It is illegal of course, and has been since 2005 when The Hunting Act, 2004 came into effect. But that hasn't stopped it and the reaction of many associated with the hunt do not appear to accept that the law applies to them. Between 2005 and 2010 there have been only eight convictions of employees of registered hunts. Why is the number so low? Is it because the Act is effective and hunts are no longer killing foxes or is it because the authorities are turning a blind eye?
Even when hunts do obey the law and follow an artificially laid scent trail rather than live quarry, the dogs can not be controlled if they catch a live scent. It is not unknown for the dogs to maul family pets when they stray into gardens. These cases appear to be treated as "accidents" caused by careless pet owners allowing their animals to go outside when a hunt is on and are rarely prosecuted as animal cruelty.
In the recent case of the Heythrop Hunt, where the local worthies are known to rub shoulders with Prime Minister David Cameron, one has to question why the police and Crown Prosecution Service failed to investigate and prosecute the hunt. It was left to the RSPCA, a charity, to successfully prosecute the Hunt and two individuals for hunting illegally on four separate occasions in 2011 and 2012 at a reported cost to the charity of £326,000. Those prosecuted were find £6,800 and ordered to pay less than £20,000 in expenses.
Rather than accepting their fate, the guilty parties attacked the RSPCA, accusing it of waging an unjustified vendetta against hunting. This judge also made comment on the cost of the case, questioning whether the use of funds for this purpose was what donors had intended and implying that it would have been better to leave the hunt to carry on breaking the law. A group of MPs and peers, no doubt the same ones trying to repeal the Hunting Act, have also written to the Charity Commission suggesting that an animal welfare charity may have broken charity rules for taking action against people guilty of animal cruelty. It beggars belief.
The reasons given for repealing the Hunting Act include that it is part of the traditional way of life in the countryside, something townies won't understand and that it is necessary to control the population of foxes and protect livestock. These claims can not really be justified as only 20,000 people in England and Wales participate in hunts, according to research carried out for Lord Burn's inquiry into hunting with dogs, which preceded The Hunting Act, and the same research found that hunting with dogs accounted for around 5% of fox deaths.
Is it not strange that the same party of MPs are so concerned about rural traditions that they have tried to privatise our national forests and are even now trying to reform planning laws to make it easier for rural landowners to rip up their fields and build housing on a grand scale? No, not really its true to form for politicians that want to enjoy their blood sports and cash in on a depressed housing market (=cheap builders) rather than trying to deal with the problems that led to 128,000 people relying on emergency food banks in the past year..
In the short term we should support the RSPCA's decision to prosecute the Heythrop Hunt but we should also make clear to our own MPs our opposition repealing the Hunting Act. A free vote is expected in the Commons sometime before the next general election in 2015.