For thousands of years, even before humans were human, the residents of this world were hunter-gatherers. They thought nothing of going out into the countryside and killing wild game, which they then brought home to feed their families. Stalking and killing animals is hard-wired into the human psyche.
But in this day and age, where we humans don’t have to go out and kill living creatures to sustain ourselves, is it right that we should go out and kill living creatures for sport?
In 2004 the then Labour government passed the Hunting Act, which made it illegal to hunt wild mammals such as foxes, deer, hares and mink, with dogs in England and Wales. The act does not cover the use of dogs in the process of flushing out an unidentified wild mammal, nor does it affect drag hunting, where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent.
In its current manifesto, the Labour Party crows about its success. It says: ‘Labour ended fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing. Only a Labour government will maintain the bans.’
The Act came into force on 18 February 2005. The pursuit of foxes with hounds, other than to flush out to be shot, had been banned in Scotland two years earlier by the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. This type of hunting remains allowed by the law in Northern Ireland, where the Act does not apply.
But the League against Cruel Sports, which campaigns against hunting, claims the law has never been properly enforced, and attempts to weaken or repeal it continue. It says: ‘Hunts in England and Wales invented the activity of ‘trail’ hunting after the fox hunting ban came in. This claims to be a non-lethal sport where the hunt simply follows a pre-laid trail rather than searching for and chasing a fox. However, years of evidence shows that hunts are using trail hunting as a cover for illegal hunting by claiming to be following a trail but still carrying on and hunting foxes the way they did before the hunting ban.’
The Conservative Party is, well, more conservative. In it’s current manifesto, the party promises a ‘free vote, on a government bill in government time, to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act’. This means MPs will have to decide on their views and vote accordingly – and their vote will be noted in Hansard and their views on hunting will be documented forever.
‘Class’ has a particular impact on this Bill. Hunting is seen as a ‘toffs’ sport, all country gentlemen with cut-glass accents and enough money to keep a stable full of horses. Indeed, after the ban was in place, Blairite Labour MP Barry Sheerman was heard crowing about the bill as the Labour Party’s way of getting back at the events during the miners strike in 1984-85. Frontbencher Dennis Skinner has been heard agreeing with that opinion.
Some argue that hunting is a form of pest control. Foxes attack hen houses and can take newborn lambs and it is often the weaker or older foxes that are seen on farms. Huntmasters claim that these weaker animals are the ones targetted by hunts; if the fox is young and strong, invariably it will be able to outrun the hounds and escape. The League refutes this, claiming that some hunts catch foxes and others actually breed and rear youngsters so that they can be released into the wild to be hunted.
Other supporters claim the death of a fox caught by hounds is almost instantaneous as the animal is torn apart in seconds by the chasing pack. It has been argued that this is a kinder dispatch of the animal than being shot but only wounded and is then left to crawl away into undergrowth and suffer as it dies slowly.
The League claims that 80 percent of people want to stop foxes being hunted by hounds. Is this because it is not politically correct to say that you do not oppose hunting, that you ride out to hounds regularly and that you thoroughly enjoy the thrill of the chase?
The League points out that even though humans have been hunting for thousands of years and it has become a British tradition, other such as bear and bull baiting were traditional activities in the past and they have been outlawed, at least in the UK.
However, dog fighting continues, albeit underground, and dogs are still being bred and trained to fight. Dog fighting as a ‘sport’ was banned in 1835, as even then it was considered barbaric. Its proponents can wager large sums of money on their dog and in many instances, dogs die in the ring or soon afterwards from their injuries. The League is working with the RSPCA in investigating such fights with a view to stopping them and having their owners prosecuted.
UKIP doesn’t have a policy on hunting but leaves its candidates to tell prospective voters their own views. This may be appropriate as typical politicians will ask a voter what their own views are before agreeing with them, whatever they say. But is this the right way to go about such an emotive subject?
Few people are ambivalent about fox hunting – most have a fairly strong view one way or the other, so perhaps it is time for UKIP to make up its mind which side of the hunting argument it is on. Perhaps the new manifesto, which is to be announced at Conference, will have some guidelines. But then, do you really want to be told what to think about the subject?