Outwitting the fox: The proposed change to hunting law lacks transparency

 

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The Independent Online

The vote which the Government plans to hold on fox hunting is so bizarre that it is no wonder it was arranged for the news to leak out on Budget Day, to keep publicity to a minimum.

The Tories plan to change the law but not by the usual means of placing legislation before Parliament. Instead, the Government is resorting to a “statutory instrument”, normally used to make technical changes to an Act of Parliament.

According to Parliament’s own website, “statutory instruments are used to provide the necessary detail that would be too complex to include in the Act itself”.

The 2004 Hunting Act made it illegal to use packs of dogs to hunt down foxes or other living quarry. It does not ban pest control; a hunter can pursue a fox, and can be accompanied by a pair of dogs, but not an entire pack.

This is the detail the Government proposes to amend. If the statutory instrument is passed by the Commons, hunting with packs of dogs will become a feature of English rural life again, so long as the hunters can argue that they are engaged in an elaborate pest-control exercise rather than sport.

Downing Street claims to be ironing out an anomaly, because the law in Scotland is different from the law in England and Wales. That is a patently dishonest argument, and an abuse of the statutory instrument procedure.

In no way is this a detail “too complex” to include in the 2004 Act. It is a means of getting halfway towards lifting the ban altogether, but which bypasses normal democratic Commons procedure.

This newspaper is opposed to repealing the ban on hunting with dogs. However, if that is what our elected Government proposes then it should do it properly, through an Act of Parliament, not through this sneaky manoeuvre.

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