The beginning of November sees us enter autumn in earnest; the clocks go back, the nights draw in and there is an ever-present chill in the air. This weekend also heralds the beginning of the hunting season, with hunts up and down the country holding their opening meets.
To mark the start of this season, the Countryside Alliance has - for the very first time - been able to show the success rates of the Hunting Act, and in so doing revealed the true extent of the failure of the Hunting Act.
Figures provided by the Ministry of Justice show that last year six police forces cautioned eleven individuals under the Hunting Act. Yet not one of these cautions was for an individual associated with a registered hunt. In fact, ninety seven per cent of convictions since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005 relate to poaching or other casual hunting activities. All of these would have been able to be prosecuted under legislation which existed before the Hunting Act came into being.
From the outset, the practical application of the Hunting Act has been surrounded by confusion. The series of 'exemptions' designed to allow some types of hunting to continue were the result of political wrangling and are both illogical and unclear. For instance it is legal to hunt a rabbit, but not a hare (unless it has been shot!); a rat, but not a mouse.
It is this inconsistency and the Act's failure as a piece of legislation that continues to place a significant and unnecessary strain on rural communities, the police and the courts. The difficulty in interpreting and adhering to these often-contradictory "exemptions", means that policing of the Act and the investigation of unfounded allegations against hunts continue to waste valuable police resources, that could be much better deployed in dealing with issues of real concern.
As a consequence, commentators from the Left to the Right almost universally condemn the Act as an example of bad governance. Indeed, in his memoirs, Tony Blair describes the act as "one of the domestic legislative measures I most regret."
For a society which wishes to be moderate and tolerant, the Hunting Act remains an extremely divisive piece of legislation with many people feeling aggrieved that a large number of those who championed the Hunting Act did so based on prejudice, rather than any scientific evidence.
The failure of the Hunting Act to improve the welfare of wild mammals or to provide a clear and workable legal framework has further undermined public confidence in this piece of legislation.
The legal confusion and uncertainty surrounding the Act has led to a growing body of opinion, both inside and outside Parliament, believing that this legislation does not work and should be repealed.
The Act must not only be repealed out of consideration for animal welfare and the sustainability of the countryside, but so too that we do not set a precedent for such an illiberal, divisive and ineffective piece of legislation to remain on the Statute Book.
To quote a Sunday Times editorial: "Such a bad law has no right to survive and it would be better to get rid of it."
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