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

Memorandum submitted by the National Sheep Association


  1.  We consider that the draft Bill is timely, should help to unite a great deal of legislation which has been in place for many years and is an opportunity to remove issues better suited to previous times.

  2.  Having said that, we believe the new draft Bill should avoid the potential for introducing laws which cut across the European Convention of Human Rights, should stand the test of reasonableness in its widest interpretation, should avoid the serious pitfalls of unintended consequences and should be written in a clear, unambiguous way, open only to one interpretation.

  3.  In our view, as it is written it could appear that the Secretary of State is taking a relatively academic view of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the "right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions" is breached in a number of ways. For instance, it can hardly be construed as "peaceful" to be disturbed without warrant between the hours of 5.01 am and 10.59 pm Equally, it can hardly be considered as fair that one person (an inspector) acting on his own authority and without a warrant can enter private premises, if necessary using reasonable force, whatever that is, to achieve his objective. The example given to Clause 11 Paragraph 53 where leaving a dog in a hot car is used to identify a situation which authorises an inspector or constable to act without the certificate of a veterinary surgeon is clearly a matter where urgency is vital. This should not though be used as the thin end of the wedge enabling an inspector or constable to force entry into private or business premises without authority of the Courts or at least a Justice of the Peace.

  4.  We are also unclear what is intended by the word "inspector" and what is intended as the prosecutor, our view being that both lack clarity and transparency. In Clause 44 it might appear that the inspector would be appointed by local authorities, but in the guidance provided by the Secretary of State, the person holding that appointment would draw up a list of persons considered suitable. It is unclear whether the inspector would be a Government appointee or an appointee of the local authority (although it seems that way), or would any other organisation be involved. We are equally unhappy with the protection given to inspectors under Paragraph 45 and question whether this is sensible in a democracy.

  NSA does not condone cruelty to animals or cruelty caused through unnecessary suffering, however different people will have a different interpretation of what is "cruelty", what is "cruelty caused through unnecessary suffering" and what is "reasonable".

  UK is a democratic country and people have a right to follow a cause without hindrance, this includes animal rights groups of which there is known to be an extremist element. We are therefore extremely concerned that the powers proposed within this draft Bill to be bestowed on inspectors etc, will give those who seek to further their own cause the opportunity and power to do so.

  We do not believe this to be the intention of the draft Bill and in order to safeguard its credibility, and those inspectors acting properly and in the spirit of the draft Bill, we believe that an Independent Complaints Authority should be set up. This would allow all complaints to be registered in one place so that if there were numerous complaints about an individual or area this would be obvious. All complaints should be investigated. However, where numerous complaints are made about the same inspector and/or area then a full investigation should be undertaken as swiftly as possible and necessary action taken as appropriate.

  5.  In summary, while we believe the intention of the draft Bill is good, we take the view that as it is drafted, it is heavy handed to the point of being draconian, is unreasonable and impractical in important areas, fails to address the issue of what might be considered to be adequate and excessive powers and in a democracy ignores the need for a proper positioning of the onus of proof.


1.   Cruelty

  Under the definition set out in (1) (a)-(d), a farmer could be accused of cruelty if a ram which was under his control broke through a fence and attacked another ram either in his ownership of that of a neighbours, causing it suffering or even death. We take the view that the draft does not cater for such an event although it is not an uncommon occurrence irrespective of fences. As the definition is set out it would leave the farmer unwittingly and in our view unreasonably open to the charge of cruelty.

  In 1(2)(a) a farmer having his sheep shorn could be accused of an offence if the shearer inadvertently cut the skin of the sheep during the process.

  We believe that this is not what is intended in the draft Bill, nevertheless these are clear examples of the unintended consequences.

  1(4)(a), (b), (c) could refer to various aspects of shepherding most of which are dealt with under the Farm Animal Welfare Council. As written and without reference to FAWC it would be a problem. "We would argue that the welfare of domesticated stock needs quite a different approach from when such animals were in the wild state. As such they have been developed for the purposes of man and need to be dealt with in specific ways for their own welfare".

2.   Fighting etc

  We have no comment to make.

3.   Welfare

  (3)  We would question the definition of "abandoned". Is this a matter of hours, or days or weeks. It is important to clarify bearing in mind the growing number of part time livestock keepers who have to earn their living away from their land and might see their sheep in the morning and evening. Equally, note should be taken of stock on common grazings, ie unfenced open land sharing grazings with others. On high hills this can be a particular problem. Essential therefore to set out proper definition of the word "abandoned".

