MP’s column - I’m in favour of amending act

Back in 2004, the Labour government of the day passed the Hunting Act, which placed severe restrictions upon the hunting of wild mammals.

One of the pest control exemptions in the act, however, was that farmers and game keepers could use up to two dogs to flush out foxes from their cover to be shot.

While this makes an important contribution to land managers’ ability to control foxes, the two-dog limit has proved much more impractical for upland farmers given the terrain, which can be large, difficult and is often covered by woodland.

Upland farmers have asked for a bit more leeway in order to bring the law here in England closer to the position in Scotland, where it is more flexible.

The Government had intended to give us an opportunity in the Commons to amend these provisions in order to allow gamekeepers and farmers to decide, based on the particular circumstances, if it is more appropriate to use more than two dogs to flush out a fox.

In this vote, Conservative MPs would have been given a free vote. Unfortunately, the SNP announced – in complete contradiction to its long-held and publicly stated policy and despite the fact these provisions do not affect Scotland – that its MPs would vote on the matter.

While the vote hasn’t taken place, my view remains unchanged: farmers and land managers are the best placed people to decide how to manage pests on their land.

If and when a debate on this matter takes place, I will be voting in favour of amending the Hunting Act to grant greater leeway to those on the ground.

While many in Lincolnshire are concerned with freedom and leeway for farmers, we’re also very concerned about animal welfare. This includes, particularly given how much meat we consume, the condition of animals in slaughterhouses.

I’m relieved that the Government is so committed to maintaining high standards in the welfare of animals at the point of slaughter, and there are no plans whatsoever to loosen the already quite strict legal requirements that are in place.

These are enforced by the Official Veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency to ensure that animals are spared any unnecessary suffering, distress, or pain during the process of slaughter.

There has been a suggestion that a mandatory requirement for closed-circuit television (CCTV) in slaughterhouses might be imposed.

This was explored by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee – the body that advises Defra and the devolved administrations on farm animal welfare.

The committee did argue that CCTV can be useful to animal welfare but did not recommend that the Government imposes a mandate but rather that those private operators within the food chain should require themselves that CCTV be installed in the slaughterhouses associated with them.

I don’t think a legal requirement for CCTV is appropriate, but it’s only right that we keep in mind anything that might make it easier to ensure high standards of animal welfare, especially in a food-producing county such as ours.

Sir Edward Leigh MP

Gainsborough constituency