Pro (the sporting) life
Confronting a bunch of bedraggled protesters brandishing placards bearing pictures of bodies torn limb from limb, screaming that I am a murderer and entreating me to 'tell the truth about the killing', has a familiar feel to it. I have faced many demonstrations against abortion and I can understand, if not agree with, the passion with which the pro-testers wish to put their case. After all, if I thought abortion was murder I would be equally compelled to abuse those who support it. So I can understand why protesters against abortion feel the way they do. They see the potential life of the unborn as morally equivalent to the life of people and, mistakenly, see themselves as battling against the degradation of human life and civilised values.
The shower of protesters hurling abuse at me last week deserves rather less understanding and significantly more contempt. To them I was a murderer, not because I believe that there can be good reasons for killing a fetus, but because I am indifferent to the killing of a fox. Their pictures of foxes torn apart by hounds are a rather pathetic parody of the photographs of fetal remains displayed by the anti-choice lobby. A picture of a chewed-up fox is not pretty but it hardly has the impact of a dead fetus. At least the anti-abortionist protesters are engaged in a debate about the value of human life. The anti-hunting brigade had worked themselves into a state of near hysteria over the future of a fox.
The anti-hunting lobby has garnered enormous support purely on the strength of emotional, irrational, sentimentalism. Foxes are animals, animals hunt and are hunted. That is what animal life is like. Justice, fairness and compassion are uniquely human values which do not apply to the animal world. Foxes do not have a concept of cruel or wanton behaviour. From the fox's point of view (or the rabbit or pheasant perspective come to that), it makes no difference whether it is hunted down by a human for sport or another predator for dinner.
I feel morally obliged to justify why I believe it can be right and appropriate to end the life of a potential human being. I cannot see that fox hunting throws up a comparable ethical issue worthy of debate. The overwhelming majority of society believes that it is acceptable to kill animals for our convenience. Butchers and supermarkets are full of bits of dead animal. The moment of death is gruesome for them too - but most of us accept it because we like the taste of the resulting meat. If we accept that we can kill animals for the pleasure of meat, why not for sport? And why don't those who indulge in hunting simply come clean and admit they do it for the fun of it, rather than trying to find spurious justifications?
It is dishonest for the pro-hunting lobby to try to find arguments about why they really need to do what they do. Perhaps it is the most humane form of pest control, perhaps it is not. It is certainly hard to sustain the argument that those who attended the meet I joined saw themselves as the rural equivalent of Rentokil. Fifty or so beautifully groomed people on beautifully groomed horses, with dog handlers and followers-on-foot tied up for the day is hardly the most efficient way of despatching the odd fox.
I cannot understand why hunting with dogs should be more humane than shooting or gassing. Nor do I care, and neither - I venture - do those who ride with, or follow the hunt. They are there for a good time - for the fun of it, for the thrill of it - and why not? Fox hunting does not harm people. It does not destroy people's livelihoods, it does not damage the environment - so let the hunters hunt and let those who disapprove stay away.
The sole important principle at stake in the fox hunting debate is whether those who oppose hunting should have the legal authority to try to restrict others from enjoying it. The parliamentary shenanigans which resulted in the 'talking-out' of Mike Foster's Private Members Bill have proved convenient for all.
The government has been able to avoid the substantive issues by arguing that it could not afford the time such a bill would require. The pro-hunting lobby has managed to stave off the legislative threat while avoiding an explicit debate about why people should have the right to hunt. The anti-hunting brigade can claim the moral victory of knowing that, had it come to a vote, they would have won, without having to take responsibility for the civil liberties implications of their actions. And it is an issue of civil liberties. When all is said and done, if government is allowed to ban fox hunting because MPs have an irrational sentimental prejudice against it, what recreational activities can we expect this most intolerant and least permissive of parliaments to ban next?
One of the more perverse consequences of the anti-hunting discussion is that New Labour in supporting a hunting ban has, once again, allowed the Tories to posture as defenders of freedom. It is a strange day in parliament when former Conservative agriculture minister, Douglas Hogg (backed by those well-known civil libertarians Michael Hesletine and Nicholas Soames) can insist that he is opposed to a bill because it is 'a monstrous infringement of civil rights'.
Reproduced from LM issue 109, April 1998