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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Ninian Wilson

MSPs urged to close loopholes in new fox hunting legislation

MSPS have been urged to vote to close loopholes in proposed new fox hunting laws.

The Scottish Parliament will vote on the first stage of the Hunting With Dogs Bill on Tuesday as it proposed to close the loopholes that have plagued the ban since its introduction in 2002.

Mairi McAllan, Holyrood’s environment and land reform minister, said the “chasing and killing of a wild mammal with a dog for sport, or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland” – but she added that “foxes and other wild mammals can be a significant concern for farmers, and can pose a serious risk to livestock”.

“The bill has been designed to balance the needs of farmers, land managers and conservation groups – who must be allowed to effectively manage wildlife where necessary – with the need to stop illegal hunting and prevent unnecessary suffering,” the MSP said.

However, Labour’s animal welfare spokesperson Colin Smyth said his party will lodge amendments to remove proposals for a licensing scheme that could give hunters ways around the rules.

Under the scheme, packs of dogs can still be used to “flush” out foxes under licence.

The Scottish Greens’ rural affairs spokesperson, Ariane Burgess, also announced she will seek to significantly strengthen the bill through a series of amendments as it makes its way through Parliament.

Smyth urged MSPs to “right the wrong” by supporting the amendments.

He said: “Hunts have been riding roughshod over both the letter, and the spirit, of the fox hunting ban for a decade now, but we finally have a chance to right this wrong.

“The SNP are set to create new loopholes as we close the old ones with their unworkable and unnecessary licensing scheme – but you cannot license cruelty.

“The Greens have sold out animal welfare in Government, by giving the SNP a free pass to ignore their views.

“I will fight to make this the last tally-ho for hunting by removing this loophole and consigning this archaic sport to the history books once and for all.

“If SNP MSPs vote with the Tories against my amendment, they will be voting to continue hunting with packs of dogs.”

Meanwhile, Burgess said the proposals must be careful not to close loopholes and replace them with new ones.

She said: “Hunting with packs of dogs is cruel, outdated and totally unnecessary. It should have ended years ago.

“A lot of people think fox hunting is already banned in Scotland, but the reality is that there are far too many loopholes in the existing law.

“This has allowed fox hunting to continue throughout the last 20 years. It’s also allowed the continuation of underground fighting between terrier dogs and foxes.

“The new bill is supposed to resolve these ambiguities and make it easier to prosecute illegal activity, but the licensing scheme would risk closing some loopholes while creating new ones.

“There is no excuse for these brutal and inhumane practices to continue, and the polls have repeatedly shown that the public back an outright ban.”

McAllan said the intention of the licensing scheme was to “provide for exceptional situations where, for example, the local terrain or conditions mean that a limit of two dogs would not allow farmers to protect their livestock”.

The SNP minister, who said she would give “careful consideration to any suggestions”, added: “We do not intend to allow this licensing regime to become a loophole, that is why we have set out robust controls on its use within the bill, including restricting the maximum number of days for which a licence can be issued.”

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