MSPs investigate whether fox hunting ban flouted

Evidence of packs of hounds chasing fox might make MPs think twice about copying Scottish law. Picture: Getty Images
Evidence of packs of hounds chasing fox might make MPs think twice about copying Scottish law. Picture: Getty Images
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A HOLYROOD investigation is to be conducted into claims that the hunting ban in Scotland is being flouted by hunts which allow foxes to be killed by dogs.

The Scottish Government has ordered MSPs to examine the effectiveness of the ban and reported its concerns that illegal hunting is taking place to Scotland’s most senior police officer, Sir Stephen House.

The move comes as the House of Commons prepares to vote on a controversial move to relax English and Welsh laws against fox-hunting to bring them into line with the Scottish legislation.

Last night animal welfare campaigners claimed the launch of a Holyrood investigation suggested that the Scottish legislation was “weak” and urged MPs to vote against the bid to make English and Welsh law more compatible with the Scottish ban.

On Wednesday the House of Commons will decide whether to alter fox-hunting legislation south of the Border during a free vote in which the role played by the SNP’s 56 MPs is likely to prove crucial.

With MPs representing English and Welsh seats thought to be split evenly on the issue, the SNP has the potential to determine the vote’s outcome at a time when Scottish MPs’ influence over English affairs is particularly contentious.

The Scottish Government’s decision to look at fox-hunting in Scotland will intensify pressure on the SNP politicians, who have been lobbied by anti-hunting campaigners trying to persuade them to vote against relaxing the English ban – even though the legislation will not apply in SNP constituencies.

The SNP has yet to decide its stance or if its MPs will participate in the vote on English and Welsh fox-hunting.

The Scottish Government’s decision to scrutinise the Scottish ban at Holyrood was laid out in a letter written by Environment Minister Aileen McLeod to the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland. McLeod wrote the letter in response to a presentation made at Holyrood this summer by representatives of the LACSS who showed video footage which, they claimed, showed hunts are routinely using dogs to hunt foxes.

Under the Scottish ban, enshrined in the Protection of Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, dogs can only be used if they are “flushing” foxes from cover towards waiting guns.

The LACSS alleged the videos taken on five of Scotland’s hunts saw no shotguns in use over 16 days of filming from mid-December to mid-March.

In her letter, McLeod said she “would be very concerned” if the law was being flouted. She added that ministers contacted the Chief Constable, who had agreed to look into the matter further.

She also said it would be “helpful” if there was “further parliamentary scrutiny” of the issue.

The environment minister said a section on the ban would be included in the Wildlife Crime Report, which is laid before parliament each year which would then be scrutinised by MSPs on the rural affairs, climate change and environment committee.

Her intervention was welcomed by the LACSS, who also renewed its calls for MPs to reject the chanages to the English and Welsh legislation.

Currently English and Welsh hunts can only use two dogs to flush out foxes. The amendment put before the Commons recommends the adoption of the Scottish position whereby there is no limit on the size of pack that can be used. Last night Robbie Marsland, the director of LACSS, said: “The government in Westminster says it is attempting to innocently harmonise English and Scottish hunting legislation.

“The truth is that as a result of a our video exposé of what is really going on in the Scottish countryside, the Scottish legislation is subject to a parliamentary enquiry.

“We are of the firm belief that the Scottish ban is weak and can be cynically exploited by those who want to encourage packs of hounds to chase and kill wild mammals.  The amendments presently before Westminster are even weaker and would drive a coach and horses through that legislation.”

When asked how the SNP intended to vote on Wednesday, a party spokesman said: “As with all proposals from the UK government, SNP MPs will decide our position once we have had an opportunity once we have had an opportunity to assess the detail.”

The Conservatives’ rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson, MSP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, disputed the LACSS’s view that the ban was being ignored.

Fergusson said the evidence produced by the LACSS was “far from conclusive”.

“If the League Against Cruel Sports believes the law is being broken it should take its concerns to the police, not the parliament,” he said.

“Since the hunting ban came into force, I am not aware of any action taken by the police that has found anybody in breach of the Scottish law.

“I think the allegations that are being bandied about bear intense investigation themselves, because I don’t think what they say is the case.” He added: “I also think it is unfortunate that if the minister wishes to bring this back before Parliament that she should announce this through a letter to the League Against Cruel Sports rather in front of the parliament itself.”

Last night a Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police Scotland has robust procedures in place to deal with all rural and wildlife crimes reported to us and we will and do investigate these thoroughly. We continue to appeal to the public who have any information or concerns to contact us on 101.”