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EDITIONS
Friday, 15 February, 2002, 21:26 GMT
Watson's pride over hunting ban
Huntsman
Pro-hunt campaigners lobbied against the bill
By BBC Scotland's parliamentary reporter John Knox

"I am proud of this Scottish Parliament," said Mike Watson, the Labour MSP who originally sponsored the bill to outlaw fox hunting.

"It is the first legislature in the UK to say that fox hunting and hare coursing are not sports, the first to say that inflicting suffering in the name of human pleasure is morally unacceptable."

The member for Glasgow Cathcart was speaking at the end of the six hour debate which saw the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill receive its final approval by 83 votes to 36 with five abstentions.

Mike Watson
Mike Watson launched the bill
Cheers went up from anti-hunting groups in the public gallery on Wednesday.

But there was anger in the streets afterwards from the Rural Rebels, the orange boiler-suited brigade which has challenged the bill in a series of public protests over the last six months.

Down in Kelso, in the heart of fox hunting country, almost 200 horsemen and women staged a defiant hunt as the MSPs began their long and last debate on the matter.

The Countryside Alliance said afterwards that it would be challenging the new law in the courts.

Opponents say it is still full of loopholes.

Conservative MSP David Mundell said it was misconceived from its very opening clause: "A person who deliberately hunts a wild mammal with a dog commits an offence."


If Lord Watson's bill had simply declared that it would ban mounted fox hunting and hare coursing it would have been passed 18 months ago without any difficulty at all

Alex Fergusson
Conservative MSP
He told the chamber that because so many exceptions had to be made - from people walking their dogs through to gamekeepers going about their normal business of culling foxes with terriers and guns - it left the bill unworkable.

His fellow Tory Alex Fergusson, convenor of the rural development committee, said: "If Lord Watson's bill had simply declared that it would ban mounted fox hunting and hare coursing it would have been passed 18 months ago without any difficulty at all."

But the sponsors of the bill, Labour's Bristow Muldoon and the Scottish National Party's Tricia Marwick, moved six crucial amendments which they are confident will close the loopholes without restricting the gamekeepers and the hill packs.

The real surprise of the debate was the defeat of a clause to give compensation to those who would lose out directly because of the bill.

Amendment defeated

Labour backbencher Karen Gillon estimated it might cost between 150,000 and 200,000.

However, her amendment was defeated by 67 votes to 47.

It was a free vote, but First Minister Jack McConnell had let it be known he was in favour of Ms Gillon's amendment.

Other compensation clauses were also voted down - one from the Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles and the other from Alex Fergusson.

And it is because there is no compensation clause that the bill now faces a legal challenge under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Hunting hounds
The bill was passed after a six hour debate
Fox hunting was not the only item on the agenda this week.

The water bill received its final blessing on Thursday.

This is the legislation which will merge Scotland's three publicly owned water authorities into one.

In the course of this debate the Scottish Executive offered a slight concession to the charities lobby.

They had been pressing for the continuation of their 80% water rate relief.

This was initially rejected by ministers, but they have now agreed that the relief will be phased out over the next four years for charities with an income of less than 50,000 a year.

Decent treatment

The petitions committee heard its usual range of heart-rending stories.

James Mackie pleaded for decent treatment for adults with autism who are detained in mental institutions.

He said they were often fed a cocktail of drugs which were not being monitored.

Bert Burnett from the Gamekeepers Association highlighted the growing practice of issuing culling licences after the end of the proper stalking season.

He said this led to contract stalkers shooting hinds while they were either heavily pregnant or with calves at foot. The calves were just left to die.

Two large petitions were handed in this week.

Scottish Parliament
MSPs received two major petitions
One came from the people of the Borders who have been hit by education cuts.

The other, with 10,000 signatures, was from the Scottish TUC and others calling for the introduction of free school meals.

Finally, we were given a little perspective when parliament was addressed by the president of Portugal on Thursday.

Dr Jorge Sampaio told MSPs that the old states of Europe were being pulled in two directions at once - towards centralisation in Europe and devolution at home.

He said both were necessary.

A new European ideal was being brought back into politics, an ideal first championed by the Enlightenment philosophers David Hume, Voltaire and Edmund Burke.

I wonder what they thought of fox hunting.

Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

Latest stories

The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT
See also:

14 Feb 02 | Scotland
12 Feb 02 | Europe
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