MSPs are bidding to close legal loopholes and end fox hunting in Scotland “once and for all”.
Parliamentarians will debate the new Hunting with Dogs Bill at Holyrood on Tuesday.
The Bill, introduced by the Scottish Government, aims to make the law clearer on the practice.
It will replace existing legislation, introduced in 2002, that saw hunting animals with dogs in Scotland effectively banned.
However, it does not entirely ban the use of dogs, despite including significant restrictions.
The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 allows for the limited use of dogs in certain situations.
This includes the protection of livestock, protecting human health and preventing the spread of disease.
Under the new proposals, dogs can be used to search for, stalk or flush a wild mammal, but only for specified reasons and if the activity meets the requirements in the Bill.
Certain conditions must also be met when using dogs for the permitted purposes.
Opposition parties at Holyrood have introduced amendments seeking to bolster the legislation.
The Scottish Greens are seeking to remove proposed licensing of hunting with packs of dogs in some circumstances, as well as removing the exception for terrier work.
Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill is the first piece of legislation excluded from the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Greens and Scottish Government that was signed last year.
The Scottish Government has stated that the legislation aims to put an end to illegal hunting.
Ariane Burgess, Scottish Green rural affairs spokesperson, said the reality is that there are “far too many” loopholes in the existing law.
She also suggested that the licensing scheme under the new Bill would create new loopholes, despite closing others.
“Hunting with packs of dogs is cruel, outdated and totally unnecessary. It should have ended years ago,” she said.
“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 the brutal practice to continue throughout the last 20 years. It’s also allowed the continuation of underground fighting between terrier dogs and foxes.
“The new Bill 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.”
Burgess insisted that hunting wildlife with packs of dogs should have “no place” in modern Scotland.
She said: “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.
“Our parliament has the chance to act. The amendments I will move will strengthen the bill and close the loopholes, ending fox hunting for good.
“I urge colleagues to reflect on whether we are legislating for a Scotland of the past or the future. Hunting wildlife with packs of dogs should have no place in modern Scotland.”
Scottish Labour has also lodged amendments to the Bill.
The party has called for the licensing scheme to be removed from the legislation.
Scottish Labour’s animal welfare spokesperson Colin Smyth insisted he would seek to consign fox hunting to the history books.
“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 the wrong,” said Smyth.
“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.”
He added: “If SNP MSPs vote with the Tories against my amendment, they will be voting to continue hunting with packs of dogs.”
Environment and land reform minister Mairi McAllan explained that the Bill was designed in order to balance the needs of farmers, land managers and conservation groups.
“The chasing and killing of a wild mammal with a dog for sport, or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland,” she said.
“The Hunting with Dogs Bill will finish the work started 20 years ago by delivering a comprehensive ban on the use of dogs to chase and kill foxes, hares and other wild mammals.
“By introducing this Bill, I want to both close loopholes in the existing legislation which have allowed this already illegal activity to persist in our society, and take steps to prevent other potential loopholes from opening.
“However, I recognise that foxes and other wild mammals can be a significant concern for farmers and can pose a serious threat 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.”
McAllan insisted that the Government does not intend to allow the licensing regime to become a loophole.
She said: “The intention of the licensing scheme is to provide for exceptional circumstances where, for example, the local terrain or conditions mean that a limit of two dogs would not allow farmers to protect their livestock.
“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 license can be issued.”
The minister added: “I look forward to the debate and hearing members’ contributions. I will listen closely to what is discussed and give careful consideration to any suggestions.”
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