Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Business Motion, Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill, Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Business Motion
- Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-07600, in the name of Màiri McAllan, on the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill at stage 3. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.20:34
I am pleased to introduce my first bill to Parliament and to open the stage 3 debate on the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill. As members will be aware, the bill was originally scheduled to be introduced in 2020. However, owing to the pandemic, it had to be delayed. With that in mind, I thank my predecessor, Mairi Gougeon, for the significant part that she played in developing the provisions that are set out before us this afternoon.
Today’s debate is the culmination of an eight-year process of consultation and policy development that started with a Government commitment in December 2015 to review the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. That included an independent review of the 2002 act, which was undertaken by Lord Bonomy, and two public consultations that, between them, received more than 25,000 responses. That large number of responses clearly demonstrates that there is, and continues to be, significant public interest in that legislation, and I have always been mindful of that.
When I took over responsibility for this policy area, I committed to listening to all views and to seeking consensus where possible. Over the past year and a half, I have met a wide range of organisations and individuals who were supportive of and had concerns about the proposals. As far as possible, I have tried to address those concerns in the bill as introduced and in the amendments that were lodged and accepted. I know that the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee has done similarly, and I thank it for its careful scrutiny and consideration of the bill.
I am also grateful for the support that I have received from MSPs of all parties for my amendments, and I thank members of all parties, with whom I have had productive discussions throughout the bill’s passage. That has led to agreement on constructive amendments, which I have no doubt have improved the bill.
There is no doubt that there has been a clear cultural shift in our attitudes towards wildlife in the past few decades. Practices such as hare coursing, fox hunting, badger baiting and dog fighting, which were once legal activities and, quite unbelievably, considered to be spectator sports, are no longer acceptable.
It has now been more than 20 years since the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament. Once it was agreed to, Scotland became the first part of the United Kingdom to ban fox hunting, and that has paved the way for the bill that we have been considering today.
I am proud to say that, since the passage of the 2002 act, a whole generation has been born and grown up in a Scotland where the barbaric practice of using a dog to chase and kill wild animals has been illegal. It is clear from the correspondence that I have received that many members of the public did not understand why we needed new provisions, as they believed that the activities were already illegal. However, as Lord Bonomy highlighted in his report, and as the evidence that we have heard from many, including Police Scotland, showed, the 2002 act, which at the time was rightly regarded as pioneering, was flawed. Those flaws have meant that the legislation did not have the intended impact.
If the bill is passed tonight, I am of the firm belief that it will have an immediate effect by modernising and strengthening our legislation to assist enforcement authorities in dealing with those who would persist in illegal hunting.
I know that some people continue to have concerns about the potential impact that the bill will have on lawful pursuits such as rough shooting, and I have listened carefully to those who have expressed such concerns. I understand the root of those concerns. I have said all along that the Scottish Government appreciates the contribution that rural sport makes to our economy and that we do not intend to ban recreational activities—
The minister said that she listened to stakeholders. Will she tell us what changes she introduced in the bill that would prevent the effective banning of rough shooting, which is a legal activity?
I have had extensive engagement with stakeholders on all aspects of the bill and probably on none more than the topic of rough shooting, not least in the additional scrutiny session that Finlay Carson conducted as convener of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee. The purpose of that has been to explain to stakeholders how rough shooting can still take place within the bill’s provisions. Equally, I have committed to working with industry on guidance so that it understands what to expect following the bill’s passage.
I also understand and have been clear about the need to control predators to protect livestock, and that it is sometimes necessary to manage native and non-native species to protect vulnerable birds, such as curlews, lapwings and capercaillies.
I believe that the new two-dog limit, in conjunction with a practical and effective but narrowly defined licensing scheme, will allow there to be an effective balance and will protect wildlife while facilitating legal control.
On the other hand, I have also listened to concerns that were raised by animal welfare organisations such as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, OneKind and the League against Cruel Sports that the 2002 act did not put a stop to illegal hunting and that, unless we built in stringent safeguards, those activities would continue.
That is why the bill sets a two-dog limit, restricts the circumstances in which a licence can be available, and gives NatureScot the power to limit the number of days a licence can be issued for and to impose conditions such as the maximum number of dogs and guns.
