After years of trying and failing to force through a ban on fox hunting, the Labor government finally succeeded in passing a law that will ban fox hunting with hounds beginning in February 2005.
In order to do so, however, the government had to invoke the Parliament Act for only the fourth time since 1949. The Parliament Act allows the House of Commons to override opposition from the House of Lords. With the House of Lords again opposing the ban on fox hunting by a vote of 153-114, invoking the Parliament Act was the only way the ban was ever going to happen.
Since 1949, the Parliament Act had only been used to pass the War Crimes Act of 1991, the European Parliamentary Elections Act of 1999, and the Sexual Offences Act of 2000 (to lower the age of consensual sex for homosexuals). Apparently, the Labor government find fox hunting to be an issue on the same scale as war crimes and sexual offences.
Royal Society for the Prevent of Cruelty to Animals’ John Rolls called the bill,
. . . a watershed in the development of a more civilized society for people and animals.
But many of those involved in the act — including supporters — see the bill as being not so much about animals, but rather being about British class warfare.
On November 21, for example, Labor MP Peter Bradley — a strong proponent of the ban — penned an op-ed for the Sunday Telegraph headlined, “Yes, this is about class war” which read, in part,
Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war.
Labour governments have come and gone and left little impression on the gentry. But a ban on hunting touches them. It threatens their inalienable right to do as they please on their land. For the first time, a decision of a Parliament they don’t control has breached the lodge gates.
The placards of the Countryside Alliance plead “Listen to Us”, but what they mean is “Do What We Say” – as for centuries we have. That old order no longer prevails. Deference has been eroded by a new, universal prosperity. It’s the recognition of that irrevocable change that has made the campaign for hunting so fierce and yet so futile.
The landowners have come to realize that although they still own the country, they no longer run it. That does not make them the victimized minority they claim to be, but it does make them very angry.
So the minority which for centuries ran this country from the manor houses of rural England now rails against the hegemony of an elected majority in Parliament. And, covertly encouraged by some peers and Tory grandees, those who today threaten to defy the laws they do not like bear the names of the legislators who for generations kept the rest of us in our place.
But the problem the landowners face is not theirs alone. It is shared by the Conservatives with whom, to their mutual disadvantage, they are so closely associated.
. . .
The old order is going, but its values continue to dominate the Tory belief system. In a culture that now demands equality of opportunity, too many Conservatives can only properly enjoy what others do not have.
That is why they have an ideological commitment to private health and public schools. It’s why they oppose the right to roam and a ban on hunting. For them it’s ownership of property, especially land, and not citizenship that confers privilege. It’s why they believe that the rights of minorities – or at least their minority – should prevail over those of majorities. But in an age in which we are all aspirational and few are deferential, that is an increasingly unappealing philosophy. The tide is against the Tories as it is against the hunters and, now more than ever, the House of Lords.
Fox hunting supporters, for their part, vowed to defy the ban. Countryside Alliance chairman John Jackson told the Associated Press,
True civil disobedience is now on the horizon.
In fact, several hundred hunt supporters protested outside a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II for visiting French President Jacques Chirac.
Yes, this is about class war. Peter Bradley, Sunday Telegraph, November 21, 2004.
Queen approves hunting ban. ic Croydon, November 18, 2004.
Brits outlaw fox hunting. Associated Press, November 18, 2004.