Animal welfare campaigners have hailed Holyrood Parliament’s decision to tighten anti-hunting laws as a wake-up call for Westminster.
Màiri McAllan, the Scottish Government’s environment minister, said chasing and killing a wild mammal with a dog “had no place in modern Scotland” as MSPs voted 90 to 30 in favor of the dog hunting bill , That aims to close loopholes 20 years after a ban on fox hunting came into effect in 2002.
It means hunters can no longer use packs of dogs to chase away wild mammals unless they have a permit, and also bans preemptive hunting on trails, which involves dogs following an animal-based scent, and which campaigners say has been used as a smoke screen for illegal fox hunting in England and Wales since hunting was banned there in 2004.
McAllan said: “Weaknesses in existing legislation have led to continued public concern about the continuation of illegal hunting in Scotland. This bill seeks to close loopholes in the old law and prevent others from opening them. It does this to pursue the highest possible animal welfare standards while recognizing the need for farmers, land managers and environmental organizations to carry out legitimate wildlife management.
“The Hunting with Dogs Act modernizes the law and I hope it will finally bring an end to illegal fox hunting, hare hunting and other forms of illegal hunting with dogs in Scotland.”
The League Against Cruel Sports said the legislation had resulted in the most robust anti-hunting laws in the UK and increased pressure on England and Wales to review their own legislation.
Two years ago, the National Trust, one of the UK’s largest landowners, banned trail hunting over concerns from critics that the practice masked illegal fox hunting.
Robbie Marsland, the director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “As of today, Scotland has the most robust law anywhere in the UK to prevent the cruelty of chasing and killing wild mammals for sport – and this is something to to celebrate. Despite a sustained campaign by those determined to keep hunting alive in the Scottish countryside, the Scottish Government is determined to end the sport of hunting, a sentiment supported by Parliament today.
“The passing of the Dog Hunting Act (Scotland) now presents an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past two decades and close the loopholes that allowed hunters to continue to hunt as if the law did not exist .
“The inclusion of a ban on trail hunting is a major victory for Scotland, meaning hunting will not be able to use this so-called sport as a smoke screen for traditional hunting.”
The bill also includes a licensing system that would allow an entire pack of dogs to be used under certain circumstances. The details of the scheme are yet to be developed, but animal welfare campaigners worry it could be exploited.
The bill contains controversial rules that police must obtain permission from the king if they wish to investigate reports of illegal hunting on Balmoral Estate, the monarch’s private estate in the Highlands.
The legislation was previously examined by the king’s lawyers in a process known as crown consent in Scotland and king’s consent in Westminster, which affects numerous Scottish and British laws and has been applied repeatedly without any dissent in Holyrood. The king enjoys immunity from the enforcement of a large number of powers in the fields of the environment, buildings, taxes and the police.
But the measure was enforced by Scottish National Party ministers this week after the Scottish Green Party MSP Ariane Burgess, with Labor backing, tabled an amendment to remove that clause.
It was a rare act of dissent as the joint leaders of the Scottish Greens are also ministers in the devolved government, but in the final vote the SNP had the support of the Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to push through the measure.