As someone who manages a team of professional campaigners and lobbyists working to improve animal welfare, it's always nice when we can stop for a moment and celebrate success. Sometimes it doesn't feel like success comes around too often and sometimes we're so focussed on the end goals that we don't pause to recognise the significant milestones we're reaching on the way.
But, this week was different. The team at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in the UK have been working to end fox hunting and all hunting with hounds for many, many years - both before the ban and, sadly we have still needed to, for more than 10 years after the ban. When we saw the Lord Bonomy review (Report of the Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002) on hunting in Scotland that highlighted that Scotland's hunting laws were "unduly complicated" and should be changed to make prosecutions easier, it's fair to say we were all pretty happy.
The review of existing legislation was commissioned by the Scottish government last year and sought to establish whether the existing law was balanced enough to protect wild mammals, while still allowing for effective control where necessary. It was also a formal, credible and particularly scathing attack on the hunting community which continues to flout the ban day in and day out.
In Scotland, fox hunting is governed by the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, 2002, which essentially banned hunting with hounds - or at least was supposed to. Whilst it came as no surprise to us and so many others to hear in the report there was "basis for suspecting" that illegal hunting still takes place and that current legislation makes prosecutions for offences complicated, it may have come as a surprise to some.
The report recommended amending the Act to make prosecution easier and adopting a recklessness clause so those acting illegally could no longer claim a simple 'accident', that hunts give details of hunt participants to Police before the hunt takes place and the use of independent monitors. In addition, it recommends that any landowner who permits hunting on their land would have liability if illegal hunting took place and an extension to the time limit for bringing prosecutions.
The reason we weren't surprised by this - because we know all too well the realities of post-ban fox hunting and we know how it works. IFAW's Trail of Lies report, which was mentioned in the Review, focused on hunting in England and Wales and exposed the myth behind trail hunting (which was invented after the ban) and its continued use as a false alibi for hunters hell-bent on killing foxes for fun. It showed how, from all of the information we have (which by the way is a lot!), that we pretty much hadn't ever seen a genuine trail being laid, that hounds had no interest in the 'scent' being laid when we had witnessed what seemed very much like a 'scent-laying show' for the cameras, and we showed how the hunts had a pretty solid modus operandi for making any kill seem like an 'accident'.
We mustn't forget that a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act is actually in the Conservative Party's manifesto (again) and it was only last year that the Government here tried to sneak a repeal to the Hunting Act through the backdoor by using a controversial mechanism called a Henry VIII power (a mechanism introduced for Henry VIII to give the power to legislate by decree). Needless to say, the public and organisations like IFAW and our coalition partners rallied together and stopped it happening, helped massively by SNP MPs who decided they would vote on the issue (despite there being a separate Scottish Law in this area) as it was important to them and their constituents. At the time, one of the points the Government made was that they were simply trying to align the English law with the Scottish law, despite the fact that the Scottish government is very much against bringing back hunting with hounds. So, now we have these recommendations we urge the Scottish government to act and follow the advice of Lord Bonomy - ideally strengthening the law before this hunting season ends in March next year. The report gives sound advice and it strongly alludes to the fact that people are purposely abusing the law. The recommendations make sense. Let's hope we can move things forward so everyone can act just a little more 21st Century and let's stop a small minority of people abusing animals and wasting everyone's time, at a point when the people of Britain and the Government of Britain really have other things to worry about. As a nation we are better than this.
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