Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Bill


The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act was passed in 2002 and whilst the title of this legislation sounds admirable enough, in fact its real aim was to do nothing other than ban hunting with dogs. At least this time around in the Scottish Government’s ‘salami slicing’ process of eroding our civil and rural liberties quietly and over a period of time, they are being true to their beliefs by calling it the ‘Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill’.

Having viewed this prejudiced and ill-judged Bill in some detail and with a large degree of concern, it is obvious that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, with a reluctant nod to their Green Party partners, are hellbent on banning any form of hunting with dogs in Scotland. They’re not exactly sure why and on what basis of scientific and peer reviewed evidence that it is a necessary and practical step. Nor do they see what the real impacts on alternative methods of wildlife management will be, let alone caring one iota for the people they will needlessly criminalise and make redundant.

What we are witnessing here is wilful ignorance, underscored by an unsavoury political agenda, based on misguided class prejudice and discrimination against a rural minority. This is nothing to do with animal welfare.

Have they really thought through the implications of removing an integral method from the varied tool kit used in the management of varying species of predator or pest in our countryside, the ancient, tried and tested use of dogs? How to protect Scottish flocks of sheep with their lambs, as fox prey, near forestry or upland? How to balance native indigenous populations of such upland nesting species as grouse, capercaillie, curlew, plover, or birds nesting on lowland arable farming country? How to protect the livelihoods of Scottish farmers in the face of an impending food crisis? How to act as a credible leadership within a democratic political system and respect and protect minorities such as the ‘rural Scot’ and their way of life? Or is it more acceptable to act as a dictatorship and against all evidence provided by scientists, veterinary surgeons and the rural sector generally, ride roughshod over a quiet, law-abiding minority, who constitute the threads of the tapestry of the rural community and criminalise them?

The Scottish Government is currently in the process of legislating to reduce the number of hounds from a full pack (legally operating since 2002 flushing foxes to be shot by guns) to 2 hounds. What is the animal welfare basis for proposing such an unworkable diktat? In 2002, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) had admitted the flaw years previously when its then Chief Executive, Douglas Batchelor, had said in a leaked memo, “Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns.”

You might at this point like to pour yourself a stiff dram. A brief summary of the hypocrisy and prejudice that underpins this latest blunder is that when the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill was passed in 2002, it enabled the management of the fox population, by using a full pack of hounds to flush foxes from cover to be shot. England and Wales passed the 2004 Hunting Act which banned hunting using a full pack (with a 2-hound exemption for flushing foxes from cover to be shot). No veterinary, conservation or welfare basis was given to justify this provision, though obviously two dogs do not constitute a pack, which hints at the real reason behind this restriction. Trail hunting became the norm thereafter.

Roll forward to 2015 when David Cameron’s Government sought to review and replace articles within the Hunting Act 2004 and would have had a majority to back that, especially based on the promise from Scottish MPs in their oft repeated commitment not to vote on the Hunting Act, which only affects England and Wales. As Nicola Sturgeon said at the time: 

“The SNP have a longstanding position of not voting on matters that purely affect England – such as foxhunting south of the border, for example – and we stand by that.”

Except, unsurprisingly, she didn’t.

The SNP reneged on its promise and forced the UK Government to withdraw the proposed amendment to the Hunting Act.

Now it was the Scottish law that was wrong, despite LACS having proudly announced to their members in 2002 that: 

“League staff attended every Parliamentary committee meeting and briefed MSPs about the dangers of dozens of pro-hunt amendments… and, despite the claims of the Scottish hunters, there are no gaping loopholes or flaws.” 

To justify their new position, the SNP argued that the law was being flouted, which was refuted by Police Scotland.

Realising that some evidence or opinion was needed to change the Scottish Law, in 2016 Lord Bonomy was commissioned by the Scottish Government to review the efficacy of the 2002 Act. His scope was extremely narrow:

“The review will look at whether current legislation is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals while allowing for the effective and humane control of these animals where required. The review will not consider the following:

– whether predator control is necessary to protect livestock or wildlife

– the operation of other wildlife legislation unless it has a direct bearing on the operation on the 2002 act

– other types of predator or pest control”” 

Despite that, Lord Bonomy’s review was largely well received from a hunting perspective, one of its main recommendations being that using only 2 hounds would seriously compromise the effectiveness of hounds to control or manage the fox population and might in fact be more detrimental to the welfare of the hunted animal.

