Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fourth Special Report

Proposed and possible secondary legislation and codes of practice

Recommendation 71

We recommend that, at such time as the Bill may be introduced to Parliament, the Government clarify its reference in annex L to the Regulatory Impact Assessment to regulations it intends to make within a year of the Bill's enactment that would effectively "define" the clause 3 welfare offence. Such regulations would appear to be in addition to the proposed regulations about which the Government has provided details in the annexes to the RIA. (Paragraph 291)

The welfare offence will as far as possible and appropriate be supported by regulations and codes. The advisory codes will be drawn up in consultation with representatives of welfare organisations, industry interests and animal keepers, and we have drawn up the first draft of a code for domestic cats. Others will follow. Following further consideration we do not anticipate introducing a general regulation for non-farmed animals but do not rule it out should subsequent work on codes of practice suggest that such regulations are necessary.

Recommendation 72

We recommend that, at the same time, the Government also clarify its reference in annex L to regulations it intends to make within a year of the Bill's enactment in order to regulate means of selling animals, other than pet shops and pet fairs. (Paragraph 292)

The reference to selling animals, other than at pet shops and pet fairs, is intended to include sales of pets over the internet. However, due to the complications inherent in regulating Internet activities, we accept that to produce regulations and a code within a year to govern Internet sales may not be possible.

Proposed first tranche of secondary legislation and codes of practice

Recommendations 73 and 74

73. We are concerned that Defra has not set out in the draft Bill document any detail on its proposals to license riding schools, dog and cat boarding establishments and pet shops, given that it intends to implement these proposals within a year of the Bill being enacted. A clear indication of the policy which Defra intends to implement in respect of these businesses should be made available if and when the final Bill is introduced to Parliament. (Paragraph 299)

74. At this stage, we support Defra's proposal to introduce mandatory licensing and inspection for all livery yards in England. (Paragraph 301)

The detail is largely contained in the existing legislation concerning these activities. We do not anticipate that the detail will change substantially, although the replacement of the previous Acts will provide some opportunity for modernisation where this is appropriate.

Recommendation 75

We consider it vital that the legal status of pet fairs be clarified. Obviously, the confusion caused by the wording of the Pet Animals Act 1951 is most unsatisfactory. Given the current situation is so murky, and that the ethics of pet fairs are so hotly contested, we are extremely concerned that Defra appears to have assumed that it should legislate so that pet fairs are clearly legal, without first consulting widely on this issue. Defra appears to have proceeded straight to the question of asking how pet fairs should be regulated, without first asking whether they should be clearly legalised. This is a significant deficiency in the approach adopted by Defra in updating animal welfare legislation. We recommend that, before Defra proceeds to draft regulations which would repeal the 1951 Act and introduce, in its place, a licensing regime on pet fairs, it first consult on whether pet fairs should be made unequivocally legal. (Paragraph 316)

We recognise that there is ambiguity over the legality of pet fairs and the licensing provisions in the Bill provide an opportunity to remove this uncertainty. Following consultation with welfare interests, local authorities and the organisers of pet fairs, it is our belief that these events could be held under licence. The welfare offence, additional regulatory safeguards and a government code would allow pet fairs to take place without the welfare of an animal being compromised when compared with an animal being sold in a pet shop. However, we recognise that strong views are held on both sides of this argument and we will continue to review the evidence when preparing proposals for consultation.

Recommendation 76

We recommend that Defra reappraise the basis on which its proposed regime for licensing pet fairs is predicated. (Paragraph 317)

We agree that more work needs to be done on the draft proposals relating to pet fairs. This will include a public consultation.

Recommendation 77

We do not support Defra's proposal to introduce 18-month licences, rather than annual licences, in respect of licensing of circuses, pet fairs, livery yards or animal sanctuaries, or in respect of any other business currently licensed under animal welfare legislation. The proposal would reduce the frequency with which businesses or premises would be inspected, and would therefore not promote the highest standards of animal welfare because it would increase the period of time during which breaches of legislation could go undetected. We consider that any possible benefits to business offered by a shift to 18-month licences are outweighed by animal welfare considerations. In particular, we consider 18-month licences would be entirely inappropriate for itinerant, annual, often one-off events, such as pet fairs. We therefore recommend that Defra does not pursue its proposal to replace annual licences with 18-month licences. In respect of pet fairs and similar events, we recommend that a licence for a pet fair should apply to a single event only, and that each separate event should require a separate licence. (Paragraph 320)

We do not accept the comments regarding 18 month licensing periods. 18 months would be the maximum period between inspections, and it would be up to the local authority to use risk management techniques to decide whether more frequent inspections were necessary. In addition, a greater use of veterinarians or other experts in licensing visits will raise the current standards that apply at licensing inspections. We agree that should pet fairs be licensed, it would be appropriate to license individual events.

