It's taken ten years for The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) to finally admit that the Hunting Act is not actually perfect and needs reform. Up until now the law has had the status of a sacred text amongst many anti hunters. Any criticism of it was met with a torrent of harassment and abuse.
I have long campaigned for a form of humane deer dispersal that involves taking dogs on foot through areas of cover. Deer when encountered are flushed out and allowed to escape. This is clearly no crueller than dog walking because that is at bottom what it is.
The only problem with this harmless activity is that it is now illegal under the Hunting Act because the flushed out deer are not killed but are allowed to escape. According to ministers and LACS flushed out deer must be killed as soon as possible in order to prevent them being chased. Other methods such as controlling the dogs are it seems not certain enough. Try chasing a dead deer with a dog the argument goes - it just isn't going to happen.
Anyone with even the minimum of intelligence can see that this is absurd - what if you fail to hit the deer or wound some of them? The reality is that this often happens and it can take hours to catch up with the deer in order to kill it. What if there is an entire herd of deer? The courts ruled in a case bought by the League in 2007 that enough guns must be deployed to shoot the whole herd. That is absurd and it is also cruel. How can the League support entire herds of deer having to be shot?
To the anti hunt zealots anything that does not comply with the Hunting Act is by definition cruel. Even when the courts ruled in 2007 that an entire herd would have to be shot they were not swayed, For many years I was harassed for daring to suggest that no wild deer should have to be shot and indeed for myself refusing to shoot them. I have never killed a deer. This harassment has included my photo being passed to an online outfit calling itself 'The Bumpkin Harassment Squad' (the clue is in the name) who posted it and my details on their 'Hunt Scum Gallery' with the epithet 'Countryside Terrorist' I have been condemned online as an 'animal abuser' and photos posted online of my house late at night taken presumably by someone skulking around in the farmyard. How can refusing to kill wildlife be animal abuse and why should my family and I have to put up with the feeling that when we go out to feed the ponies in the dark someone might be out there watching us? Some of these animal rights extremists are deeply unpleasant individuals.
I was really hopeful that the League when it reviewed the Hunting Act and bought forward proposals to reform it might look at the exemptions. After all if you look at it from their point of view they are completely against stag hunting and stag hunting is continuing under the exemptions. They have lost several cases precisely because of the exemptions. One of their own monitors has reported eleven shot guns being deployed to ensure compliance with the Hunting Act.
Reading their chief executive Joe Duckworth's recent blog Politicians Be Aware - It's Blindingly Obvious That Animals Matter it is clear that LACS are not prepared to criticise the very exemptions in the law that allow hunting to continue. I believe the reason for this is clear. They are prepared to call for the law to be 'strengthened' but to admit they got the law wrong in anyway is politically impossible for them.
Do 'animals matter' to LACS? Maybe, but not half as much as their pride and better risk wounding deer than wounding that.
It's worse than that though. Given that the law prohibits merely flushing deer at least at present one can say that was an accident. The proposed recklessness clause would remove that excuse. Anyone that takes a dog out in the countryside knows they will occasionally scare a wild mammal from cover and under the LACS proposals this foreknowledge would make them criminals and moreover under their sentencing plans liable to a spell in prison. People really should try it for themselves; take a few dogs up onto Exmoor for example and wander amongst the gorse. They are almost certain to flush out a few deer. I've flushed around twenty in the past; every single one I then then illegally didn't kill.
The central failure of the Hunting Act is that it contains no test of cruelty. That is why we end up with activities which are not cruel being illegal unless they are modified to make them cruel. No law based on cruelty would do that. But if the law contained a test of cruelty the rest of it would be redundant. Who cares how many dogs are used or even if any are used? If something is cruel it should be illegal.
The exemptions were put into the law for one reason to try and discriminate between cruel and non cruel actions. They fail miserably. Only a simple test of cruelty can do that.
A wholesale and complete exemption free ban on animal cruelty has been proposed and LACS vehemently oppose it for deeply cynical political reasons. That is what Joe Duckworth and his organisation LACS are afraid of.
This may be LACS' last chance to get the Hunting Act sorted out. They are standing up for the use of dogs to flush and chase wild mammals to be shot. For a supposedly anti hunting group to do that is utterly unprincipled and hypocritical beyond belief.