In the doghouse?
The decision of the House of Commons to vote for a ban on hunting with dogs from next year is the latest stage in this saga.
THERE are many more important issues facing the world than the hunting of animals with dogs. For the record, I have always been opposed to foxhunting, in spite of having lived most of my life in the country rather than the town, but it is not a subject that fills many of my waking thoughts.
Arguments about the future of fox hunting, however, have been a long-running saga. The decision of the House of Commons in the past week to vote for a ban on hunting with dogs from early next year is the latest stage in it. The issue has taken up a great deal of parliamentary time (time which, many people argue, could better have been devoted to more important things).
I say the latest, rather than the last, stage in a long-running saga, because it is not over yet. The pro-hunting protagonists are planning to take the matter to the courts (on the somewhat esoteric ground that the decision, after many votes, to let the House of Commons overrule the House of Lords without yet more debates may contravene the Parliament Act of 1949, and on the even more esoteric ground that the ban infringes human rights).
`A way of life'
Far more seriously, some supporters of hunting are proclaiming their intention of continuing to hunt, thereby breaking the law. Dire warnings are uttered about the difficulty which the police will encounter in enforcing the law. Dramatic statements from some of the hunting community talk of the end of a way of life, of the effect on employment, and of the failure by Members of Parliament (and the millions of ordinary citizens who are opposed to hunting) to appreciate the consequences of the ban. They portray it as an "us" and "them" country versus town issue.
Whatever one's views about hunting, for or against, no responsible citizen should countenance the breaking of the law. It is depressing that some of those who declare their intention to break it would see themselves as solid and upright citizens. If they carry out their intention, they will not be solid and upright citizens. They will be criminals, and will deserve to be treated as criminals.
Another event in the past week underlines that point. The disgraceful racist behaviour of some spectators at the football match in Madrid towards black England players has been rightly and widely condemned. Racist behaviour is criminal, and cannot be countenanced.
The attempt to draw distinctions between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" criminal behaviour will not wash. If people who hold racist views get pleasure from expressing them, and from monkey-chanting at black people, that does not make their behaviour acceptable. Their (perverse) pleasure cannot be permitted. Most reasonable people would accept that. Sadly, the fox-hunting controversy suggests that some people who would see themselves as eminently reasonable are incapable of applying the same standard to themselves.
It is of course true that the ban on fox-hunting will affect the jobs of people who are engaged in it the hunt employees who look after the horses and the hounds, for example. Such employees deserve sympathetic treatment, but they are in no different a position from others who have lost jobs as a result of major changes.
The case of Britain's miners in the early 1980s comes to mind and has been recalled by many people as they consider the hunting controversy. The closure of most of the country's coal mines in that period may have been inevitable, but the way in which it was done, and the way in which protesting miners were treated, was in the view of many a disgrace. (It reflected the attitudes of Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time and explains why many of us consider her one of the worst Prime Ministers Britain has had.)
To return to the legal point: many miners, faced with the end of their livelihood, were ready to break the law. The people who may be described (admittedly rather pejoratively) as the core of the fox-hunting fraternity, showed little sympathy for them.
I hope the hunt employees who face the loss of their jobs will be treated sympathetically. The people for whom hunting is "a way of life", on the other hand, will deserve no sympathy at all if they choose to break the law. Our elected representatives have made a decision (after years of debate).
If we do not like it, we can express our views in the ballot box, but no one has the right to break the law.
Bill Kirkman is an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge, U.K. E-mail him at: email@example.com
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