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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 10:56 GMT
Chase continues over hunt ban
Huntsman and flag
The legislation will be challenged in the courts
Scotland has led the way in outlawing fox hunting in the UK - but those opposed to the ban have not given up the chase.

The Commons could be set to follow in Holyrood's footsteps as a vote on banning fox hunting south of the border looms on the horizon.

Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted to outlaw the practice earlier this month.

But the process has been far from painless - and, with the implementation of the ban still some months away, is facing a legal challenge from pro-hunt campaigners.

Rural protester
Protesters say livelihoods will be wrecked
MSPs agreed to outlaw hunting with hounds, effectively stamping out mounted fox hunts, hare coursing and fox baiting, on 13 February.

The legislation carries a penalty of heavy fines or a six-month prison term.

That decision - by a margin of 83 votes to 36 with five abstentions - brought to an end a parliamentary process which began more than two years earlier.

It was back in July 1999 that Mike Watson, then a Labour backbencher and now the country's sports minister, announced his intention to bring forward such a bill.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill was formally tabled two months later, with the co-sponsorship of Scottish National Party MSP Tricia Marwick.

Bill's principles

The first legal challenge to the proposals failed in November of that year, when three people backed by the Scottish Countryside Alliance were refused an interim interdict in the Court of Session.

The general principles of the bill were outlined to the parliament's rural development committee in April 2000.

However, the committee did not vote on the proposals until June 2001 - with MSPs deciding not to endorse its principles by six votes to three.

Despite this decision the full parliament voted in September of that year to clear the bill's first hurdle as it passed the stage one phase.

Dogs
The ban has not yet taken effect
It then went back to committee for a line-by-line scrutiny, which saw the approval of further amendments by the rural development committee.

When the bill finally came before the parliament for approval earlier this month it was preceded by a flurry of late amendments designed to close what supporters feared were loopholes which would allow mounted hunts to continue.

Three separate compensation schemes were rejected by MSPs during the marathon debate, which considered more than 100 amendments.

Its eventual passage was greeted with jubilation from anti-hunt campaigners.

However, that is not the end of the story for the Scottish legislation.

Court challenge

The bill must first receive royal assent before it becomes an act of parliament, a process which normally takes about a month.

But the ban itself is not expected to come into force until the summer, before the start of the hunt season.

And those opposed to the bill immediately declared their intention to mount a challenge in the courts.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance believes that the bill represents a breach of human rights.

It claims that livelihoods will be wrecked by it, without any compensation for those affected.

Earlier this month, director Allan Murray said: "We believe this is a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and have instructed our lawyers to take the appropriate legal action."

See also:

28 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Battle lines drawn over hunting vote
15 Feb 02 | Scotland
Fears for dogs after hunt ban
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