Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Hunting Act 2004
The Hunting Act 2004 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom passed in 2004. The effect of the Act is to outlaw hunting with dogs (particularly fox hunting) in England and Wales from February 18 2005.
The Act fulfils a Labour Party manifesto committment from 1997 and 2001 general elections, which had first appeared in the Labour general election manifesto in 1979. The 1997 manifesto stated "We will ensure greater protection for wildlife. We have advocated new measures to promote animal welfare, including a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned."
A challenge to the validity of the Act, based on the questionable status of the Parliament Act 1949, was rejected by the Court of Appeal in February 2005, but a petition to the House of Lords is possible. A further challenge on human rights grounds is also possible.
Many earlier attempts had been made to ban hunting. Two private member's bills to ban, or restrict, hunting were introduced in 1949, but one was withdrawn and the other defeated on its second reading in the House of Commons. The Labour government appointed the Scott Henderson Inquiry to investigate all forms of hunting, which concluded that "Fox hunting makes a very important contribution to the control of foxes, and involves less cruelty than most other methods of controlling them. It should therefore be allowed to continue."
Three further private member's bills were introduced by Kevin McNamara in 1992 (Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill), by Tony Banks in 1993 (Fox Hunting (Abolition) Bill), and by John McFall in 1995 (Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill).
After New Labour came to power in 1997, another private member's bill, introduced by Michael Foster, failed due to lack of parliamentary time. The Burns Report in 2000 concluded that hunting "seriously compromise the welfare of the fox", but should continue under certain conditions.
On 3 December 2002, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael introduced a bill to allowing licensed hunting in 2003. The Commons passed an amendment proposed by Tony Banks to ban hunting entirely, but the bill was rejected by the House of Lords.
The 2004 bill
The bill was reintroduced to the House of Commons on 9 September 2004 and received Royal Assent as the Hunting Act 2004 on 18 November, 2004 when the House of Commons invoked the Parliament Act, thereby becoming law without the approval of the House of Lords. The Lords had preferred an Act that regulated hunting with dogs.
The chaos that surrounded the passing of the 2004 Act was a fitting finale to what many consider to have been one of the most absurd and time-consuming episodes in recent parliamentary history. The final passing of the legislation was considered very controversial with many newspapers and broadcasters condemning Tony Blair's Labour administration for giving into what they perceived as the prejudicial views of anti-hunting Labour backbenchers. Labour MPs voting for the legislation maintained that they simply represented the majority of the public who favoured a ban on hunting with dogs. Their assertion of majority support for the thrust of the legislation seems to have some basis in evidence, a September 2002 survey commissioned by the Daily Telegraph  indicated that a narrow majority of people (57%) agreed with the statement that 'hunting with dogs is never acceptable'.
There have been a series of declarations by various groups of hunting activists (most notably the Countryside Alliance) that they will still go hunting in defiance of the law. Attempts by pro-hunting groups to challenge the Act by questioning the legality of the Parliament Act in the High Court and Court of Appeal have so far failed, and the ban took effect on February 18 2005.
A direct petition to the House of Lords concerning the validity of the Parliament Act seems likely (the Appeal Court having turned down leave to appeal to the Lords), as does an application to the English courts, which may end up in the European Court of Human Rights, as to whether the anti-hunting legislation contravenes individual property rights protected in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, mainstream legal opinion holds that the proposed legal challenges are not likely to be successful in overturning the basic thrust of the legislation, though there is a much greater probability that the challenges could obtain a degree of compensation for those adversely affected.
- 1995: MPs move to outlaw hunting (BBC, 3 March 1995)
- BBC Q&A
- BBC - High Court upholds ban on hunting. Jan 28, 2005
- Bloomberg - Fox Hunting Ban Upheld on Appeal Feb 16, 2005
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