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Hunting by Harry Mather, Vegan Views 78 (Winter 97/98)

The Bill to abolish the Hunting of Wild Animals with Dogs, introduced by Michael Foster, was given its first reading in the House of Commons on November 28th [1997]. Private Members' bills are presented on Friday afternoons when most MPs leave early to get to their constituencies. However, this bill had been rousing much comment and its reading was well attended and passionately debated. Supporters of hunting had claimed they were a persecuted minority and that many jobs in the countryside would be lost.

Ann Widdecombe (a Conservative MP) ridiculed the idea that job losses were the issue, saying that if crime were reduced, policemen would be out of a job and if people's health was improved doctors and nurses would be out of work, but this was no reason to support crime and ill-health. John Gummer, one time Minister of Agriculture, said fox and deer hunting was being picked on, since no one was concerned with the way rats were destroyed. After a noisy debate, the Bill was passed by 411 in favour to 151 against - a huge majority of 260. There was great rejoicing by crowds outside the House and Michael Foster was loudly cheered.

Members of the Countryside Commission which was formed to oppose this Bill, consoled themselves with the thought that procedures could be used to block the progress of the Bill. The government have not agreed to give it extra time, so anyone could "talk out" the Bill if it is not given extra time. Even if the House of Commons passes it. The House of Lords will strongly oppose it and hundreds of hereditary peers who do not ordinarily attend will come in to vote against it.

This Bill will remain a controversial issue and is unlikely to be passed next year, but the opinion polls show that 70% of the people support it, both in town and country, so it cannot be shelved for ever.

The New Forest Buckhounds who used to hunt deer in the New Forest in the South of England, have ceased to meet, claiming that modern conditions in the Forest make hunting unviable.

A Cambridge scientist has studied blood samples from deer who died in various ways and concluded that those that had been hunted showed signs of great stress, much more than he would have expected and concluded that this form of killing causes a great deal of stress to the animal. He points out that deer normally live in woodland and wolves would have been their predators. Wolves would ambush them, the deer had difficulty escaping and death would be swift, compared to the long chase in the open which huntsmen love and which exhaust the deer causing long drawn stress.

Many farmers deny that foxes are a pest that must be controlled. Many are against fox hunting and some complain that hunts have gone over their land without permission and ignored their protests. People who find their gardens invaded by hounds and their pets savaged rarely get an apology. Drag Hunts are a safe substitute. Drag Hunting takes place on the Highgrove Estate owned by the Prince of Wales. It is not sure whether Prince Charles takes part.

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Cross-reference: Hunting and Shooting