Martha Davies looks into the reasons why hunting and shooting is inexplicably exempt from the Rule of Six.
Photo by Alexander Andrews
The ‘Rule of Six’, introduced in mid-September, was brought in by the government in a bid to slow the emerging second wave of coronavirus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson instructed the nation to meet only in groups of up to six people, threatening a £3,200 fine for those who do not adhere to the new guidelines.
Publication of information regarding the Rule was followed by additional details of exemptions. These include weddings and civil partnership receptions and ceremonies, which can accommodate up to fifteen people, as well as funerals, at which up to 30 people are permitted to be present. Even protests are exempt from the six-person limit, although they must be “organised in compliance with COVID-19 secure guidance”. The list of sports exempt from the six-person rule comprises activities such as cricket, rugby, and football, as well as hockey, polo, and curling.
Yet, the sport receiving particular attention is shooting -the government has specified that both “hunting and paintball” - both sports that require “a shotgun or firearms certificate license” - are exempt from the six-person rule.
Further information published by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) also states that “generally, outdoor recreational activities including shooting can take place and there are no restrictions on how far you can travel.” The already controversial pastime of grouse and pheasant shooting has hence received a new surge of backlash as it appears to be favoured by the government amid the introduction of tighter restrictions.
Controversy and Backlash
Much of the resistance to these exemptions has been voiced by those who oppose hunting for reasons encompassing both environmentalism and elitism. The Conservative Party itself, however, has previously received donations from advocates of the sport, with Party members arguing that it provides vital income for rural communities.
Ian Bell, the BASC chief executive, maintains that “the government’s decision to allow shooting to continue in its current format in England is the right one.”
Indeed, Boris Johnson has been vocal about his positive views of hunting; in an article for The Spectator, he wrote of “the weird semi-sexual relation with the horse, in which you have the illusion of understanding and control.” Johnson also pondered “the military-style pleasure of wheeling and charging as one” and “the emulative fun of a pseudo-campaign,” expounding the benefits of hunting as a vital “section of our culture.” These comments are more than a little odd, and perhaps say something about the kind of person who chooses to engage in such a barbaric pastime.
Varied Rules Invite Divisiveness
As well as restrictions on group meetings, the Prime Minister recently announced a 10pm curfew for bars and pubs - an action which seems to be an undeniable U-turn following his encouragement to engage in the hospitality industry using the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme in August.
Yet, further indignation has surged in reaction to reports that locations serving alcohol on the parliamentary estate were initially exempt from the 10pm curfew, apparently because they can be classified as “workplace canteens” which “may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food”. Such contradictory rules, often benefiting politicians themselves, invite criticism and a closer examination of whether the government is truly acting out of fairness. Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard has commented that “it is clear there’s one rule for the cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us.”
The shooting and alcohol exemptions have intensified feelings of divisiveness that have risen in reaction to the government’s handling of the pandemic. As much as restrictions have been thought out to allow important group gatherings to remain possible, the Conservatives continue to be seen as a party acting in their own interests, opening up avenues of distrust and uncertainty as the threat of coronavirus persists.
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