This report aims to assess in great detail all the issues that surrounded the Hunting Act 2004, analysing both the issues that lead to the Act and the current debate as the issue is still largely contested. Firstly, the report will provide a brief historical background of the issues of hunting and the main moral and ethical arguments put forward from both anti-hunting and pro-hunting supporters. The report will then move on to discuss the key role played by opposing pressure groups in the passing of the legislation, and display the ways in which the key interest groups succeeded in keeping the issue of hunting on the political agenda.
These key actors will be analysed alongside other key actors ranging from political parties and Members of Parliament to the media. The main decisions made leading to and during the legislative stages shall also be examined in-depth before a discussion on the consequences of the Act. The report shall conclude that it was mainly as a result of the influence of the pro-hunting pressure groups and the views of hunting held by the Labour Party that the bill finally gained Royal Assent through the use of the Parliament Act by the Government.
The hunting of wild animals has been a key part of everyday life for the aristocracy in Great Britain, this included fox and stag hunting and grouse shooting (Tichelar 2006 p214). It is mainly since the end of the Victorian era that the moral and ethical concerns about hunting arose. The Hunting Act 2004 was introduced as legislation after a long period of debate and political attention. It was first brought onto the political agenda in 1986 at local council level (Woods 1998 p326), but only really gained the attention of Parliament in 1997 with the Labour Party Manifesto (Milbourne 2003 p157).
The aim of this report is to inform the Minister of the Countryside Alliance (CA) and the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), and their influence, which were taken into account by the public and the government at the time. The briefing paper will also assess the key actors, internally and externally, and their influence over the legislative stages that led to passing of the Hunting Act (Hunting Bill, HC Bill, 2004). The briefing paper will include numerous sources, ranging from a vast number of academic literature to quantative data, such as opinion polls, and also Parliamentary Bills, reports, manifestos and media sources to assist this particular briefing paper enquiry.
Timeline of the Hunting Act
– 1992: The Wild Mammals Protection Bill failed to pass, this bill was proposed by MP Kevin McNamara.
– 1993: The Fox Hunting Abolition Bill failed to pass, this bill was proposed by MP Tony Banks.
– 1995: The Wild Mammals Protection Bill was resubmitted, however it failed to pass once again, a bill that was proposed by MP John McFall.
– 1997: The Wild Mammals (Hunting With Dogs Bill) failed to pass, this bill was proposed by MP Mike Foster.
– 2000: The Burns Report was published and was unflattering of fox hunting
– 2000: Both Houses of Parliament simultaneously proposed bills in relation to hunting. The Commons proposed to outlaw it altogether whereas the Lords proposition was to impose regulations on hunting.
– 2002: Hunting Bill passed and allowed licensed hunting. Soon after this Anthony Banks proposed an amendment to outlaw hunting entirely, something that the Lords rejected.
– 2003: The debate of fox hunting continued between the Houses of Parliament and the Commons passed a bill to outlaw hunting, which the Lords once again rejected.
– 2004: The House of Commons used the Parliament Act to pass the Hunting Bill and this was signed into law on 18th November 2004.
The Labour Party have always displayed an opposition to ‘blood sports’ (Tichelar 2006 p213), therefore it was little surprise to the electorate when the Labour Manifesto 1997 included a promise to protect the British Wildlife (Milbourne 2003 p157). This followed a decade of campaigning by the LACS against hunting (Milbourne 2003 p160), which resulted in two proposed bills to ban hunting. The first of which was proposed by MP Kevin McNamara in 1992, and the second by MP John McFall in 1995 (Milbourne 2003 p160). However, the LACS had greater success in local councils, in which several outlawed hunting on public land, “although these bans were later overruled by judicial review” (Milbourne 2003 p160). In response to this the CA counter-campaigned to “preserve the freedoms of country people” (Wallwork & Dixon 2004 p23). The CA organised one of the largest marches over a ‘moral issue’, when in March 1998 over 250,000 supporters of hunting rallied to contest the proposed ban on hunting (Wallwork & Dixon 2004 p24). It was the arguments of the LACS and the counter-arguments of the CA that made the hunting ban such a contentious and controversial issue within the last two decades.
Agenda Setting Process
The interest group responsible for bringing the issue to the political agenda is the LACS. The LACS were responsible for this as they had been campaigning for this since their establishment in 1890 (Tichelar 2006 p213).
