Sir Roger Gale is MP for North Thanet.
I would be the first to admit that in my long career as an MP I’ve encountered many things that seem illogical or just not right and, in most cases, just like most people I have to sit by and watch them happen. But sometimes I am fortunate enough to be in a position to at least try to make a positive change.
One such issue on my radar relates to the use of animal-based scent in trail hunting, the ‘new version’ of fox hunting that was promoted in response to the Hunting Act 2004. The Act itself was a landmark piece of legislation that offered at least some greater protection to Britain’s wildlife by banning the hunting of wild mammals with dogs.
Trail hunting afforded hunts the opportunity to pursue traditional hunting activities without chasing or killing any live foxes and as such it was widely welcomed as a humane alternative.
Now, seventeen years after the ban, trail hunting has developed into a new recreational activity, which if done correctly should cause no harm to any fox or wild mammal. But `accidents` seem to happen time and time again; harm is caused to wildlife, and the law broken.
There exists a wealth of data and evidence that points to the conclusion that too frequently these `accidents` are not quite as accidental as they seem. As a result, the National Trust has recently banned trail hunting from all of its land following a members` vote because since the ban hunting dogs have still been trained to identify and follow the scent of a fox exactly as they did prior to the passing of the Act.
There is no logical reason for the recreational sport of trail hunting to continue to use animal-based scents if the hunt seriously and genuinely wishes to avoid accidentally chasing or killing a fox.
While the laying of animal-scent trails continues it is no surprise to know that live mammals are frequently pursued by hounds; that is what they have been trained to do. We have seen time and time again how some hunts lose control over hounds following a deliberately laid animal scent that give chase to a live fox, running riot over roads, railway lines, trespassing on land, terrifying livestock, invading people’s gardens, and even killing domestic pets.
For seventeen years generations of working hounds have been trained to follow the scent of a fox. Totally illogical. In simple terms, if you don’t want hounds to chase a fox, don’t use something that smells of a fox.
So to protect wild mammals, and to preserve and protect the sport of trail hunting in its chase and kill-free form, I have laid amendments to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, currently at Report Stage in Commons. My amendment calls for the intentional or reckless participation in laying or following an animal-based scent for hunting activities to become an offence, liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.
This amendment is a logical proposal in a world that sometimes seems to lack logic. It really is a “no-brainer” and I challenge anyone who does not want to ‘accidentally’ kill a fox to argue against this proposal. To support this is amendment is to support the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
Foxhunting, rather than legitimate trail-hunting, is out of kilter with the wealth of world-leading animal protection legislation that this Government has enacted over the last few years and that it continues to promote. I believe that this measure will have wide parliamentary and public support. Hunting wild animals with dogs is, along with cock-fighting and bear baiting, in the dustbin of history where it belongs.
But there is no reason why the true sport of horse riding, and following a non-animal trail laid carefully to suit the abilities of both young and more experienced riders, should not be enjoyed for generations to come.