While we await the Conservative Manifesto there has been a pretty clear message from Theresa May that it will include a pledge to a free vote in Parliament on repealing the hunting ban.
When asked about the issue she replied:
“As it happens, personally, I’ve always been in favour of fox hunting and we maintain our commitment – we had a commitment previously – as a Conservative Party to allow a free vote and that would allow Parliament to take a decision on this.”
Lord Mancroft has suggested that a Conservative majority of around 50 would be enough to secure a majority for repeal. That sounds about right. There was a previous attempt to liberalise the law which was pulled by the Government in 2015. There was felt to be a majority support for the measure among MPs in England and Wales – but then the 56 SNP MPs declared that they would vote against – even though the law would not have been changed in Scotland.
The Government concluded that this would leave them without quite enough votes. Should 28 anti-hunting Labour MPs be ousted at the General Election and replaced by 28 pro-hunting Conservative ones, then the impact of those 56 Scottish MPs would be neutralised.
There are lots of complications in this game of Parliamentary arithmetic though.
For a start it is reasonable to hope for a number of Conservative gains from the SNP in Scotland. Then would those Scottish Conservative MPs refuse to vote for a matter than concerned England? Or would they conclude that if the SNP were doing so it was reasonable for them to counter that impact?
What will the Lib Dems do? Their leader, Tim Farron, represents a rural seat and in the past has favoured some sort of “third way” compromise rather retaining the full ban. But he avoids talk about hunting much – like, er, Brer Fox he lay low. If there are a few Lib Dem gains from Labour perhaps that might mean a couple more votes for liberalisation.
Then there is the question of how many of the new intake of Conservative MPs would be pro-hunting. Blue Fox (or Conservatives against Fox Hunting to use its alternative title) has the support of Tracey Crouch, Caroline Dinenage, Sir Roger Gale MP, Sir David Amess and Dominic Raab – all who were Conservative MPs in the last Parliament seeking re-election. Sir Roger says:
“Lord Mancroft is possibly rather wide of the mark. He seems to be assuming those 50 will be pro-hunting. He might find the 50 Conservative members who are elected, or most of them, are anti-hunting.”
Of course anything “might” happen in these turbulent times. But I would suspect that most new Conservative MPs would support repealing the ban – whether on libertarian grounds, a sense of tradition, or the powerful pragmatic points about animal welfare. If it is really felt that there is no need to control the fox population then declare the fox an endangered species. Clearly there is and therefore the alternatives of trapping and shooting are more cruel than hunting since they involve the fox taking longer to die.
There could still be some new MPs who might be swayed by a deluge of anti-hunting emails. More experienced MPs have got used to Leftists clicking away and tend to shrug and reflect that they would not have voted Conservatives anyway. So far as public opinion more generally is concerned it rather depends on the wording of the question.
Some of us chuckle that despite the Hunting Act, plucky rural folk seem to carry on hunting as they have for centuries. However the Countryside Alliance argues that the Act continues to cause real problems.
“Hunts are the subject of constant vindictive allegations by animal rights activists, and employees are often investigated and sometimes prosecuted. Very few hunts have been convicted under the Act but the impact on hunt staff is unpleasant and in some cases intolerable. Meanwhile, vast amounts of police time is being wasted investigating spurious allegations, and when cases do reach court they can consume huge amounts of public resource.
“The animal rights movement has never even attempted to show that there has been any positive benefit for foxes and other wild mammals as a result of the Act. They know that wild mammals continue to be controlled using a number of legal methods including shooting, trapping and snaring, and that the Hunting Act has not improved animal welfare, nor saved the life of a single fox.
“Overturning the ban and allowing properly conducted hunting with dogs to restart would, therefore, correct an historic injustice and get rid of one of the most illiberal laws passed in modern times. At the same time it would relieve the police and courts of a substantial burden and allow hunt staff to carry out their jobs without the constant fear of prosecution.”
My guess is that there will be a majority in the next Parliament to end the ban on hunting in England and Wales even with Scottish MPs voting. However it is quite wrong that the Scottish MPs should be able to do so. The English votes for English laws rule should apply to the repeal of existing law as well as the passing of new law. That would make it effective with regard to decisions about hunting and many other matters. It would be also right as a matter of democratic principle. The irony is that with the prospects of a large contingent of Scots Conservatives MPs and Labour languishing north of the border, EVEL might be something Labour complains a bit less about.