It is also why the bill contains provision to ban trail hunting. I have talked about the need to ensure the highest standard of wild mammal welfare and the need to manage wildlife. Those are not mutually exclusive. The bill has been designed to ensure that, where it is necessary, using dogs to control wildlife is done in a manner that does not lead to unnecessary suffering.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating that the chasing and killing of wild mammals with packs of dogs has no place in modern Scotland. Members from all parties across the chamber voted to support the general principles of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. At this final stage, I urge all members again to vote in support of it.
That the Parliament agrees that the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill be passed.20:40
Fourteen years after the Scottish Parliament passed the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, the Scottish Government asked Lord Bonomy to review the act and report on how it could be improved. Bonomy’s review identified insufficiencies and uncertainties in the operation of the 2002 act, and that is what this bill seeks to address. However, the review also unequivocally recognised the need to control wild mammal populations and the important role that legal and restrained hunting can play in providing that management.
This debate has provoked passionate views, and I completely understand why. We are all invested in the protection of animals and the need to prevent cruelty, but the framing of the debate often overlooks the practicalities and realities. It is often presented as a one-track issue—a narrow issue where we can either be pro or against animal welfare. I am afraid that that argument is flawed and does not help anybody. It does not help animal welfare, it does not serve our farmers on the front line and it does not help biodiversity or our environment.
If this was a straightforward choice between protecting animal welfare or not, we would be 100 per cent behind protecting animal welfare, but it is not, and we do this Parliament a disservice by pretending that it is. The debate is so often framed around hunting for sport, but what we are discussing here today is far removed from that. This bill should really be about the balance between animal welfare and biodiversity. If there is no hunting with dogs, predators will be left to attack other animals. Those predators, left unchecked, will attack livestock such as lambs and sheep, or ground-nesting birds such as the curlew, the capercaillie and other vulnerable species. This is not a simple bill that protects animal welfare; it is a bill that protects some animals’ welfare at the expense of others.
Then there is the damage to biodiversity, our environment and crops if controlled hunting to curb predators is no longer allowed. The RSPB recently warned that 50 per cent of Scotland’s species have declined in abundance since 1994. We should look at why that has happened. Scotland ranks 212th out of 240 countries and territories for biodiversity. We should be asking whether the bill will improve that record or, as I fear, keep us lagging behind the rest of the world.
When we consider the changes to the bill, we should look at the important role of managed hunting in Scotland’s wildlife conservation toolkit, yet the bill seeks to degrade that toolkit, just when we need it most. Placing further restrictions on our ability to effectively manage wildlife at a time when iconic species such as the capercaillie are under threat of extinction is plainly irresponsible. One of the primary drivers of population decline in capercaillie, among other ground-nesting birds, is predation by foxes, yet the ability to prevent that predation, which was allowed by the 2002 act, is harmed by the bill, since it places restrictions on how dogs can be used to control predators in the context of protecting vulnerable species.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will not, I am afraid, because my time has been cut.
During the stage 1 debate, the minister informed the chamber that she had studied the 2002 act during her legal training, because it was a prime example of poorly drafted legislation full of deficiencies and legal uncertainty. My concern is that the bill that we have before us today will be studied by ecologists in years to come as a bill that ignored the views of experts and pinned the final nail in the coffin for many of Scotland’s endangered species.
The bill ignores the realities of hunting with dogs—which have been outlined by organisations such as the Scottish Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, NFU Scotland and others—while legislating on matters that seem to be misunderstood by key decision makers. As I mentioned during stage 1 proceedings, animal welfare has been at the heart of this debate. I have already discussed the havoc wrought upon vulnerable species, and the NFUS has voiced concern about the effect of the bill on the ability of farms to protect livestock.
I will come to a close, because I know that time is tight. The Scottish National Party Government might have been right to revisit the 2002 act on the back of the Bonomy review, but it has done so in a way that is typical of it. It ignores the evidence around the issue, and the views of countless stakeholders and those in rural Scotland have been ignored.
