This week's note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.
The question on most people’s minds who are reading this will be what next on the hunting front following the formation of a Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition government?
We have as you would expect taken a close look at where MPs in the new Parliament say they stand on repeal of the Hunting Act 2004. What our survey shows is that there would appear to still be a now small majority in the new Parliament against repeal. But - and it is a very big but - with almost 100 newly elected MPs apparently committed to repeal and a lot of MPs who haven’t yet declared their position on repeal beyond all doubt, we have good reason to be worried; and then there is the House of Lords.
A small majority against repeal of the Act is a worrying prospect, particularly when we now know that there will be a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill” in the new Parliament.
The early morning news on Wednesday reported that a fox was seen but not filmed walking through Downing Street. The thought, albeit tongue in cheek, was did that fox portend any move on the repeal front or did it now feel safe?
The messages or puffs of smoke coming out from the Council of Hunting Associations, the Countryside Alliance and Vote-OK are primarily self congratulatory, insofar as they imply that one way or another their efforts led to the voters turning out Angie Smith, Mike Foster, Gordon Prentice, Ian Cawsey, Dan Norris and David Drew, as well as Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance Simon Hart defeating Nick Ainger in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.
The other message coming from Kate Hoey, Simon Hart and Stephen Lambert of the Council of Hunting Associations is that repeal of the Hunting Act is not a political priority and that hunters may have to wait a while. To quote, “So in the short term we may have to continue to operate under existing conditions … we can be sure that the tide has turned and that this discredited, unworkable law will one day be repealed. The current situation is neither acceptable, nor sustainable and our commitment to Repeal must never waver”. So wrote Stephen Lambert to Masters of Hounds, Hunt Chairmen, Members and Huntsmen / Kennel-Huntsmen on the day after the election.
Many in the hunting fraternity had bought into the “one last push” strategy that was supposed to deliver a single party majority government and consequently an early repeal of the Hunting Act. Now the hunt supporters are being told by their leaders that as a result of the election they are not going to get their wishes, or at least not yet anyway, which will come as quite a blow to those hunters who will now have to break the law next hunting season pending any eventual repeal of the Act.
The longer hunting carries on under the Hunting Act the less the political prospects of successful attempt at repeal, but the announcement of a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill” will give them fresh hope. Even if it turns out that the new Coalition Government want to kick debate on repeal of the Hunting Act into the long grass, the hunters will desperately want to use any such bill as an opportunity to go for repeal of the Hunting Act. As Stephen Lambert put it, their current situation is neither sustainable nor acceptable, to them. The result will be massive pressure on politicians who said that they would support repeal, to deliver that repeal.
If the coalition leaders are not prepared to put repeal of the Hunting Act on the face of their bill, the hunters will still do their level best to get their way in Parliament. They will attach amendments to any legislation passing through either the Lords or the Commons to try and get their way. They will play political hard ball in the corridors of Westminster, letting it be known all the time, that if the government want their way on other things, they are going to have to let them have their chance to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote.
The hunters and hunt supporters in Parliament are not going to just sit there while their colleagues in the field get taken to court for breaching the Act and breaking the law, as so many of them promised to do. They know that if they don’t get their repeal in the next two years they may never get it, so they have to find a way forwards.
The UK does not, apart from in war time, have a history of coalitions, and there is every risk that as the political going gets tough, the coalition will come under a lot of pressure and could fall apart. If the hunters calculate that as a result of tough times resulting in unpopularity for the members of the coalition, and as a result think that they are unlikely to get a government more to their liking after an early- or mid-term election, they will put a huge amount of effort into getting what they can out of this Parliament before it ends in dissolution. By that logic, that means that they will go for repeal at the first opportunity that can be found.
Any backbench driven attempt at repeal will put some of the leaders of the coalition in a very difficult position. The Conservative Party promised in their Manifesto a free vote on repeal. The leader of the Liberal Democrats has made it clear that he would not vote for repeal on a free vote, but David Cameron has said that he would vote for repeal. We know from what they have already said, that many Liberal Democrats are against repeal, and that many Conservative MPs support repeal. While the party leaders may not want the hunting issue on the coalition agenda, they may not be able to stop others putting it there.
One of the first things that we need to do is to find out precisely where all of the new intake MPs stand on the issue of repeal and we will be asking for your help in that quest.
We also need to make sure that all MPs are fully aware of what repeal would bring back in terms of cruelty and animal abuse for sport if and when the hunters do manage to get it onto the agenda and then onto the statute book.
Quite clearly the hunters will move for repeal as soon as they can. We must be there ready to stop them turning the clocks back to cruelty. Together we can secure the future of the Act and see off the hunters! To do that we will need your help and your support in the months to come – you can start by emailing your MP today.