7.The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (‘the 2006 Act’) is the principal animal welfare legislation. It largely replaced the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and consolidated more than 20 other pieces of legislation.
8.The Act introduced a new welfare offence. This meant that animal owners had a positive duty of care, and outlawed neglecting to provide for their animals’ basic needs, such as access to adequate nutrition and veterinary care. Section 9 of the Act set out five welfare needs:
9.In our consideration of the 2006 Act, we have focused on four issues: the use of secondary legislation under the Act; the role of the Act in protecting progeny; awareness of the Act; and enforcement of the Act. While we consider the first three issues in this Chapter, enforcement of the Act is considered in Chapter 6.
10.Many witnesses recognised the 2006 Act as an important step forward for animal welfare. However, the Act is an enabling statute. It does not itself provide a detailed or comprehensive scheme to ensure adequate protection for animals. Rather, it provided the means to develop such a strategy.
11.Parliament was assured at the time the Bill was under consideration that primary legislation was only a starting point and a range of measures would be introduced subsequently by way of secondary legislation. Indeed, the Act’s Regulatory Impact Assessment set out a timetable for the introduction of secondary legislation. The first tranche would include: riding schools; livery yards; animal (dog & cat) boarding; pet shops; pet fairs; mutilations; and tethering of horses. The second tranche would include animal sanctuaries; greyhounds; and performing animals.
12.Witnesses expressed disappointment that the original timetable had not been followed. Mike Radford, Reader in Law at the University of Aberdeen, told us that Defra had been “tardy and unambitious” in developing and introducing secondary legislation to address specific welfare issues. Since the Act was passed, only two measures relating to cats, dogs or equines had been introduced in England: the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010, and the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015. Mike Radford and his colleagues noted:
The Animal Welfare Act’s potential to provide a comprehensive and effective legislative regime to protect animals and to promote good welfare remains not so much work in progress as an aspiration still to get off the ground.
13.The Government is currently proposing to introduce new secondary legislation under the 2006 Act. This would introduce a single ‘Animal Establishment Licence’ for animal boarding establishments, pet shops, riding establishments, and dog breeding. This is encouraging but, as Mike Radford reminded us, it had “taken them [Defra] 10 years to get around to that”. We comment on some of the proposals in this Report.
14.Witnesses listed other areas where they felt there was an urgent need for the introduction of secondary legislation. These included animal sanctuaries, home boarding and livery yards, all of which were already identified as a priority in 2006. The Kennel Club and Dogs Trust also called for regulation on electronic shock collars.
17.There has been an increase in the popularity of cross-breeds. Along with familiar dog breeds, dozens of new cross-breeds have appeared, from Labradoodles, to Cockapoos and Maltipoos. Many will cost over £1,000 to purchase.
18.Reputable breeders sometimes use cross-breeding in an attempt to reduce the incidence of certain hereditary problems found in the purebred breeds, while retaining their more appealing traits. The Kennel Club does approve cross-breeds, but only if the parents have been subject to medical checks. These tests—often including hip X-rays, eye tests and DNA scans—help the Kennel Club ensure many of those genetic faults that are so common in some breeds are not present.
19.Witnesses expressed concern that some unscrupulous breeders were breeding these types of dog simply for financial profit, rather than with the health and welfare of dogs in mind, and without the necessary medical checks. Dogs Trust told us that puppies bred with little regard to inherited defects could go on to experience health problems for a significant part of their lives. Many suffered from kidney problems, heart disease and respiratory disorders.
20.Witnesses expressed concern that the 2006 Act did not apply to animals while in foetal or embryonic form. The Dog Breeding Reform Group said that: “the mating of dogs which are suffering from, or carry the genes for, a breed related disease or harmful physical trait should be as much a contravention of the Animal Welfare Act as physical or psychological mistreatment”. The Act enables regulations to be made to extend the application of the Act to an animal from an earlier stage of its development.
22.There is a low awareness of the 2006 Act among pet owners and the general public. In 2015, owners’ awareness of the Act was at an all-time low, with only 31% familiar with the Act, down from 45% in 2011. Mike Radford and his colleagues agreed that awareness of the Act, particularly of the nature and extent of the legal duty it imposed on those responsible for animals, was inadequate.
23.Animal charities agreed that there was a need for greater awareness of the Animal Welfare Act. The Dog Breeding Reform Group recommended a national advertising campaign to educate the public about the responsible purchasing of pets. Christopher Laurence, former trustee of the RSPCA, agreed and said it should also include the adverse consequences for animals of a failure to comply as well as the penalties for the animal’s owner or keeper.
24.Some witnesses called for animal welfare to be added to the National Curriculum in schools. Blue Cross said that this would help promote responsible ownership and raise awareness of the Act and the provisions for duty of care.
4 Mike Radford, Dr Fiona Cooke and Professor Sheila Crispin ()
5 Mike Radford, Dr Fiona Cooke and Professor Sheila Crispin ()
6 Animal Welfare Bill Regulatory Impact Assessment
7 Mike Radford, Dr Fiona Cooke and Professor Sheila Crispin ()
8 Mike Radford, Dr Fiona Cooke and Professor Sheila Crispin ()
10 Christopher Laurence ()
11 Electric shock collars (ESCs) are worn around a dog’s neck and deliver an electric shock either via a remote control or an automatic trigger, for example, a dog’s bark.
12 Dog Breeding Reform Group ()
13 Section 1(3)(c) and Section 12, Animal Welfare Act 2006
15 Mike Radford, Dr Fiona Cooke and Professor Sheila Crispin ()
16 Dog Breeding Reform Group ()
17 Christopher Laurence ()
18 Blue Cross ()
11 November 2016