‘Royal loophole’ could protect hunts from Scotland’s new anti-hunting laws

Hunts on royal land are protected by a loophole in the new Scottish anti-hunting bill, the Scottish Greens claim. And it’s a result of a special exclusion written into the power-sharing agreement underpinning the current government.

Scotland’s Hunting With Dogs Bill was introduced for parliamentary debate in February 2022. Although the nation already has a hunting ban, hunts in Scotland have exploited loopholes in the law. The new bill’s intention is to sew up these loopholes, thereby consigning hunting with hounds to the history books. It would be the first part of the UK to do so.

The bill was critically welcomed by hunt saboteurs when first announced, and political groups have since also put the bill under fire. Scottish Labour described the bill, which was introduced by the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) as ‘watered down’. This is because of a clause that permits hunting with two or more dogs through a licensing scheme. And now the Greens have highlighted another loophole that will effectively green light hunting on Crown lands.

Historic link between royalty and hunting

On 26 December, the Scottish Greens said that:

a further loophole could see hunts on land linked to King Charles exempted from investigation by police, with the bill in its current form giving land managers a veto over evidence gathering on Crown Estate land.

This is because of Section 25 of the Bill, which grants power of entry to Crown lands solely to the Crown Estate itself. This equates to 37,000 hectares of land.

Section 25 of the Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Bill that exempts Crown Estate land from police investigations.
Section 25 of the Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Bill.

The bill falls into an exclusion zone in the power-sharing agreement between the SNP and Greens, also known as the Bute House Agreement. Under the excluded matters section of the agreement, it says that:

While we have been able to agree significant areas for priority action in species protection, field sports are excluded from this agreement, except to the extent they are addressed in the shared programme.

Ariane Burgess of the Scottish Greens said that it is “particularly galling” such a loophole is written into the bill. This is because of the “long historic links between the aristocracy and hunting”, which the exemption appears to reinforce. She continued:

King Charles, his staff and associates should all be subject to the same laws as the rest of us, and it’s not right that police will need to ask for permission to do their job.

Nonetheless, the Scottish Greens said it will continue pushing for an end to this exemption. At the time of publishing, the bill is in its third and final stage. The debate is expected to take place in early 2023.

Person wearing red foxhunting jacket. We can see just the jacket and arms. They are holding a riding helmet and hunting whip.

Not the first royal loophole

It’s not the first time that royal exemptions to bloodsport laws have come to light. In July, the Guardian revealed that the Queen had enjoyed exemptions to more than 160 laws written since 1967. Amongst these were laws that prevented police investigating a series of raptor persecution crimes at Sandringham in Norfolk. It turned out that Norfolk Police needed the express permission of Sandringham officials in order to even enter the land.

This, of course, is exactly the position put forward by Scotland’s new anti-hunting bill. And given how it’s played out at Sandringham, it doesn’t promise much confidence for Scotland either. With the bill forming a key part of the future of hunting in the UK, it’s essential that the ‘royal loophole’ is done away with during the third stage debate.

Read about the Bill’s history and progress on the Scottish government’s website.