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Hunting with dogs

The government recognises hunting with dogs is a contentious issue. The Hunting Act 2004 came into effect on 18 February 2005. It bans the hunting with dogs of all wild mammals in England and Wales, including fox, deer, hare and mink, except where it is carried out in accordance with the conditions of one of the exemptions set out in the Act. It also bans all hare coursing. The Coalition Agreement confirmed the government will bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act.

It will be for parliament to decide whether the Act should be repealed, or whether certain activities should remain banned.

The case for government action

The government considers the Act has not been a demonstrable success. It is flawed, illiberal and unenforceable. Furthermore, evidence produced since the Act came into effect suggests it has failed as an animal welfare measure and may be having a negative, impact in welfare terms, on the management of wild mammals.

Latest news

The Conservative election manifesto promised parliament would be given the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote. There are many greater priorities facing the government at the moment, but the Coalition Government plans to honour that commitment by putting forward a motion on the issue at an appropriate time. There would be a free vote in the House of Commons on this motion, and if it is in favour of repeal, the government will introduce a Repeal Bill in both Houses of Parliament in due course.

Key facts and figures

Ministry of Justice figures indicate that between 2005 and 2009, a total of 209 individuals were prosecuted under the Hunting Act. Of these, 152 were found guilty. There have been six successful prosecutions of hunts, involving four separate hunts.

We understand that the majority of these prosecutions were for minor offences such as ratting or rabbitting without the landowner’s permission.

The current situation and background

The government recognises hunting is a contentious issue and there are strong views on both sides of the debate. Over the years, it has taken up a lot of parliamentary time. In 2000, Lord Burns carried out a review on the issue of hunting with dogs in England and Wales and produced a report.

Following numerous debates and votes on the hunting issue, the then government introduced a draft Hunting Bill into Parliament in 2002, but this ran out of parliamentary time. The Bill was again put forward in September 2004, and was passed under the Parliament Acts, which provide a mechanism for the views of the elected House of Commons to prevail where the two Houses of Parliament cannot agree, in November 2004. The Hunting Act came into effect on 18 February 2005.

The Hunting Act 2004 bans the hunting with dogs of all wild mammals in England and Wales, including fox, deer, hare and mink, except where it is carried out in accordance with the conditions of one of the exemptions set out in the Act. It also bans all hare coursing.

Exemptions in the Hunting Act allow the following activities to take place in limited circumstances: stalking and flushing out; use of a dog below ground, in the course of stalking and flushing out, to protect birds being kept or preserved for shooting; hunting rats and rabbits; retrieval of hares which have been shot; falconry; recapture of wild mammals; and research and observation.

Exempt hunting can only take place either on land which belongs to the hunter or which he has been given permission to use for that purpose by the occupier or, in the case of unoccupied land, by a person to whom it belongs. Permission may also be given by a police constable in respect of the recapture or rescue of a wild mammal.

A person convicted in a magistrates’ court of an offence under the Act will be liable to a maximum fine of £5,000. The court also has the power to make an order against a convicted person for the forfeiture of any relevant dog, vehicle or hunting article.

While Defra retains policy responsibility for the Hunting Act, enforcement of the Act is a matter for the Home Office and individual police forces. The Act only covers hunting with dogs in England and Wales. Separate legislation covers hunting with dogs in Scotland.

Relevant legislation

The full text of the Hunting Act 2004, as has a detailed explanation accompanying it.

One of the exemptions in the Hunting Act allows the use of a single dog below ground to protect game birds or wild birds which are being kept for shooting. It is a condition of the exemption that the manner in which the dog is used complies with any Code of Practice approved by the Secretary of State. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation has produced a Code of Practice which has been approved by the Secretary of State, and therefore has the force of law. The Code of Practice is accompanied by a Good Practice Guide.

Key publications and documents

Page last modified: 22 November 2010