British fox hunting ban is near
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2003:
LONDON–The British House of Commons on July 9, 2003 voted
317-145 in favor of a national ban on fox hunting, a week after
voting 363-154 to enact a total ban instead of a compromise that
would allow some hunting to continue for predator control.
The votes brought close to fulfillment the 1997 election
promise of Prime Minister Tony Blair to ban fox hunting if the Labour
Party won the Parliamentary majority. Blair and Labour have led the
government ever since, but have put other matters ahead of the
proposed hunting ban, while anti-hunting private members’ bills have
cleared the Commons only to die in the House of Lords.
The Hunting Bill, now presented with the full support of the
Blair government, is scheduled for second reading by the Lords on
September 17, followed by detailed review in October. The Lords,
who hold their seats by heredity rather than election, can amend and
delay legislation. The anti-fox hunting Commons majority, however,
has become strong enough to override the Lords.
“Lord Mancroft, a pro-hunting Tory [Conservative] peer and a
Countryside Alliance board member, predicted that the Lords would
reinstate the provisions for the regulation of foxhunting contained
in the government’s original [compromise] bill,” wrote Daily
Telegraph political correspondent Andrew Sparrow. “If that happens,
however, the Commons are sure to reject them again.”
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael stated that the
government “would not stand in the way” of an override, should the
Lords not approve the bill as it stands. Michael anticipated that
the bill could take effect before the 2005 hunting season.
Warning that 26,000 foxhounds might be killed if the Hunting
Bill takes effect, Conservative rural affairs critic James Gray
sought an amendment to compensate the 1,000 gamekeepers, grooms,
and dog handlers he claimed would be put out of work.
Responded Michael, “I can’t believe people will stop riding
because they cannot hunt.”
The Royal SPCA and other humane societies have pledged to
rehome castoff foxhounds.
The Hunting Bill is somewhat paradoxically opposed by both
the Association of Chief Police Officers and the direct
action-oriented Real Coutryside Alliance. Association of Chief
Police Officers spokesperson Chris Fox objected to the implication
that police might be expected to work with hunt saboteurs to enforce
the bill. For decades police and hunt saboteurs have routinely
clashed near the scenes of major hunts.
Real Countryside Alliance spokesperson Edward Duke meanwhile
promised “spectacular” civil disobedience.
“We will target backbench Members of Parliament, block in
their cars, chant in their surgeries, and heckle them wherever they
go. We will target government offices, county halls and Parliament.
There will be transportation blockages,” Duke said.
“I am in favor of civil disobedience on the part of
victimized minorities,” agreed pro-hunting philosopher Roger
Scruton–as if the mostly upper class fox hunters could in any way be
likened to economically disadvantaged members of ethnic minorities.
An estimated 1,500 hunt supporters blockaded the Commons on
December 16, 2002, but did not deter amendments to the then newly
introduced Hunting Bill which added to the list of proscribed
activities both hare hunting with hounds and the use of terriers to
flush foxes out of dens for gun hunters. The Hunting Bill already
barred hare coursing [setting hounds on rabbits within an enclosed
area] and deer hunting with hounds, as well as traditional fox
An estimated 10,000 spectators attended the three-day
Waterloo Cup hare coursing tournament in February, asserting that it
would not be the last. Thirteen hares were killed the first day,
according to Royal SPCA inspectors, who pronounced themselves
equally determined that the entire pastime of coursing would soon
pass into history along with the British variants of bullfighting,
bear-baiting, and cockfighting, which were outlawed in Victorian
Some hunting enthusiasts spoke of enlisting U.S. hunters to
help organize a tourist boycott of Britain and of promoting hunting
tourism to the U.S., France, Ireland, Russia, and other nations
where fox hunting might still be practiced. Twenty-eight nations in
all have recognized fox hunting clubs. France has 440; the U.S. has
178. Travel expense is likely to deter most British fox hunters from
going abroad very often to hunt, however. Hunting officials told
Susan Bisset that only a “couple of dozen” British hunters currently
participate in France.
Russian Hunting Agency spokesperson Sergei Shushunov said the
RHA “has not had a British guest in the 12 years we have operated.”
Earlier, representatives of both French and Irish hunting
clubs told reporters that they already have more participants than
the dwindling rural properties open to mounted hunting can
Scotland banned hunting with hounds under the Protection of
Wild Mammals Act in February 2002. An exception was allowed for
using dogs to flush out foxes for gunners and then allowing the dogs
to finish off wounded foxes. Under that exception, the Grampian
police department in November 2002 refused to prosecute the
participants in a hunt organized by the Kincardineshire Foxhounds.
Two 19-year-olds were charged in February 2002, however, for
illegally setting dogs on foxes and tampering with badger warrens
near Hawick in the Borders region.
A court challenge to the Scottish ban filed by two members of
the Union of Country Sports Workers was rejected in June 2003 by the
Court of Session.
Pheasant shooting and badger-baiting are believed to be on the
increase in Britain– though the latter has been illegal since the
1992 passage of the Protection of Badgers Act.
Royal SPCA special intelligence unit chief inspector Terry
Spamer told Mark Townsend of The Observer in June 2002 that about
4,000 badger-baiters killed as many as 20,000 badgers in 2001,
compared with 13,987 foxes known to have been killed in legal fox
“Killing pheasants is now believed to be Britain’s
fastest-growing participatory ‘sport,'” wrote John Vidal of The
Guardian in October 2002. “Guesstimates by the industry and its
critics suggest that some 36 million birds have been reared and
released into woods this year. Of these, only a third are likely to
be shot and fewer than half that number may be eaten. The rest will
be taken by predators, catch diseases and die, or may be quietly
buried in pits by shoots which cannot give the birds away.”