The House of Lords will be ruling this Wednesday, 10th October on a human rights claim on the ban in the UK on fox hunting...
1. The House of Lords will be ruling this Wednesday, 10th October on a human rights claim on the ban in the UK on fox hunting (which actually extends to other species included in “blood sports”). This will be an appeal in the long-running legal battle against the ban. Several legal challenges will be made under European human rights and trade laws.
2. The ban came into force in February 2005. Supporters of hunting claim that the Hunting Act breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. They base their case on Article 8: the right to respect for private and family life; Article 11: freedom of assembly and association; and Article 14: prohibition of discrimination. A legal challenge is also being made on the grounds that the Act may be in breach of European laws on the “free movement of goods and services”. The cases have already been rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
3. The legal battle is being waged by the Countryside Alliance and the Union of Country Sports Workers, and by various individuals who claim their livelihoods have been affected by the hunting laws. The RSPCA has dismissed attempts at overturning the Act in the courts, claiming that it “has a legitimate aim and is proportionate and justified under European human rights law.” The future of the Act remains at risk. If the appeal is successful on human rights grounds the Countryside Alliance claims that the Court could declare the Act incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, although it would remain in force. However, if the ruling confirms a breach of European laws on free trade then it could be removed from the statute book. Pro-hunting campaigners would welcome such a decision.
4. Government officials give objectors’ chances of success little hope, in view of the failure of the Alliance’s previous failed challenges to the validity of the Parliament Act 1949, which established the procedures under which the Hunting Act was passed. The Lords will make their ruling after the appeal ends on Thursday, 18th October. The Countryside Alliance may still be able to pursue the case in the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights, if they fail in their appeal in the House of Lords. Animal welfare groups, many of them registered charities, have heavy costs to bear in this litigation and in their pursuit of stricter enforcement of the Hunting Act, citing their concerns over allegations of continuing violations and avoidance of laws protecting the welfare of some wildlife species.
5. The anti-hunting legislation is not perfect, but it must hold if further protection is to be given to other species not covered by laws governing cruelty to animals ill used in farming and food production (which already extend to some commensals such as badgers in the food chain and to practices such as snaring and shooting). The Hunting Act is also significant in relieving British objections of hypocrisy if criticisms of traditional cruel customs in other countries, such as bull-fighting and other “sports” in southern (mainly Roman Catholic) countries, as well as in North America.
6. The status of these countryside activities and animals is questionable and they are consequently losing attention among the agencies, NGOs, and other organizations dealing with farming and environmental matters, or they may actually acquire some notoriety in associations with implications of hygiene. They may include challenges where connivance and obscurantism are deemed the best attitude to entrenched complacency and involvement. Keen horsey folk may profess great joy from the ride and the chase but shrink from the kill; members of the Soil Association and organic groups may see the priorities in the same light and ramblers may likewise view the activities as colourful rather than lurid. Although a town v country split is often mentioned, the division is by no means sharp: hunts may provide employment in country areas, but they can also be nuisances, damaging crops and gates and spreading zoonotic disease. They have to be abandoned as restrictions on movements of animals are imposed as precautions against spreads of FMD and blue tongue virus, for instance. Gangs of yobbos chasing and tormenting urban foxes through the streets of London and flushing their prey from coverts in the local parks, killing the odd moggy on their way, would be less well regarded than the sport for the riders and terrier men charging through the countryside for the final unearthing.
7. Many farmers and vets suffer the hunts as sources of income and providers of unsavoury services and disposers of unpleasant products: as knackers and fellmongers, the hunts gain cheap meat to feed the dogs, as well as leather and other “5th-quarter” products for the clothing and manufacturing trades. Ever-tightening restrictions on landfill mean that farmers are not allowed to dispose on their own land fallen stock from their herds and flocks; therefore they have recourse to agents such as owners of hunt kennels or to special government-assured services, probably more expensively. Formerly, they might have received money for such removals but now – after the succession of widespread zoonotic diseases – they have to pay to have the material taken away to be salvaged or incinerated / cremated – with the possibilities of generating “green” electricity. Closure of the hunt kennels, which rigorous interpretation of the anti-hunting laws and adoption of alternatives (such as drag hunting) would entail, would have wide implications for country life. Fallen stock would come from more than collections in the main food chain: outputs arise also from zoos and circuses, so the knacker and slaughterer at the hunt-kennels will remain an acclaimed part of country life. Hunting with dogs will accordingly keep some credit unless major reforms are continued.
