TOP MEMBERS of the RSPCA’s Governing Council are seeking to force the Queen to step down as patron of the charity because of her support for hunting.
Militant members of the group last week claimed that the monarch was "irrelevant" to the society, which has become vehemently anti-hunting in recent years, due to the influx of more extremist supporters. They want to drop the "Royal" part of the society’s name, granted by Queen Victoria in 1840, and become known simply as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Queen's role was discussed at a closed meeting of the Society's ruling council last week as half of the society's 80,000 national membership voted in an election for five new council members. The results will be announced at the society's AGM on June 26.
The election has caused controversy because all six candidates are members of many of the same animal rights groups, fuelling criticism that the society's agenda has shifted from ‘animal welfare’ to campaigning for ‘animal rights’.
Trustees at the closed council meeting in London on Wednesday discussed a proposal to call for the Queen publicly to condemn hunting and shooting. They decided not to back the proposal but only because it was feared that such a call would "rock the boat" and could jeopardise the chances of the Government banning foxhunting in the autumn, according to a society member close to the council.
He said: "Some of them wanted to put pressure on the Queen because, frankly, they don't want her to be patron, given her support for hunting, which they are passionately against.
They held back for tactical reasons but they are planning to launch a campaign to oust the Queen when the foxhunting issue is resolved."
Some council members have made no secret of their opposition to the Queen's role as the RSPCA’s patron. David Mawson, 28, a vegan chef from Catford, south-east London, and a radical RSPCA council member, said: "The Queen should be removed as patron because of her pro-hunting views.
"She doesn't attend any of our events and she battered a pheasant to death recently. She's only there because we are the 'Royal' society and some of the conservative members are worried about losing that."
An un-named member added: "Her position is untenable. In the end she will have to step down. And if we lose the Royal bit of our name, then so be it. We couldn't care less."
It is not the first attempt to remove the Queen as patron. Three years ago Angela Walder, a council member who has been arrested several times for public order offences, said that having her as patron was "like the NSPCC having a paedophile as its patron".
A Buckingham Palace spokesman tactfully said that the Queen did not want to become embroiled in political issues and, as patron, "would continue to support the RSPCA in its primary role of animal welfare".
The election for five seats on the 25-strong council - there are six candidates, four of whom are current council members - has caused further divisions in the society.
Critics said that the candidates' manifestos confirm that the society has been taken over by animal rights activists. One member close to the ruling council spoke out against the rise of the extremists saying: "The RSPCA's main role is to care for cats and dogs and other pets but it now has an agenda dedicated to political campaigns for bans on hunting, whaling, experiments on animals and other animal rights issues."
The manifestos show that half the candidates are members of the League Against Cruel Sports and Compassion in World Farming, five belong to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), and two are members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). All want foxhunting banned.
Dr Alun Rees, a candidate from west Gwynedd, describes hunting with dogs as "an atrocity". Another candidate, Marion Roberts, from Norfolk, says: "I am against all hunting, fishing for pleasure, horse and dog racing, pheasant farming and shooting and any entertainment that exploits animals in the UK and abroad."
Dr Richard Ryder, a former council chairman and the driving force behind the society's ‘modernisation’, says: "I want to keep out of the society those such as foxhunters who have been deliberately trying to infiltrate our ranks in order to undermine us."
The council's chairman, David Thomas, who is standing for re-election, said that the Society could work for animal welfare and animal rights. He said that he could "see no inconsistency" with the Queen remaining as patron, despite her support of hunting, and would be "quite happy" for her to remain in this role.