This Wednesday, something could happen that is not only a blow for British people and our wildlife, but it's a blow for the whole reputation of the political system. It is more sly and more cunning than any fox has ever been.
Polls consistently show that around 80% of the British public, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas, want to keep the ban on hunting with dogs. The ban itself relates to fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing and forbids pursuing these mammals with hounds based on proven welfare concerns.
However, on Wednesday the Government is holding a very sly vote that would render the current Hunting Act as good as useless. They bill it as "a small number of technical amendments to the Hunting Act", but quite simply it's nothing more than a repeal 'by the back door.' The mantra of 'if at first you don't succeed' is one that is definitely being followed here - this will be their second attempt to do this, against the will of Parliament and the public, with the first attempt foiled by animal welfare charities like IFAW and the public in 2014. This isn't the free vote on repeal promised in their Manifesto, this is a substitute as it is now widely assumed that they would lose that repeal vote when or if it happens.
It's not often you hear Henry VIII mentioned in blogs nowadays, but unfortunately for him (though in fairness he hasn't got the best reputation already), it's his name that is the exact cause of the underhand tactic that the Government is about to play. The Government plans to make significant changes to the Hunting Act via a Statutory Instrument using what's known as a 'Henry VIII' power, a very controversial tactic indeed. By doing this, Parliament's opportunity to scrutinise the proposal is dramatically limited, and there will be just 90 minutes of debate. That's the same time as an episode of the X Factor for one of the most politically controversial issues of our time (bear in mind getting the original Hunting Act in place took over 700 hours of Parliamentary time!). Amending primary legislation using secondary legislation via a 'Henry VIII' clause represents, according to the Lords Constitution Committee, 'a departure from constitutional principle'.
The amendment removes the limit of a maximum of two dogs being used to flush a fox (or other mammal) to guns, to rescue an injured wild mammal and when conducting 'observation and research' as exempt hunting. In the first case, in simple terms what that means is that currently you are allowed to use only two dogs to chase a fox out of some woodland, for example, in order for you to be able to shoot it. This is for 'pest control' (or 'wildlife management' as the Countryside Alliance and the Government like to call it), despite the fact that fox populations self-regulate, so shooting them has no effect on numbers. If these amendments are voted in, hunters will be able to use as many dogs as they like to do this. That's kind of handy for fox hunts who always use a large pack of hounds and cannot hunt with two dogs.
There are other 'little tweaks' too - one of the proposed amendments that is being fairly overlooked relates to the use of dogs pursuing wild mammals underground. Currently this is only permitted in relation to protecting game birds, but the proposed amendment would remove this limitation and sending a pack of terriers down holes to 'flush out' a fox would also suddenly be fine.
What it ultimately does is make the current Hunting Act almost completely unenforceable. Give a man on a quad bike a gun, let him follow the hunt around throughout the day and then, in the eyes of the law, a group of dozens of riders dressed to the nines, a huge pack of dogs and a team of quad bikers chasing a fox with the sole intent of killing it for fun, will be simply doing a bit of pest control to stop a naughty fox from hassling a farmer's livestock. It doesn't seem the most efficient way of taking out a pesky fox if I'm honest.
I shudder to think what will happen if these amendments pass on Wednesday. Our Government will have been the one to technically legislate for a return to cruelty. We cannot let them. It is wrong. At its very best, this is misrepresentation of the electorate, dirty play and a backward step for our progressive nation. Tell your MP that this matters by clicking here and let's help Britain be more progressive than it was under Henry VIII.