Examination of Witnesses (Questions 940-961)
14 OCTOBER 2004
Q940 Mr Wiggin: I do not think that is
going to change in this Bill.
Mr Flower: No, but I wanted to
stress both the importance of both the disqualification order
and the power of the courts to confiscate.
Q941 Chairman: Can I finally just raise
one point under Clause 3, because Mr Flower I think made the point
to us that the majority of activities of inspectors, inevitably
because of numbers, is reactive to what information you get, and
by and large the references that you receive are to acts of cruelty
that have already taken place, but the Bill introduces an anticipatory
element in that if you believe there are circumstances where cruelty
or a failure on animal welfare could take place then intervention
under the Bill is possible. Does that present you with any new
challenges in terms (a) of the role of inspection and (b) the
determination of when a prosecution might take place?
Mr Flower: In terms of role and
inspection, no, I do not believe it does, because as I have mentioned
we already receive a huge number of complaints each year, and
it transpires that a very small percentage of those complaints
actually result in an offence of cruelty being detected, so it
therefore follows that in the remainder there may be a welfare
or a perceived welfare issue as far as the complainant is concerned,
and that gives our inspectors the ability to address an animal's
welfare needs by way of advice and education which is how we achieve
the majority of our direct animal welfare work at the moment.
The significance of Clause 3 is that the advice and instructions
an inspector may be able to give to an owner will now be backed
up by, if you like, the threat of sanctions. Rather than our inspectors
just acting in an advisory way and hoping that someone will follow
that advice, there will be a positive incentive for someone to
do so to avoid falling foul of the law.
Q942 Chairman: That is very clear. Now,
in the remaining moments, would you like to highlight any further
important points which have arisen from your listening to the
evidence that has been given and by way of response that you wanted
to give to the Committee?
Mr Bowles: If we can just cover
a couple of things in the draft Bill, firstly we are very happy
with Clause 1, the cruelty offence. We do not think that should
really be altered. We believe the welfare offence is operational
as it is and it also provides the flexibility through the terms
"reasonable steps" and "appropriate means",
so we think that the welfare offence as it stands is good and
can operate from day 1. There has been discussion earlier on about
licensing and we would concur with the local authorities that
we believe that licensing should be every twelve months, not eighteen,
and we also believe that there should be some extra language in
there on electric goads and use of electric collars which is not
in there at the moment. But as you are aware, Chairman, a lot
of the teeth of the legislation and the important bits will come
in the secondary legislation, and we are not going to get into
those until there is discussion on that secondary legislation
and what it will mean. So in terms of the primary legislation
we are, by and large, quite happy with the way it is phrased and
the way it will operate.
Q943 Mr Wiggin: Can I just ask a quick
clarifying question on electric collars because I think it would
be helpful for the Committee to know the difference between electric
fencing and electric collars perhaps used for training dogs, potentially
quite cruelly, compared to electric wires hidden under the ground
that prevent an animal escaping, or an electric fence used for
keeping farm animals in. Do you separate those?
Mr Bowles: They are two different
things but the RSPCA has concerns with both of those. We believe
there are welfare concerns with either of those systems. We have
more concerns with the actual electric goads rather than the fences,
but we still think there are welfare concerns with both of those
for the animal.
Q944 Mr Wiggin: With all electric fencing?
Mr Bowles: Yes.
Q945 Patrick Hall: Can I ask for a clearer
statement? Are you saying you are opposed to these measures?
Mr Bowles: We are opposed to the
use of electric goads and we are also opposed to electric shock
collars for training purposes, for instance.
Q946 Patrick Hall: So what sort of wording
do you want to see on the face of the Bill?
Mr Bowles: We would like to see
something in there which states that the use of these mechanisms
should not be allowed.
Q947 Mr Wiggin: You just said "all
electric fencing", though, when I checked with you. Did you
Mr Bowles: No, not all electric
fencing. What we are talking about is the use of electric implements
for training purposes.
Mr Wiggin: That is clearer.
