The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill (‘the Bill’) is continuing to progress through Parliament. Stage 3 will take place on Tuesday 24 January 2023.
What does the Bill do?
The Scottish Government introduced the Bill on 24 February 2022. It is intended to update the existing Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 (‘the 2002 Act’), which prohibits deliberate hunting of wild mammals with dogs, and provides for some exceptions to this offence. The Bill consequently makes provision to repeal and replace that Act.
The legislation follows a review by Lord Bonomy (known as ‘the Bonomy Review’), which assessed
“the operation of the 2002 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 animals, such as foxes, where necessary”.
The Bill replaces the 2002 Act with similar, but amended, provisions. For example, it provides for a similar offence of hunting using a dog but makes changes to the wording of the offence. The legislation continues to provide for exceptions to the offence, but makes changes to the wording, structure and effect of the exceptions.
The Bill – as introduced – proposed some changes compared with the 2002 Act. Among other things:
- When hunting using a dog under the exception for the management of wild mammals above ground, the Bill provides that it is not permitted to use more than two dogs. The Bill also provides that a licence to use more than two dogs can be obtained under specific circumstances.
- It amends the definition of a ‘wild mammal’. The Bill does not exclude rabbits or rodents (except mice and rats) from the definition.
- When hunting using a dog under the exception for the management of wild mammals below ground, the Bill provides that it is not permitted to use more than one dog.
- It provides a new exception for activities carried out for the purpose of environmental benefit (for example, to remove hedgehogs from Uist to protect native species) where up to two dogs may be used. A licence to use more than two dogs can be obtained under specific circumstances.
- It makes trail hunting unlawful except when training dogs to follow an animal-based scent for a lawful purpose.
- It provides for deprivation orders where a horse involved in committing the offence can be removed from a convicted person (the 2002 Act already provided for orders to remove a dog from a convicted person).
For detailed information on the changes proposed by the Bill as introduced, see the SPICe briefing.
The following sections explore what happened during Stage 1 and 2.
What happened at Stage 1?
The Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) Committee held a call for views on the Bill in April and May 2022 and scrutinised the Bill at Stage 1 in June 2022.
The Committee heard from a range of stakeholders with different views on the subject, as well as from law enforcement professionals, including Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
Discussions at Stage 1 focussed on the changes made by the Bill that were not previously in the 2002 Act. In particular, the Committee discussed the inclusion of rabbits in the definition of a wild mammal, the limit on the number of dogs that may be used above and below ground, and the specifics of a future licensing scheme which would permit more than two dogs to be used under certain circumstances.
What happened at Stage 2?
In its Stage 1 report, among other things, the RAINE Committee raised questions about section 6 of the bill – the exception for falconry, game shooting and deer stalking, in relation to the implications of the Bill for what is known as ‘rough’ or ‘mixed’ shooting. This refers to a type of hunting, sometimes thought of as more informal, where a group of people go out with their dogs with the aim of hunting mixed quarry, including, for example, rabbits and game birds.
The Committee highlighted questions raised by some stakeholders about the implications of the two-dog limit for rough shooting and asked the Scottish Government to respond to those concerns. In its response to the Committee’s report, the Scottish Government noted that
“Any person who uses a dog to, for example, search for and flush a rabbit from cover, may continue to do so provided that the conditions set out in section 6(2) of the Bill are met. One of the conditions is that the activity does not involve the use of more than two dogs. However, “the activity” refers specifically to the searching for, stalking or flushing of a wild mammal (or its retrieval once killed) rather than the rough shoot as a whole. Therefore, the two dog limit does not necessarily mean that not more than two dogs can be present at a rough shoot.”
“if there is more than one person undertaking rough shooting where mammals such as rabbits or hares may be shot, each person must use no more than two dogs to search for and flush their respective quarry. They must also take reasonable steps to ensure that the one or two dogs that they are using do not join up with other dogs to form a pack.”
During Stage 2 consideration, amendments were proposed on a number of issues. Those that were agreed to included, among other things:
- To specify the types of information that may be required as part of a licence application.
- To require that a licence granted require the deployment of a minimum number of guns.
- Providing that a licence may be granted for a maximum period of 14 days, which must fall within a period of six consecutive months. The Bill as introduced provided that a licence may be granted for a maximum period of 14 days, which must fall within a period of 14 consecutive days.
- Limiting the use of a dog below ground to search for or flush foxes only. The Bill as introduced provided that a dog could be used below ground to search for or flush a fox or mink.
- Providing that up to two dogs may be used to search for, stalk or flush a wild mammal which is believed to be injured with the intention of treating, capturing or killing it for the purpose of relieving its suffering.
- Providing that up to two dogs may be used to search for and retrieve a dead wild mammal.
- Providing that a constable may search a person without a warrant if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person has or is committing an offence under the Act.
Those that were not agreed to included, among other things:
- Amendments variously to exclude rabbits, weasels, stoats, mink, polecats and ferrets from the definition of a ‘wild mammal’ (thereby allowing them to be hunted with a dog).
- To, on one hand, prohibit the use of dogs below ground, and on the other, to provide for the use of more than one dog under some circumstances.
- To permit the use of one dog below ground to search for a wider range of species.
- To provide for a wider range of purposes for using a dog below ground.
- To remove or restrict the exception for falconry, game shooting and deer stalking.
- To provide additional exceptions for rough shooting and gun dog field trials and permitting these activities to use more than two dogs.
- To restrict the use of the exception for managing wild mammals above ground using dogs e.g. to ensure that hunting is outwith the breeding season of the wild mammal being hunted.
- To remove the provision for licensing to permit the use of more than two dogs above ground.
- To grant a power to, by regulations, make provision for licence application fees.
- To require that a register be kept and made publicly available of the licences that have been issued.
- To remove the prohibition on trail hunting.
- To remove the provision to make a deprivation order for a horse
Stage 3 consideration will take place Tuesday 24 January. Details on proposed amendments are available on the Bill pages.
Anna Brand, Senior Researcher