Scotland slated to ban fox hunting with hounds today

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Scotland will ban hunting with dogs today.

ROBBIE DINWOODIE and FRANCES HORSBURGH. Glasgow Herald

IT will take at least six hours to debate, dealing with 107 amendments, but the controversial bill banning fox-hunting will almost certainly be passed tonight.

However, the issues of when the ban will be implemented and at what cost in terms of compensation will take months to settle.

There is little doubt that the parliamentary majority exists to introduce a legal ban on mounted fox-hunting. The only question marks remain over what date will be acceptable for such a ban, and the extent, if any, of any compensation package.

Although it was an issue which few would have foreseen the Scottish Parliament going to the wall over, it has turned out that nothing has divided MSPs quite so spectacularly as Mr Watson's member's bill.

The opponents have mounted a final push, lighting beacons, organising gatherings, and threatening a mass lobby of parliament. A huge rally of mounted huntsmen and women from all over the UK will take place at Kelso racecourse this morning.

Many of those present will then travel to Edinburgh to lobby the parliament. The crash barriers were in place all around the parliamentary precincts last night as police prepared for today.

Les Ward, chairman of the Scottish Campaign Against Hunting with Dogs, said the parliamentary majority made the bill's passage inevitable.

"Let's just get on with it, pass the bill, and relegate this barbaric practice to where it belongs - the history books," he said.

Allan Murray, his counterpart at the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said the refusal to allow further evidence was a "mockery of democracy".

He said: "This bill could lead to people losing their jobs and their homes, yet our MSPs are not even willing to hear all the relevant facts. They are acting like judge, jury and executioner of the countryside without listening to the evidence."

The fact is that no bill has been as relentlessly considered as the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill since the parliament was established. What started out as a member's bill by Mike Watson bitterly divided MSPs and threatened the integrity of the committee system, which was not prepared for deep divisions which did not break down predicted party lines.

Some estimates have said MSPs could still be discussing the bill at 10pm, but the presiding officer's team will seek to have proceedings completed by around 7pm, with compensation at the heart of the debate. The parliament's public petitions committee yesterday heard some final pleas from groups opposed to the bill.

A number of vets in the Borders claimed that many of the 600 to 700 fox hounds in Scotland might have to be destroyed if a ban were imposed.

They spoke of the "unacceptable scale of destruction" of dogs if the bill were passed and insisted that if called upon to do so, they would not end the lives of fit, healthy hounds.

Jeanna Swann from Duns, one of the vets, told the committee these dogs were not suitable for family pets. "One of my partners acquired a hound as a pet and found it quite untrainable in a domestic situation" she said.

Other petitions called on the parliament to consider the likely loss of rural jobs such as those of farriers, who said hunting provided about 50% of their income, and hunt girl grooms, who claimed many would lose their homes if a ban was imposed

John McAllion, the committee's Labour convener, said the final debate was now so imminent, the committee could take no further action on the petitions.

The issue of animal welfare was also raised by the organisation Animal Concern, which wrote to all MSPs, urging them to support the bill to ban fox hunting, and attacking the Rural Rebel activists who oppose it as "nutters in orange boiler suits".

Animal Concern claimed that despite the "emotive rubbish" spouted by the Countryside Alliance and the Rural Rebels, it was likely that once fox hunting was banned, hunts would switch to drag hunting, leading to more people taking up the sport.
 

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