The principles behind a Middle Way ‘package of measures’ accept that hunting should continue, but on a level which means that the activity is accountable to Parliament, via a Hunting Authority appointed by the Secretary of State. Licences would be issued which would contain a code of practice and would be available to anyone, individuals and groups, provided that they can fulfil the required criteria as laid down by the Hunting Authority. Hunting with dogs without a licence would be a criminal offence.
As part of the package of Middle Way measures, it is also proposed that the existing Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 is amended. This Act covers all wild mammals, but protects them only from certain actions such as kicking, burning, stabbing, drowning etc. The law was brought into being following a series of court cases in which certain wild mammals, mainly hedgehogs, were cruelly treated. Some magistrates had to reluctantly dismiss these cases, as there was no law which generally protected wild mammals from cruelty. The Act also gives a degree of protection to those people involved in lawful hunting, amongst other activities.
The list of proscribed actions to animals should be replaced with the phrase ‘causing unnecessary suffering’. Further, the clause which gives a degree of protection from prosecution for lawful hunting should also be removed. A case could therefore brought against a hunt or an individual if there was sufficient evidence to show that there had been excessive suffering caused to the quarry animal. Indeed, if new scientific evidence came forward and a case brought to court, the finding could very well mean that the Hunting Authority has to seriously consider the licensing of that particular activity. The law relating to the protection of wild mammals would then be similar in principle to the current law covering domestic and captive wild animals (the Protection of Animals Act 1911), which dictates what actions are deemed as causing necessary and unnecessary suffering.
A change to the 1996 Act would not mean that each act carried out towards various animals has to be the same for each species. The law covering domestic and captive animals allows for different actions to be undertaken to different species, depending upon the nature of each species. For example, a captive tiger might have to be treated in a manner which would be unacceptable if carried out towards a pet dog. The crucial question is not what was done to the animal, but was it acceptable in the circumstances or did it go beyond what was necessary.
Given that hunting with dogs would continue in this scenario, the new law, together with the Hunting Authority, would dictate what actions should remain legal and what actions are considered unacceptable.
To Ban or Not to Ban?
The aim of reducing animal suffering, which is the basic intention of the numerous bills brought before Parliament over the years, is one which should be supported by all. Unfortunately, the bills missed their target of reducing animal suffering. What these attempts have done, however, is highlight the need to change the existing legislation and brought an enormous amount of information into the public domain, such as the Burns Report and the Phelps Report and various scientific studies. The work so far undertaken by these committees and others should not be lost and instead could form the basis of new workable law which can achieve its goal of giving greater protection to wild mammals.
Though some of the organised hunts are part of a self-supervision scheme, it has become apparent that such a situation is far from satisfactory. There are numerous packs which are recognised by some landowners but do not belong to the main hunting associations and as such they are excluded from this supervisory system. Individuals are also excluded and together with these packs they amount to a sizeable number of hunting people who are not governed by the supervisory scheme. Apart from the fact that self-supervision in the hunting world probably does not hold much weight in the public’s mind nor carries any realistic sanctions for wrongdoing, it is clear that a ‘policing’ scheme which only covers those who want to be policed is not acceptable to most people.
There is no point, in animal welfare terms, in prohibiting one control method, that of hunting with dogs, and allowing it to be replaced with other methods which are also capable of causing suffering. The issue of hunting with dogs cannot be viewed in isolation and, as one committee report stated, hunting dogs “are not the common factor in determining cruelty”.
All dogs have a propensity to hunt and therefore the exact wording of any legislation has to be carefully considered. In the past, bills have been so loosely worded that even a person walking their dog could be caught under the proposed new law. It is appreciated that this is not the intention of those supporting such a measure, but unless the bill is specific in its intent and wording, some courts will interpret the law differently from others.
It is simply untrue, as some literature has said, to state that a ban on hunting with dogs will “save animals’ lives”. All a ban will achieve is a change in the method of control. It is also untrue to claim that all hunting with dogs would have been banned under the ‘ban option’ voted through the House of Commons. To properly improve animal welfare a wider range of control methods, and the consequences of such change, must be taken into account.
Those who support a ban do not appear to have thought through the consequences of their legislation and, if one accepts pest control as a necessary concept, their ideals are not always achievable. They argue that killing for pleasure is morally wrong, that anything short of a full ban is unacceptable and the Middle Way is a “licence to kill”. Once again, the rhetoric does not sit easily with reality. If killing for pleasure is wrong, why was the killing of foxes to protect game rearing (in which birds are shot for pleasure) allowed in the Hunting Bill? Secondly, why were gun packs (which use dogs to chase foxes out of wooded areas) permitted in the Hunting Bill? Finally, if killing wild mammals is to continue (as everyone seems to accept) is it not preferable to have that killing done under licence, rather than left unregulated?
Obviously hunting must cause a degree of suffering to the animal being chased, nobody would deny that, but so too can other methods such as snaring and shooting. As the Burns Report concluded, hunting “seriously compromises the welfare of the fox”, but crucially it also states, “None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting can have serious welfare implications.” A ban is likely to lead to an increase in shooting and the use of the snare.
The sending of terriers underground to a fox is distasteful to many people and there is evidence (on film and video) which shows some appalling cases of suffering. Indeed some hunts would gladly give up terrier-work were it not for the fact that some landowners expect them to kill a certain number of foxes. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals pointed out that whilst the Society is morally opposed to the use of terriers, in practice a blanket ban may cause orphaned fox-cubs to be left to starve if the vixen is shot (the method advocated by those seeking a ban). This is likely to be a particular problem in rocky terrain, which will provide many earths for foxes.
Shooting can be humane or it can be inhumane, depending upon how it is conducted. The use of a rifle and spotlight is probably the best method when the terrain is suitable, but many people who cannot obtain or use a rifle (or those who live in inappropriate areas) will opt for a shotgun. Shotguns too can be humane if used within range, but dogs would still be required to chase foxes out of wooded areas. If the animal is hit but only wounded, dogs will be needed to catch the animal. So, in reality, a bill banning hunting prohibits only certain types of hunting with dogs, while the activities of the gun packs would continue and remain unregulated.
Given a ‘black or white’ choice, many people will naturally choose the anti-hunt position, hence the often-quoted claims that approximately two thirds of the population are opposed to hunting. With the additional option of strict statutory regulation, a significant number will support the Middle Way approach. This was reflected in a recent public opinion poll which showed that 36% were in favour of statutory regulation, a number very similar to the 37% that favoured a ban. The remainder opted for self-supervision. Since the emergence of the Middle Way option, the public has been able to consider the issue of hunting with dogs more carefully and in greater detail.
The Middle Way proposals are not a compromise on the issue of hunting with dogs. They are a completely new way of addressing an argument which has suffered for decades from the protagonists holding extreme positions. There will always be a small percentage of the population that hold extreme views and for whom a Middle Way solution is unacceptable, but the majority is beginning to accept this issue is far from simple. Indeed, four former directors of the League Against Cruel Sports have now said that the ban option is not the best way forward.
The Middle Way approach takes into account rights and responsibilities, personal liberties and animal welfare and seeks to find the correct balance. Though these proposals may alter in detail, the principle of finding a lasting and workable solution to the hunting debate remains central to the policy.