We do not have faith in the bill. It will not help animal welfare, and we fear that it will have a negative impact on biodiversity, our natural environment and those who protect, support and look after it.20:45
In 2002, the Parliament sought to end the barbaric practice of mounted hunts using packs of dogs to chase foxes to exhaustion and then for those dogs to be set on the fox to brutally kill it. Two decades on, some hunts continue to ride roughshod over the letter and spirit of that ban.
Today was a chance to right that wrong, scrap the loopholes that are being exploited and end the cruelty of hunting with packs of dogs once and for all. Sadly, the bill does not do that. It will not close all of the loopholes that exist and it will not end the use of packs of dogs; it merely licenses their use. However, cruelty cannot be licensed. We cannot say, on the one hand, that using a pack of dogs is cruel because it increases the risk of dogs chasing and killing a wild mammal while, on the other hand, say that we will continue to allow packs of dogs to be used if the hunt has a licence—which is what the SNP is saying. Handing out a licence will not make that any less cruel. Those who have exploited the current legislation, which was passed more than 20 years ago, will do all that they can to exploit this legislation through licensing, and they have every reason to believe that they could be successful, because the SNP and the Tories would not accept amendments that sought to ensure that any licensing application would be subject to best practice and ethical wildlife management, even though that is the direction of travel that I am confident that we will, ultimately, go down.
When NatureScot gave evidence to the committee, it said:
“We are fairly well aligned with the ethical principles”.—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, 22 June 2022; c 24.]
Today was a test of how committed the Government is to that approach, and it has not met that test.
When the minister gave evidence to the committee on 29 June 2022, she said that
“a licence has to be construed as the option that is available when there are no other options.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, 29 June 2022; c 18.]
However, the bill is almost silent on the criteria to determine that, and an opportunity to genuinely make it a last resort has been missed.
The bill contains a number of cruel exemptions, such as continuing to allow birds of prey as a method of killing, which is no less cruel than using dogs to kill. It allows for the continuation of the use of dogs below ground to control wild mammals. The bill may well limit the number of dogs below ground to one, but if it is cruel to use more than one dog below ground then it is cruel to use any number of dogs below ground. It lacks credibility to say that you can control a dog below ground that will not see or hear you. The Government admitted that in its revised explanatory notes to the bill.
The bill does improve on existing legislation, with the limit in most cases—but sadly not all—to the use of two dogs for searching and flushing out foxes, and the inclusion of new offences that will prevent trail hunting from emerging in Scotland, as it has in England.
The bill has also been strengthened—albeit marginally—since it was introduced, as the result of amendments by several members. I am pleased that my amendments to review licensing every five years have been accepted, as have my amendments to ensure that dogs are not used to kill injured animals.
Ending hunting with packs of dogs was unfinished business when the bill was first proposed. It has no place in modern Scotland; that is the view of the public in urban areas and of the vast majority of those in rural communities. Those of us who represent rural communities know that it is not who we are and it is not what our communities believe in. The bill nudges the bar towards less hunting with packs of dogs, so it will receive Labour’s support, but the use of licensing means that the risk remains, and that an opportunity to end it once and for all has been missed. Sadly, it remains unfinished business.
I end by thanking those who have contributed to the bill, those who play such an important part by living and working in our countryside, including those who are tasked with managing our land, and the many animal welfare charities, such as the League Against Cruel Sports, OneKind and others, who give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves and campaign with such passion day in, day out. I am really proud of the campaign work that they do to improve animal welfare, but we have some way to go. My advice to them is: keep up the fight.20:50
For the vast majority of the Scottish public, it is unacceptable that fox hunting still takes place in our country. Most of us believed that fox hunting was banned just over 20 years ago yet loopholes in the law have enabled fox hunting to continue, on horseback or on foot, under the cover of legal activities. Today, those loopholes begin to close. The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill will help the police and courts to prosecute illegal activity. It will give greater protection to foxes, hares, badgers and other wild animals.
That is thanks to the tireless campaigning of animal welfare organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports, OneKind and Scottish Badgers. It is also thanks to the Scottish Government for its strong position that chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs has no place in modern Scotland.
The bill has been strengthened through the parliamentary process. We have added a duty to review the licensing scheme and take the required action, which could potentially mean removing it all together, and through my amendments, we have added a duty on the courts to consider animal welfare in sentencing.
