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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 16:36 GMT
Scots hunt ban bill is 'flawed'
Huntsman with hounds
The bill intends to ban mounted fox hunts in Scotland
A bill to ban hunting with dogs in Scotland is flawed and open to legal challenge, according to the convener of an influential Scottish Parliament committee.

Tory MSP Alex Fergusson, who is the convener of Holyrood's rural development committee, issued his warning on the eve of a major debate which could see hunting with dogs outlawed north of the border.

Mr Fergusson said that the parliament was wrong not to accept the verdict of his committee to throw out the proposals.

As MSPs prepared to vote on the controversial measures on Wednesday, pro-hunt campaigners were ready to light 200 beacons across Scotland in protest at the bill.

Alex Fergusson MSP
Alex Fergusson: "Bad law"
If the Scottish Parliament passes the bill, it will be the first part of the United Kingdom to outlaw mounted fox hunts, fox-baiting and hare coursing.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill has reached its final parliamentary hurdle, despite the committee which scrutinised the legislation recommending that it should be scrapped.

However, in September last year MSPs backed the bill at an earlier parliamentary stage by 84 votes to 34 with one abstention.

Mr Fergusson, the Tory rural affairs spokesman, said that when the Labour MSP Mike Watson had introduced the bill to the Scottish Parliament his stated intention had always been to ban mounted fox hunting, hare coursing and fox baiting.

But he argued the bill was so complicated that it would only ban the last two, leaving mounted fox hunting open to "legal challenge".

Human rights

He said: "I believe he was duped into putting his name to this particular piece of legislation by activist organisations, if I can call them that, who were really behind the drafting of this bill, which has really sought to ban all activities using dogs in rural Scotland.

He said: "I think there's a huge risk of this parliament passing very, very bad law, and I don't think at this early stage of its development this parliament wants to do that."

Mr Fergusson said he would be "amazed" if the bill was not challenged by its opponents in the courts under the European Convention on Human Rights, should it become law.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance, which has campaigned against the ban, has unveiled its final advertising campaign aimed at averting a vote to pass the bill.

The giant posters featuring Labour MSPs and carried on advertising vans read: "Bravehearts or boneheads? True patriots will vote for the countryside and against the Watson Bill."

The Alliance was also planning to light 200 symbolic beacons across Scotland on Tuesday to protest at the proposed ban.

Willie Johnston reports
"For Scotland's 10 mounted hunts these are times of trouble."
See also:

08 Feb 02 | Scotland
Late bid to close hunt bill loophole
07 Feb 02 | Scotland
Rural Rebels 'put lives at risk'
12 Dec 01 | Scotland
Safety warning for hunt ban MSPs
26 Sep 01 | Scotland
New challenge to hunt bill
19 Sep 01 | Scotland
Vote supports hunting ban
11 Jul 01 | Scotland
Hunting bill MSP 'optimistic'
11 Jul 01 | Scotland
Hunting bill hits major setback
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