Recommendation 78

We recommend that vet-accompanied inspections of livery yards, animal sanctuaries and dog and cat boarding establishments should be required at least every two years, rather than Defra's proposed requirement of only once every five years. If Defra accepts our recommendation to provide for annual licences, rather than the proposed 18-month licences, then a vet-accompanied inspection should be required every two years - at the time of application and at every second licence renewal thereafter. If Defra proceeds with its proposal to introduce 18-month licences, then a vet-accompanied inspection should be required every 18 months — at the time of application and at every licence renewal thereafter. (Paragraph 323)

We do not accept the comments concerning the frequency of veterinarian involvement in licensing visits, although we agree that there is a need for greater veterinary support than currently is the case and that the regulations should specify the maximum period before which a veterinarian has to accompany the inspector. We consider that the introduction of the welfare offence coupled with up-to-date regulations and government produced codes, should improve the overall quality of the inspection. For inspections that are at less than the maximum period set in the regulations for a veterinarian to accompany the inspector, it should be left to the discretion of the inspector to decide whether a veterinarian should be present.

Recommendation 79

We commend Defra on its proposed scheme to require pet vendors to issue appropriate information about animal husbandry and care at the point of sale. However, we are concerned that Defra has apparently failed to consider extending this requirement beyond pet shops and dog breeding establishments to other vendors of pet animals, such as vendors at pet fairs and at other types of breeding establishments. We therefore recommend that the proposed scheme be extended to other vendors of pet animals. We recommend that the information which vendors are required to provide to prospective and actual purchasers should be able to be provided by the Pet Care Trust only if Defra first institutes a system whereby the information is checked by an independent, expert source prior to being published. (Paragraph 327)

We have noted the recommendations concerning pet care leaflets and they will be taken into consideration when draft regulations are prepared.

Recommendation 80

If electronic shock collars and perimeter fence devices have indeed been in use in the UK for 13 years now, as one submitter claimed, then we are surprised that Defra has not yet undertaken sufficient research into these devices in order to have formed an opinion of them, particularly given the controversy surrounding their use. We urge Defra to undertake a process of consultation and research about the possible regulation of these devices as soon as possible. (Paragraph 333)

We are studying the feasibility of a research project to clarify the welfare risks and benefits.

Recommendation 81

At this stage, it seems to us that an appropriate approach to electronic shock collars and perimeter fence devices would be to outlaw their use for purposes of training except, perhaps, with the exception of suitably licensed veterinarians. On the basis of the evidence we have received, we do not oppose the use of these devices to contain dogs within a particular area without the need for fences. (Paragraph 334)

We note the Committee's recommendations and will keep the evidence under review. As yet we are unconvinced that the available evidence is sufficient to justify a decision to restrict the use of electronic shock collars to licensed veterinarians.

Recommendations 82 and 83

82. We consider that tail docking in dogs should be banned for cosmetic reasons. Tail docking should continue to be permitted for therapeutic reasons, where it is in an animal's best welfare interests. The question of allowing an exemption for prophylactic docking for certain breeds or types of working dogs is more difficult. For example, there is a risk that a whole litter of puppies which might one day be used as working dogs could be docked as a precautionary measure. Unless there is a system to guarantee that a docked puppy will be used as a working dog, an exemption for prophylactic docking risks being abused. (Paragraph 340)

83. We therefore support Defra's proposed position on this issue. To prevent an abuse of any exemption for prophylactic docking, we recommend that a puppy's tail should be permitted to be docked for prophylactic reasons only where the following conditions are met:

  • as is currently required by law, tail docking should be carried out only by a veterinarian
  • the veterinarian should take all reasonable steps to satisfy him or herself that the puppy is of a specified breed of dog, generally used as a working dog, or that the puppy is likely to be used as a specified type of working dog
  • the veterinarian should be required to maintain records demonstrating why he or she was satisfied that these conditions were met—for example, a gun licence
  • the veterinarian should be required to microchip any puppy which he or she docks; the microchip should contain the details of the veterinarian who docked the puppy, and
  • the veterinarian should provide the owner with a certificate endorsing the tail docking; the certificate should include the details of the veterinarian who carried out the procedure. (Paragraph 341)

We will consider the feasibility of the recommendation concerning micro-chipping.

