Wildlife Crime — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 20th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 3:15 pm, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend Christian Matheson, on his excellent introduction. Like him, I have been contacted by many constituents concerned about the same incidents where foxes have been slaughtered in hunts. It has led me to question how well the Hunting Act is working because, despite outlawing that horrific practice, the images tell me there are people out there openly flouting the law, making a mockery of the police, Parliament and the vast majority of people in this country who rightly recoil from such barbaric practices. As we have heard, there are very real concerns that across the country foxes are being targeted and killed by illegal hunts, and grave concerns that the various exemptions within the Act are being used to legitimise the indiscriminate killing of foxes.

The Library briefing paper tells us that the successful conviction rate for offences under the Hunting Act over the previous five years is about 50% as opposed to a rate of about 80% for all criminal offences. That tells me that the Act is not working in the way that it should, and those figures are just for actual prosecutions.

Many constituents ask me why the widely available images that we have all seen do not result in more prosecutions. If the Government’s position is that the law should be observed, whatever that law is, they should ask themselves some serious questions about whether the Act is working in practice. They should ask whether the police and Crown Prosecution Service have the knowledge base and resources to deal successfully with the Act as it is, and what changes might be made to increase the number of successful prosecutions. If their view is, “We don’t like the Hunting Act. We don’t really believe in what it is trying to do, but we are content to allow things to trundle along as they are with a half-hearted adherence to the law because we are scared of a public backlash”, they should be honest and say so.

It is clear that there is little confidence in the law as it stands and the capacity of the state to enforce it, so we need a thorough review of the Hunting Act and how it works. Once that is done, let us have a debate and a vote in Parliament on what should happen next. If we did that, hunting with dogs, which has no place in a modem society, would be outlawed. Let us ensure it is banned: no ifs, no buts, no exceptions under the legislation, and no more excuses.

As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester said, there needs to be a review of the high threshold. Perhaps using the word “recklessness” would give people more confidence in a law that the majority in this country want to adhere to. I appreciate that a review might take time, but I hope the Minister will respond positively when she winds up the debate. In the meantime, I have some practical suggestions. The first concerns knowledge of the law by the police and Crown Prosecution Service. It is clear that some people are not experts in what is a specialist area.

Secondly, and this is perhaps the single most important action that can be taken to restore trust and confidence, the police must be seen to investigate and take action on any potential criminal offences that occur during the hunts. I am talking mainly about wider public order offences. We have seen lots of examples of threatening and intimidating behaviour, firearms being let off and vehicles being rammed into monitors and so on, giving the impression that some people are above the law and some are not. Everyone should be equal before law. At the moment some people seem to be able to get away with actions that in any other context would see them up before the magistrate, and that adds to the impression, sad though it is, that the authorities are not being even-handed in their approach.

In conclusion, the Hunting Act is not working. Let us reform it so that the cruel and vindictive practice of hunting with dogs is outlawed once and for all.