Liberty and Democracy

Examine the clash between ideas of "Liberty" and "Democracy" shown in the current debate about the banning of fox-hunting Fox-hunting has been a major issue on the political agenda for the past ten years because both sides have strong emotions about either a foxes rights or human rights however the debate about fox hunting also raises questions about liberty and democracy and whether or not our political system is fair.

During the debate in Parliament Mr Michael urged "the Lords to behave democratically" and this shows how the Status of the House of Lords and whether or not it is a democratic institution are being brought into the spotlight once more. The House of Commons is allowed to push a bill through the House of Lords even if it has been rejected using the Parliament Act and it looks as though this is going to happen but is this democratic?

Some believe that the House of Lords play an important role in checking the Government and therefore the Parliament Act should not be used over an issue which most do not view as important as other issues such as pensions. Some even hold the view that the Parliament Act should not be used except in states of emergency. Mr Michael stated that: "The Parliament Act is part of that legislative process and part of the structure of our democracy – used sparingly, used only under provocation", he is suggesting that it is democratic to use the Act because otherwise a ban, which most MPs want, will never occur.

The real question is whether or not it is democratic for the unelected House of Lords to be able to veto a proposal from the elected House of Commons. In most cases the answer is no and in nearly all cases the House of Lords do not block bills however fox hunting is an exception because it is an affair of the heart and not of the head. Only a small minority of people fox hunt and they see that the ban of this sport is taking away one of their individual liberties.

Most people in the country are against hunting or are unsure of their views and fox hunters are experiencing the will of the many finally defeating the will of the few, whether or not this is democratic is another argument all together. The word democracy has its root in Greek times when citizens would gather and vote on proposals, whichever side had the most votes would win. Today the same happens in the House of Commons but many think that this is an issue which is not for the elected representatives to decide but for the people to decide, it has been suggested that on this issue a referendum should be held.

Referenda are usually considered to be the most direct form of democracy because everyone who has an opinion on the subject gets to contribute to the final outcome however there are also problems with this form of decision making. It can even be argued that referenda are not fairer: just because the majority wants something does not mean it is necessarily the right option. If everything were to be done through referendums than minority voices, such as that of the disabled, would never be heard.

In this case it could even be argued that fox-hunters (who are usually associated with the countryside) are a minority who are having their wishes ignored because people who do not even know anything about fox-hunting have decided that they are against it. In this country our Government tends to make decisions which look after minorities therefore implying that in our democracy the will of the majority of the people should be the line that is taken unless it puts other group's at harm.

Fox-hunting is difficult because those who hunt claim that if the sport were to be banned then livelihoods and a way of life would be destroyed, they claim that they have a right to hunt and by banning the sport this right is being removed. The continuation of fox-hunting could be viewed as democratic because those who do the sport claim that if it is banned their quality of life will be reduced and therefore in this case the will of the majority should be ignored.

It could also be viewed as democratic because it exemplifies that the House of Lords has some real power and some view the House of Lords as a democratic institution even though it is unelected. It could also be viewed as undemocratic because it has been said that Tony Blair is only pushing this Bill through to please his back-benchers not because he believes it is the correct option, this was shown by his absence from the vote.

The ban of fox-hunting can of course also be viewed as the more democratic option because most polls showing most people wanting a ban and on a issue of the heart perhaps it is the population who should make the decision. A ban would also show the elected House of Commons presiding well above the unelected House of Lords. MPs have been voted into power with the voters trust that they will make the right decisions for them therefore it is surely more democratic that they have the final say as opposed to the unelected representatives getting their way.

Fox-hunting also brings many questions forward about the nature of freedom and liberty in this country. Hunters see a ban as removing one of their positive freedoms, that is the freedom to hunt, this stirs up anger because a lot of people in the countryside already feel restricted by new laws such as those on what cattle can be fed and what pesticides can be used. The sport has been done for centuries and hunters see their freedom to do what they like on their land (almost all hunts have prior permission on territory covered) as being removed simply because the Prime Minister wants to regain some of his popularity.

However some believe that it is unfair to allow Hunters to have this right most believe this because they see hunting as the killing of a defenceless animal despite the counter arguments such as fox are vermin. Other moral questions are raised such as whether or not a fox has rights and how much pain they are in. Those who favour the ban argue that there should not be a freedom to fox-hunt and that it should be made illegal.

This raises the issue of whether or not society is improved as a whole because of increased restriction and removal of liberties. Obviously restriction is important because it makes society safer (crime restrictions) and more prosperous (tax), however fox-hunting is complex to judge because its existence does not harm people or put people at risk it just offends them. Is offence a good enough reason to take away a liberty that has existed for centuries especially when most of those who want to impose a ban have not experienced fox-hunting first hand?