  (4)  Whereas we agree the sentiment in (a)-(e), we have difficulty understanding precisely what is intended by this legislation, considering the need for precision in the litigious society in which we now live and the fact that there are increasingly less people with an adequate and proper understanding of farming issues ie:

    (a)  This raises the question of what is a "suitable environment". We would argue that an attempt be made to define it. As it is set out it begs a very big question, especially against the background that before domestication the sheep was largely a desert animal.

    (b)  Need for adequate food and water. Against the background set out in (a) above, we question what is adequate. Again, there is a need for definition which is correct and realistic bearing in mind the wide variation.

    (c)  Equally, we question what is intended by the need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. Again, there is a wide disparity between hill sheep and lowland sheep, between domesticated sheep and those which are semi feral. Bearing in mind our litigious society the word "normal" needs to be clarified and set down.

    (d)  The matter of "housing" poses a question which needs to be clarified, as it is written it will be open to wide interpretation.

    (e)  In order to protect sheep from pain injury and disease we undertake good husbandry practices which are well known and part of a shepherd's upbringing and training. We now have the counterprevailing and new hazard of access to farmland by people and disturbance by their dogs, the prospect of hydatid cysts (domestic dogs do not have to be wormed whereas farm dogs do). There is also the growth of legislation to protect environment which militates against the use of external parasite controls such as chemical sheep dips. This will also be affected by laws of pollution including the new proposals concerning diffuse pollution.

  (5) We would refer to our comments on (3)(c) above, ie hill, lowland, domesticated and semi feral.

6.   Regulations to promote welfare

  Whereas we agree the concept, we believe the various clauses confuse the fact that different rules will apply to the separate species. We would question whether the welfare of sheep is in any way benefited by setting out the detail in (c) to (o) while there could be some merit in (p) and (q).

  (3)  We would make the point that the sheep farming business is already having difficulty in maintaining adequate numbers of people—numbers of farmers have reduced from just under 100,000 to just over 60,000 in about 10 years, with obvious consequent negative effects on landscape and environment. A further reduction could have an adverse effect on animal and people welfare.

  The proposal for more rules and regulations fills us with absolute dread, as by far the vast majority know perfectly well that good health and welfare contribute to a profitable business.

7.   Codes of Practice

  (1)  there is in our view inadequate definition of what constitutes the "appropriate national authority", exactly what does that mean? Is it the Government department and if so why not say so, but if it is the national voluntary body again why isn't this stipulated? Even so, we would argue that a "code of practice" should be a guide as opposed to an absolute.

  We would also argue that there would be opportunity for greater buy-in from industry if the Codes of Practice were produced by industry rather than government.

9.   Making of Codes of Practice: Wales

  We advocate that this element of work should be given to the people with appropriate specialist knowledge, ie in the case of sheep National Sheep Association.

10.   Revocation of Codes of Practice

  Noted. There is a clear opportunity for Government/industry cooperation.


11.   Power to take possession of and retain, animals in distress

  In line with our thinking on specialisms etc, we would argue that only a veterinary surgeon with the appropriate specialism should only be allowed to certify for the purpose described here. The advent of Cattle Vet Society and Sheep Vet Society as distinct sectors within BVA bears this out. It would be totally unacceptable for a vet with only small animal practice experience to adjudicate on what is a very specialist operation.

  (2)  We would only find this acceptable if the inspector or constable had been properly trained, examined and passed as being fit to carry on such action by an independent, competent certifying body.

  (3)  We are concerned at the concept of animals being removed from their owner's possession, it begs the question of where to? At whose expense? And what safeguards are there for the owners.

  (4)  We would argue that there is a lack of balance. Apparently the process is stacked against the owners with all the powers held by an inspector or a constable. The owner's rights would appear to be minimal with no clear redress.

  (5)  Even under this section, there would be a cost to apply to the Court and a whole host of information processes.

12.   Powers to remove and care for animals in distress

  (1), (2), (3). This section raises the question of what is considered to be an appropriate place of safety. Who says it is? What training would be given to the constable or person authorised by him? Again, it brings into question the rights of owners and how would they be catered for.

  (4)  We would advocate the need for far greater balance and question how this will be dealt with if the case against the owner is lost.

13.   Other powers in relation to animals in distress

  (1)  We take note of the comments regarding a protected animal and would suggest that an animal is an animal irrespective or whether it has protected status.

