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DEAR MINISTER - We need action now!
Posted 1 April 2002
Countryside Minister Alun Michael has written to Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler asking for his views on the government's 'consultation' on proposals to change the law on hunting. Andrew has written back insisting that action on a ban is needed now.
Alun Michael MP
Minister for Rural Affairs
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
April 22, 2002
Thank you for your April 10 letter and the invitation to respond to your March 21 HoC statement on hunting.
Animal Aid's position is quite clear:
We oppose all hunting with dogs because it causes unnecessary suffering to animals.
The suffering is unnecessary because foxes are not 'vermin' and do not need to be 'controlled'. Foxes are blamed by hunting proponents for attacking and killing lambs. Surveys - not least those conducted by MAFF - demonstrate that the cause of the vast majority of lamb mortalities is disease, exposure and malnutrition: i.e. poor husbandry arising out of over-production, over-stocking and lack of proper training for stockmen and women.
Around 15 per cent of all lambs die within days as a result of the neglect described above. Throughout the UK as a whole, foxes account for less than 1 per cent of early mortalities - and there is evidence indicating that those lambs who are taken by foxes were often already dead.
The claim that foxes kill chickens and therefore cause significant commercial harm, is also preposterous. Virtually all commercially-reared chickens are fattened inside giant, windowless, sealed sheds that provide no access to any mammal.
I don't dispute that some lambs and allotment chickens are killed by foxes but then these animals are being produced to be slaughtered and eaten by people. The animals themselves might well prefer to be killed by a fox than make the stressful journey to an abattoir where they are subjected to the trauma of the killing line.
Equally, foxes help 'keep down' other animals whom farmers find intolerable - namely, rabbits and voles. I'd have thought farmers would have welcomed their presence. But then virtually no wild mammal or bird is tolerated under modern farming and gamekeeping regimes. The list of enemy species includes the aforementioned foxes, rabbits and voles, plus the crow family, hedgehogs, doves, wood pigeons, feral pigeons, stoats, mice, gulls, weasels, grey squirrels, badgers, muntjac deer, red deer, sika deer and Canada geese.
As to legislative matters, the members of the Commons have three times in recent years voted overwhelmingly for a ban. The Commons is supposed to be the pre-eminent House. The Lords' job is to scrutinise and advise, not sabotage legislation and dictate to government.
Our view is that your six month consultation is a time-wasting device, aimed, as I've indicated, at pacifying the Lords long enough to progress more of your government's legislative programme. In other words, rather than confront the Lords now and assert the primacy of the Commons, your government is indulging in more shabby politicking.
For the Lords to say that ban proponents are monopolising valuable parliamentary time that could otherwise be devoted to schools, crime, education etc, is particularly nauseating when it is they who are dragging out the process and threatening openly to sabotage all government legislation. It is time for your government to say this plainly and to take the battle forward in defence of basic constitutional principles.
Our position is that the Hunting Bill that ran out of time prior to the last election - because it was deliberately introduced late - should have been reintroduced in this parliament. If the Lords had decided to resist, then the Parliament Act should have been used to force it through.
Your Commons statement spoke obliquely of using the Parliament Act with respect to the Bill that comes forward after your 'consultation'. This is unconvincing given that we have no idea what the shape of your Bill will be or whether it will be sufficiently amenable to change so that it would allow all hunting to be banned - an outcome that the Commons demonstrably wants.
In short, your government's performance on the hunting issue since it first came to power in 1997 has been duplicitous and cowardly - and that view is widely shared by animal advocates throughout Britain and further afield.
It is not infrequently said these days that hunting is a 'minor issue', one that should always go to the back of the legislative queue. We say no! The manner in which a society protects animals - animals being entirely reliant upon human populations - says a great deal about how mature, civilised and compassionate is that society. Action on hunting would signal a great deal in that regard and provide great satisfaction to millions of British people who see the prompt implementation of a ban as a matter of common justice and humanity.
Director, Animal Aid