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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 03:52 GMT
Pro-hunt battle moves to courts
Supporters of hunting with hounds are threatening court action after Scotland became the first part of the UK to bring in a ban.

After a six-hour debate MSPs voted by 83 to 36 to pass the bill, which sports minister Mike Watson introduced as a backbencher two years ago.

But it seems certain the legislation will be challenged in the courts, with pro-hunting activists insisting loopholes mean it is unclear whether the bill bans "everything or nothing".

Rural Scotland has been betrayed by the Scottish Parliament

Allan Murray
Scottish Countryside Alliance
Supporters of the bill are delighted that Scotland is the first part of the UK to effectively outlaw fox hunting, fox baiting and hare coursing.

It carries a penalty of heavy fines or a six-month prison term, although critics argue the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill remains an unworkable mess.

Activists argue MSPs have created a loophole which will allow Scotland's 10 mounted hunts to continue their activities in a restricted form.

Loophole confusion

They also opted not to provide compensation to people who lose their jobs or businesses as a result of the ban.

Countryside campaigners, who maintained a strong presence around the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh throughout Wednesday, will be angered that three separate compensation schemes were rejected by MSPs.

There was much confusion during the debate about whether there was a loophole that would allow mounted hunts to carry on.

Hunt supporters have vowed to challenge the ban
Mounted huntsmen could chase a fox in the interests of pest control - provided their dogs were muzzled and the fox was either shot dead or killed by a bird of prey - critics of the bill said.

Supporters dismissed the loophole saying that hunts would be foolish to try to exploit it.

Concerns were raised during the marathon debate, in which 107 amendments were considered, that the legislation could hamper gamekeepers in their work.

After the vote Glasgow Cathcart MSP Mike Watson, who introduced the member's bill in 1999, said he was "delighted" it had been passed.

Protest groups

He said: "It's a good day for the Scottish parliament and for a modern Scotland."

It is likely to be several weeks before the bill receives Royal Assent and passes into law.

To mark the final debate in the Scottish Parliament, protest groups had mounted demonstrations throughout Wednesday.

Certain people connected with hunting have said they are going to break the law and become criminals

John Cooper
League Against Cruel Sports
In the Scottish Borders, where half of Scotland's 10 mounted hunts are based, Kelso racecourse was the venue for demonstrations where up to 1,000 people, 150 horses and hound packs gathered.

Outside the parliament, crowd barriers had been in place overnight but only small numbers gathered.

Instead, protesters staged an early morning demonstration outside Bute House, Scotland's First Minister's official residence.

A noisy crowd from the pro-hunting Rural Rebels, many dressed in orange boiler suits, barracked ministers as they arrived for a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet.

Countryside campaigners have warned that the passing of the hunting ban by the Scottish Parliament could lead to chaos on the border.

Historic decision

Allan Murray, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, vowed to take the battle to retain hunting to the courts.

He said: "Rural Scotland has been betrayed by the Scottish Parliament.

"Our politicians have made it clear that the voice of rural people, in their view, counts for nothing."

Dogs in trailer
Hunting with dogs has been banned
League Against Cruel Sports chairman John Cooper said he was confident Scotland's historic decision would be followed by a ban south of the border.

And he said any "civil disobedience" attempts by activists intent on breaking the law seemed unlikely.

"We will have to police the ban.

"Certain people connected with hunting have said they are going to break the law and become criminals.

"We hope that's not going to be the case but we will have to police them, we will have to watch them."

The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"Members of Scotland's hunts rode out in defiance"

Fox Hunts
Is Scotland right to put a stop to the bloodsport?
See also:

13 Feb 02 | Scotland
Hunt compensation rejected
13 Feb 02 | Scotland
Passions rise over hunt Bill
13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Hunt lobby's hopes may be dashed
13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Labour MPs step up hunting call
13 Feb 02 | Scotland
Fox hunting: The arguments
13 Feb 02 | Scotland
Fox hunting: The bill
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