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If Brexit Means Brexit, Then The Hunting Ban Should Mean A Hunting Ban

“If Brexit means Brexit, then the hunting ban should mean a hunting ban“. So said legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes at a packed Conservative Party conference event hosted last autumn by the League Against Cruel Sports.

February 18th marks the 12th anniversary of the landmark Hunting Act coming into force. Despite this, a small minority still fail to accept killing wildlife for sport is no longer acceptable.

The hunting lobby had confidently expected Andrea Leadsom, the new DEFRA Minister, to use her keynote conference speech to announce a bill to repeal the Act this year. Alas, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ much-publicised intervention helped scupper their hopes.

A few months later on Boxing Day, the hunt lobby tried again. This time they claimed that 250,000 people had come out to show their support for hunting and repeal. (The numbers should be taken with a barrel-load of salt, as they are after all issued by the hunt lobby, not the police – and indeed were released to the press the day before Boxing Day…).

But even if we take them at face value, it’s an astonishing revelation. It’s only a few years since the hunt lobby claimed 1 million people were taking part in Boxing Day hunts. In other words, by their own admission, there has been a calamitous collapse in support for their cause.

Of course, to the vast majority of people it will come as absolutely no surprise that hunting wild animals for sport is something advocated only by a miniscule minority. As the most recent IPSOS-Mori poll on the subject indicates, more than 8 out of 10 people in the countryside – let alone in towns – are today opposed to hunting. In fact projections show voters back the ban by a huge majority in every single parliamentary constituency in the country, including the Prime Minister’s and that of every single Conservative MP. Three-quarters of Tory supporters are also in favour of the current law.

So why on earth does this group persist in this obsession of turning back the clock to the Dark Ages?

There is virtually universal agreement that killing animals for kicks is plain wrong, that pursuing wildlife for pleasure has no place in a civilised society. Do these people believe we should also bring back bear baiting? Or that cock-fighting should make a come-back?

Whatever their reasons, they are increasingly isolated. In Scotland, the Government has just announced it proposes to toughen up its law banning hunting. And increasingly, it is clear the law in England and Wales needs to be stronger too, to close loopholes and prevent false alibis such as ‘trial hunting’ from being used and accepted.

Stag-hunters often invoke a ridiculous ‘research’ exemption – in much the same way as Japanese whalers do. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 both carry jail terms for law-breakers, yet the Hunting Act does not.

Moreover, hunters are currently allowed to get away with killing thousands of perfectly healthy, and often quite young, hunting dogs each year (a fact they do not deny) – simply because they don’t want them any more.

Many years ago I worked in the criminal justice field. There was clear research then – and even clearer research today – that there is often a strong link between abuse and cruelty towards animals and other serious and violent crimes.

It is high time policy-makers stopped seeing animal cruelty as a ‘second division’ crime. Voters and newspaper readers don’t see it that way, and leading criminologists – and indeed the FBI – will tell you how animal abuse is often a ‘gateway’ or ‘indicator’ crime to more serious offending.

Twelve years on from the Hunting Act coming into force, hunters need to stop breaking the law, authorities need to ensure the law is enforced throughout the country, and sentencing for animal cruelty needs strengthening so that the time fits the crime.

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