In 1992 Labour MP Kevin McNamara was a key actor in putting the hunting issue into the political limelight, and proposed the first bill to outlaw hunting, which was the Wild Mammals Protection Bill, and this was subsequently defeated. Then in 1995 John McFall proposed another Wild Mammals Protection Bill, which was also defeated. Despite these failures the issue was still highly contested, especially as the Labour Party came to power in 1997. Almost immediately after Labour’s victory, new Labour MP Mike Foster proposed the ‘Wild Mammals (Hunting With Dogs) Bill’, which was a compromise to allow shooting but to outlaw hunting with dogs, however, this bill also failed to come into law (Ward 1999 p389).
The LACS are responsible as the major force behind the proposed bill. They attempted to influence the policy formulation process by lobbying MPs, and the LACS also inform and encourage the general public of how to lobby their MPs themselves (League Against Cruel Sports 2011).
The Labour Party are also seen as the key policy formulation actors as due to resounding support of the hunting ban in various polls conducted by Ipsos Mori, and as they addressed the issue in both its 1997 and 2001 manifestos, it was evident that a bill would be proposed.
The anti-hunting media played a pivotal role in ensuring that groups such as the LACS got vast sympathetic media coverage. Newspapers, such as the Guardian and the Daily Mirror, played on “hearts and minds” of their readers so that they would sympathise with the anti-hunting groups on moral and ethical grounds (Anderson 2006 p724).
Lord Terrence Burns chaired the Burns Inquiry into fox hunting, and this report concluded that the activity of hunting compromises the welfare of the fox (Burns et al 2000 p15), however, it also stated that a hunting ban would be unlikely to result in an increase in fox numbers, which is consistent with a study done by Baker et al (Baker, Harris ; Webbon 2003 p400).
The House of Lords is a major actor in policy formulation, and it used its power as a major actor to constantly reject the Commons proposal of a hunting ban, often sending back lengthy amendments against the basis of the Hunting Bill (Lords Reasons for Insisting on Certain Lords Amendments and Amendments in Lieu of Other Lords Amendments to Which the Commons May Have Disagreed to the Hunting Bill, HL Bill, 2004).
The CA plays a pivotal role in its attempt as an ‘outsider’ interest group to lobby MPs and organising marches to show opposition to the ban on hunting (Wallwork ; Dixon 2004 p24). It was through these marches and demonstrations that the CA becomes the major opposition to the policy formulating process.
Pro-hunting media was responsible for contributing the success of the ‘Liberty and Livelihood’ March organised by the CA, but ultimately failed in their attempts to get the hunting ban thrown off the agenda. Pro-hunting media, such as the Daily Telegraph (Edwards 2010) and the Daily Mail, were also responsible at covering the campaign for the “countryside and the rural way of life” (Anderson 2006 p733), as well as putting forward arguments in favour of hunting, such as to “control the spread of disease” (Heydon ; Reynolds 2000 p237).
The House of Commons consistently voted in favour of a ban on hunting, which led to the Hunting Bill of 2004 being passed without the consent of the House of Lords.
The House of Lords consistently rejected legislation that would ban hunting and made numerous amendments to proposed acts that were subsequently rejected by the Commons. The House of Lords were eventually overruled due to the invocation of the Parliament Act.
The Speaker of the House of Commons in 2004, Michael Martin, “ruled that the conditions of Parliament Act had been met, and the Hunting Bill received Royal Assent on 18 November 2004” (Cowley ; Stuart 2005 p266).
Welsh Labour MP Huw Irranaca-Davies acknowledged the dire need for consent between the Commons and the Lords. Consequently, he proposed a bill to compromise with the Lords and “allow hunting for pest control where no other methods could be used” (Cowley ; Stuart 2005 p266), this however was voted down by the Commons with 321 to 204 (Cowley ; Stuart 2005 p266).
In the past year, the LACS has campaigned unrelentlessly in response to the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government and their plans for revoking the Hunting Act 2004. They have done this by again continuing their aims to convince the voters of lobbying MPs and their efforts have even forced the Conservatives to admit that revoking the hunting ban will only come up on the agenda in 2012 (Sinclair 2010).
The CA have kept hunting with dogs on the political agenda for a number of years since the implementation of the hunting ban. The pressure on the government may have relaxed since Labour’s first term, however, the continuing pressure has forced the coalitions hand, and thus despite LACS’s desires to delay this, it will be brought up in the Commons next year (Milbourne 2003 p160, Sinclair 2010).
