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

Further supplementary memorandum submitted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

  Following the discussion which took place on the topic of improvement notices during the Committee's last evidence session with Mr Bradshaw on 27 October, the RSPCA felt it might assist the Committee if it clarified its position further.

As we have already explained, we already operate a welfare assessment scheme whereby if our inspectors believe that an animal's welfare needs are not being met, but the failure falls short of cruelty (for which we would prosecute), they leave the animal owner a written form explaining what the problem is. We should emphasise that we do not serve these notices in relation to the existing cruelty offence and that would not change if the Animal Welfare Bill becomes law. The notices are only used in poor welfare situations.

Since we intend to continue serving these notices if the Animal Welfare Bill introduces a new welfare offence, we recommended to the Committee that it might be a useful safeguard if the service of such a notice was made a prerequisite to the bringing of a prosecution for the welfare offence.

In the course of discussion on 27 October Mr Bradshaw maintained that it should not be compulsory for all those enforcing the welfare offence always to serve an improvement notice before prosecuting since in some circumstances that would not be appropriate. He also referred to the fact that the Welfare of Farmed Animal (England) Regulations 2000 (which contain the existing welfare offence for farmed animals) allow the State Veterinary Service, which is responsible for enforcing those Regulations, a discretion as to whether or not they serve an improvement notice but do not require it in all cases.

Mr Simpson then suggested that, for the sake of consistency, the Animal Welfare Bill should contain similar provisions.

Whilst we would have no objection to a provision in the Bill to the effect that enforcers may serve improvement notices (see regulation 11 of WOFA(E)R), we would be concerned if the entire improvement notice regime in WOFA(E)R were adopted in the Bill for the following reasons. Those Regulations make it an offence for a person to fail to comply with any improvement notice that is served. In our view this gives too much power to the enforcer who, in effect, drafts the wording of the offence. We believe that the commission of the welfare offence should depend on the wording of the Bill as interpreted by the courts, and not the wording of an improvement notice drafted by an RSPCA, local authority or DEFRA inspector. In addition, we anticipate that this provision would lead to satellite litigation to determine whether improvement notices had been properly drafted and properly served and this would unnecessarily complicate an area of the law which ought to be simple.

4 November 2004

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