict the answer he gave earlier? After 32 years in this place, I have never seen such a shambolic decision. There are thousands of our constituents out there who want this thing sorted out once and for all.
Chris Grayling: The point is that there are different opinions on this issue on both sides of the House. It was a manifesto commitment to offer a choice to the people of England and Wales on what they want to happen. It is not right for a party that has no connection to these matters to say that it wishes to interfere—that is a change to the policy it has pursued for many years.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Even by the standards of those on the Government Benches, we are all shocked at the cynical and shabby way with which the Government are attempting to use the business of the House to destroy the Hunting Act 2004. The Leader of the House has just said that he wants a material debate on the future of the Hunting Act. Why does he not bring back a Bill for the repeal of the Act? We could then have a proper debate with a free vote.
Chris Grayling: Nobody is trying to repeal the Hunting Act. The measure that was proposed had nothing to do with repealing the Hunting Act.
Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend undertake to discuss with colleagues on the Treasury Bench the introduction of a general animal welfare Bill in the next Session covering foxhunting, wild animals in circuses, the clipping of chickens’ beaks and other such issues? All those things could be covered in one large umbrella Bill that the House could discuss and then vote on in the proper way.
Chris Grayling: I think that was a representation on legislation for next year’s Queen’s Speech to which I am sure my hon. Friends will have listened carefully.
Team Fox believes that the Hunting Act 2004 is a good law that should be strengthened and have the higher penalties for conviction that currently exist in Scotland. We therefore call on the government to withdraw it’s manifesto pledge to repeal the act and instead focus it’s attentions on what over 80% of the British public want: to consign the hunting of wild animals with dogs to the history books - forever.