LABOUR backbenchers may revolt against parts of the Government’s
Hunting Bill because they believe it sets a legal precedent that could lead
to the abolition of angling, horseracing or dog racing.

Under pressure from Britain’s three million coarse, game and sea anglers,
MPs are backing amendments scrapping the tests of “utility” and “least
suffering” against which the Bill says any form of hunting should be judged.
Led by Martin Salter, the Government’s spokesman on shooting and fishing,
backbenchers have rejected the repeated assurances of Alun Michael, rural
affairs minister, that the Bill sets no legal precedents that could be used
by animal welfare groups to abolish or impose regulations on other sports.
The MPs, who are all anti-hunting, are to propose amendments removing the
tests of utility and cruelty in the now likely event that the Bill is
amended in the Commons to bring about a total ban on hunting in all forms.
But in doing so, they are being accused of hypocrisy and bigotry by
pro-hunting activists for seeking to abolish hunting – without reflecting
any of the evidence or principles established by Lord Burns’s hunting
inquiry and set out in the Bill – while preserving traditional,
working-class sports such as coarse fishing, which some animal welfare
activists regard as equally cruel.
Mr Salter, Labour MP for Reading West and the Government’s appointed
spokesman for shooting and fishing, said the Bill set unfortunate precedents
for angling.
He is a keen trout and coarse angler whose crowning piscatorial achievement
was catching a 92lb mahseer (a fish rather like a cross between a carp and a
barbel) in India on 40lb line.
Mr Salter said: “You cannot make a utility case for coarse angling, for
horseracing, for keeping pets or for greyhound racing.
“I know that my colleagues will be proposing amendments to delete the
utility tests from the Bill because, in the light of a total hunt ban, they
are irrelevant.
“I am not in the business of being anything less than honest and
straightforward with anglers. In my judgment, those tests could easily be
used against lots of other sports. What is the utility of the Grand National
or greyhound racing?
“At the moment you can argue the case for coarse fishing on the grounds that
cold-blooded creatures don’t feel pain. But who is to say that in 20 years’
time science might have changed the current scientific position?”
Mr Salter said he was expecting the necessary amendments to remove the
threat to angling and other sports to be devised by the RSPCA’s legal team
and made available to backbench Labour MPs.
He has received representations from coarse fishing organisations saying the
sport, in which fish are returned to the water alive often after spending
some hours in a keep net, could not withstand the test of “utility” as it is
done purely for pleasure and not pest control.
Bob Clark, of the National Federation of Anglers, said: “Coarse fishing has
a problem with these tests which must be taken out.
“We are concerned on behalf of our 230,000 members that the desire by some
MPs to get a ban on hunting with dogs doesn’t affect other sports in the
future, which this Bill clearly does.
“If MPs want to get hunting banned for class-based reasons, they will do it.
However in their desire to ban hunting with dogs, they need to be careful
they don’t bring angling into the argument.”
He said there was no middle way, or regulatory route, possible when it came
to fishing. “The middle way is for Government to clear off and leave people
alone to get on with their pleasures.”
The Government had collaborated with the federation in promoting angling in
inner-city Sheffield, where it had been shown to deflect young people from
Coarse fishermen are sensitive about precedents in parts of Germany
controlled by the Greens. British troops brushed with the law for taking
part in angling matches where the fish were caught and returned to the
water. Anglers were told they would have to kill everything they caught as
only fishing for the pot was morally justified.
Simon Hart, director of the Countryside Alliance’s campaign for hunting,
said: “Martin Salter’s comments are the first official recognition by Labour
backbenchers that this Bill poses a serious threat to fishing and shooting.
More sinister though is Mr Salter’s blatant discrimination.
“It simply isn’t possible or justifiable to apply welfare principles to some
activities and not to others or to pick and choose the people they affect,
according to prejudice and bigotry.
“The only solution to this debate which will work is one based on evidence
and principle. Neither seem to feature in Mr Salter’s thinking.”