8. A sustained ban on hunting will surely be ensued by other measures in the interests of animal welfare. Failure will set back a number of challenges, some less tainted with implications of class warfare. Retention will ease the way for effectual restraints or bans on such activities as the following:
8.1. Shooting of wildlife for the sole purposes of entertainment; shooting for the pot, by trained, skilled, and licensed shots, may continue to be allowed if their bag is for their own consumption. Shooting of reared and driven “wildlife” (such as pheasants and partridges) and intensive practices therewith that resemble the sustained cruelty in factory farming could be outlawed with little objection from country people, vets, and organizations such as the RSPB, National Trust, and other environmentalists. Alternatives for markspeople, such as clay pigeon shooting, could be followed up and the snaring and poisoning activities of gamekeepers and the objectionable junketings in corporate entertainment could be replaced by worthier activities. Somewhat similar reservations can apply to the disruptive and cruel aspects of inept shooting of other wildlife such as deer, killed mainly for trophies such as antlers. As many of these activities take place on private land, enforcement of controls will be difficult, and licensed culling of herds, eg on islands and public parks will have to be allowed for. Reservations over these and other practices should stimulate research into appropriate means of contraception.
8.2. Aspects of dog-breeding and racing (as well as mutilations such as tail-docking) are further practices needing reform, not to mention the increased range of pets that can be kept under the surveillance of owners, vets and local authorities unfamiliar with such exotic species (which may also be kept for entertainment in zoos and circuses and on petting farms). Animals kept at stud or as rejects from racing may have been overworked or neglected. Horses, for instance, need socializing with other equines and plenty of space: confinement in stables leads to the stereotypic behaviour of boredom, fretting, and “temperament”.
8.3. Fallacies over free-range flocks of birds and the error of thinking such environments fit for animals with ancestries as dwellers of the jungle and the corresponding climates and shelter contribute to the birds’ vulnerability and exposure to the depredations of foxes, exclusion of which can be very expensive and entails likely recourse to lamping and killing and perhaps, in the past, “one left for the hunt.” Stock control in a more drastic way may be achieved by epidemics of zoonotic diseases, such as avian flu, and consequent culling, for which the State Veterinary Service is drawing up plans of trained personnel to act appropriately. These happenings demonstrate the need for restraint in the breeding, rearing, and consumption of animals coping unequally with the stresses of intensified farming. Politicians must accept that the price of animal-derived foods must rise and demand decline in the interests of a decent agronomy and respect for wildlife, domesticated animals, and for the environment.
8.4. “They’ll be banning angling next”, complained the pro-hunting lobby, trying to rally their ranks and frighten the antis. Attitudes to fishing for environmental reasons and the increasing evidence of sentience in fish are generating a sympathy for these animals and the standards of care they deserve. The FSA’s testimony for the benefits to humans of fish consumption tramples on some of these niceties and set animals welfarists the tasks of untying the knots in these dilemmas. Aquaculture in the form of fish farming is dividing opinions in licensing authorities such as the RSPCA and Soil Association, as well as beginning to engage the attention of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, for whom the confinements of battery cage and free-ranging delusions overshadowing the poultry industry are repulsive parallels. Once again, animal welfarists, the food and catering market, restraint, and initiatives for alternatives must be drivers for reform rather than heavy-handed litigation. However, these can now be no excuse for catch-and-return coarse fishing just for “play” and “sport”, and the changing attitudes suggest that a ban on these pursuits would indicate progress complementing the laws against other forms of hunting. The reservations that attend whaling and sealing apply equally: these crude relics of hunting for food and the recent intensification in factory-fishing for human sustenance are unworthy of the wit and skills of humankind. Their outputs should be finally chased out of the markets.
9. Animal welfare and the environment may have received spatchcocked testaments but little discussion in the recent ridiculous flurry of election fever. It is worth noting that a recent DEFRA Minister advocated forthright reductions in individual consumption of meat and dairy products, but he (Ben Bradshaw) did not declare his own performance in this regard. However, the present Minister at DEFRA is a long time veggie, practising openly what he preaches. Animal welfarists and environmentalists might ponder on what might have eventuated even before the year end: a serious threat to repeal the anti-Hunting Act and other protections of non-human animals and a return to the Ministry, now DEFRA but formerly MAFF, of a familiar name – John Gummer, scourge of veggies and champion of dodgy burgers. Animal welfarists, especially in marginal seats, need to keep political candidates beholden to humane treatments of the other animals and of the shared global environment for all its denizens. The Animal Welfare Acts must reinforce these endeavors. All the initiative and effort expended by animal welfarists on the anti-Hunting Act must not be wasted!