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Scottish Labour plan to hijack livestock worrying bill

Emma Harper's Members Bill, Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, was debated on 21 January. Due to technical difficulties, a vote could not take place. However, all parties did declare support for what should be an important piece of legislation.

Despite being supportive of the legislation's goal, the Scottish Countryside Alliance now has serious concerns that this legislation may be amended to exclude the exemption in the 1953 Act protecting dogs used by hunts from vexatious prosecution.

In the debate Colin Smyth, Labour MSP for South Scotland and Labour's Rural Affairs Spokesperson, suggested an amendment to the Bill so that the exemption for dogs used to hunt 'being at large' on agricultural land, on which there are sheep, should be removed. In effect this could mean that hunts would not be allowed on agricultural land.

Mr Smyth says that hunts do not provide an 'essential service', thus ignoring the need for pest control and the use of packs across Scotland to deliver a pest control service to land managers and farmers under the strict conditions of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act. This is another example of an animal rights inspired amendment, for this was raised in evidence during the Bill's previous stage by OneKind, that would harm animal welfare. It would prevent legitimate pest control and is inspired by a vindictive desire to harass hunts and those using dogs lawfully. It is no surprise that Mr Smyth is a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. It is astonishing that in a Bill to protect the welfare of livestock, Mr Smyth has argued for an amendment that will endanger it. Mr Smyth should take the time to read Lord Bonomy's conclusions about hunts, hunting and the use of dogs.

In closing the debate, Ms Harper agreed to meet Mr Smyth to discuss his possible amendment, even though in her final consultation, she had recognised the need for dogs to carry out pest control. Clearly if this Bill is to be hijacked to attack the use of dogs in legitimate hunting activity, the Scottish Countryside Alliance could not continue to support it, and indeed will encourage others not to do so.

The amendment is unnecessary because hunts already operate on land with the landowner's consent. Access by hunts should remain a matter for the owner or occupier. If a landowner was concerned for livestock, they are free to deny or restrict access. In reality the hunts operate on land at the landowners request to protect their livestock.

It is staggering that once again Scottish Labour do not understand the important role that hunts play across Scotland. Indeed, it seems that they would even go as far to amend legislation, drafted to protect livestock, in such a way that may risk endangering it.

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