Vote Labour or the Fox Gets it. The Case For and Against Hunting With Hounds
A Ban That Helps Animal Welfare Not One Jot
The hunting ban was one of the more absurd pieces of legislation passed under New Labour, governed more by emotion and inverted snobbery than by evidence and reason.
Would I reverse the ban? Practically, no. Its ineffectiveness renders that pointless. Does that mean it is a ‘good’ law? Definitely not. But the issue was never animal welfare: had it been, then the religious practise of non-stun killing of livestock (exempt from the Welfare of Animals Regulations 1995) would have been a priority. Scandal after scandal has shown the sub-standard animal husbandry we allow in the name of cheap meat. Instead, Labour MPs devoted 700 hours of parliamentry time on a bill that improved animal welfare not one jot.
If you have lived and worked on a farm, as I have done, you will have little sympathy for foxes: the barbarity they cause is immense. Despite the good PR that has given them a cuddly image, foxes need to be culled. The issue comes down to one issue: cruelty. And fox hunting is not cruel.
Hunting with hounds is not an efficient way to control the fox population but it is not insignificant either: out of an estimated 400,000 deaths (including natural deaths) hunting with hounds contributed 21,000-25,000 per year.
The independent inquiry, led by Terry Burns, found no scientiifc evidence that hunting with hounds was cruel. The report stated that fox hunting “compromised animal welfare”. Of course, it does. The fox dies. As the report said, every method of controlling the fox population has difficulties: shooting and snares are arguably worse than hunting with hounds.
The premise of the act was not to stop foxes being killed. It was to stop them being killed with hounds. And nowhere in his report did Burns use the word cruel.
Any death is, by its nature, cruel. The question is what level of cruelty does society reasonably allow. Badger baiting no. Angling yes. It goes on. Without a moral compass of their own, animals cannot have rights, as the philosopher Mary Warnock has argued. Our attitude to them is emotional but policy has to be governed by reason and coherence.
That the ban is popular is irrelevent: we live in a representative democracy where our legislators are meant to pass rational and liberal (in its widest meta sense) laws. The ban offends the democratic philosophies, best expounded by John Stuart Mill, upon which our society rests. They are the nearest we have to guiding principles.
The measure of whether we ban an activity should depend on the harm principle. Smoking has, rightly, been banned in public places, because passive smoking harms others. Should individuals wish to hunt as a leisure activity, then that is there business. It does not harm me. Nor you. Negative opinion of hunters is immaterial.
There are double standards here. The vast majority of the population are meat eaters. They don’t eat meat for survival. They endorse the killing of animals for enjoyment and very few look into the complex issues of animal husbandry. Yet they judge hunters for their enjoyment of hunting. Both might be wrong but one cannot be right while the other wrong.
Meanwhile, the left is happy that laws no longer impose moral viewpoints on - say - unmarried, gay or transgender people but, on this issue, want to impose their standards.
The best test of liberal, democratic society is whether it can defend personal behaviour with which it disagrees. On fox hunting, prejudice has failed us.
Some traditions are left in the past for a reason
According to opinion polling an overwhelming majority of voters across the political spectrum are opposed to Labour’s ban on fox hunting being lifted. Even if Theresa May does hold a free vote in parliament on the issue, it’s unclear as to whether a majority of MPs would support legalisation.
The idea of foxes being ripped apart by a horde of rabid dogs by gentry on horseback is unpalatable to most people, to the left embodying a stereotype of Tory elitism. However, proponents argue that foxes are pests that have to be controlled to protect agriculture and other wildlife, so hunting with dogs should be a permitted method.
There’s a good reason why foxes, historically posing a liability to farmers, are used in metaphors of deviousness and bloodthirstiness. If George Orwell had included foxes in Animal Farm, they might have served as the secret police.
But what does the evidence say? The Burns Report decided that hunting with dogs was definitely a practice that undermined the welfare of foxes, the emotive issue. But it also found that fox hunting made no overall difference to the fox population.
Research cited by the International Fund for Animal Welfare indicates that livestock lost to foxes is minimal, accounting for less than 1% of lambs and 2% of chickens. Foxes may be predators, but their threat is offset by the estimated £7 million a year they save for crop farmers through their natural role in the ecosystem.
At least have some sympathy for the wildlife affected by “hunt havoc” leaving dogs horrifically injured and even family pets killed by packs.
Under the Hunting Act 2004 which banned fox hunting, limited hunting with dogs and guns is permitted for population control and meat. Whereas fox hunting is classed as a blood sport like hare coursing and badger baiting, and much nastier activities like dogfighting. Where does the moral line end?
On one of my countryside walks I had to kill a wild hare that an SUV had run over. It was a horrible and traumatic experience but it was justifiable. I certainly didn’t get any sick jollies out of it. Presumably nor do farm workers who kill animals when it is absolutely necessary - the distinction between them and the "sport" of fox hunting.
All of us who consume meat and animal products (including me) are ultimately complicit in animal cruelty, no matter how much methods of slaughter are improved. Halal and kosher butchery might make us queasy, but are they any less gory than industrialised animal slaughter? The Dalai Lama eats meat following the advice of doctors as his health necessitates it, even though vegetarianism is generally preferred in modern Buddhism.
One of the base lines for the rule of law has to be the minimisation of unnecessary suffering. Humans have a responsibility to be the stewards of nature. Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind. But the evidence suggests there is no kindness in the cruelty of fox hunting - the clearest basis for the ban to remain in place. Some traditions are left in the past for a reason.
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