The Scottish Government has not yet set out to define trail hunting in legal terms, but it might be helpful for me to outline the description of trail hunting that was provided by Lord Bonomy in his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. He described it as
“the hunting of a scent laid manually in such a way as best to simulate traditional mounted hunting activity. The trail is laid along the line a fox might take when moving across the countryside. Trail hunters use animal-based scent, primarily fox urine, a scent with which the hounds are familiar and with which it is intended they should remain familiar.”
In January, I announced the Government’s intention to prevent trail hunting from becoming an established practice in Scotland, to protect animal welfare. Since trail hunting has been introduced in England and Wales, we have seen that it can sometimes lead to hounds killing a fox, whether by accident or intentionally.
As we develop our proposals and move forward, if the evidence shows that drag hunting does not pose a risk to animal welfare, I envisage that we might well consider that practice to be fit to continue in Scotland.
It is clear that we need to end the current loopholes in the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and avoid creating any new ones, such as trail hunting, appearing in Scotland. Does the minister not accept that the Government’s plans for a licensing scheme that would allow the use of more than two dogs risk creating an entirely new loophole for hunters who want to dodge the ban? Will she accept that cruelty cannot be licensed and scrap the Government’s proposals for a licensing scheme?
I understand Colin Smyth’s concern, but I reiterate what I said in my statement in January. The reasoning behind our proposals is to close any loopholes and not create new ones. I have openly said that I want to work with members across the chamber to develop the legislation.
I have talked about the potential for licensing. We do not know what the scheme might look like, because we have not developed the proposals. I want to work with Colin Smyth and other members across the chamber so that, when we introduce the legislation, we do it right and we avoid creating any loopholes.