Animal welfare wins but more to do over fox hunting says MSP

Did you know that fox hunting still takes place in Scotland?

In 2002 the Scottish Parliament passed a law to ban traditional fox hunting and hare coursing. But there are loopholes in the law which enable fox hunting to continue, under the cover of legal activities.

And the wording of the current law is notoriously difficult to interpret, making it almost impossible to convict those suspected of wrongdoing.

  • That’s why the Scottish Government drafted the Hunting with Dogs Bill, which will be debated this Tuesday in Parliament.

The new Bill adds clarity that will help the police and courts prosecute illegal activity. It will afford greater protection to foxes, hares and other wild animals, so that fewer face the terrifying fate of being chased by packs of dogs, or even being torn apart and killed by them.

This is largely thanks to the tireless campaigning of animal welfare organisations such as League Against Cruel Sports, OneKind and Scottish Badgers.

But will the Bill stop all fox hunting? Sadly the answer is no. 

While the new law will be a big improvement on the status quo, it still contains loopholes that are bound to be exploited by the registered hunts that are determined to continue their cruel pastime.

That’s why I’ve lodged amendments to close three key loopholes.

First, it should never be legal to send a dog underground to hunt a fox. This often results in underground dog-on-fox fights, it can harm fox cubs or badgers that share the sett, and all animals involved can sustain horrific injuries.

Second, the law should apply equally to everyone. But the Bill as drafted includes a loophole that would make it easier for any illegal hunting activity on Crown or Government land to evade prosecution, since police would have to obtain special permission to enter onto that land to investigate.

We know that fox hunts have been allowed on land owned by Forestry and Land Scotland, and that King Charles previously lobbied Tony Blair to scrap the Westminster Bill to ban fox hunting, so the law must apply equally to royalty, Government departments and everyone else.

Third, the licensing scheme to allow hunting with more than two dogs for specific reasons should be tightened up to prevent the abuse of the system by those determined to continue fox hunting for sport, whether on horseback or by foot.

I’ve lodged several amendments to make the licensing scheme more stringent, accountable and transparent – so it can’t be used as a smokescreen for the very forms of hunting that this bill seeks to ban.

At the very least, those who use dogs to hunt under licence in order to carry out essential wildlife control, protect a native species or restore biodiversity, should have to demonstrate that they are acting as ethically as possible.

One proposal I’ve made is that licence applicants would have to submit an ‘ethical wildlife management plan’ setting out how they will achieve a long-term solution which causes the least harm to the fewest number of animals.

While it’s unlikely that these ambitious amendments will pass, it’s vital that these arguments are made in the Parliamentary debating chamber, and kept on the agenda.

This makes it more likely that they will influence future legislation and policy, such as the upcoming Species Licensing Review, which gives us a chance to work more closely with the Scottish Government to close remaining loopholes.

The Scottish Greens have been campaigning against fox hunting and other blood sports for a long time. In fact, in the last session former Green MSP Alison Johnstone succeeded in making mountain hares a protected species, giving them greater protection from hunting.

The journey doesn’t stop here. It should never be acceptable to licence cruelty, so the Greens will continue campaigning to end licensed hunting with dogs as soon as practically possible – and to finally deliver a watertight ban on fox hunting.