David Cameron recently suggested that if the Conservatives are returned to power after the next election they would repeal the ban on fox hunting, introduced in 2004 by Labour’s Hunting Act. Writing in the Countryside Alliance Magazine, the Prime Minister described “a rural way of life which a born and bred Londoner might struggle to understand” and he affirmed his belief that “people should have the freedom to hunt”.
Cameron’s comments imply that the hunting ban is restricting people’s freedom. Of course, liberties must be protected; they can help to prevent the dreadful intolerances which we have unfortunately seen far too often throughout history. Therefore, there is not an issue with having a vote if the public supports it. Not to do so, if the public supported it, would be to undermine the functioning of our democracy.
Democracy is the key to a free society because it allows people’s voices to be heard, and governments can respond to this accordingly. It is a system designed to be a platform which allows all to speak. However, the polls show that the majority of the public do not support the repeal of the ban. A poll conducted by MORI in 2012 discovered that 76 per cent were opposed to fox hunting and 81 per cent opposed to deer hunting. In this context, to repeal the act would be undemocratic and, therefore, would not promote liberty at all. This is not tyranny of the majority. The very fact that the issue has been raised again confirms this. Tyranny of the majority can only exist when those with an opinion which is in the minority are denied their right to express that opinion. David Cameron’s ability to express his point of view on this issue and the protests which have taken place since the implementation of the Hunting Act proves that those in the minority are able to express and defend their opinions.
In my opinion, to repeal the Hunting Act would be a mistake. Animals are relatively defenceless, cannot voice consent and do not ask to be involved. Therefore, surely it is the act of hunting that is truly undermining liberty. David Cameron claimed in the Countryside Alliance Magazine that the act has “done nothing for animal welfare”. However, the League Against Cruel Sports recently released a report which concluded that the Act has been successful, with 341 convictions for illegal hunting between 2005 and 2013. Admittedly, the Countryside Alliance claims that only 21 of these 341 convictions involved hunts “registered with the Council of Hunting Associations”, but what is important is that the Act has at least prevented some animals from experiencing pain and suffering for someone else’s pleasure.
The Act may not be as effective as it should be, but I believe that we must attempt to improve the legislation because this is the democratic will. We should, as Caroline Lucas has suggested, expand the Act to include other sports which inflict pain and suffering on animals, such as hare coursing and grouse shooting. Indeed, another poll by Ipsos MORI found that 88 per cent believe hare coursing should be illegal. As long as the electorate wishes it, legislation against hunting must remain implemented and be strengthened. At the same time, we must ensure that those who oppose such an action have the ability to speak against it. The ability to think critically before we act can only exist in a society which includes a multiplicity of opinions and encourages debate.