Q948 Chairman: I would be grateful for
your observations by way of clarification. One of the main areas
of concern and question has been the application of this Bill
to animals which are not domesticated, and by that my personal
definition is cats and dogs at home, farm animals and what-have-you,
and, in that context for fishing, shooting, and animals that are
involved in that kind of pursuit, there has been a fair amount
of debate as to whether various acts performed by human beings
in pursuit of country activities, for example, would be encapsulated
by this particular measure, particularly at the time when human
beings take over an element of control. We have had some very
interesting evidence about the law of ownership of so-called wild
animals on pieces of land and it is becoming, in my view anyway,
a little bit confusing to know whether, for example, a fisherman
who has a fish in a keep net then becomes embroiled by this particular
Bill, or if somebody was out on a shoot and winged and did not
get a clean kill on a pheasant or a partridge and the animal was
suffering, is that potentially enveloped by these measures? Clearly,
coming back to this business of inspection and prosecution, either
somebody officially assuming that the Bill may become involved
or all kinds of people who have concern about these pursuits may
decide to go down a legislative route, and those are hypothetical
possibilities. What I would be grateful for is your thoughts as
to whether you think the Bill covers those particular areas that
concern has been put to us about?
Mr Flower: The Bill defines a
protected animal in several ways but one of which is that it is
an animal temporarily in custody or control of man, so it is arguable
that a fish that is caught in a keep net may be temporarily in
the custody or control of man but the fact that the fish is in
a keep net does not render that as an act of cruelty. If someone
then takes the fish and is cruel to it then they may well be caught
by the Act and probably quite correctly so. As far as someone
shooting birds is concerned, a wild bird is not within the temporary
custody or control of man so I do not think the Act would apply.
Q949 Chairman: Some of the arguments,
for example game birds, have centred on dependency relationships,
so that from the point of view of man rearing birds there is a
dependency and, indeed, a control relationship because game birds
can start life in an enclosed environment, they can be restricted
in terms of movement as they develop prior to release into the
wild, then they cross a line when they are released and then fly
about and do whatever things partridges, pheasants and other things,
for the purposes of shooting, do. It is quite interesting because
when does something that has been particularly bred for the purposes
of country pursuits and shooting cross the line and become a wild
animal? Some conject that the very nature of the breeding for
shooting is not a natural process but an artificial processmy
words not theirsbut it does make some quite interesting
arguments as to where the measures in the Bill apply. For example,
if you were cruel to animals at the point of breeding then I can
see quite clearly that or other legislation dealing with farmed
animals would apply, but if you then release those animals into
the natural environment, does this legislation bite on those?
I am, again, interested in your views on those lines of argument.
Mr Flower: I think perhaps the
first point to make is that the current law would also apply in
some of these circumstances because the 1911 Act protects both
domestic and captive animals, so exactly the same arguments could
be applied at present, but I think the issue with regard to game
birds once they are released is that they are no longer kept by
Q950 Mr Wiggin: This is quite an important
point because you also release birds into the wild that perhaps
have been damaged by a road accident, and the issue of abandonment
is perhaps a grey area in this Bill. At what point are you allowing
a creature to fend for itself if you have been looking after it?
Mr Flower: I am not sure that
"abandonment" is the appropriate term to use
Q951 Mr Wiggin: Because that would be
cruel technically, would it not?
Mr Flower: Yes, but if you are
rehabilitating wildlife then it is appropriate for wildlife to
be released back into the wild.
Q952 Mr Wiggin: You and I understand
that but if you are releasing a hawk, for example, that does not
know how to hunt that is abandonment. If it does know how to hunt
that is fine.
Mr Flower: The difficulty in fending
off this type of question is that every case will depend on its
own merits, and if you release a hawk that is injured or unable
to hunt that is in a different category to one that is fit and
healthy. So it is difficult to generalise.
Q953 Chairman: I think the line Mr Wiggin
and I are concerned about is that if you decide you are going
to have a cat or a dog there is a clear established relationship
between the human being and the animal. My cat does not ask me
whether it wants to come or go, it just goes, but it does have
a dependency because it comes home to be fed and there is the
personal relationship between the animal and the person who looks
after it. But, for example, it has been put to us that if a wild
animal sanctuary has an animaland the RSPCA is in the same
situationbrought to it, you are not establishing a right
of ownership at that point; you are doing something benevolent.
