Work of the Committee: 2010-15 - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Contents

5  Animal issues

53. We have undertaken a series of inquiries on animal issues over the course of this Parliament, focusing on the need to ensure appropriate welfare standards for a range of species, whether wild, domesticated or farmed.


54. Tuberculosis in cattle is one of the biggest challenges facing UK farming. Herds must be regularly tested and infected cattle must be slaughtered. In 2012 alone it is estimated that 1% of the dairy herd was slaughtered owing to bovine TB. Amidst the controversy of methods to limit the spread of the disease such as culling badgers, we inquired into the extent to which vaccination of cattle and/or badgers might contribute to the control and eradication of bovine TB.[85] EU rules currently prohibit cattle vaccination, but Defra applied in 2012 for in-principle marketing authorisation for a bovine TB vaccine to protect cattle. Lengthy field trials are required before the EU will consider amending current rules to allow vaccination to take place. We urged the Government to do all it can to condense the indicative 10-year timetable suggested by the European Commission. We also noted that the vaccine would increase financial and administrative burdens on the industry without immediately solving the problem since vaccination cannot guarantee cattle will not become diseased, nor can it help already-infected animals. Defra has stated that before cattle vaccination field trials can be contemplated a better 'DIVA' test (to identify infected cattle among vaccinated cattle) must be developed. The Department expects this to take a further two years.[86]

55. An injectable vaccine for badgers has been available since March 2010, but questions remain about its efficacy, and further field research is required. For it to be effective a significant number of badgers need to be trapped and vaccinated, over many years. We called on the Government to continue to research methods to determine whether badger social groups carry infection in order to better target deployment of the vaccine and recommended Defra produce a clear strategy for its use. Overall we concluded that for too long the Government's strategy for dealing with bovine TB had been reactive, following the spread of infection. The Government needs a strategy that will jump ahead of infection: cattle vaccination may allow it to do that in the future but for now increased bio-security and rigorous movement controls are vital. It will be no good vaccinating badgers to create a firewall against the spread of infection only for it to be compromised by movement of infected cattle. We recommended in our report on Defra performance in 2013-14 that Defra clarifies its plans for badger culling from 2015 onwards, including setting out any changes to improve effectiveness following the failure of the Gloucestershire culling pilots to meet the licence conditions for the minimum number of badgers removed. We also urged continued monitoring and reporting on the effectiveness of the badger culling pilots.[87] A future Committee may wish to examine progress on methods to limit the spread of bovine TB including the use of badger and cattle vaccines and of culling.


56. The UK is said to be a nation of dog lovers, with some 8 million canine pets, yet more than 100,000 strays are found each year, incidence of cruelty and neglect has risen and a large number of dogs are out of control due to the irresponsible or deliberate actions of a minority of owners. We reported in February 2013 on general Dog Control and Welfare issues,[88] and, separately, conducted pre-legislative scrutiny on the dog control measures to be incorporated in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.[89] We were critical of inaction by successive governments. At the time of our inquiry seven people, including five children, had been killed by dogs since 2007 and this toll has since increased. We urged action in several respects including the closing of the loophole in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that a person whose dog attacks someone in a private place would be subject to prosecution in the same way that prosecution was possible for attacks in public places. We welcomed the Government's inclusion of measures in the Act to achieve this aim as well as measures in response to our concerns that there must at the same time be appropriate protection from prosecution for those whose dog attacks an intruder in their home. We further welcomed the clause included in response to our pre-legislative scrutiny to equate an attack on an assistance dog, such as a guide dog, with an attack on a person.

