I am incredibly proud of the previous Labour Government’s strong record on animal welfare and am proud to have voted for the Hunting Act in 2004 that sought to end the needless cruelty to wild animals. This is an issue that is close to my heart and I want to be clear that I am fervently against any backdoor attempt to water down this extremely effective, and popular legislation.
We have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way. The unnecessary and prolonged suffering of defenceless animals has no place in a civilised society and the vast majority of the British public agree with this sentiment. Indeed, a recent poll illustrated that 80% of the public support Labour’s ban on hunting.
The commitment to give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto demonstrates the extent to which their party is disconnected from the concerns of the British public. The vote to amend the Hunting Act is a distraction from the real issues affecting rural communities – the lack of affordable housing, poor productivity in our economy and public services being dismantled by this Conservative Government.
Currently, there is an exemption to the Hunting Act which allows farmers to use two dogs to flush out a fox before it is shot. The Government proposes amending the Act to remove the limit of two dogs to flush out and stalk wild animals. This is arguably where the worst cruelty occurs in hunting, not only to wild mammals pursued underground with limited opportunity to escape, but also to the dogs sent below ground to find these animals.
Rather than removing the current safeguards in place for the protection of wild mammals, we should be strengthening the current legislation to stop the exploitation of provisions within the Hunting Act and prohibit the use of dogs below ground.
The Hunting Act is the most successful piece of animal welfare legislation. Recent Government figures reveal that a total of 590 prosecutions were made under the Act, with a success rate of 64%. In comparison, the Scottish fox hunting legislation has had 210 prosecutions in 13 years with a success rate of only 35%. The Government’s changes to the Hunting Act are not a ‘small number of technical amendments’- instead it is a deliberate attempt to make prosecutions impossible under the amendments, rendering the Act meaningless.
The planned vote on amending the Hunting Act has been postponed, with the Government fearing that they no longer have the support needed to win the vote. It is likely that the Government will now seek to reduce the voting rights of Scottish and Welsh MPs beforehand, in an attempt to circumvent the will of the British public. We must continue to put pressure on this Government to drop their controversial plans and accept the views of the whole House.
After the Government announcement that they had postponed the vote, I asked on the floor of the House of Commons: “Will the Leader of the House enable a situation where Welsh MPs can vote on behalf of Welsh foxes in order that English foxes, like English badgers, can escape over the border avoiding the sadistic slaughter that he is advocating in the name of sport.” I will fight any Government proposal to weaken the Hunting Act.