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

Memorandum submitted by the Farmers' Union of Wales


  1.  Welsh livestock farmers have always prided themselves on the standards to which they operate and have thereby gained a reputation for producing livestock of the highest quality and to the highest welfare standards. Whilst we appreciate that the Bill is very wide-ranging and that the specific offences relating to animals deal largely with animal keepers outside agriculture, the nature of the Bill is such that there could be unintended consequences for livestock farmers.

  2.  The Farmers' Union of Wales is therefore firmly of the view that the Bill should stand the test of reasonableness, since different people will have a different interpretation of what constitutes cruelty and cruelty caused through unnecessary suffering. The prospect of an inspector acting on his own authority and without a warrant entering a private premises is one which is viewed with grave reservations by the Union, since such a system does not contain the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the actions taken are reasonable. Whilst the example of a dog being left in a car on a hot day is clearly one where speed is of the essence in order to resolve the matter, such an example should not be used as justification for inspectors to enter private or business premises without the authority of the courts.

  3.  There is also a lack of clarity with regard to the definition of "inspector", and who will appoint such inspectors. Whilst the Bill suggests that inspectors will be appointed by local authorities, the guidance provided by the Secretary of State implies that the person holding the appointment would draw up a list of persons considered suitable to carry out the task.

  4.  In the light of the concerns of the reasonableness of this Bill, the Farmers' Union of Wales believes that there should be a procedure in place whereby complaints with regard to enforcement could be dealt with in an even-handed manner. This would also ensure that common problem areas were identified at an early stage and would therefore provide a more acceptable level of balance within the system.


Clause 1: Cruelty

  5.  Section (1)(a) states that a person commits an offence if an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer. Subsequent sub-sections (b)-(d) further qualify this statement, but the tone is sufficiently ambiguous to require further clarification. There are many examples of situations arising on farm where the farmer may be powerless to control an animal's instincts to fight, whether this be cattle, sheep or pigs. The qualification at paragraph 3(a), "whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced" is reliant on subjective assessment, and due account must therefore be taken of the practicalities of livestock farming when reaching any such conclusions.

Clause 3: Welfare

  6.  Paragraph 3(3) states that "if an animal has been abandoned, any person who immediately before that time was a keeper of the animal shall continue to be the keeper of the animal for the purposes of this section until another person becomes a keeper of it". There have been hefted sheep on the hills of Wales for generations, and these animals are turned onto the open mountain in early May, to be gathered only for shearing, dipping and weaning the lambs. These animals have their own established "cynefin", and the open grazings can span many thousands of acres. It is therefore essential that account is taken of these long-standing farming practices in the context of defining "abandoned animals".

  7.  Paragraph 4 states that an animal's welfare shall be taken to consist of the meeting of its needs in an appropriate manner, and Paragraph 4(a) further states that these needs shall be taken to include a suitable environment in which to live. Again, the issue of hill sheep highlights the difference which exists between sheep breeds, and the realities that certain breeds, such as the Welsh mountain, will thrive in areas where other lowland breeds would fail to live. The varying degrees of hardiness in various breeds of livestock needs to be fully recognised, and blanket assumptions avoided.

  8.  Paragraph 4(d) raises the issue of housing, which again must be considered against the background of differing breeds and the varying climate/topography in which they are kept. A number of the Union's members have also highlighted the outside influences which are making a farmer's task of protecting his herds and flocks from pain, injury and disease, more difficult. These revolve primarily around increased access to the countryside and the problems caused by dogs worrying sheep. Furthermore, domestic dogs do not have to be wormed, whereas farm dogs are subject to routine worming in order to control hydatid disease.


Clause 6: Regulations to promote welfare

  9.  Farmers are already struggling under a burden of bureaucracy which includes a range of checks on their livestock. This is at a time when the economics of farming are such that ever fewer people are responsible for greater numbers of livestock. In essence, the livestock provide the livelihood of the farmer and his family, and welfare considerations are paramount in day to day activity, since the links between good husbandry and the profitability of the business are an effective deterrent to bad practice.

  10.  Paragraph 7 talks of "the appropriate national authority", but fails to clarify the definition of "an appropriate national authority". There is concern that the RSPCA has been given approved prosecutor status under the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 2000 in England, and the Union would have major concerns over a national voluntary body being regarded as the appropriate national authority.

Clause 9: Making of codes of practice: Wales

  11.  The National Assembly for Wales has developed a well-established consultation process, and we would hope that any proposals to issue or revise the code of practice under section 7 should be referred back to those organisations which are normally consulted.


Clause 11: Power to take possession of and retain animals in distress

  12.  The FUW has become increasingly concerned at the decline in the number of vets with experience of large animals. As a result, we do not believe that it is appropriate for a veterinary surgeon who deals only with small animals to be expected to rule on whether farm animals should be taken into possession.

  13.  Paragraph 11(2) states that an inspector or a constable may act under sub-section 1 without the certificate of a veterinary surgeon if it appears that the animal is suffering or that it is likely to suffer. Again, it is crucially important that the people involved are properly trained and have been deemed able to carry out the work by a competent certifying body. The Bill appears to provide no route by which the owner of the animal can appeal against a decision, and the Union is concerned that there is a lack of balance in the approach to the removal of animals in distress, particularly as there are no assurances over the qualification of the people who are undertaking this task. We are therefore of the view that there should be some means of independent appeal on the part of owners, and clarification on the process by which an inspector or constable could act under sub-section 1 of the Bill.


  14.  Paragraph 15 sub-section 2 outlines the three categories of person who can bring proceedings under the Act and, whilst the Union would accept that a public authority, or a person acting on behalf of such an authority, should be in a position to bring such proceedings, the third category, namely "a person authorised by the appropriate national authority to perform the functions of a prosecutor under those sections" should not be given the functions of a prosecutor.


  15.  Paragraph 38 states that an inspector may at any reasonable time enter and inspect premises which he reasonably believes to be premises on which animals are bred or kept for farming purposes in order to check compliance with regulations and to ascertain whether any offence under the Act is being committed. There is no definition of "reasonable time" within paragraph 38, whilst paragraphs 39, 40 and 41 confirm that entry can take place without a warrant. We do not accept that entry and search should occur without a warrant, and would argue that such actions are only acceptable when a justice of the peace is persuaded that a relevant offence is being committed and issues a warrant authorising a constable or an inspector to enter the premises.


  16.  As has been highlighted earlier in the response, we are not clear whether inspectors are appointed by Government, local authorities, or can be employed by charitable organisations. Whilst 42(1) states that, "in appointing a person to be an inspector for the purposes of this Act, a local authority shall have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State", there is little clarity on the nature of the persons who will be considered suitable for appointment.

25 August 2004

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