Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs First Report

2  Background to the draft Bill

Current animal welfare law

5. The current law on animal welfare in England and Wales is contained in over 20 pieces of legislation. Key amongst these is the Protection of Animals Act 1911. In effect, the 1911 Act sets the standard below which conduct towards domestic and captive animals becomes unlawful, by defining an offence of cruelty to these categories of animal. This offence has formed the basis for most subsequent animal welfare prosecutions. The offence of cruelty is widely drawn; it applies to all acts done in relation to domestic and captive animals, other than those carried out lawfully under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The 1911 Act has been amended many times, most recently in 2000, although the key cruelty offence has remained fundamentally unaltered.[2]

6. Following the enactment of the 1911 Act, the law regulating people's conduct towards animals remained virtually unchanged until the 1960s. The 1960s legislation was largely directed towards farmed animals and focussed, for the first time, on the question of their welfare—going beyond defining a standard below which conduct must not fall, to defining how animals ought to be cared for. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 was the first legislation to use the term "welfare" in relation to animals;[3] it creates an offence of causing unnecessary pain or distress to livestock, or knowingly permitting such pain or distress to be caused.[4] The 1968 Act also empowers ministers to make such regulations and codes of practice as they think fit for ensuring the welfare of livestock.[5]

7. In addition, many aspects of animal licensing, registration and certification are regulated by statute.[6] For example, a licence is required to run a pet shop,[7] an animal boarding establishment,[8] a riding establishment,[9] a dog breeding establishment,[10] to operate a zoo[11] and to use premises as a slaughterhouse,[12] and exhibitors or trainers of performing animals must be registered with the appropriate local authority.[13]

Proposals for reform

8. In January 2002, Defra ministers initiated a consultation on whether an animal welfare Bill should be introduced in order to "consolidate and bring up-to-date the legislation that exists in England and Wales to promote the welfare of farmed, domestic and captive animals". The purpose of the consultation was to find out what consultees would like to see included in such a Bill. The consultation closed in April 2002; 2,351 responses were received. Defra published an analysis of the responses in August 2002.[14] The draft Bill was published on 14 July 2004.

Need for new legislation

9. In written and oral evidence to us, submitters and witnesses were almost universally supportive of the fact that the Government had put forward a draft Bill on animal welfare. The reason why new legislation is required in this area was best highlighted by Mike Radford, a leading academic in the field of animal welfare law:

… the most important thing [about the draft Bill] is that this is the first occasion on which animal welfare and animal protection legislation has been looked at anew. Your predecessor, Richard Martin MP, in 1822 … was instrumental in passing the first legislation, and that original Act has been overhauled on three occasions—in 1835, 1849 and 1911. On each of those three subsequent occasions it was essentially a consolidation Act … This is the first time in which the whole picture has been looked at and … it is the first time on which the government has thought fit to bring forward such a Bill. On all previous occasions it has been a Private Member's Bill, so that is important.[15]

Purpose of the draft Bill

10. The draft Bill is intended to address the current lack of legal protection for the welfare of companion and kept animals, including farmed animals. It is intended to re-enact the substance of the cruelty offence set down in the 1911 Act,[16] but also to introduce a new offence of failing to take reasonable steps to ensure an animal's welfare—set out in clause 3. The key purpose of the clause 3 welfare offence is to enable action to be taken about an animal's welfare before suffering has occurred. Currently, companion and kept animals are protected only by the cruelty offence in the 1911 Act, which requires evidence of unnecessary suffering before action can be taken against an offender.

11. The Government has presented the clause 3 welfare offence as updating the law protecting companion and kept animals in order to bring it into line with the existing law on farmed animals' welfare. In his initial oral evidence to us, the Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, Ben Bradshaw MP, contrasted the law protecting companion and kept animals with the "laws that govern the welfare of farm animals where we do have the powers to regulate and indeed we do through EU regulations on a fairly regular basis".[17] The Minister told us that "there is already a duty of care for farm animals which allows intervention to take place before suffering actually occurs and that is the critical difference between the existing legislation and what we hope to achieve with this Bill regarding non-farm kept animals."[18]

12. The draft Bill would also delegate wide-ranging powers to the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to legislate in order to promote the welfare of most categories of animal protected by the draft Bill. Defra proposes to use these powers to regulate most animal-related activities that do not involve wild animals, living in the wild. The draft Bill is also intended to extend current powers of enforcement and prosecution, and to address loopholes in existing enforcement provisions.

Scope of the draft Bill

13. The draft Bill is not intended to apply to acts or procedures lawfully carried out under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986: these are expressly excluded under clause 50. Responsibility for animal research and the 1986 Act remains with the Home Office, rather than Defra. Clause 50 provides that the clause 1 cruelty offence and the clause 2 fighting offence will apply to animals held in establishments designated under the 1986 Act, although the clause 3 welfare offence will not. This means that a research animal will be protected from offences of cruelty or fighting except where that animal is being subjected to a procedure licensed under the 1986 Act.

14. The draft Bill is also not intended to apply to wild animals, living in the wild. Defra considers that such animals are already adequately protected by existing legislation.[19]

Application of the draft Bill

15. The draft Bill would apply to England and Wales. All powers delegated under the draft Bill would be exercisable, in England, by the Secretary of State and, in Wales, by the National Assembly for Wales—referred to, in the draft Bill and in this report, as the appropriate national authority.[20]

16. We understand that the Scottish Executive is moving towards developing its own animal welfare legislation. Consultation closed on 2 July 2004 on proposals to revise existing animal welfare legislation; at the launch of the consultation, in March 2004, the Deputy Environment Minister, Mr Allan Wilson MSP, stated that the Executive expected draft legislation based on the consultation to be introduced in the course of the current Scottish Parliament.[21] The Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries told us that he was not aware "of any significant differences between the English and the Scottish Bills or in the ensuing secondary legislation … There is extensive liaison at official level with the devolved administrations which will reduce the risk of inadvertent discrepancies."[22]

2   The Acts which have amended the 1911 Act and which are still in force are the: Protection of Animals Act (1911) Amendment Act 1921; Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1927; Protection of Animals Act 1934; Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954; Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954; Abandonment of Animals Act 1960; Animals (Cruel Poisons) Act 1962; Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1964; Protection of Animals (Penalties) Act 1987; Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1988; Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988; Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 2000. Back

3   Q 737 [Mike Radford] Back

4   Section 1(1) of the 1968 Act; "knowingly" includes knowledge which the offender could reasonably be expected to have. Back

5   Sections 2 and 3 of the 1968 Act Back

6   See Mike Radford, Animal Welfare Law in Britain: Regulation and Responsibility, (Oxford, 2001), p 291ff  Back

7   Pet Animals Act 1951 Back

8   Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 Back

9   Riding Establishments Act 1964 Back

10   Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 Back

11   Zoo Licensing Act 1981 Back

12   Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 (SI 1995/539) Back

13   Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 Back

14 Back

15   Qq 734-735 [Mike Radford] Back

16   See the discussion in paragraph 58 ff. Back

17   Q1 [Defra] Back

18   Q1 [Defra] Back

19   See paragraphs 32 and 33. Back

20   Clause 57(4) and clause 54(1) Back

21; given the current Scottish Parliament was elected in April 2003, legislation could be expected to be introduced by the end of 2006. Back

22   Q 963 [Defra] Back

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Prepared 8 December 2004