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Archive for February, 2016

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act was passed in 2002 and while the title of this legislation sounds very worthy, in fact its real aim was to do nothing other than ban hunting with dogs. Some obviously argue that this is indeed a laudable step, but they would be wrong.

Unless a genuine examination of all legal methods is undertaken and, as far as possible, comparisons made regarding degrees of suffering and the utilitarian value each method contributes, it is totally disingenuous to claim animal welfare has been improved. As those other methods of control will inevitably be used, the “protection” this law supposedly affords to wild mammals is non-existent.

This clear and obvious fact, however, has not deterred the Scottish Government from asking former High Court judge Lord Bonomy to head a review of the hunting with dogs legislation in Scotland and describes the examination in the following terms:
“The review will look at whether current legislation is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals while allowing for the effective and humane control of these animals where required.” It goes on to say, “The review will not consider the following:
– whether predator control is necessary to protect livestock or wildlife
– the operation of other wildlife legislation unless it has a direct bearing on the operation on the 2002 act
– other types of predator or pest control”

A Scottish Hunt moves off, with one of its shooters to the left

A Scottish Hunt moves off, with one of its shooters to the left

In announcing this review, the Scottish Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod, said, “Scotland led the way in addressing animal welfare concerns with legislation in 2002, and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals. The aim of this review is to ensure current legislation is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control of these animals where needed.” The trouble is because this law, which is itself is based on a false presumption, concentrates on hunting with dogs and excludes all other methods of control, her statement is as meaningless as it is futile. It cannot possibly fulfil its aim due to its limited scope.

The background to this review is simple and, as ever, has more to do with politics than animal welfare. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Hunting Act 2004 were both products of prejudice, ignorance and political opportunism, rather than a genuine desire to improve animal welfare and reduce suffering. Both start from a position of believing (or at least claiming) that hunting with dogs is inherently cruel, even though there is no science that supports such a view.

The Scottish legislation, however, does differ from the English and Welsh law in one important aspect. While both laws allow for an exemption to use dogs to flush wild mammals to guns, under Scottish legislation any number of dogs can be involved; the Hunting Act allows only two. No veterinary, conservation or welfare reason was given to justify this provision, though obviously two dogs do not constitute a pack, which hints at the real reason behind this restriction. Another clue may lay in a comment from Alun Michael, the minister in charge of the Hunting Act in England and Wales, when he said that having no restriction on the number of dogs during flushing was a flaw in the Scottish legislation.

Dup views of LACSRecently, when Welsh hill farmers argued that the limit on the number of dogs to two just didn’t work in large areas of forestry, the UK Government rightly sought to amend the law to mirror the Scottish legislation. The case was strengthened by a scientific study, which took place in Scotland, and showed using a larger number of dogs would be more efficient and reduce the duration of the flushing process. Indeed, the LACS had admitted such years previously when its then Chief Executive, Douglas Batchelor, had said in a leaked memo, “Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns.”

The Scottish Parliamentary committee which examined hunting prior to the law being passed in Scotland put the position extremely well when it concluded its investigation in 2001 by stating, “It is not the use of a dog in itself that implies cruelty; but the method and intent with which it is used.”

But events got in the way. The Scottish National Party, having won all but three seats in Scotland at the last general election, suddenly found itself in a position to create mischief and annoy the despised Conservative Government at Westminster. Having previously said that it would not interfere in issues that affect only England and Wales (and even used the Hunting Act as an example), the SNP reneged on its promise and forced the UK Government to withdraw the proposed amendment to the Hunting Act.

While the SNP probably couldn’t care less about being seen as untrustworthy, others found themselves in a difficult position. Having previously praised the Scottish hunting ban, SNP (2)groups like the League Against Cruel Sports now opposed making the law south of the border the same as that in Scotland. Did they now accept that the flushing exemption in the Hunting Act was wrong? Not a bit of it. No, now it was the Scottish law that was wrong, despite having proudly announced to their members in 2002 that, “League staff attended every Parliamentary committee meeting and briefed MSPs about the dangers of dozens of pro-hunt amendments… and, despite the claims of the Scottish hunters, there are no gaping loopholes or flaws.” To justify their new position they argued that the law was being flouted, which was refuted by the Police Scotland.

When it was revealed that money had been given to the SNP by an animal rights group, no doubt even the Scots Nats then felt it was time to save at least a degree of face, hence the Bonomy review.

That is the real reason for announcing this process.

As a former senior judge, Lord Bonomy must surely be able to see the purely political motivation behind this review and for its limited terms of reference, compelling him to rely on the false premise of the Scottish legislation. As such, through no fault of his own, Lord Bonomy’s review can never realistically address wild mammal protection in Scotland.

Details of the review can be found at:
http://www.gov.scot/About/Review/protection-wild-mammals

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