WAS IT worth the turmoil? On the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act being introduced, a controversial piece of legislation which was the culmination of a decade-long struggle between blood sport opponents and countryside activists, this newspaper can reveal that just 21 people involved with hunts have been found guilty of breaking the law.
Once again, it has reopened a passionate debate about the future of hunting which continues to enjoy record popularity in spite of the changes which were only forced through Parliament by Tony Blair’s government when the then premier came under intense political pressure from his own backbenchers following the fallout from the Iraq war.
There are those animal welfare campaigners who believe that the relative small number of huntsmen to be successfully prosecuted – little more than two a year on average – offers evidence that the law should be strengthened. The contrary view is that this legislation should be repealed because it has made little difference to country pursuits – Daniel Curtis, a district judge who presided over a case in Beverley, suggests that the law “is difficult to interpret and apply”.
It remains to be seen whether there will be any appetite for this issue to be revisited in the next Parliament which will, once again, be dominated by the reconfiguration of the public finances – rural affairs is unlikely to be a determining factor in the election and the Tories, the traditional party of the countryside, are not committed to repeating previous manifesto pledges to repeal the legislation in question.
Yet, as today’s landmark reopens longstanding animosities, there will be many simply wishing that the same level of energy generated by the hunting debate could be channelled into the wider rural economy so that Yorkshire’s villages are not marginalised by policy-making that has become increasingly London-centric and out of touch with the real needs of the English countryside.
The multi-lingual will prosper
IN A global economy when new technology is pushing back trade boundaries, it should be a source of concern – perhaps even national embarrassment – that Britain can no longer be regarded as a nation of linguists. This is borne out by the revelation that there has been a 16 per cent fall in the number of students studying a foreign language at university.
This perturbing trend can be explained by two exacerbating factors: an arrogant assumption, on the part of some, that foreigners should be expected to speak English and years of political prevarication about whether traditional subjects like French, German or Spanish should still be included on the GCSE syllabus.
One argument is that schools should be focusing more resources on those pupils who are struggling to meet national benchmarks in English. Yet, while many will agree with this sentiment, it should not preclude other students from studying foreign languages – especially if they have the enthusiasm and inclination to do so.
After all, the world is becoming a much smaller place, thanks to the internet, and it is the multi-lingual who will be best placed to prosper. The question is whether schools should still be teaching French and German, because they have always done so, or be more willing to embrace Spanish, Urdu and Mandarin – three of the dominant languages of the 21st century.
A war of words: Simpson backs festival campaign
AS A fearless war correspondent, John Simpson is no stranger to the front line. Yet one of this country’s finest journalists now finds himself waging a totally different war after joining the fight to safeguard the future of Ilkley Literature Festival.
Simpson, who opened the prestigious literary event in 2010, has added his name to those campaigning for Bradford Council to reverse its proposal to axe an annual grant of £11,178, a move which could lead to a rise in admission prices as well as limit the scope of accompanying workshops for young writers.
In doing so, the BBC broadcaster sides himself with those who believe that councils have a civic obligation to fund those cultural events which do so much to boost a community’s vitality, even at a time of austerity.
Their enemy is those who contend that town halls have more pressing priorities and that such an illustrious event should be self-sufficient because of the number of visitors who are attracted to Ilkley and the foothills of the Yorkshire Dales. Let battle commence in this war of words.