Friday, 17 December 2010

Brian May's Heroes

It has caused untold mirth in my House of Commons office that legendary rock guitarist Brian May has listed an unlikely group of Conservatives, including myself, amongst his heroes in The Guardian this morning. Satire aside, I have had quite a few people emailing me about my views on fox hunting - the overwhelming majority in agreement - so I thought I should blog my position.

First, the coalition programme pledges a free vote on whether or not to re-visit and repeal the Hunting Act. That is a good thing. I believe we should have more free votes in Parliament, and more issues where MPs are encouraged to exercise their judgement rather than whipping along narrow party lines. When it comes to the Hunting Act, regardless of the merits of the issue, this is the wrong time to re-open such a polarising and time-consuming debate, when the country has so many challenges including driving our economic recovery. For that reason alone, I would vote against re-opening this Pandora's Box.

On the substance, I am guided by two principles. The law has a legitimate role to play in protecting animals from cruelty. And farmers have a legitimate interest in pest control of foxes. So, the real question for me is: what is the least cruel way to control, manage and contain foxes and other pest?

I don't think this debate is about civil liberties or human rights. If anything, I despair of the way the human rights bandwagon is rolled out for every debate these days. The fox doesn't have human rights. And there is no more a freedom to hunt foxes than there is a liberty to engage in bear-baiting or cock fighting.

Applying these principles to the Hunting Act, there are certain elements I could not vote to repeal on straight principle - such as hare coursing or hunting deer with dogs - since they are not really about pest control at all.

When it comes to fox control, I have been reviewing the evidence, and asked both the Countryside Alliance and the League Against Cruel Sports to send me their evidence on the least cruel way to engage in fox control and maintenance. Whilst I keep an open mind, I will take a lot of convincing, based on the evidence I have seen to date, that there is a case for hunting foxes with dogs. Shooting and other alternatives are just as (if not more) effective - although the evidence on the non-fatal wounding rates from shooting foxes remains inconsistent.

The Hunting Act was used by New Labour as part of its class war against rural communities. But that doesn't make hunting foxes with dogs right. Farmers and the countryside had a shabby deal under Labour, and I support nine out of ten proposals in the Countryside Alliance's Rural Manifesto. But, on this one issue, I have to demure.


James Marchington said...

Agree entirely about civil liberties & human rights, but the class war argument is a red herring too.
The animal rights/welfare and conservation arguments are being hijacked for Fabian purposes.
For more on the science behind the welfare arguments, see the links here (but be aware the VAWM is essentialy pro-hunting)
Oh, and hanging out with May, Batchelor and the like is rather inviting ridicule.

Alan said...

Dominic, hunting with hounds has never been anything to do with fox 'control'. Try reading 19th and early 20th C hunting books. They unashamedly [though shamefully] speak of it as a 'sport', and happily endorse all manners of casual cruelties to both their quarry and their own hounds. Most of these remain an integral, in some ways an inevitable, part of quarry hunting.
It wasn't until the 'sport' came under serious challenge that the hunters started developing their wholly spurious 'pest control' excuses and engaging in serious demonisation of foxes. Disgracefully, a small number of hunt-loving vets [VAWM] have joined this campaign of lies and deception. Neither they, nor the hunters, of course, ever want anything said about the exploitation and abuse of hounds,around 8,000 of which are deliberately killed each year, having reached, at most, half their natural lifespan.
It is an open secret that most Hunts continue to hunt live quarry, exploiting the many loopholes provided by the Act, the extraordinarily high burden of proof regarding 'intent'set by the Appeal Court following the Wright case, and the enormous problems of evidence gathering, greatly exacerbated by routine violence towards, and intimidation, obstruction and abuse by Hunts of monitors.
This includes widespread and systematic law-breaking by the hunt fraternity and hunt loving landowners, which is no surprise as a claimed 50,000 arrogantly pledged before the Act to carry on hunting regardless. I'm afraid your Leader and many of his senior colleagues have, rather than condemning this behaviour as they should, tacitly endorsed it.
It is now only the more enlightened and compassionate MPs such as yourself that can save the Conservative Party from the lasting ignomony and obloquy it will acquire by re-legalising a cruel,unnecessesary and massively unpopular 'sport'. Few people other than those such as myself who have actively opposed and argued against the pro-hunt propaganda machine for decades understand how deeply and deviously mendacious it is, the depths to which they will sink to try to preserve their perverse addiction. We know they have already embarked on a 'wining and dining' [their words] campaign to persuade wavering and 'soft' anti hunt MPs, and will be offering compensatory measures which might look acceptable. Trust me, they will not, in terms of preventing cruelty, be worth in practice the paper they will be written on.
I implore you and your fellow Conservative antis, for the sake of the animals, the rule of law and the reputation of your Party to resist such blandishments and argue for retention of the Act.
When criminals circumvent the law, it should be strengthened to stop them not repealed to reward them.

Alan Kirby MSc, Protect Our Wild Animals

James Marchington said...

To summarise Kirby's argument then:

Hunting foxes is cruel by definiton;
People who do it are horrid;
Therefore it would be awful if they got their way.

Well, it's an opinion. I prefer to look at a) Does the fox population need to be managed by killing? And b) If so, is hunting cruel, or more cruel than the alternatives.

I don't see how the charisma or popularity of those doing the hunting has any bearing on the fox's welfare.

woollard4southeastcambs said...

Well said and well done thus far, Mr Raab, though, in differentiating between, say, hare coursing and stag hunting on the one hand and fox hunting on the other, I fear that you are mistaken and in danger of being misguided by the Countryside Alliance (which does not speak for the countryside, just for a vociferous minority). All of these so-called 'sports' have one thing in common: they are practised to provide a sick sort of 'fun.' I hate equally fox hunting, hare coursing, stag hunting, etc., because I can't cope with the idea of killing animals cruelly for fun. And I write this as a former Conservative activist, as a farmer, and as a born and bred countryman.

mhayworth said...

Well done for standing out in what must be an awfully tough crowd. I don't compliment many Tories these days. In fact, I stopped voting for them last year (after a lifetime of support) over this insidious threat to repeal the hunting act and their determination to hand over the last remnants of our sovereignty to the corrupt and undemocratic EU.

The most accurate account of the cruelty of the hunt actually came from a huntsman. If you haven't read it, this is well worth 15 minutes of your time.

Richard Tebboth said...

Interesting to note that this topic attracts more comments than others which some might consider of more significance to life, the universe and everything.

Richard Tebboth said...

Public Opinion

Attempting to change the law again would clearly be a complete waste of Parliamentary time and do nothing to enhance the Tories' popularity with the overwhelming majority of the GBP.

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