Vets run the risk of being struck off if they continue to hunt after a ban. John Parker, president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon (RCVS), made the announcement at the recent British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) congress in Birmingham.
He said that if a vet was convicted in a court of law as a result of hunting, should a ban be enforced, suspension from the Royal College’s register of members might “ultimately result”.
“It would not be automatic dismissal, but perhaps it will come down to the simple question: should a vet obey the law?” says Jeoff Gill, RCVS spokesman.
Mr Parker’s statement has caused consternation among pro-hunting vets and those belonging to the body Vets for Wildlife Management (VAWM).
John Bailey, an RCVS council member and member of VAWM, says: “John Parker was probably speaking off the cuff but I think his opinion is ill-advised. To be struck off, a vet has to be unfit to practice, and I fail to see how carrying out an activity that has taken place for the past 300 years would affect a vet’s ability to practice.
“If you speed, you break the law, but you won’t be struck off – it doesn’t bring the profession into disrepute. Any attempt to strike off a vet [for hunting] would probably end up in Brussels.”
The Royal College has, since the start of the foxhunting debate, refused to adopt an “official view”. However, in March, previous RCVS president Prof Richard Halliwell was refused a place on the council of the RSPCA because he refused to declare his opposition to hunting.
Bailey says that he has been pressing the RCVS to address the issue.
“It’s my view that one of the roles of the Royal College is to give advice on matters of animal welfare. Therefore it is strange that it makes no comment on the ethics of hunting.”
Jeoff Gill argues that this is because opinion within the profession remains divided.
“There are an awful lot of urban vets and small animal practice is becoming more predominant. We haven’t thought it appropriate to ask vets yet,” he says.
Previously known as Vets for Hunting, VAWM has about 550 members. It produced a report in 2000 that concluded that hunting is the natural and most humane way of controlling the species.
“I think if it came to the crunch it would be highly unlikely [that a vet would be struck off],” says VAWM secretary Dr Lewis Thomas. “There has to be a hearing and it could be difficult if there were 300-400 cases.
“I know that some of my colleagues have signed the hunting declaration, but it’s up to each individual’s conscience.”
RCVS and VAWM member David Rennie hunts regularly with the Heythrop and says that he will continue to do so.
“I’ve signed the declaration, but before I did so I took informal legal advice. I was warned that I’d be putting myself at risk, but that there’d be a case to be made in my defence,” he says. “I don’t want to be struck off but I will continue to go hunting.”