It became evident, that once Burns submitted his report, that the Hunting Bill was going to be presented in Parliament, and hunting wild mammals with dogs would be against the Law. Michael Foster MP Presented his Bill to outlaw sport hunting with hounds, and it might be worth mentioning here that when certain self-styled guardians of the British countryside in the form of fox hunt supporters, got wind of his plans, they threatened to murder him. The threats were taken seriously and he was given police protection.
Of course the hunting set did not sit around idly waiting for their unsavoury pastime to be snatched away from them by a law which would forbid them to chase and kill an animal with a pack of dogs.
In an attempt to circumvent the necessity for an outright ban, Lord Donoughue, a pro hunting peer, was working on a compromise which he was hoping would be incorporated as an amendment to the current Wild Mammals Protection Act (WMPA) of 1996. If Parliament had agreed to his proposals, there would have been no need to even think about banning hunting in its entirety.
On March 9th 2001 Lord Donoghue presented his Bill to the House for discussion.
He introduced his legislation by saying,
“The present arrangements for protecting animals from abuse are complex and incomplete. They reflect nearly a century of sporadic legislation, especially the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which absorbed earlier legislation dating as far back as the 18th century and which has itself since been amended nine times. That was concerned primarily with captive and domestic animals where humans have responsibility, not with wild animals, and hunting and coursing were exempt. Cruelty was defined as "unnecessary suffering".
Lord Donoughue said he was concerned that the WMPA was, in spite of many amendments over the years, too rigid in its approach to protecting wild mammals from cruelty. He felt their interests would be better served by his all-encompassing legislation which would make it an offence to be deliberately cruel to any animal, wild or domestic.
In his own words, Lord Donoughue went on to describe his intentions,
"Any person who intentionally inflicts, or causes or procures, unnecessary suffering on or to any wild mammal shall be guilty of an offence".
That’s sounds marvellous at first glance, but then he went on to say,
“The Bill does not assume or establish that the simple pursuit of properly organised hunting, without specific acts of cruelty, such as digging out and so on, set out in Burns, is committing an act of cruelty. However, it would be for the courts to decide, as Burns suggests, with which I would be happy. I do not believe that that is a disadvantage in the Bill. It is quite normal for legislation to be tested in the courts and we should all be happy with that.”
In other words, hunting would NOT be deemed cruel in the first instance. It would be up to the Courts to decide if a particular hunt had killed an animal in circumstances which may possibly be construed as deliberately cruel.
Lord Donoughue’s amendment to the WMPA was not adopted at that time and the Hunting Act which bans hunting with packs of dogs came into UK Law in 2004.
The Countryside Alliance claims, that in spite of many successful hunting prosecutions, that the hunting Act is simply not working, and to adopt Lord Donoughue’s Bill is a simple and effective way to reach a workable compromise.
What they don’t like to mention is that to adopt this legislation will see the return of legal hunting with full packs of dogs and little scope for prosecutions of cruelty.
Let us take a look at Donoughue’s Bill in a little more detail.
The Wild Mammals Protection Bill Amendment No 2 (Printed 7th January 2004)
Presented by Lembit Opik and supported by Kate Hoey, Gwyneth Dunwoody and no less than ten others who are all staunch supporters of blood sports.
The statement reads,
‘Any person who intentionally causes undue suffering to any wild mammal shall be guilty of an offense.’
There are exceptions from offense which Lord Donoughue’s Bill seeks to insert into the existing legislation.
•A person shall not be guilty if they are acting in accordance with a recognised code or normal, humane, lawful, customary activity.
This means that as long as hunters are operating within a recognised code, hunting foxes, deer etc. will not be deemed as causing unnecessary suffering. The ‘code ‘will be a set of rules drawn up by a panel, (which Lord Donoughue calls ‘the Authority’) comprising mostly of those with a vested interest in seeing the return of legal hunting. The RSPCA will be invited to supply a representative, as will the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, but the rest of the Authority will be made up of representatives from the pro hunting/shooting groups listed below.
•Country Land & Business association (Formerly known as Country Landowners Association)
•The National Farmers Union of England & Wales
•The Game Conservancy Trust & the British Deer Society
•The Council of Hunting Associations
•The British Association for Shooting & Conservation with the national Gamekeepers Organisation
•The Joint Nature Conservation Committee
•Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.
There is also a clause in Donoughue’s Bill which allows for the removal and replacement of an Authority member if it is felt necessary at any time. Otherwise each member will serve a term of three years and will be either re-elected or replaced by another from the same organisation.
If Lord Donoghue’s legislation was to be adopted and incorporated into the Law as it stands today, the Hunting Act, which took ten years in the making and over 400 hours of Parliamentary time, would become in effect useless. There would be a loophole big enough to drive a train through and the work and effort that went into the Act we have today will have been entirely wasted.
The rules for hunting would be drawn up by a panel of hunters and they would decide what would be construed as ‘unnecessary suffering’. The token RSPCA and veterinary representative would of course have a vote, but it would be always a minority vote which would have no real bearing on the final set of rules.
What the Authority would deem as undue suffering is anyone’s guess, but what would be certain is that this Bill would be a ‘get out of jail free’ card. No one would ever be prosecuted, and hunters would be given Carte blanche to chase, terrify and disembowel British wild life once again without fear of prosecution.
James Barrington has claimed recently that Lord Donoughue’s proposal has been revisited and ‘tweaked’. He is reluctant to say to date what the amendments actually are, but we can be certain of one thing. Whatever they are, they will bode ill for hunted animals and those of us who don’t want to see hunting with hounds made legal again in our UK countryside.
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Country lover, amateur naturalist and fox lover fighting to preserve the ban on hunting
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