Fox hunting is demonstrably cruel, but if there is going to be a change in the law we should do it properly

Another great national discussion, please, with debates on TV and riots in Trafalgar Square

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The Independent Online

First, I should declare an interest; I am a long-time supporter of the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA. Just so you know where I am coming from.

My views on fox hunting used to be extremely clear; it is an absurdly wasteful way to control a pest, if pest it is; it is demonstrably cruel; animal welfare trumps individual liberty. Same as bear baiting, stag hunting and all the rest of it. I’m not bothered by the fact that the Nazis banned it in Germany (I think that’s right), nor that nice people have a nice time in the countryside with the hounds.

I grew up in a city, Leicester, where fox hunting was as alien an idea as space travel; but surrounded by countryside in Leicestershire and Rutland that is some of the best for foxhunting in the country; Melton Mowbray, the Quorn hunt and all that. So no, I don’t understand “country ways” but that doesn’t mean I don’t think rural communities should have a vote on urban stuff. Democracy gets a bit silly if we start disqualifying everyone because of where they live or think.

I also hold strong opinions about democracy. I don’t agree with the Scottish Nationalists voting on issues such as fox hunting in England and Wales, where they should have no locus. I broadly agree with English Votes for English Laws and think the Government’s scheme for a double-vote in the Commons an excellent, simple compromise. I don’t understand why the SNP (and Plaid presumably) are so upset about it. So in principle I don’t think the SNP should vote on foxhunting. So now my views on foxhunting are confused by an argument about devolution; I am conflicted. 

Except for one thing, which is the frankly sneaky way the government – or rather most of the Conservative Party in parliament – is trying to change the law. That is undemocratic. They are changing, and effectively rendering useless, a high-profile piece of legislation through a vote on “statutory instruments”, rather than openly tackling amendment or abolition of the law. It just stinks.

It is a very important issue because people feel so passionately about it, obviously. Let’s have a debate, by all means, and let’s scrap the law if that is what the people, as represented in Parliament, really want. You may well argue it doesn’t work, it isn’t cruel, it’s traditional, it’s about rural rights. Whatever. But we should do it properly. Another great national discussion, please: debates on TV and purple prose in the papers and on-line; Twitterstorms; riots in Trafalgar Square; mass protests in Parliament Square; all that and more (non-violent) action please. But not a silly little vote on a regulation, as if we were tweaking the VAT rules or something.

For that reason alone I think that, on balance, the SNP are right to intervene in this way, though the rest of their arguments (such as showing the PM what a slim majority he has) are as unattractive as a mangy old fox. It is David Cameron’s fault for treating the Commons and the people alike with such contempt. Maybe we should settle the whole thing through a referendum, which would get round the problem of the SNP voting on an English matter in Parliament. Just think the fun we’d have. 

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