Iain Gray MSP has joined Scottish Labour colleagues in voting for amendments that will bring about more robust animal welfare laws and tougher penalties for cruelty offences, including new protection for mountain hares.
The amendments, which are rooted in the understanding that animals are sentient, also make sure that the Animals and Wildlife (Scotland) Bill improves animal rights in the face of the current global climate emergency.
The Bill now means there will be tougher sentences for the destruction of badger setts and nesting, resting places for wildlife, as well as for setting illegal traps or snares. It will also introduce a ban on the unlicensed culling of mountain hares and make them a protected species, an issue raised with Mr Gray by several constituents.
The amendments will also mean that courts are able to order empathy training as part of community payback orders in appropriate cases involving animal or wildlife cruelty.
Commenting on the legislation, Iain Gray MSP said:
“This legislation will deliver more meaningful and robust change in the protection of Scotland’s wildlife, a cause I know many East Lothian residents are passionate about. This is particularly the case with mountain hares, a species which has seen a decline in numbers over decades.
“The destruction of habitats can cause as much damage and risk of death as a direct attack on wildlife. East Lothian is home to some of Scotland’s most cherished wildlife and we should be doing everything possible to protect it.
“I was pleased that the setting of illegal traps and snares will now be a serious vicarious liability crime. It is disappointing that other amendments on vicarious liability were not supported though, as land owners have very limited liability for wildlife crimes committed on their properties.
“It is also disappointing that the amendment to enhance Marine Protected Areas was not passed as it would have given the same protections to marine wildlife and relevant habitats in the marine environment as by land.
“However, passing this Bill is just the first step in improving how we tackle these crimes. It is now vital that these penalties are backed up with an enforcement system that is properly equipped to deal with these important issues.”
Scottish Labour’s amendments to the legislation also ensure the ability of public bodies to share information to ensure better protection for animals.