The bill is a big improvement on the current legislation, but will it stop fox hunting? That remains to be seen. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish Greens and Labour to close the loopholes, the bill still contains many that are bound to be exploited by those who are determined to continue their cruel pastime.
I tried to remove the exceptions that allow forms of hunting with dogs for sport, hunting with dogs underground and hunting with dogs under licence. I also tried to remove the requirement for the police to obtain special permission to investigate any hunting with dogs on Crown or Government land.
That is not a hypothetical concern. Fox hunts have been allowed on land owned by Forestry and Land Scotland. Why set up additional barriers to investigating such cases? Why create a loophole for the Crown? King Charles previously lobbied to scrap the Westminster bill to ban fox hunting in England and Wales. However, in Scotland, 87 per cent of people—and 100 per cent of young people—want fox hunting to be banned.
The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government must be able to develop and pass our own laws, to set the direction of travel for the Scotland that we and the Scottish public want to see in the future, without our democracy being undermined by interference from Westminster or by the monarchy’s historic privileges. Would those of us in the Scottish Parliament who want this country to gain independence want fox hunting to continue in an independent Scotland? Of course not. If we want to live in a modern, independent Scotland, we must start legislating for that future.
The commitment made by the Scottish Government and the Greens to the upcoming species licensing review, which the minister spoke about earlier, will be the next opportunity to take a closer look at licensed hunting and to push for ethical wildlife management. We must monitor the impact of the bill closely, and the licensing scheme in particular. Any evidence that it is being used as a loophole must be acted on immediately, instead of waiting 20 more years.
The Scottish Greens have always taken a strong position against blood sports. That is why blood sports are excluded from the Bute house agreement: so that we can go further to stamp out animal cruelty. The Greens are determined to end licensed hunting with dogs as soon as practically possible, and to finally deliver a watertight ban on fox hunting.20:53
As deputy convener of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, I thank the clerks, the bill team, committee convener Finlay Carson and my committee colleagues for all their work on the bill. I am grateful to all the organisations and individuals who submitted evidence and provided briefings throughout the stages of the bill.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats support the aims of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill to tighten up inconsistencies in the 2002 act, in a way that balances the need to protect animal welfare with the need for effective pest control in our rural and agricultural areas. The Scottish Liberal Democrats are in favour of a workable licensing scheme, based on evidence, that enables the use of more than two dogs in certain circumstances. A sensible scheme is needed to ensure that effective pest control can continue. The proposed licensing scheme in the bill reflects evidence that the committee heard that, in some instances, more than two dogs are required to flush a wild mammal from cover for quick dispatch.
The initial draft of the bill stated that licences for management of wild mammals would be granted for 14 days within 14 consecutive days. From conversations with stakeholders, that appeared unnecessarily restrictive. I supported amendments from the minister at stage 2 to change that to 14 days in six consecutive months. I believe that that gives the necessary flexibility to create a workable licensing scheme for pest control.
Another aspect of the licences is that an application for a licence can be made by a sole landowner, jointly by a group of landowners or by the person who will carry out the hunting activity, with permission of the landowner. A key consideration for the licence is the terrain where the activity will take place, so licences will correspond to a particular area.
The requirement to get landowner permission for hunting with dogs was unclear to me in situations in which there are joint landowners for one piece of land or where ownership of a piece of land is split between multiple landowners. I lodged amendments at stage 2 to clarify that. I was satisfied with the minister’s explanation that when interpreting legislation, the use of the singular includes the plural and vice versa. That means that, where the bill refers to getting permission from the landowner, “landowner” can be read as “landowners” depending on the circumstances. I am grateful to the minister for meeting me to discuss the bill and for providing explanations of her amendments.
At stage 1, I called for criteria for the licensing scheme to be developed in collaboration with stakeholders. I welcome the minister’s commitment to working with stakeholders to create guidance on licensing.
The committee heard evidence about rough shooting and concerns about how it will operate under the bill. I welcome the minister’s commitment to continue to work with the industry on the issue.
We did not support amendments today that would have either further expanded or restricted the scope of the bill. We believe that the bill achieves its aims to balance priorities. We supported amendments that created obligations on the Scottish ministers to conduct reviews every five years of the licensing scheme’s operation and to report on part 1 of the bill within two years. Reporting and analysis are important to ensure that the bill achieves its aims and that licences are workable.