So, with the old aim still in mind, to ban fox hunting at all costs, aided by such anti-hunting organisations as the LACS, One Kind and the Wild Animal Welfare Committee, in a Green Party appeasement stunt, the Scottish Government put forward this current Bill, whilst completely ignoring the fundamental findings of their own commissioned review, as limited in scope as it was directed to be. Lord Bonomy will appear again this Wednesday 15th June, to give evidence to the RAINE Committee in Holyrood, as this Bill flounders forward towards its conclusion.

SNP in Westminster at it again.

Out of left field, less than a month ago on 16th May, an ‘Early Day Motion’ was proposed in Westminster, to ban trail hunting licenses on MOD land, extending to England and Wales, as there is no trail hunting in Scotland. You might be as surprised as I was to find out that of the 15 MPs that proposed and supported the motion, 13 of them were SNP MPs in Westminster.

So much for not interfering in matters that don’t affect Scotland. But you might see what the purpose is when you realise that, yet again, Hunting and Scotland are being used as pawns in a political game. Part of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill is to make trail hunting illegal before it might even be considered an option, so of course it would be in the SNP interest to attempt to cancel trail hunting south of the border, as a comparator to legitimise their future intentions.

The great cry that legal trail hunting is a ‘smokescreen’ for the real thing belies the real point that the only ‘smokescreen’ at play here, in these shoddy politics, is that the pretence of legislating on animal welfare is the smokescreen for attacking minorities based on class prejudice.

The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management clearly states:

“Hunting by hounds is the natural and most humane method of controlling the population of all four quarry species, fox, deer, hare and mink, in the countryside”.

These are people whose professional function is unrelentingly to ensure the welfare of animals and are undeniably in the best position to provide an opinion.

I really don’t think the Scottish Government has any idea of the damage they will cause to sustainably managed wildlife populations, the environment and ecology of Scotland, not to mention the livelihoods and way of life of thousands of associated families and their communities engaged in these activities.

In conclusion, you might realise that a process of appeasement and negotiation with a government that, to date, has demonstrated a contempt for the science of genuine animal welfare, a contempt for Scottish cultural heritage and for the way of life of its rural minority, as well as reneging and continuing to renege on promises from its First Minister in writing, might not be the only strategy available. Do we honestly think that we’re going to achieve a sensible and workable outcome dealing with politicians with such a track record?

Judicial Review

There might well be the grounds for a judicial review on this entire process, after the event, as there are clearly so many prejudiced and biased discriminatory actions going on within it. In order to be best placed to achieve a successful review and not find oneself compromised through legal ignorance at this stage of the Bill’s progress, a legal opinion commissioned by the Scottish hunting and rural sector might well be a wise move.

A few points to consider (from a very long list) with further scrutiny might be as follows:

  • The Scottish government argues that the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 requires updating, but without providing any evidence. The LACS stated in 2002, “League staff attended every Parliamentary committee meeting and briefed MSPs about the dangers of dozens of pro-hunt amendments… and, despite the claims of the Scottish hunters, there are no gaping loopholes or flaws.” What has now changed?
  • Does this Bill originate from the Bonomy Report and is it based on the technical difficulties of enforcing the current law or is it based on firm evidence that animal welfare is not being served?
  • Has there been any assessment by the Scottish government of the effects of the current law in terms of animal welfare or conservation?  If not, why not? If so, where is that evidence?
  • Has there been any assessment by the Scottish government on the welfare effects of the methods of control or management available that might fill the vacuum, if hunting with dogs is curtailed or cancelled?
  • The penalties in the new Bill are outrageously excessive (fines of up to £40,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years) and totally disproportionate. Other intended clauses demand things that cannot easily (if at all) be quantified, such as showing “no other solution would be effective in achieving the purpose”. Similar unquantifiable requests are included. The possibility of confiscating horses is utterly impractical and is, in itself, a welfare issue. Surely these points must be challenged. Does the fact that the SCA and numerous countryside organisations are involved in negotiations on licensing hunts compromise the possibility of a judicial review at some later stage and make them complicit in the creation of further bad law?

The only acceptable outcome is to have all current wildlife management laws that pertain to Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales reviewed properly and replaced as necessary, aside from politics. This must be based on scientific evidence and opinion, to result in a regulated framework that will enable those rural practitioners engaged in the husbandry of our wildlife and countryside to conduct their task properly and do so legally. It must also respect the rights of the minority groups and communities engaged in such, as well as the rich cultural heritage of these islands. Political manoeuvring at the expense of these generational legacy matters should have no place in today’s society and any further negotiations need to keep the importance of that in the forefront of our position.

As Winston Churchill said, on being begged by his cowering political colleagues to negotiate with Hitler:

‘You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth’.

Ed Swales represents Hunting Kind in association with This is Hunting UK.