The General Election result presents an exciting opportunity for the campaign for hunting. The Conservative Manifesto says that: "a Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a Government bill in Government time", and the Prime Minister has said that the Conservative majority will allow him to deliver all of his manifesto.
The arguments against the Hunting Act are straightforward. There was never any justification for the ban in the first place and it was no more than a misplaced attack on the rural community by Labour MPs. A Government Inquiry set up by the last Labour government found no evidence that hunting was cruel. Yet a bill to licence hunting was introduced which was predictably amended by Labour backbench MPs into a total ban. The House of Lords objected to the ban but opportunity after opportunity to compromise were rejected by anti-hunting MPs until, eventually, the ultimate political sledgehammers of the Parliament Acts were used to force the law onto the statute books.
And what since? Well the law has done nothing for wild mammals or their welfare. So certain are anti-hunting groups of this that having spent £30million getting their law they have not spent a penny since to even try to show an improvement in animal welfare.
They have spent millions on intrusive 'covert surveillance' of hunts on which they base endless malicious allegations to the police. Thousands of hours of police time have been wasted investigating such allegations and in some cases weeks of court time have been spent prosecuting pointless cases. It hardly then comes as a surprise that Tony Blair has admitted the Hunting Act was one of his biggest mistakes.
There are many who are willing to voice their views on hunting from a position of total ignorance, but there is also a quiet army of us who know that the ban is wrong. We have a real commitment to hunting and the countryside and in 2002 over 400,000 of us came from all over Britain to march on Westminster in opposition to the ban. Support for hunting is just as strong now.
The last 10 years has shown how committed the rural community is to local hunts as, despite the restrictions and complications imposed by the Hunting Act, support for hunting has remained firm. People across the country have been determined to maintain the infrastructure of hunting: the staff, the hounds, the kennels and to continue the campaign for repeal.
Now, for the first time since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005, we have a Government which has been elected with a manifesto commitment to a vote on the repeal the Hunting Act. We can be almost certain that Ministers will bring forward proposals to lift the ban so the focus now moves on to win that vote. MPs on the Government benches are overwhelming supportive of hunting, whilst there is also support in all other parties. We believe that once the debate has been had there will be a clear majority for getting rid of the ban.
During that debate we will stress that it is unacceptable that some hunt staff and masters are being dragged through the courts on the basis of vindictive allegations, whilst the rest are constantly looking over their shoulders; that the police are being forced to waste thousands of hours investigating pointless Hunting Act allegations which could be spent tackling real crime; and that the courts are spending weeks sitting on pointless cases that, in the rare example of guilty verdicts, see people fined a few hundred pounds.
The current situation is not a fudge or a compromise: it is an unjustified and illiberal attack on a rural minority based on nothing other than prejudice. We want to see this issue resolved for good, but that must be on the basis of principle and evidence, not an irrational prohibition.
Our aim is simple. Properly conducted hunting activity as conducted prior to 2005 should be legal, and no-one going out hunting in a legitimate manner should be concerned about criminal prosecution. There can be no compromise on that.
Hunting has, however, never shied away from debates about proper wild mammal welfare legislation and regulation. There is a clear will to resolve this issue once and for all and an understanding that just repealing the Act whilst leaving a vacuum would be unlikely to achieve that. One thing is certain, though, all evidence and logic points to one conclusion: the hunting ban must go.