The Government's proposal to weaken the Hunting Act by allowing an unlimited number of dogs to pursue foxes, deer and hares for 'pest control', or simply for observation, is nothing more than a devious attempt to repeal the Act by the back door.
Claims that the proposed amendments are just minor technical adjustments are deliberately misleading. Whilst minor in terms of wording, they are hugely significant in terms of their effect.
Currently it is legal to use just two dogs, under close control, to flush a wild mammal from cover to be shot; to rescue an injured animal or to observe a mammal for research The change to permit a full pack of hounds for all of these purposes will provide a perfect guise for traditional hunting and make the Act extremely diffiicult to enforce.
A pro-hunt source admitted this to Channel 4 news, stating: "The effect of this change is not to legalise hunting with dogs but to make prosecutions "unimaginable."
Claims that this move is needed to help farmers control fox numbers are a cynical attempt to win sympathy from the 80% of people who oppose killing animals for sport. The scientific evidence clearly shows that the proposed relaxation of the Hunting Act will make no difference to farmers. Even if these changes resulted in more foxes being killed, it would not reduce fox numbers and might even lead to an increase in livestock predation.
Claims that the changes would simply bring parity between Scotland and the rest of Britain are also insincere. The Scottish law preceded Westminster's by two years, with stricter exemptions included in the latter as a deliberate improvement. Indeed, the experience in England and Wales has shown the Hunting Act (2004) to be the better piece of legislation, with more than 400 convictions since its inception.
The difficulty in proving intent under the Scottish law has meant little enforcement of the law has happened north of the border. As the Scottish Countryside Alliance said on the 10th anniversary of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, 'you could be forgiven for thinking little has changed during the course of time'.
In fact, just a few months ago League Against Cruel Sports' investigators filmed half of Scotland's hunts chasing and killing foxes exactly as they were before it was illegal - with not a gun in sight. This is what will happen in England and Wales if the law is weakened. The hunts don't want to shoot foxes, they want to chase them and see them ripped apart by hounds.
It is also important to remember that Scotland has only 10 registered hunts, while England and Wales have more than 300. If parity is to be sought, surely the minority should come in line with the majority.
Make no mistake, this proposal is nothing but sneaking hunting in through the back door. By amending the Hunting Act like this, the Government is deliberately and cynically making it easier for hunts to chase and kill foxes, deer and hares, and harder for them to be convicted when they break the law.
This is not about hunting for pest control. It's about hunting for fun.