Recommendations 84 and 85

84. We recommend that, prior to drawing up a draft code of practice on the rearing of game birds for sport shooting purposes, Defra should ensure that it has consulted with a broad range of groups and individuals with an interest in this area, including those groups which are critical of current game bird rearing practices. The Government should ensure that it has solid data on the numbers of game farms in England and Wales and the scale of these farms. (Paragraph 352)

85. On the basis of the evidence we have received, we do not support the existing Game Farmers' Association code of practice being adopted as a statutory code of practice under clause 7 without further consideration first being given to the appropriateness of certain rearing practices, including beak trimming and burning and the fitting of bits, masks and spectacles. We consider that gamekeepers should be required to try other methods first before resorting to these practices, as currently appears to be the requirement in relation to tail docking in piglets. (Paragraph 353)

We note the recommendations of the Committee. We had not intended that the existing Game Farmers' Association code should be adopted as a statutory code of practice. We will continue to take account of all views when drawing up our proposals for codes and regulations. We are studying the feasibility of a programme of scientific research on certain rearing techniques before drawing up proposals on the rearing of game birds.

Recommendation 86

We are also concerned that, of the game birds being reared, only 40% end up being shot. However, we have heard insufficient evidence to draw any firm conclusion on this issue. (Paragraph 354)

We note the Committee's concerns. We have focused our considerations on the conditions in which game birds are reared, and not on what happens to them once they are free to roam and no longer the responsibility of man or within the scope of the Bill.

Recommendation 87

We do not consider that gamekeepers should continue to be responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of game birds once they have been released into the wild, in terms of the clause 3 welfare offence. However, as the draft Bill stands, we consider there is scope for prosecutions to be brought in this respect. We recommend that the Government ensure that the protection provided by the draft Bill does not extend to game birds once they have been released into the wild. (Paragraph 355)

We consider non-domesticated animals at liberty to roam in the wild, such as pheasants, to be in a wild state and not within the definition of 'protected animal'. Nor do such birds have the type of relationship with man whereby a person could be said to be responsible for them. However, we accept that reared pheasants do not always make the transition from a state of dependency on man inside a release pen to a wild state outside the pen purely as a result of the act of releasing them, any more than a wild animal taken into care by a sanctuary and subsequently released into the wild would. To that extent a gamekeeper might be said to have a limited responsibility to meet certain needs of the pheasants, such as feed, immediately after their release. In spite of this we do not expect successful prosecutions for failure to ensure welfare in this situation. The court would have regard to the wild state of the pheasant, the limited extent of the responsibility of the keeper, to the 'lawful purpose for which the animal is kept' and 'any lawful activity undertaken in relation to the animal'.

Recommendation 88

We support Defra's suggestion that vendors who sell pet animals over the internet in England should be subject to a code of practice, issued under clause 7, which would set out minimum welfare standards. However, given that Defra describes its policy in this area as "to be agreed", we doubt whether Defra will be in a position to issue such a code of practice within a year of any Bill being enacted, as is its stated intention. We recommend that the Government assess whether it is really in a position to issue a code of practice on internet trading within its intended timescale. (Paragraph 358)

We intend to commence work on pet vending matters shortly (including internet sales). However, as mentioned in our response to recommendation 72, we recognise the difficulties in regulating Internet activity and accept that the production of regulations and a code within a year may prove too ambitious a timescale.

Recommendation 89

Given the importance of any secondary legislation made under a future Act for the practical operation of the Act, we consider it is important that Parliament should have some indication of what policies the Government is proposing to implement under the delegated powers in the Act. This is particularly crucial given the wide-ranging concerns that have been raised in evidence about many aspects of the policies proposed for implementation in the first tranche of secondary legislation and codes of practice. We therefore recommend that the Government publish revised details of its proposed policies for implementation in the first tranche at such time as it may introduce a final Bill to Parliament. (Paragraph 359)

We agree that there is likely to be considerable interest in the contents of the planned regulations and codes, and that they should be subject to an open and transparent process as they are drawn up and proceed through parliament. But it is not feasible to make available the exact details at the time of introducing this Bill in Parliament. We will continue to be as open as possible on the state of our thinking on policy in these areas, but by its very nature, the details are liable to change and develop.

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