57. Our report welcomed moves for compulsory microchipping of puppies due to come into force in April 2016 but this is not a panacea. The final dog control legislation has not incorporated the Dog Control Notices which we considered would give law enforcers the necessary specific powers to tackle aggressive dogs before they injure people. Nor does it reflect the demands on local authority dog warden services of dealing with growing numbers of stray animals at a time of pressure on council budgets. We were also concerned that the Government had missed a valuable opportunity to use new legislation to link dog breeding and welfare issues with dog control measures. Breeders may currently breed up to five litters a year (equating possibly to some 40 puppies) without being licensed: this should be reduced to two litters per year to limit the number of poorly bred and reared puppies which can grow up to become aggressive dogs. More needs to be done to stop the online sale of puppies and to tackle the health problems linked to some poor pedigree-breeding practices. Future Committee scrutiny could usefully assess the extent to which the Government's approaches go far enough or whether we now need the consolidated dog control and welfare legislation for which we called.


58. Increasing concern from the National Farmers' Union, the RSPCA and others about the welfare of horses kept on open land led to us holding an evidence session on fly-grazing.[90] The term describes the practice of leaving horses to graze on public or private land without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land. As well as contributing to poor horse welfare, this can create social, economic and environmental problems in affected communities. Additional issues of public safety may arise if fly-grazed horses stray on to public highways or other hazardous sites. Our evidence session raised public awareness of the problem and explored possible solutions to what is perceived to be a growing problem. Defra Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord de Mauley, subsequently informed us that the Government supported Julian Sturdy MP's Private Members' Bill on the Control of Horses (England) 2014 which introduces several important changes to help tackle fly-grazing.[91] The Bill was passed by the House of Commons in January and it includes proposals to shorten the time it takes to rescue abandoned horses from over two weeks to just 96 hours. If passed, the measures will extend the protection of the law to horses on private as well as public land, and will also allow rescued horses to be gifted to animal welfare sanctuaries for the first time.[92] This is a positive outcome for horse welfare and we commend the Government's approach.


59. We scrutinised a draft Bill proposing a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and recommended in July 2013 the less proscriptive approach of listing those animals that could not be used rather than banning all use.[93] The Government has not since advanced the draft Bill, although Jim Fitzpatrick MP, coincidentally a member of the Committee, has independently sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to progress it as a Private Members' Bill.[94] Few travelling circuses now include wild animals in their acts, but the question whether the practice should be banned is likely to arise again during the course of the next Parliament.


60. In June 2014, we considered the case for banning the keeping of primates (including, for example, marmosets, tamarins and capuchin monkeys) as pets.[95] In the absence of any accurate estimate of how many primates are currently so kept, we concluded that the case for a ban could not be made unless and until research was done to establish accurate figures. We called, however, for the Government's planned review of the code of practice relating to privately kept primates to be conducted immediately, rather than later in 2015, as planned. The Government rejected that call, and a review of the code should therefore take place later this year.[96] We called for that review to produce a revised code containing information sufficiently detailed and specific to enable private keepers to meet the welfare needs of their animals and to understand what is required under existing animal welfare legislation. A future Committee may wish to contribute further to the planned code revision.

85   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2013-14, Vaccination against bovine TB, HC 258 Back

86   HC Deb, 18 December, col 126WS Back

87   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Eighth report of Session 2014-15, Defra performance in 2013-14, HC 802 Back

88   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2012-13, Dog Control and Welfare, HC 575 Back

89   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2013-14, Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, HC 95 [Note: the Government did not in the event introduce a separate Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, rather incorporated clauses in Part 7 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014] Back

90   Oral evidence given on 3 September 201 to Horse welfare inquiry, HC 546 Back

91   Letter from Miss Anne McIntosh MP dated 10 September 2014 and reply dated 30 October 2014 from Lord de Mauley. Back

92   Julian Sturdy "Horse Welfare Law Receives Approval", accessed 26 February 2015. See also Bill pages on Control of Horses Bill on Parliament website. Back

93   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2013-14, Wild Animals in Circuses, HC 553 Back

94   Wild Animals in Circuses Private Members' Bill Back

95   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2013-14, Primates as pets, HC 984 Back

96   Government response, to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report of Session 2013-14, Primates as pets, HC 984 Back

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Prepared 24 March 2015