Respecting and enabling those who make their living off the land and having good animal welfare standards are not mutually exclusive. The vast majority of people who work on the land live in harmony with that land. Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill today at stage 3.
We move to winding-up speeches.20:57
As I have been allowed only two minutes for my closing speech, I am afraid that I will take no interventions.
I have to say that I am deeply disappointed by the final drafting of the bill, following the stage 3 scrutiny. I do not support animal cruelty, but the bill has seriously limited our ability to manage wildlife, thus putting at risk the protection and enhancement of our native flora and fauna.
I believe that the Parliament, in its wish to ban mounted hunts, has shown the true divide between countryside and urban voters. Here we are spending hours discussing hunting with dogs while the national health service is under pressure, schoolteachers are on strike and our ferry service crumbles. This debate has shown how tone deaf the Government is to the concerns of the countryside. I believe that the bill is one fuelled by ideology, not practicality.
I cannot and will not support the bill. I am afraid that it will lead to a further disconnect between our countryside and the urban areas—a disconnect that I believe the Government will ultimately answer for.20:58
It has been a genuine privilege to work on the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill. I thank all stakeholders with whom I have had extensive engagement, and I thank the Scottish Government bill team, who have worked incredibly hard. I hope that the team will take tonight off, before we get back to grouse moor reform tomorrow. I jest—but in all seriousness, a huge amount of work has been involved, and I thank the team for that.
From the beginning, my motivation has been to finally end illegal hunting with dogs in Scotland. As we know, it has been illegal for 20 years but, despite best efforts, it has persisted. Through the bill, we therefore sought to close loopholes in previous legislation and to take action to prevent other loopholes from opening, thereby future proofing our ban.
In steering through the bill, my officials and I have sought from the very beginning to end illegal activity once and for all, in the pursuit of the highest animal welfare standards, but without unduly impinging on legal and legitimate activity, and acknowledging the needs of farmers, land managers and environmental groups. That has required widespread engagement with stakeholders and MSPs. It has required close attention to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee’s observations and the sessions that it undertook. Ultimately, it has required assessment of what are finely balanced issues.
An example of that is one of the principal provisions in the bill: the two-dog limit. That puts the onus of control far more on the person who is purporting to hunt, and it makes breaches far more readily detectable by law enforcement. It is a significant step forward. However, in instituting the two-dog limit, I would not ignore the evidence of Lord Bonomy to the RAINE Committee that, in certain circumstances, two dogs would not be sufficient. It is right that the provision applies consistently across the piece and to all types of hunting, and without exceptions applied to certain types of hunting, as was called for in relation to rough shooting. Equally, however, the licensing scheme provides a very narrowly drawn but workable solution where there is no other effective option.
Likewise, I have sought to make the greatest possible progress on the issues of dogs underground. I heard the welfare concerns on the one hand but, equally, I heard about the lack of alternative options and the risk of worsening welfare outcomes. I therefore worked to find a solution that protected the welfare of dogs and foxes as far as possible, including by reducing the number of dogs to one, excluding mink from the exception and providing conditions on ensuring welfare.
On trail hunting, we have pre-empted potential loopholes. We have recognised what has happened in England and taken action to prevent it from happening here. We have future proofed the bill by taking a regulation-making power in relation to any future issues on drag hunting. I again thank my colleague Christine Grahame for her work on that.
I am a little disappointed that Opposition members have descended into a little bit of negativity in their closing comments. However, in contrast to that, and as an antidote to it, I would like to quote Lord Bonomy, who said:
“may I say that I regard the bill as a very well-crafted piece of legislation? It solves the problems that I identified about the loose and variable use of language. It makes everything much clearer and simpler, which, in itself, should be a great incentive for better enforcement of the law, because the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service were struggling with the effective detection and prosecution of offenders.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, 15 June 2022; c 41.]
On 13 February 2002, our predecessors in the Parliament voted to pass the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. I hope that we will follow their lead today and will vote to pass the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill.
That concludes the debate on the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill at stage 3, and it is now time to move on to the next item of business.