Animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Parliament which the SNP takes extremely seriously. The SNP has been vocal in addressing concerns in this area at a UK level and committed in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government to take steps to strengthen animal welfare legislation.
The introduction of the Hunting with Dogs Bill in February of this year fulfils the Scottish Government’s commitment to strengthen the law on hunting with dogs. The chasing and killing of a wild mammal with a dog for sport or otherwise has no place in modern Scotland, and it has been illegal for twenty years. The Scottish Government is seeking to close loopholes in the existing legislation, which have allowed that already illegal activity to persist.
The Hunting with Dogs Bill facilitates legitimate predator control, while upholding the highest animal welfare standards. The Scottish Government recognises that foxes and other wild mammals can be a significant concern for farmers, and can pose a serious risk to livestock such as lambs and poultry. They can also pose a threat to other wildlife such as ground nesting birds. This Bill permits the use of dogs to search for and flush wild mammals for a number of purposes, including facilitating the control of predators in order to protect livestock and agriculture. What it does not permit is the use of dogs to chase and kill wild mammals.
The Bill introduces a new limit of two dogs that can be used to flush or find wild mammals. This two-dog limit is to reduce the risk of packs of dogs being allowed to chase and kill wild mammals.
The Scottish Government recognises that wild mammals need to be controlled to prevent damage to livestock such as lambs and poultry, and also to wildlife. That is why this Bill contains provisions to allow two dogs to be used to search for, stalk and flush wild mammals. It also allows for a licensing scheme to use more than two dogs for these activities but only where it can be shown that no other solution would be effective.
The intention of the licensing scheme is to provide for exceptional situations where, for example, the local terrain or conditions mean that a limit of two dogs would not allow farmers to protect their livestock adequately. The Scottish Government does not intend to allow this licensing regime to become a loophole, and that is why it has set out good, strong controls on its use within the Bill, including restricting the maximum number of days a licence can be issued for.
The views of stakeholders and the public have been carefully considered in developing the new legislation which is both progressive and balanced. The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with stakeholders as the Bill progresses.
In Westminster, SNP MPs continue to encourage the UK Government to bring the Kept Animals Bill back to Parliament after years of delays, amid dropping the Animals Abroad Bill, so animal welfare law in England and Wales can be strengthened, wild animal hunting with dogs can be better regulated, and animal rights can be better respected in practice mitigating harms.