Sheryll Murray is the Member of Parliament for South East Cornwall.
Five MPs from five different parties have just circulated a letter to colleagues in the House of Commons on proposals to amend the Hunting Act. Roger Williams (Liberal Democrats), Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru), Kate Hoey (Labour), Jim Shannon (DUP) and our own Glyn Davies are all supporting calls to amend the Hunting Act following the publication of research which shows the current law is both inefficient and inhumane. The letter reads:
You may have seen the recent article in the Daily Telegraph (Mon 14 October) about possible changes to the Hunting Act.
This followed some recent research carried out in Scotland that demonstrated that the current law – which limits farmers to using two dogs when flushing out foxes to be shot – is simply not working and in fact makes the job of locating, flushing and following up wounded animals very much harder than is the case in Scotland where greater numbers of dogs can be used under their own Hunting Act. This has been especially apparent this year with a very cold spring adding to predation problems.
Hence why our suggestion is modest and practical. Removing the two dog limit (using powers which were deliberately included in the 2005 Act) would make workable the pest control exemption which Parliament always wanted farmers to have.
It is also important to point out that this proposal is about shooting foxes, not hunting, and is certainly not ‘repeal by the backdoor’. The Hunting Act will remain law and it will still be illegal to chase and kill a fox with dogs and the requirement that a fox, once found or flushed, must be shot remains in place.
In short this move aligns the legislation in England and Wales more closely with Scotland where the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act has now been in place 11 years. Unlike the Hunting Act 2005, which continues to be mired in controversy, the Scottish Act is generally accepted by farmers, animal welfare experts, the police and politicians. Our proposal seeks to achieve the same satisfactory outcome.
If you would like to see the research in question, or raise any questions, then do not hesitate to get in touch.
I fully support their campaign for farmers in Wales, but it is just as vital for farmers in my own constituency and across Cornwall, where there is a long tradition of using gun packs to control the fox population. I also support this proposal because I, like all Conservatives, stood on a manifesto that included a commitment for a vote to repeal the Hunting Act.
It is worth noting that there appears to be a clear majority for getting rid of the Act amongst English and Welsh MPs where the Hunting Act applies. It is only the 41 Scottish Labour MPs, whose constituents are not affected by the legislation, who are keeping it in place.
The proposal coming from Wales would not, as the letter explains, go anywhere near repealing the Act. It requires a minor amendment of the Hunting Act, which can be achieved in a straightforward way through secondary legislation. It would, however, do two important things. It would allow livestock farmers to keep the fox population under control and protect their lambs, and it would also send a very clear message to the rural community that we are doing what we can to help.
There may be lots of people questioning why the Tories would ever raise the issue of Hunting and who see amending the Hunting Act as nothing but a vote loser. In reality, while hunting is an issue that provokes a lot of interest, hunting has never been a significant issue upon which the majority of people decide their vote. In a survey of over 2,000 voters carried out earlier this year only one person spontaneously raised hunting in the first three issues that would affect their vote at the next election. This should be a consideration while the Government examines the call from Welsh farmers to remove the two dog limit for flushing and shooting foxes.
I have always had an abiding interest in animal welfare and have always based my opposition to the Act on the fact that Labour’s attack on hunting had little to do with animal welfare or common sense. The case for amending the Act to allow packs of dogs to flush to guns is clear in terms of both effectiveness and welfare. The removal of the two dog limit would reinstate the most effective method of fox control in areas that are also the most marginal farming areas in the country. I hope the Government and my colleagues will give the proposal their full support and start to repay the patient and long-standing support we have all had from the rural community.