  (2)  We would reiterate that a veterinary surgeon would need to have appropriate, up to date specialist training. There is also a need to define "reasonable" in this instance.

14.   Entry to search for and deal with animals in distress

  This again questions the rights of owners—it questions why there is no reference at least to a Justice of the Peace, it questions (5)(a) what would constitute "reasonable grounds" and in our view reflects a most unsatisfactory concept.

  Section (1) of 14 comes in before Section (5), this being the case, he will have achieved entry and it begs the question of why he should then revert to (5).

  (6)(c)(1) begs the question of what is a conspicuous place. Many premises have several conspicuous places—how would they be handled?

15.   Applications of sections 16-19

  (2)  The definition of who is to be the prosecutor is, in our view, critical. We believe (a) is acceptable (b) is acceptable (c) is totally unacceptable, bearing in mind that such a person could have other interests and even a more ambiguous agenda. This should not be accepted under any circumstances.

16.   Orders in relation to animals owned or kept by defendant

  (2)(b)(c) We have already questioned what is considered a place of safety etc.

  (d)  Disposing of the animal other than by sale could mean giving it away, if so to whom?

  (6)  Does this include the owner? It also begs the question of on whose evidence. We would argue that the prosecutor's evidence would need to be corroborated otherwise it would be unsafe.

17.   Orders for disposal of animals taken under section 11(1) or 16(1)

  (1)  In this case, apparently the prosecutor would be given power to take the animal and dispose of it without any controls.

  (2)  We would make the point that if the case is lost or not proven the defendant should be allowed to take the animal home. There is no provision for this.

  (5)  We question what the court would consider to be "not reasonably practicable".

  (7)  We question whether a person defending his "property", as defined by the European Convention of Human Rights, is committing an offence.

19.   Powers in connection with orders under section 16(1) or 17(1)

  (1)  This could include breaking and entering, is that intended?

  (2)(a)  This would appear to be a sort of bailiff arrangement based on the authority of the prosecution.

  (b)  This would appear to authorise the prosecutor to, for instance, commandeer a vehicle etc, is that intended?

  (4)  Does this include the owner where he is defending his own right to property?

20.   Orders under section 16 or 17: financial provisions

  It would appear that the prosecutor holds all the cards. Do human rights apply anywhere?

38.   Entry and inspection of farm premises

  (1)  This questions what are considered to be reasonable hours. In another section 40(4) it allows power of entry between 5.01 am and 10.59 pm. If a time can be set in that part of the document why not in this one? (We would not consider the above to be reasonable.)

39.   Entry and search without warrant

  (1)  We are extremely concerned at the concept of power of entry and search without warrant. This section also begs the question of what is considered to be reasonable hours.

40.   Entry and search by force without a warrant

  (1), (2), (3), (4) We would reiterate our concerns about entry and search by force without a warrant. It raises the question of what force, does it mean armed police or armed inspectors? Neither would be acceptable in our view as it would raise the question of countervailing force being used by a defendant. We question whether that is intended.

  It would appear from this that between the hours of 5.01 am and 10.59 pm a farm premises may be searched by force without warrant and without hindrance using an uninterpreted measure of what is considered to be reasonable force. We question whether this is a reasonable interpretation of what is set out and what it means in practical terms.

41.   Entry and search with a warrant

  The existence of search without warrant and search by force without a warrant as set out under 39/40 and the relatively comprehensive nature of what they encompass questions the need for 41. We would, however, argue that 39/40 are an iniquitous breach of a farmer's rights as a human being and that section 41 is a more acceptable approach.


43.   Time limits for prosecutions

  (1)(a) We would argue that the time limit of three years is too long, three months would be more sensible.

  (2)  We would submit that evidence must be substantiated. It is unreasonable to believe evidence without clear proof.


  It is unclear whether an inspector is a Government appointee, a local authority appointee or someone from a non-Governmental organisation, this needs to be absolutely clear.

45.   Protection of inspectors

  We would argue that an inspector with appropriate bona fides working to instructions of the courts is acceptable. Where, however, the inspector is working to his own agenda without corroboration, without sanction and control of the court system, that is totally unacceptable in a democracy.

47.   Power to stop and detain vehicles

  Considering that the welfare of animals in transit is dealt with by the Welfare of Animals in Transit Order 1997 (WATO), we question the need for this section.

49.   Offences by bodies corporate

  We contend that the issue here is on the onus of proof. The words consent, connivance, neglect etc must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt for any prosecution, or offence to be conferred.

24 August 2004

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 8 December 2004