The Conservative Party manifesto included a commitment to allow time for a vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act. As I stated during the General Election campaign, I supported the commitment to allow time for that vote as I believe Parliament should be able to look at the Act again to see whether it is working in the best interests of the countryside.
In July, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt. Hon. Elizabeth Truss MP, proposed an amendment that would align the law in England with the law in Scotland. The amendment would have been brought into force through a Statutory Instrument, meaning that the Hunting Act would have remained in force.
The proposed amendment dealt with the number of dogs permitted to flush out foxes. As part of the Hunting Act's pest control exemptions, farmers and gamekeepers can use up to two dogs to flush foxes from cover to be shot. This makes an important contribution to land managers' ability to control foxes. However, upland farmers have said that the two-dog limit is impractical on this terrain, which can be vast, difficult and often covered by woodland. They have asked for more flexibility, bringing the law closer to the position in Scotland.
The Government had intended to give the House of Commons an opportunity on 15 July to amend the provisions for exempt hunting so that farmers and gamekeepers could decide, based on the terrain and other circumstances, whether it is appropriate to use more than two dogs to flush out foxes. This debate did not occur, however, as the Scottish National Party announced that its MPs would vote on this measure, despite the fact that this is already the law in Scotland.
I read with care the correspondence I have received on the subject, both in favour of and against the proposed change. I have concluded that the proposed Statutory Instrument was a reasonable compromise.