4. I preface my question by declaring an interest as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare.
To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will ban the use of snares. (S5F-03782)
We have already led the way in the United Kingdom on regulation of the use of snares. We have by far the strongest laws on snaring in the UK. They require that snare operators be trained and registered with the police, and that snares carry a tag that identifies the operator. There are also requirements on keeping snaring records, types of snares and where snares can be placed. The use of illegal snares is a wildlife crime, and offenders will be pursued by the police.
Notwithstanding the regulations, the First Minister will be aware that the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports have graphic evidence of deer, badgers and even domestic cats being caught in snares. All those organisations have called for an outright ban, which I have supported all along.
Snaring is indiscriminate and cruel. Notwithstanding Scottish Natural Heritage’s review of the use of snares in 2016, if the First Minister cannot agree to an outright ban, will she support calls for an independent review of all traps that are used in Scotland, to be done by academics who specialise in animal welfare, who would be disinterested parties?
I thank Christine Grahame for raising the issue. I am aware of the images to which she refers, which are shocking and understandably distressing. I say to anyone who is concerned about the inappropriate use of snares that they should report it to the police.
We keep snaring under review; it is reviewed every five years under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I say clearly that we will not hesitate to take further action if there is evidence that the current regulation is being abused.
Snaring might well be an issue that the new animal welfare commission, which is currently being set up, will want to consider.
We want to encourage alternative approaches, such as the wildlife management approach that Forestry and Land Scotland takes, which was highlighted on “Countryfile” this week. That approach focuses on creating suitable habitats in which predator and prey can co-exist.
I understand and recognise the member’s concerns. The Government will continue to keep the matter under review and ensure that appropriate action is taken, including further regulation if necessary.
Scottish Labour has long supported the ban on snares and said that it should be made a legal ban. The practice is completely unacceptable and is a random form of animal management that, in many cases, represents deplorable animal cruelty. The matter is quite simple. It is not about when the system is being abused. When is snaring going to be banned. Will the Scottish Government move into the 21st century on this issue and implement a full ban on this barbaric practice, and if not, why not?
We keep this matter under review and will continue to do so. As I have said—this recognises some of the points made by Christine Grahame and Claudia Beamish—we already have the toughest regulation of any country in the UK, but we need to make sure that it is fit for purpose, and we will continue to review it and consult as necessary, if we think that further changes to legislation are required.
As we have heard, snaring causes extreme suffering. A ban must be delivered now, but we also need more experts in the field to detect and report on illegal snaring and other wildlife crimes. Does the First Minister agree that it is time to empower the Scottish SPCA to investigate and tackle wildlife crime by giving them additional powers to those that they already have under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 in relation to domestic animals?
I am happy to consider the issue of more powers for the SSPCA. We have introduced the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which will increase the maximum available penalties for domestic animal and wildlife offences. Those issues will come before the Parliament in any event, and I am happy to give consideration to the point that Mark Ruskell made.