THE use of dogs to hunt and kill wild animals has “no place in modern Scotland”, the environment minister has said.

Mairi McAllan spoke out ahead of this week’s final vote on legislation which aims to close loopholes in current laws.

It has been against the law to hunt a wild mammal with a dog since 2002 but exemptions have been permitted in certain circumstances.

The new Hunting with Dogs Bill – which is due to be voted on by MSPs on Tuesday – introduces restrictions that are intended to minimise the risk of wild animals being caught by dogs.

McAllan said: “The chasing and killing of a wild mammal, with a dog – for sport or otherwise – has no place in modern Scotland.”

The bill, which has been brought forward by the Scottish Government, will set a two-dog limit for all use of dogs in hunting.

It will also ban trail hunting and introduce a licensing scheme to allow the use of more than two dogs in limited circumstances.

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Trail hunting was invented in 2004 in the wake of the fox hunting ban in England and Wales.

It simulates a traditional fox hunt with hounds “hunting” a scent laid ahead of time, usually made up of fox urine.

However, critics say that trail hunting is a “smokescreen” and often results in the chasing and killing of foxes.

The measures laid out by the Scottish Government are intended to provide further safeguards for wild mammals while allowing land managers access to legitimate and humane animal control measures.

McAllan said that while fox hunting has been unlawful in Scotland for 20 years, “deficiencies in the existing legislation have led to ongoing public concern about the persistence of illegal hunting in Scotland”.

She added: “This bill seeks to close loopholes in the former law as well as prevent others from opening.

“It does so in pursuit of the highest possible animal welfare standards, while recognising the need for farmers, land managers and environmental organisations to undertake legitimate wildlife management.

“The Hunting with Dogs Bill modernises the law and I hope, when passed, will finally mark the end of illegal fox hunting, hare coursing and other forms of unlawful hunting with dogs in Scotland.”

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Labour said the Scottish Government had failed to go far enough with the legislation, saying it “won’t deliver a real ban on fox hunting”.

Animal welfare spokesperson Colin Smyth said the party would bring forward amendments, adding: “It’s been two decades since MSPs voted to ban this barbaric practice, but hunts are still riding roughshod over both the spirit and the letter of the law.

“This bill was a chance to close every last loophole in the current law, but the SNP’s decision to allow the use of packs of dogs in hunting to continue if the hunts get a licence sadly means this won’t deliver a real ban on fox hunting.

“The SNP have failed to match their strong rhetoric with strong laws by backing Labour’s consistent calls to remove the damaging licensing loophole.

“Labour will move a number of amendments to strengthen the bill on Tuesday, including tough rules to severely restrict the use of licences by making any application meet the internationally recognised principles for wildlife management, as well as an amendment to review the bill every five years.

“Labour will also seek to back a ban on the use of dogs underground to flush up foxes and to ban the use of birds of prey as a method of killing during any hunt.”

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The League Against Cruel Sports said it would be a “historic day for animal welfare” if the Bill is passed.

Director of the group in Scotland, Robbie Marsland, said: “Over 20 years ago Parliament introduced a law which would prevent mounted fox hunts using packs of hounds to chase and kill foxes in the Scottish countryside.

“Sadly, that legislation wasn’t worth the paper it’s written on and has done nothing to stop the cruelty of hunting, instead creating a series of loopholes which allowed hunters to ride roughshod over the law.

“This week the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to pass new legislation which has the potential to right the wrongs of the last two decades. If successful, this will be a historic day for animal welfare.”