Racing, animal welfare and hunting are among the issues on which political parties have made promises ahead of the general election (12 December) that will have a direct impact on equestrians and the industry.
The Countryside Alliance (CA) is pushing its rural charter, to highlight some of the key issues for those who live and work in the countryside, and its “Twibbon” social media campaign — a picture frame that can be used on photos on social media — to spread the message that rural communities must not be taken for granted.
“Political parties would do well to tackle the vast number of issues facing the countryside,” said the CA’s head of policy, Sarah Lee. “These include fixing poor broadband in rural areas; addressing the lack of affordable housing; better rural transport links, as well as defending and promoting the post office and our hard-working rural businesses.
“We call on candidates from all parties to recognise the importance of wildlife management and the value of hunting, shooting and fishing.”
Each political party has put forward its manifesto, which outlines what it hopes to achieve should it come to power.
The Conservatives have pledged to make “no changes to the Hunting Act”, while Labour says it will “enforce and strengthen” it.
While the Conservative promises would mean the situation remains unchanged, Labour’s plan would include a review of penalties for hunting outside the law, bringing them in line with those for other wildlife crimes. This includes consulting on introducing custodial sentences.
It would also introduce a new “recklessness” clause, remove the exemption for research and observation, and the exemption of the use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting.
A Conservative plan to make intentional trespass a criminal offence could potentially disrupt hunt saboteurs.
The Liberal Democrats say they would establish an independent regulatory body for horse welfare in the sport. This topic was debated in parliament a year ago, when MPs decided no new regulator was needed.
Labour states it would carry out an independent review of the use of the whip in racing to “establish if its use for ‘encouragement’ can be justified”.
The British Horseracing Authority responded on publication of the manifesto, asking people to note that the sport has strict rules on use and design of whips and that they do not compromise the welfare of horses during a race.
It adds that British racing constantly uses evidence, research and consultation to improve its policies and rules, and that whips are carried as an essential aid to horsemanship and safety.
How animal welfare is managed and the way animal sentiency is viewed in UK law are among the topics that would affect the equestrian world.
New legislation on sentience, and tougher punishments for animal abuse were part-way through being created when parliament was dissolved on 6 November ahead of this general election. When parliament is dissolved, all unfinished bills are dropped.
The Tories, Lib Dems and Labour all feature these subjects in their promises.
The Lib Dems pledge to enshrine the principle of animal sentience in UK law, to ensure due regard is paid to welfare in policymaking. It would also introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty offences, including the maximum sentence from six months to five years, as stated in the bill that was put on hold last month.
The Conservatives state they will introduce tougher sentences for animal cruelty and new laws on animal sentience. There are no further details in their manifesto.
Labour states it would “enshrine the principle of animal sentience in law”, but with scant detail. It also promises to remove two-tier sentencing for animal cruelty, so the maximum five-year prison term would apply.
It is also promising to implement legislation to tackle fly-grazing and horse abandonment, and review the horse passport system “to improve horse welfare and act on concerns following the 2013 horse meat scandal”, but gives no details as to what the alternative would be.
There are many other pledges that would affect the equestrian world, riders and equine businesses, such as changes to minimum wage, contracts, business rates, taxes and pensions. More details on these and all the above points can be found in each party’s manifesto online.
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