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The Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, Jake Swindells, has written an update for members and supporters in relation to the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill.
The Scottish Government, as expected, published the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill on the 25th February. Though there were no huge surprises in the Bill, there are a number of proposals that make the Bill unworkable in its current form. What must be remembered is that there is an opportunity for us to make our case and that amendments can be made throughout the parliamentary process to make the Bill more workable.
The proposal for a licensing system has been coming for some time now and this was confirmed. The Bill, as it stands, would retain the ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs subject to limited exceptions, such as pest control, but would now ban the use of more than two dogs, unless permitted under a licence.
The Licence: A licence can be granted to a person or category of persons
This is positive news as the early indications suggested that a licence might be considered for a landowner, which would cause enormous difficulties when crossing boundaries. Permission must also be gained from any relevant landowner. The criteria for the licence have not yet been made clear, but the licence will only be granted if it can be shown that there is no other effective alternative to the use of more than two dogs to achieve the purpose for which the licence is being granted, such as to protect livestock, or for conservation.
The licensing authority (likely NatureScot) may also only permit the minimum number of dogs that it is satisfied is necessary for that particular application grant. Again, it is unclear how this decision will be reached. The period for which the licence can be granted for the management of wild mammals above ground to protect livestock, woodland and crops is up to 14 days within a consecutive 14-day period, and up to 2 years for reasons of environmental benefit. This may include the preserving, protecting, or restoring of a particular species. Operating outside of the legal parameters may land you with a £40,000 fine and up to 12 months in prison. As this licensing proposal stands, it is neither workable nor fair.
Cost: ScotGov has published a financial memorandum relating to the Bill
The key point of note is that there is likely to be legislation introduced that will render the application and administration process cost neutral. In effect, the applicant may bear the costs of the process, if this comes to fruition.
Trail hunting: Trail hunting is being targeted
Under the current proposal, trail hunting will be banned. Although not commonly practised in Scotland, it is yet another attack on a perfectly legal and legitimate activity in order to restrict further the activities of hunts.
Timeline: The Bill now has to pass through three stages before it is agreed and implemented or rejected
Stage 1 is a committee stage and will begin imminently. It is likely that the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee (RAINE) will be leading on the Bill up until the end of May. The Committee will review the Bill's general principles, take evidence from interested parties, and suggest areas for amendment. It will produce a report which the whole Scottish Parliament will consider and debate before voting as to whether the Bill should proceed. The Bill will then go back to a committee- we assume RAINE again- where it is examined line by line, amendments can be made and further evidence taken. The Bill is then sent back for Stage 3 consideration by the full Parliament. At this stage the Bill can still be amended before a final debate and vote. The Bill then goes for Royal Assent. The Bill is expected to complete its parliamentary stages by the end of 2022 or early 2023. It is hoped that it will be a piece of legislation that everyone can utilise easily and fairly.
What are we doing?
The SCA are lobbying hard to defend and protect the livelihoods of those reliant on effective pest control and hunting activities. Since the publication of the Bill, we have contacted over 100 MSPs across Scotland to request meetings to discuss the legislation. We have created a Licensing Working Group, which comprises of many of the rural representative organisations that this legislation will affect. We have offered open access to the group to the Scottish Government, so that we can work with the committee and the Minister for Environment and Land Reform, to help create a licensing system that is fair, workable and sustainable.
We are also currently compiling a response to the Financial Memorandum published alongside the Bill, to make representation on behalf of applicants under the proposed licensing scheme so that cost will not be prohibitive when it comes to fox control. We have also initiated an e-lobby so that those with an interest can easily contact their constituency and list MSPs to have their concerns heard. It is vital that you take the time to lobby your MSPs, if you have not already done so please do here . If you require any guidance, the SCA team is on hand to assist.
As it stands, the Bill is not fit for purpose and we will continue to challenge robustly many of the proposals and deficiencies within it.