Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC)

  FAWC sees significant improvement issues represented in the draft including:

    —  Modernisation of existing law for both farmed and companion animals.

    —  Real strengthening in respect of companion animals (although this is outside of our remit).

    —  Establishing the basic principle of "ensuring an animals welfare".

    —  A real strengthening of the provisions and sanctions for animals likely to be in distress/likely to suffer in addition to those in actually in distress/suffering, including not just Court penalties but a very positive stance on deprivation and disqualification.

    —  Bringing some clarity to when a defendant is in breach of a disqualification order.

    —  Greatly enhanced enforcement powers for inspectors and constables and delegated powers of prosecution for Local Authorities to deal with the welfare of animals.

  We believe that all of these improvements are absolutely essential to the impact of the eventual legislation and it will be critical to ensure that they survive the debates between now and enactment. We will be happy to provide advice and assistance during this process.

  This Bill is a great advance on what we have at present, and places considerable reliance on the veterinary profession delivering an informed opinion on both matters of health and welfare. It is critically important that welfare is seen as an issue in its own right. We are confident that the veterinary profession is adequately trained and experienced to handle matters relating to health and disease. On the contrary, we do have concerns that the depth to which animal welfare is taught, both in veterinary schools and to the practising profession through Continuing Professional Development, is not adequate for the demands of this proposed legislation. We are aware that the profession has recently recognised this but there will be a need for further activity from the RCVS and Government to ensure the strength of this cornerstone of the proposed law.

  Some comments on the detail:

  s1(1) Does it really need (c) if the Bill is meant to be inclusive and all of (a)(b)(d) need to be satisfied to show cruelty.

  s1(4) This prohibits activities classed as mutilations unless there is a specific order by the appropriate national authority (subsection 5). Tail-docking and teeth-clipping is currently permissible on pig farms in some circumstances under veterinary supervision. The understanding of related problems (eg tail-biting) is not fully understood and is under current research. It is important for welfare reasons that the ability to continue with teeth-clipping and tail-docking where circumstances are deemed appropriate under veterinary health plans is in place at the same time, ie by a national order as described, before this part of the bill is introduced.

  It is a surprise that "animal" is not defined within the Bill itself. It raises the issue of potentially equating vertebrates with non-vertebrates, which may be a thorny problem, but one that may be tackled using the principles of good husbandry practices, rather than having to prove animal suffering. On that point, it will be difficult for good practice to be defined if there is no Code of Recommendations for Welfare for that species.

  s1(7) Suggest wording should be changed after "in each case" delete "knowing the" "to reasonably should have known the".

  s3(6) Requires some clarification via Regulation and/or Code of Practice. Clause 3(6) suggests that killing animals is not an offence. But if it is done without the owner's permission, or if a higher primate, eg a chimpanzee, is killed by the owner without good reason there might be some cause for concern. This clause could be qualified in some way to admit some line of acceptable justification.

  s5 If the word "give" could be interpreted as including selling then it might be argued that someone who has bought a raffle ticket and won has, in fact, been sold the animal?

  s6(1) Confusing, are animals kept by man not "protected animals"?

  s6(2) An opportunity to integrate livestock Codes to cover all aspects not just single aspects.

  s6(2)(c) This section might be construed as allowing an owner to not give a prescribed medicine in the diet even when advised that it is needed by a vet.

  s8(4) Double negatives makes this very confusing. Is it not the case that after 40 days, or if resolved earlier then the draft is approved.

  s7, 8, 9, 10 There appears to be no transitional provisions for existing Codes of Practice although this is referenced in the explanatory notes.

  s11(3)(b) When are "proceedings begun"—eight days could in some circumstances be very tight depending on the actual meaning.

  s11(4) Insert "or Regulations made thereunder" after "Act"

  s13(2) and (3) If this section gives a constable or inspector the right to kill a protected animal, we hope there is a requirement that such individuals should have training or otherwise have shown the ability to humanely destroy a range of animals.

  s15(2)(c) Presumably this is the authority whereby the RSPCA and similar welfare organisations gain the powers to have duties in respect of actual prosecutions and perform as prosecutors under the Act. It is suggested that authorisation should be actioned by a Memorandum of Understanding or similar formal agreement with defined conditions of operation, responsibility and reporting and all necessary sanctions that are deemed relevant.

  s16(7) There will presumably need to be an allowance for compensation if animals have been seized or killed without adequate justification This will obviously be a retrospective judgement.

  s26 The new stance on disqualification will improve the current problems of custody, the real proof will be when tested in Court, ie does the terminology of the section effectively achieve its objective.

  s27 Sets a real positive approach for Courts to consider deprivation/disqualification to those in breach by giving reasons if case not concluded with either or both actions.

  s30(9) There is no mention of how training fodder are to be handled, eg animals kept to train the fighting dogs such as cats, other dogs, and badgers. Is the use of lures and hares to be included in the Bill in coursing?

  s31 Although outside of our remit, it is accepted that animals used for fighting is the only item that can be seized and destroyed under the Act. What is the situation of seizure/destruction of other items used for and about animal fighting are these subject to confiscation/deprivation/destruction under other legislation?

  s34(2) Would suggest that one year is too short a period.

  s44 Will be interesting to see what "qualifications" are drawn up for the purposes of this section. Constables may have equal powers and then there are those persons operating under a "Prosecutors" powers where those people are employed by authorised welfare authorised organisations.

  s54(1)(a) It is assumed that Unitary Councils and Metropolitan Councils are covered by the term District Councils.

  Annex 1, page 94—FAWC is a little surprised at the small number of game farms suggested in this aspect. It would be useful to set out what the definition of a game farm is. The Game Farmers Association's proactive stance in producing a code of practice for keepers is to be applauded. Although many game enterprises operate to high welfare standards it may be argued that there is a need for more proactive assessment of stockmanship. It may be that FAWC could undertake an assessment of game rearing for a future report.

  Council is concerned about the apparent lack of any additional financial resources from Central Government to support this major initiative. A Regulatory Impact Assessment suggesting no additional funding for the work of Local Authorities and other enforcement agencies simply understates and weakens the potential benefits that this legislation could bring to the welfare of animals. In order for the law to have the impact it deserves it must be effectively enforced and this will require funding from Central and Local Government.

27 August 2004

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