The Conservative Party as opposition have always been avid campaigners to revoke the hunting ban. At the CA march in 1998 80% of people claimed to be supporters of the Conservative Party (Ward 1999 p402). Since their recent electoral victory, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, revoking the hunting act has thus far been delayed until 2012. This was probably an appeasement method for their coalition partners, or as a response to continued pressure from interest groups such as the LACS.
Key Decisions Taken
The first major decision taken was in 1992 when the Wild Mammals Protection Bill, proposed by Kevin McNamara, failed to become law (Milbourne 2003 p160). The reason for this decision was due to a slim conservative majority, which despite continued campaigning by interest groups and other parties, failed to gain any real kind of support from the Conservative government.
In 1995 a similar bill was proposed by John McFall, which also failed to get through Parliament, despite the power struggle that existed in the Conservative government (Milbourne 2003 p160). However, Labour newly under the leadership of Tony Blair, made a hunting ban a manifesto priority for the next election (Milbourne 2003 p157).
In 1997 newly elected Labour MP Mike Foster, proposed the Wild Mammals (Hunting With Dogs) Bill, and despite support of the newly elected Labour majority, failed to become law (Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, HC Bill, 1997/98, ). In response to the CA organised numerous marches in London campaigning for the rights and traditions of the rural population (Wallwork ; Dixon 2004 p24).
It was this support for a hunting ban that led the Labour government to launch the Burns Inquiry under Lord Terrence Burns in the year 2000, in which a consortium of scientists, academics and MPs gave their view on hunting and whether or not it should be banned (Burns et al 2000).
After the Burns Inquiry, Home Secretary Jack Straw gave both Houses an opportunity to vote freely on what limitations, if any, should be applied to hunting. The Commons voted resoundingly for a full ban on January 17th 2001, with 399 to 155 voting in favour of the proposal of banning hunting, and rejected the prospect of licensed hunting with 382 to 182. However, the Lords voted against a total ban on March 27th 2001 with 317 to 68 (The Guardian 2005 Appendix 1), and the forthcoming general election prevented the issue from going further.
In 2002, the Labour government proposed another Hunting Bill, which caused the ‘Liberty and Livelihood’ march by the CA (Anderson 2006 p722), and despite passing through the Commons, the bill failed in the Lords.
This resulted in a tennis match of words and amendments, which prompted Welsh Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies to attempt to appease the Lords in the form of an amendment to the bill in 2004, which would have allowed hunting for pest control, however, this failed in to pass in the Commons with 321 to 204 (Cowley ; Stuart 2005 p266). At the same time, the Commons rejected the Lords Amendments for the last time, and in November, Speaker Michael Martin invoked the Parliament Act to pass the bill without delay (Cowley ; Stuart 2005 p266).
Discussion/Analysis of the Consequences of the Final Legislation
The Hunting Act of 2004 has had many lasting consequences which has shaped not only politics, but as the CA would argue, has changed the shape of the British countryside. Furthermore, the debate has continued since the ban took hold with the CA taking the decision to invoke the Parliament Act to the High Courts, where they were subsequently defeated and the ban was deemed judicially acceptable. More recently, the debate has meant that hunting has yet again been put on the political agenda, but this time to revoke the 2004 Hunting Act, this is something that is heavily contested with the forthcoming promised free vote in Parliament in 2010 (Sinclair 2010). The way it has shaped the British countryside is that it has cemented the Conservative hold over the ‘hunting populations’, and has there have been numerous convictions of people hunting illegally, such as in 2007 there were 48 prosecutions (Campbell 2009).
To summarise, this report has displayed the various key actors in the implementation of the Hunting Act 2004. These include a vast number of MPs, mainly from the Labour Party, the Houses of Parliament, and two very influential pressure groups, the CA and the LACS. The report has also shown the key decisions taken throughout the legislative stages of the bill and the role that the aforementioned actors played in ensuring that these decisions were or were not taken. The hunting ban in 2004 has been widely viewed as one of the most key examples of difference and argument between the Commons and the Lords. It has also illustrated the difference in lifestyle between those of the rural and urban populations, with each side arguing that the others argument is morally unjust. This difference has also given birth to two main interest groups, both of which have large media support, and it is without doubt that the CA and the LACS will continue to contest one another as long as this issue remains on the political agenda, and will undoubtedly generate a significant debate and controversy in 2012 when the free vote is scheduled for.