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In July 2015, the UK Government announced its intention to amend the Hunting Act to bring it into line with the Scottish legislation. Despite the Scottish National Party's clear policy that it would not vote on the Hunting Act because it only affects England and Wales, the SNP decided to intervene to block the proposed changes. To justify this intervention the Scottish Government announced that there would be a review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act. It was an extraordinary change of position, given that the then Scottish Environment Minister, Dr Aileen Macleod, had written to our own Director for Scotland just three weeks earlier telling him that the Scottish Government had no plans to look at the legislation. Indeed, for the previous 13 years, since the legislation had been passed there were no serious concerns raised about the legislation or its enforcement.
The Bonomy Review and Report
On 26 December 2015 it was announced that Lord Bonomy, a senior Scottish judge, would lead the review, which was to investigate the operation of the Act to ascertain whether it is providing a sufficient level of protection for wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control of these animals. Lord Bonomy's report was published on 21 November 2016. The report was unequivocal in its recognition of the need for fox control and the important role that the hunts play in providing that management. He was also equally clear in his rejection of calls to limit the number of dogs which can be used to two. The Report recommended a number of changes to the text of the legislation and the development of a non-statutory code of practice for hunts and a protocol for hunt monitors. All registered Scottish hunts have signed up to the Code of Practice for Scottish Mounted Foxhound Packs and have operated under it since the start of the 2018/19 season. The hunts are also cooperating in the drawing up of the protocol for monitors.
Public Consultation on Recommendations of the Review
A public consultation was launched on 6 October 2017, seeking views on Lord Bonomy's recommendations for improvements to the operation of the 2002 Act. The consultation closed on 31 January 2018.
On 9 Jan 2019, the Scottish Government announced its intention to bring forward legislation to implement Lord Bonomy's recommendations. However, it was also announced that the legislation would include the introduction of a two dog limit. Not only does this directly contradict Lord Bonomy's findings, but it also ignores peer reviewed research which shows that using packs of dogs is both more effective and more humane than using two. Such a restriction will, according to its own independent review, "seriously compromise effective pest control in the country". The Minister, Mairi Gougeon, said that she was considering a licensing scheme to allow the use of more than two dogs. It is, however, very far from clear whether this would be accepted by a majority of MSPs. The Scottish Government admits that what they are being 'will be going further' than their own review has recommended, which is a clear admission that these proposals are not founded on the evidence but rather in politics and prejudice. There is no clarity as to what the timetable for legislation is likely to be, but the Countryside Alliance in Scotland will continue to do everything to ensure a future for hunting in Scotland and for a debate based on principle, evidence, and genuine animal welfare considerations.