Twenty years on from the introduction of Scotland’s fox hunting ban with the passing of the Protection of Wild Mammals Act, Martin Whitfield MSP has voted in favour of new legislation which seeks to clarify the law on hunts involving packs of dogs.

The intention of the Hunting with Dogs Bill is to end the practice of illegal hunts by closing loopholes in the existing law which it has been claimed have been exploited by those wishing to hunt with dogs.

Under the new legislation, it remains an offence to chase and/or kill a wild mammal using a dog, but the wording of the 2002 Act has been updated to make the law easier to understand and enforce.

The key legislative change is that no more than two dogs can be used to stalk or flush out animals from cover, unless a licence has been granted. The rules in the new law will also prohibit trail hunting, where dogs follow an animal-based scent.

The licence provision was opposed by Colin Smyth MSP, as well as by animal welfare campaigners, but enough MSPs voted together to include it in the legislation.

Commenting, Martin Whitfield MSP said:

“We need a comprehensive ban on fox hunting to close the loopholes that have been exploited by hunters to continue killing wild mammals – including foxes, rabbits and hares – with packs of dogs.

“While it is unfortunate that the concerns expressed by animal welfare charities about the licencing scheme have been acted upon, the legislation is still an improvement on the current situation and I was pleased to join colleagues in voting for the bill.

“I hope that the government will continue to engage with campaigners and farmers on the scope of the new licence provision to ensure that they do not just become another loophole in the legislation.”

The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland also welcomed the passage of the bill, with Director Robbie Robbie Marsland saying:

“As of today, Scotland has the most robust law anywhere in the UK to prevent the cruelty of chasing and killing wild mammals for sport – and this is something to celebrate. Despite a persistent campaign from those resolute to keep hunting alive in the Scottish countryside, the Scottish Government has been determined to end the sport of hunting, a sentiment which has today been supported by the Parliament.

“The passing of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill now provides an opportunity to right the wrongs of the last two decades and close the loopholes which allowed hunters to continue with hunting as though the law didn’t exist.”