You are trying to rehabilitate the animal and then you are going
to release it, but I think the concern was whether those acts
of benevolence would also be covered by abandonment, because abandonment
is releasing back into the wild something you had control of,
and in that context most of the concerns have been put to us over
people who buy exotic animals, find they cannot cope, open the
door and let them go. That seems to me, as a layman, to be what
abandonment is about: the temporary custody for purposes of benevolence
re-releasing into the wild seems to be an intermediate process
but not one which goes into the realms of abandonment. The concern
is, to summarise, whether the Bill is clear enough to differentiate
between the person who lets the exotic animal go and the person
who may have a temporary relationship with an animal for the purposes
of putting it back into the wild.
Mr Flower: I think it is, and
the welfare offence does refer to keeping animals in an appropriate
manner, and obviously with wild animals it is not really appropriate
to keep them in captivity indefinitely so it is appropriate to
release them as soon as they are fit to be released. I have not
seen anything in the Bill that causes me a particular concern
in relation to that issue.
Q954 Chairman: I think I draw from that
that some of the concerns that have been expressed are but concerns
in the hypothetical sense in understanding whether the legislation
covers both country pursuits and the temporary containment of
animals. If I have understood you, and I do not want to put words
into your mouth but I think what you are saying is that you do
not believe that the Bill should cause a problem in either of
Mr Flower: I do not think it should,
no. It is correct that if someone captures an animal and has control
over it then they could then be caught by the provisions of the
Bill because the animal is clearly in the temporary custody of
man, but there is no reason why that should impinge upon any countryside
pursuits because we are advised that country pursuits do not cause
cruelty to animals. I think if someone were to catch a fox and
then cruelly treat it then the action is indefensible anyway.
Q955 Mr Wiggin: Would you accept that
one of the things that is happening at the moment that gives me
great concern is the capture of urban foxes where they are transported
and then released in the countryside, where they rarely stand
a chance? Would that fall within the remit of the Bill?
Mr Flower: I do not know. I would
have to give that one some thought. I have to confess that the
situation with urban foxes is not something that I am entirely
au fait with.
Chairman: Come round to my garden! I
can give you a little test bed to learn all that there is to know!
Q956 Mr Wiggin: The issue was the releasing
of them into the countryside where they are not really in a position
to cope. That is the problem.
Mr Flower: Certainly under the
present law there is a very interesting argument to be raised
by that scenario because it is theoretically possible that the
animal has become a captive animal, and then one has to determine
whether there is a likelihood of suffering if it is released.
Mr Wiggin: That seems to be my experience,
Q957 Chairman: We have had a good session
on some of what I call the fears and concerns of others. Are there
any final comments that you would wish to put to the Committee,
any final important points that you do not want us to forget?
Mr Flower: From my point of view
I would just like to reiterate, if I may, that which I said when
I was here last. Firstly, that we do regard the Bill as being
extremely useful. We strongly support Clause 3 and believe that
it is very important that it is maintained. Our other principal
concern, which I hope you will recall, was in relation to the
eight day ruling relating to the seizure of animals, and we would
sincerely hope that that can be addressed.
Q958 Chairman: Just refresh our memory
on what you would like that to be addressed about.
Mr Flower: We would like it removed,
effectively. We feel that the current law enables an animal to
be seized if an offence is suspected and held pending determination
of proceedings so the court can make an order. The owner of the
animal would have a right to apply for the return of the animal
and we feel those provisions should be mirrored in the Bill.
Q959 Patrick Hall: Seized by ?
Mr Flower: The police or an inspector.
Q960 Chairman: Not by the RSPCA inspector?
Mr Flower: No.
Q961 Chairman: But maybe the RSPCA inspector
assisted by the police?
Mr Flower: Yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
I hope you found that useful. I think we certainly found it useful
in clarifying a number of points particularly in the areas of
prosecution and we will now, as they say, close our public evidence
sessions to go away and try and digest the very large amount of
information that we have had. Can I just put on record my appreciation
for the information which you have sent us over the period of
our considerations; it has been very helpful. Thank you very much