Yesterday, our Policy Officer Kirsty Jenkins gave evidence in the Scottish Parliament on the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill.

OneKind Policy Officer Kirsty Jenkins

The Bill, introduced in February 2022, has the potential to finally close loopholes in legislation that has enabled fox hunting with dogs to continue in Scotland.

We strongly welcome the Bill, but do not support exceptions to allow packs of hounds to flush foxes to guns in certain circumstances. We also strongly oppose the exception included in the Bill to allow the use of two dogs to ‘provide quarry for falconry, game shooting or deer stalking.’ If exceptions are to remain, we are calling for them to be reserved for extraordinary circumstances only, and to be strengthened in the legislation.

Alongside supporters like you, we’ve already submitted our concerns about the Bill by responding to the Scottish Parliament’s open call for views in April.

Yesterday’s session was another key opportunity for us to call for a stronger Bill, based on evidence and led by the 7 principles of ethical wildlife control that we believe must be central to the Scottish Government’s approach to wildlife ‘management’.

Debate highlights

OneKind Policy Officer Kirsty Jenkins strongly welcomed the bill but raised concerns about exceptions and the licensing scheme:

"We’d prefer to see no exceptions at all. If they are going to remain, we think there are ways they could be strengthened."

In addition, she said:

"We would also like to question some of the assumptions behind those exceptions, which are that foxes need to be killed routinely, and that the use of dogs is a suitable way to do that.

Kirsty went on to acknowledge that,

"Farmers also need to be supported in terms of any changes to wildlife management… Any suggestions I make for changes, I’m not implying that the onus should be on any individuals. It needs to be government led and farmers should be supported."

Director of League against Cruel Sports for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Robbie Marsland, explained the need for this new bill:

"We all thought that fox hunting in that way (with dogs) had been banned in 2002 but… what we found was that exceptions in our existing legislation, The Protection of Wild Animals Act, were being used in a way to enable what you describe as traditional hunting to continue in Scotland. Specifically, the ‘flushing to guns’ exception."

Both ourselves and the League Against Cruel Sports have long campaigned for an end to the use of hounds to flush foxes to guns and during the debate Robbie commented that he was ‘really pleased’ that the Bill was looking at this.

Read more in our blog about why fox hunting with dogs continues in Scotland, despite the 2002 ban.

While also welcoming the Bill, he shared Kirsty’s concerns about exceptions,

"My worry is that there may be some new loopholes being introduced in this legislation."

Mike Flynn, Chief Superintendent of the Scottish SPCA, highlighted double standards in animal welfare legislation

He pointed out that despite both being sentient animals capable of suffering, wild animals like foxes, considered by society as ‘pests,’ are not treated the same as companion animals in legislation.

"If someone was to set hounds on a domestic cat, or another dog, they would more than likely be jailed or very heavily fined, but it is acceptable to do it to certain wild animals. The suffering is the same… Wildlife should be treated with respect."

OneKind’s Kirsty Jenkins welcomed the removal of the word ‘pest’ from the bill

We believe that a fundamental shift in mindset is required, away from viewing other animals as ‘pests’ or ‘vermin’ based solely on their species and/or circumstance and rather value them as other sentient beings.

Kirsty welcomed the removal of the word ‘pest’ from the text of the bill but highlighted that,

"Unfortunately, it does seem to have remained in the discussions around the bill."

She then encouraged the application of the 7 principles of ethical wildlife control, which we have been working hard to encourage the Scottish Government to implement.

The final one of the 7 principles is to avoid labels such as ‘pest.’

Mike Flynn of the Scottish SPCA highlighted that foxhunting is a welfare issue for dogs too

‘Dogs also get hurt when dealing with foxes. I can show you plenty of pictures that have actually been in front of court… Some of the injuries are horrendous.’

Kirsty calls for any potential licensing scheme to be guided by the 7 principles for ethical wildlife ‘control’

Speaking of licensing for foxhunting with packs as part of the Bill, OneKind’s Kirsty Jenkins said,

"We would like to see any licensing guided by the ethical principles … to make sure that it is based on evidence, that animal welfare is prioritised and there is a standardised decision-making process throughout."

She went on to say that,

"Any of these exceptions could potentially create a loophole. That’s why we’re encouraging that they are scrutinized quite closely for that reason, and to see: are they really necessary?"

Mike Flynn and Robbie Marsland agreed that the people who want to find loopholes in the bill will find them and that clear definitions are important to avoid this.

What next?

The committee will continue to hear evidence from other witnesses next week and will then write a report. Beyond that there will be a chance for MSPs to suggest amendments to the Bill. We will work with them to try to strengthen it.