MINISTERS have insisted "chasing and killing a mammal with a dog, for sport or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland" as they gave their initial response to a report by MSPs examining plans to overhaul the country's fox hunting law.

Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport introduced the Hunting with Dogs Bill in February with the aim to make the law easier to understand and enforce and in a bid to close various loopholes amid concerns illegal hunting continues to take place.

It also aims to maintain the highest animal welfare standards while permitting predator control use of dogs, where there is no alternative.

In their report published today members of Holyrood's rural affairs, islands and natural environment committee have supported the government's plans to axe the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and replace it with new legislation.

READ MORE: MSPs agree to overhaul Scotland's fox hunting laws

However, there were a number of areas in the bill on which members of the committee disagreed with some believing the legislation does not go far enough in fully banning fox hunting and others believing it introduces unnecessary restrictions onto country life.

Under the 2002 Act, hunting wild mammals with dogs for sport was officially banned. However, the legislation allowed hunting to take place under certain circumstances for example to protect livestock or ground-nesting birds, or to prevent the spread of disease. The move lead to fears of loopholes existing in the law. 

Responding to the rural affairs, islands and natural environment committee's report a Scottish Government spokesman said: “We thank the RAINE committee for their careful and detailed report on the Hunting with Dogs Bill, and are pleased to see that the committee is content to agree to the general principles of it.

“We will consider all of the report’s recommendations and will set out our full response to the issues raised by the committee, ahead of the Stage 1 debate on the Bill.

“Chasing and killing a mammal with a dog, for sport or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland – indeed it has been illegal for twenty years. 

"The Scottish Government is seeking to close loopholes which have allowed that already illegal activity to persist, and our aim is to do that in a way that facilitates legitimate predator control while upholding the highest animal welfare standards.

“We have listened to the views of stakeholders and the public when developing this new legislation which we are confident is both progressive and balanced.”

While backing the general principles of the bill, the committee called for urgent clarification on several areas.

MSPs requested more detail over plans for the introduction of a licensing scheme which would permit the use of more than two dogs to hunt in certain situations.

They also asked for clarity on the impact of including rabbits in the wild mammal definition, and how a two-dog limit for searching, stalking or flushing mammals from cover above ground, would work in practice.

The Scottish Government has also been asked to clarify how a one-dog limit for searching or flushing foxes or mink from cover below ground would work effectively.

Clarification is also being sought on trail hunting exceptions which would allow up to two dogs to be trained to follow an animal-based scent.

Finlay Carson, committee convener, said: "The Bill aims to maintain the highest animal welfare standards whilst permitting predator control using dogs, where there is no alternative.

"But it became clear during our evidence-taking that more information is needed to address the legitimate but polarised concerns expressed by many of the stakeholders.

"It's important that we get this right in order to close the loopholes which have made it more difficult to enforce the 2002 foxhunting ban.

"I'd like to thank all stakeholders who took the time to give evidence during our inquiry."

Jake Swindells, Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance said: “Scotland’s rural community believe this bill is unnecessary and contrary to the evidence. 

"It is also based on a false claim that the 2002 Act has somehow failed, when in fact it has operated exactly as intended enabling necessary wildlife management to protect livestock, livelihoods and vulnerable wildlife. 

"Far from improving animal welfare, the bill could have the opposite effect. It is clear from the Stage 1 report that the bill’s shortcomings and lack of clarity have been recognised and must be addressed before the bill  is taken any further.

"We cannot have a situation unfold where a bill of this magnitude is waved through with potentially devastating consequences for rural Scotland and our countryside.”