Proposed amendments to the Hunting Act could remove the limit on the number of dogs used to flush foxes
MPs will be asked to vote on amendments to the 2004 Hunting Act, which would allow more than two dogs to flush foxes to guns, in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 15 July.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that he would give MPs the chance to debate the issue ahead of a free vote that could bring the existing rules in England and Wales into line with Scotland. Currently, Scottish hunts can use an unlimited number of hounds to flush foxes, whereas since the Hunting Act was made law in 2005 in England and Wales, only two can be used.
There would also be other minor changes to assist pest control, including an extension of the current exemption to putting dogs to earth for the protection of gamebirds. Were the amendments to be passed, dogs may also be put to earth for the protection of livestock.
If accepted by MPs, the changes will go to the Lords for debate in the autumn and if successful would then be brought in by DEFRA.
It would then be permissible to hunt animals that are suffering from an injury or disease, but the requirement to shoot foxes as soon as possible after they have been found will remain in place.
If MPs vote in favour, the 2004 Hunting Act could be amended by the end of this year. It would bring…
The Countryside Alliance commented: “This is a step forward and will mean that farmers and hunts will be able to use packs of hounds to find and shoot foxes. Traditional hunting will, though, remain illegal.
“These amendments will bring the law into line with Scotland and ensure that farmers are able to choose how to manage the fox population in the most effective and humane manner.
“We still believe that the Hunting Act needs to be scrapped, but in the circumstances these amendments meet the immediate needs of the rural community.
“There is solid support for hunting among MPs and we believe that there will be a majority for these logical, evidence-based changes.”
Alan Jarrett, chairman of BASC, said the organisation also supports the widening of the exemptions to the current legislation: “This would be a step on the road to achieving resolution of the problems created by the Hunting Act. It will also help secure effective pest control for farmers, which contributes to food security.
“There is widespread agreement that shooting is an effective form of pest control and a move to widen the exemptions would underline that point,” he added.
Research carried out for the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs in Scotland in 2013 showed that using a pack of hounds was a more effective method of finding and flushing foxes than using two, and would also reduce the length of pursuit.
The vote will be a “statutory instrument”, which requires a majority in both the Commons and the Lords. This would avoid a full Government bill and limit debate to just 90 minutes.
By calling the debate before Parliament rises on 21 July, the vote will indicate the level of support among MPs for a full repeal of the Act.
Mr Cameron has previously shared his belief that the Act has “done nothing for animal welfare” and a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister indicated that should the amendment be passed, the free vote on a full repeal of the Act promised in the Conservative Party election manifesto will still go ahead.
She said that the Government will “stand by its commitment,” and added: “I think the objective is to give MPs the opportunity to vote on the current anomaly in the system between what can happen in Scotland and what can happen in England and Wales. The technical changes would need to be voted on.”
Labour shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said that the Prime Minister’s proposals have “more to do with controlling his backbenchers than fox numbers in the countryside,” while the League Against Cruel Sports accused Mr Cameron of “sneaking hunting in through the back door”.