Sarah Moyes: SNP must reopen total fox hunting ban debate

About 160 foxes are killed every year by hunt hounds
About 160 foxes are killed every year by hunt hounds
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THE people of Scotland must be given the chance to make a decision on fox hunting ban, writes Sarah Moyes

It’s time for Scotland to decide. No, not on independence or its relationship with the EU – you’ll have to go elsewhere for that discussion – but on what to do about fox hunting.

Lord Bonomy was clear that there is reason to believe that what is now called pest control is merely a decoy

In 2002, during the first Scottish Parliament, Scotland faced down a noisy and powerful minority and introduced legislation to ban fox hunting. It was a huge achievement that led to a similar ban in England and Wales two years later and demonstrated that Scotland could and would lead the way on animal welfare issues.

Sadly, however, fox hunting in Scotland didn’t stop. There were ten Scottish hunts before the ban, and there are still ten hunts. The only difference is that they claim to be performing a pest control service rather than hunting for pleasure. They can do this because exemption clauses that were introduced during the bill’s passage effectively undermined the legislation.

Whilst deliberate hunting is banned, packs of dogs can “flush” – chase out of cover – foxes as long as the intention is to shoot the fox once it emerges. “Accidental” killing of the fox by hounds is also permitted.

We have long called for change, and following the SNP’s intervention to protect the Hunting Act south of the border, the Scottish Government finally committed to strengthening the ban and commissioned Lord Bonomy to review the Scottish Act.

The Scottish Government did not, however, ask Lord Bonomy to look at banning fox hunting. Instead he was asked to assess whether current legislation is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes while allowing for the effective and humane control of these animals where required. This narrow remit meant that Lord Bonomy’s review is based on the premise that foxes should continue to be killed by hounds.

This was reiterated by Lord Bonomy himself when he appeared before a committee in Holyrood. As well as speaking at length about his proposals for independent monitoring of hunts, he was clear that he saw his job as finding a way of “preserving” fox hunting and “securing the welfare of the animal at the same time”. An impossibility, I would argue. He also went on to say that “my view is couched not in the form of abolishing fox hunting but in the form of trying to find a way of maintaining it”.

In spite of this flawed remit, I welcomed Lord Bonomy’s findings for two reasons. Firstly, they clarified the situation. Lord Bonomy was clear that there is reason to believe that what is now called “pest control” is merely a decoy for traditional hunting. He also concluded that approximately 160 foxes are killed every year by hunt hounds, and a further 80 are killed using terriers. Secondly, implementing his recommendations would result in a law that is at least a little better than the fatally flawed ban we have now.

Whatever happens next, the key thing that the Scottish Government must remember is that Lord Bonomy’s review is only part of the story. Most of the Scottish public want to see fox hunting banned, not regulated. If the Scottish Government wants to pursue regulation, it first needs to justify it and demonstrate that a ban has at least been considered.

Instead, it appears that the forthcoming consultation that has been promised by the Scottish Government will be restricted to the recommendations made in Lord Bonomy’s report. If this were to happen, the Scottish Government will have made its mind up on the future of fox hunting in Scotland before it has even gone to public consultation.

This wouldn’t just be a missed opportunity that would mean foxes continue to suffer. It would also leave the SNP in a difficult position. The SNP was willing to take a principled stand against the weakening of the Hunting Act in England and Wales. Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, couldn’t have been clearer when he said this was because “we totally oppose fox hunting”.

We strongly welcomed this intervention, but its credibility will be completely undermined if the SNP fails to even consider a ban in Scotland.

• Sarah Moyes is a campaigner for the animal protection charity OneKind