Repeal of the Hunting Act came up as an issue on last night's edition of 'Any Questions' on BBC Radio 4. The six minute debate gave the pro-bloodsport panelists (of which there were three) a good opportunity to trot out their predictable myths about the Act being a bad law that doesn't work.
We can't decide on a favourite bit. Was it Damian Green MP saying that foxes are vermin and so if people take pleasure in killing them then so be it, or Kate Hoey MP saying that the Hunting Act was passed without scrutiny - whilst in the same breath decrying her own government for spending 700 hours debating it.
Anyway, here's the transcript. PB is Peter Boseley, the audience member who pased the question. FN is Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator. DG is Damian Green, Conservative MP, BB is the musician Billy Bragg and KH is Kate Hoey, Labour MP.
If you read this in time, remember that the Saturday lunchtime repeat of the programme is followed by 'Any Answers' to which anyone can contribute by phone or email.
PB: Does the panel think that the government would be wise to leave the ban on fox hunting with hounds in place especially as the Conservatives pilloried the Labour government for spending too much time on pursuing a trivial matter?
JD: The government is committed to bringing this onto the agenda; would it be wise to leave the ban in place, erm, and not pursue what, erm, allegedly was a trivial matter. Erm, Fraser Nelson?
FN: I don’t think … This ban is unpopular, it goes against, I think, a basic civil … I’m not a fox hunter, unlike some members of this panel, but erm it’s quite easy to see the situation. You give the Commons a free vote, the MPs decide, it’s not a party political issue. Why, erm, place this ban it’s not doing much good which it’s not, I don’t really think it’s something the Commons needs to spend a lot of time on, you can get it over in a simple vote.
JD: Damian Green?
DG: I don’t hunt either, erm, and I voted against the ban because, err, I believe in freedom and people’s right to do what they want to do and as, err, in fact Billy said in an earlier answer you’re gonna have to kill foxes anyway, they’re vermin, so err, if people get pleasure out of hunting them, who am I to stop them it seems to me and in particular who is the British government to stop them, and it’s a controversial view. But in the end I think freedom is more important than anything else; it’s certainly true that in my first few years in the House of Commons after 1997 we seem to spend more time discussing fox hunting err, than we did the state of the economy and it was completely bizarre so I would certainly hope not to get back to that but we have, err, committed to giving MP’s a, obviously it has to be a free vote issue, it’s a conscience issue which does cut across all parties but like Fraser, I profoundly hope and, indeed, predict that we will not spend day after day, month after month, err discussing this issue.
JD: Billy Bragg?
BB: Well, you know, I think it seems it seems to be working fine for everybody I mean the fox hunters are still out riding around hunting foxes, err the sabs are still out chasing them around videoing them, the only thing that seems to happen is this, you know, the foxes aren’t getting caught so often, so err you know I don’t see why they need to go back and rake over these old ideas. I mean I do think there’s an issue about calling something a sport in which an animal is hunted down and torn apart and I question whether that can be seen as a sport or recreation, and in the new politics I’d like to think we’re moving on from the past rather than revisiting the err what seems to me to be the settled will of the people, apart from some err very high powered and, err, high earning people riding about on horses; I hate being told things by people on horses, it’s a kind of Norman Saxon thing I have. I’m sorry about that but.
FN: It’s the guys in the red jackets you’re after, isn’t it Billy.
JD: Kate Hoey?
JD: …as Chair of the Countryside Alliance …
KH: I don’t think, yeah, I, I think we accept very much that this is not a priority for a new government facing a terrible economic crisis, but I am pleased that it is still in their coalition document, that there will be a free vote at some stage, I think it is a question of liberty actually and freedom, it’s also a question of this whole idea that I think David Cameron and the new coalition seem to feel quite strongly about, you know, getting rid of identity card and of lot of this idea of getting the state off your back, and that therefore it would fall naturally into that so I, I do think that at some stage, err it is very bad law, it’s unworkable, it wastes a huge amount of police time, it’s not in the interests of animal welfare in the slightest and of course it’s not…
JD: Why’s it unworkable?
KH: Well it, it, it, it doesn’t work because people have no idea, and the police have to make, make up decisions on, literally on the hoof, as to whether the law is being broken, err, because they the law as it actually came through so often when things go through the House of Commons that are, you know, err, knee jerk issues that are not properly scrutinised it has so many anomalies in it that it’s actually very very difficult to decide when someone is breaking the law and of course there’s been so many cases that have actually gone to court and have been thrown out so I, I just think it’s one of those issues that some people feel very strongly about on both sides, but I think the vast majority of the public would think this is a silly law, it’s a bad law, let’s let’s get rid of it whoa at the right time, but I’m certainly not chasing David Cameron to bring it in and we certainly don’t want to spend 700 hours which is what the Labour government, my government, spent trying to put it through.
JD: You say, you say, and it’s interesting because of your role in the Countryside Alliance that you’re not chasing it to happen is that because, given the new intake it might be that the ban is confirmed on a free vote?
KH: No, I think I think if there was a free vote to actually allow a repeal I think we would probably just win that vote, erm but it is it is something that I don’t think anybody wants to spend a lot of time on, definitely not, and therefore I think I, I have err, I have confidence in the new coalition government on that aspect, not on a lot of other things, but on that aspect that that at the right time this will, they will commit to their promise.
JD: We’ve got a packed hall here in Devizes which is the centre of parts of rural England where there is a lot of hunting, erm, but you’re not scientifically selected you’re just human beings, erm, would you by a show of hands let me know whether you think, first of all, you think that with a free vote if it were repealed, that would be a good thing, to have repeal, would you put your hands up? Those, those who want to see the Act remain in force? It remains a divisive issue. I would say roughly fifty fifty-ish. Yeah? Fifty fifty.