MSPs must not let the few who continue to follow this cruel sport make a mockery of the law
The ban on hunting foxes with hounds marked a hugely significant step for the Scottish Parliament. Here was controversial legislation passed in the face of serious opposition, and the success of the process back in 2002 reassured us that Holyrood had the maturity and the will to tackle complex issues.
There were those who argued strongly against the ban, complaining that it would signal the end of a historic countryside tradition, while others suggested that it was a spiteful law, based on hatred of what was seen as an upper-class pursuit. But MSPs captured the mood of the nation and took what we believe to have been a progressive and wise step. This was legislation with a moral purpose: the ending of a barbaric and cruel practice.
Thirteen years later, however, it appears that the law is not working. The Scottish Parliament is now to investigate the issue in an attempt to tighten up legislation that should have been perfectly straightforward. There is a considerable amount of evidence that packs of hounds are still being used to hunt foxes, despite claims that they are simply used to flush out the creatures before they can be shot.
This newspaper has no quarrel with the argument that the fox population must be kept under control, but this must be done as humanely as possible. The days when it was considered sport to see a fox torn apart by dogs were supposed to end in 2002. That they have not is of huge concern.
It will be fascinating to learn what MSPs now uncover about the apparent failure of this legislation. The law is clear enough: the destruction of foxes by packs of hounds is expressly forbidden. So the concern must be that, in fact, we are witnessing a failure to implement that law.
If this is the case, then the need is not for additional legislation, it is for the police to ensure that anyone hunting foxes with hounds is caught and properly punished.
A failure of enforcement is simply not acceptable. Such a state of affairs would make a mockery of a measure that enjoys wide public support and which, after 13 years, should be well bedded-in.
There are not, now, an unmanageable number of hunts in Scotland. It should be possible for Police Scotland to monitor which hunts are taking place where, and when.
Of course, we do not expect officers to join the hunts on horseback to ensure that, once flushed out, foxes are killed humanely, but it must be possible for random checks to be made.
Should MSPs feel the need to make the current legislation more muscular, then there are a number of measures – stricter limits on the number of dogs permitted, time restraints and tougher licensing, for example – that might be considered. What must surely be possible is for those who dare to flout the law to be left in no doubt that their actions are unacceptable and will have consequences.
We understand that, for many, hunting with hounds was an important part of their lifestyles, but progress in this area means that those people must remain disappointed. Those who might retain a sense of entitlement about hunting in its most brutal form must be disabused of the notion that they can continue as if the law does not apply to them.
The control of the fox population is a necessary part of country life. The animals are a nuisance to farmers and their humane destruction must be allowed. But the time for the law that bans hunting with hounds to be properly implemented is long overdue.
The legislation is clearly not currently working and steps to address that are to be welcomed. That action is necessary is unfortunate, but if it must be taken, then let us hope that we see an end to this cruel “sport” once and for all.
Defending our military assets
POLITICIANS’ rhetoric on the value of our armed forces, and those who serve, frequently jars with the reality of cuts. While elected members are quick to show off their credentials as supporters of service personnel, they can be equally eager to slash budgets, leading to weakened services and demoralised staff.
So we are pleased to learn that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has told officials that he doesn’t want to see a reduction in the military presence in Scotland recommended by the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Fallon has previously made it clear that Ministry of Defence property is – potentially – up for sale. But he has now informed civil servants that they should not allow bases in Scotland to be put on the market. In an ideal world, this would be a decision based on the needs of armed forces personnel, but the reality is that Fallon has acted after concerns that any cuts to services might play into the hands of the SNP.
It’s certainly likely that the Scottish Nationalists would have been able to make political capital out of the loss of staff or bases in Scotland. In fact, despite the protection of Scotland’s current military presence, the SNP have this weekend criticised the government for past decisions.
But regardless of the cynical motivation for Fallon excusing Scotland from any fallout as a result of the review, the outcome is to be welcomed.
Serving personnel have faced cut after cut in recent years. There have been disturbing reports about out-of-date equipment and a failure to maintain the number of staff required to carry out certain operations.
The SNP points to the cost of Trident and calls for its abolition to ensure the maintenance of conventional forces. But this is a simplistic argument that supposes that the decommissioning of the nuclear deterrent could be carried out swiftly.
Politicians romantically describe Britain’s armed forces as the finest in the world. If this is so, then it is despite the challenges faced by personnel as a result of political decisions. There have been cuts enough to the army, navy and air force. It is time that those who remain in post were given the support they need.
A period of stability will make a good start.