Conservative MP Dominic Raab's blog on why he is not convinced about the case for repeal.
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.