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Sanctuary inspection and greater RSPCA powers

The vexed question of the licensing of animal sanctuaries was raised by many MPs, along with the question of who would inspect the sanctuaries. This neatly dovetailed into the question of whether this task would fall to the RSPCA and whether the charity’s inspectors should be given greater powers under the terms of the Bill.

Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con) made a strong point against interfering too heavily with sanctuaries, referring to Andy Meades’ Safewings Animal Sanctuary, although he did not refer to Mr Meades or the sanctuary by name, saying: “I wish to make a point that was made to me by a highly respected member of my constituency, who is the driving force behind a local animal welfare sanctuary. He said:

“It appears that the Government has released yet another unworkable piece of legislation that will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on animal keeping. All that appears to have come out of this new Animal Welfare Bill is seeing more power given to the RSPCA and more legislation and costs that cannot be absorbed into already stretched budgets by sanctuaries.”

Those are not my words, but I thought it right to bring those views to the attention of the House.
Secretary of State Margaret Beckett responded: “Well, the Bill does not give greater powers to the RSPCA. The issue will, I am sure, arise in Committee, but it is our view that no responsible animal sanctuary will have any difficulty meeting the provisions in the Bill.


Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab) opined that licensing of sanctuaries was a very necessary part of the Bill: “Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that because of the increased duty of care that the Bill introduces, animal sanctuaries are likely to be needed far more in the future? As such, does she agree that we should bring forward the licensing of animal sanctuaries to offer that protection to animals? I was a co-sponsor of the Private Member’s Bill introduced a couple of years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) on animal sanctuaries, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will follow up the main suggestions it contained.

Margaret Beckett responded: “My Hon. Friend also makes an important point. I can assure her that we are prepared to look at the issue with some sympathy and I take her point that the Bill may result in a greater need for animal sanctuaries in the future… We have tried to involve interested parties in the development of those proposals and we believe that they are on a scale appropriate to the problems that they seek to address; but I take the points that have been made in interventions, which can no doubt be considered as the legislation is discussed.


“In most cases we intend to replace the existing 12-month licences with more flexible ones of no more than three years’ duration. In some areas, with regard to animal sanctuaries, we are considering registration rather than licensing, although as I said we shall keep the issue under review. A more flexible approach should allow local authorities to target establishments according to risk, thus concentrating their resources where acceptable standards are not being met. It will allow vets and others to become involved without imposing unreasonable financial burdens on the activity that is being licensed or registered. Details of our proposals on secondary legislation are set out in the regulatory impact assessment. As I have already said, there will be full public consultation and scrutiny.”


Mrs Beckett added, on the matter of RSPCA powers: “The Bill, like the legislation it will replace, will be what is perhaps somewhat infelicitously called a “common informers” Act, which means that anyone—a private individual or an organisation—can take forward a prosecution under its provisions if they think that they have the necessary evidence. However, powers of entry, search and seizure are reserved for the police, local authorities and the state veterinary service. The definition of an inspector is a person appointed to be an inspector by such an authority.

 


“During the pre-legislative scrutiny, there were a number of questions about the role of the RSPCA and its inspectors. As I said… the Bill does not give the RSPCA specific extra powers; indeed, it should be made clear that the RSPCA has not asked for any such extra powers. As is the case now, if the RSPCA has reason to believe that an offence has been committed and entry to a property has been refused, it will approach the police to ask them to use their powers of entry.


Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab) also urged caution in haste of licensing sanctuaries, pointing out: “I must declare an interest as I am a patron of two animal sanctuaries in north Cumbria. One is the Wetheral animal refuge, set up many decades ago by the well-known figure Alfred Brisco to provide a rest home for pit ponies, with the unfortunate slogan, ‘even pit ponies deserve a fair crack at the whip’. It is an excellent facility, is very professionally run and has provided a service in rehousing pets for many years. I am proud to be a patron of it. A much smaller sanctuary, Stonehouse, in Moorhouse in my constituency, is run by an amazing lady called Elizabeth McDonagh and many friends. It is a small sanctuary, known to the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who spent a pleasant afternoon there last year when visiting my constituency, and it takes discarded animals, whether farm animals, old greyhounds or ferrets - there are plenty of ferrets. It is very well run.


“There have been some horrendous cases, however, of people - I do not think that they are bad people - who have been overwhelmed by the demand to rehouse animals. They have reached the point at which they cannot cope, and there have been cases of cruelty. There is an argument about licensing and registration, and I think that we can probably get away with registration - the advantage of an enabling Bill is that if we are wrong, we can change it.

The duty of welfare care will apply to sanctuaries as it will to anywhere else. We should therefore give it a try. There could be a difficulty whereby bureaucracy puts good sanctuaries out of business, but the matter must be considered.”


Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Labour) added to the point that licensing of sanctuaries was vital: “We should certainly consider licensing for animal sanctuaries. Some very well meaning people, who have run what they call sanctuaries, have actually collected large numbers of animals in their house and been unable to look after them properly. Consequently, animal welfare has suffered. We need to deal with that problem and stop describing such places as animal sanctuaries.”


Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con) acted as cheerleader for the RSPCA, saying: “When it comes to sanctuaries, not always are the best inspectors vets. I found it surprising that sometimes some vets can have a pretty hard-hearted approach to pets. I am not decrying the profession generally, but I have met a number of vets who have a pretty tough approach to animals. Although they would obviously care for them from a veterinary point of view, welfare was less of a strong point for them. When secondary legislation is brought forward, especially that dealing with sanctuaries, it is important that proper care and “attention is given to the way in which animals are kept.


Members receive a lot of lobbying from the RSPCA, which has its detractors. Sometimes it is more political than some people would like. My experience of working closely with it over seven years is that it means well and that the political dimension of its activities is only a small, although controversial, part of its work overall. The RSPCA undertakes a vast iceberg of work through its paid staff and also through voluntary helpers. It is remarkable. It is right that Members and Government advisers take note of the RSPCA’s views.”


David Ames (Southend West) (Con) pointed out that the Bill really offered no provision for anyone other than the RSPCA to undertake ‘inspection’ duties, along with prosecutions for animal cruelty, saying: “Concerns have been raised about changes to the way in which animal welfare regulations are enforced through the introduction of inspection officers with new powers to transfer the custody of animals away from abusive owners. Currently, the RSPCA is the largest private prosecutor for animal welfare offences. It has been investigating abuses and enforcing laws relating to animals for more than 100 years in conjunction with the police, the State Veterinary Service and Customs and Excise. The Bill will not alter this process despite suggestions that the Crown Prosecution Service should be the sole instigator of prosecutions.

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee considered the draft of the Bill in 2004 and concluded that, even though concerns have been raised about links between prosecution and the campaigning arms of the RSPCA,
“There appears to be no body other than the RSPCA with the requisite experience to undertake animal welfare prosecutions”and the RSPCA

“Should be able to continue to institute private prosecutions on its own behalf.”
“The training of inspectors is essential. There are not enough inspectors and the street-wise attitude which I suppose has developed only in terms of length of service somehow has to be shared with as many inspectors as possible.”

There was a lively exchange between Norman Baker (Lewes) (Liberal Democrat) and Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Conservative) on the subject of the RSPCA’s powers and it’s ‘dual role’ in animal welfare investigation and prosecution:

Norman Baker: “I want to pick the Hon. Gentleman up on his point about the RSPCA. As I understand it, the organisation has been given no new powers under the Bill. Indeed, its representatives have told me specifically that they do not want any. In those circumstances, what is the problem with the way in which the organisation is operating, given that its welfare advocacy and prosecution roles appear to have been working quite well recently?”

Bill Wiggin: “The Hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The RSPCA has asked not to be given, and has not been given, more powers. It has, however, been given a huge range of offences on which to prosecute. That is the difference, because the Bill will give it a huge opportunity to pursue prosecutions, while at the same time, it will have a vast range of animal welfare jobs that are totally separate from its prosecution role. Those conflicting roles are the problem, rather than what it has done in the past or the question of extra powers.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that. It is very difficult to go round raising money to fight court cases at the same time as trying to protect sanctuaries….The Hon. Member for Lewes should not see this as an attack on the RSPCA, which is walking a very difficult tightrope.”


 

Animal Welfare Bill debate – What the MPs said
Analysed by Nick Mays, Chief Reporter

LAST MONTH, the Government’s Animal Welfare Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The debate began when Secretary of State Margaret Beckett rose at 3.46pm and ended nearly six hours later at 9.32pm when the debate was closed by DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw. In between, MPs of all parties spoke, often passionately, about key aspects of the Bill and how best it could be introduced to ensure the best possible practice for the enhancement of animal welfare in the UK.

Along the way, much discussion ensued on the Secondary Legislation that would follow the passing of the AWB that, in itself, was largely an ‘Enabling Bill’. Many speakers declared that it was vital to ensure that proper consideration was given to key points at the Bill’s discussion and Standing Committee stages, because Secondary Legislation would be hard to put right once it was enacted.

The Bill was also described on at least two occasions as a classic ‘Christmas Tree Bill’ – a piece of legislation on which MPs could hang their own ‘pet subjects’. This became clear when contentious issues such as tail docking were raised. MPs were warned against letting the prejudices dictate the content of the Bill, because, as was often pointed out, this was the first major review of Britain’s animal welfare laws in 100 years and such chances did not come along very often.


 

Call for meeting of sanctuaries to discuss AWB - By Nick Mays

FOLLOWING THE Second Reading of the Government’s far-reaching Animal Welfare Bill earlier this month, there is growing concern amongst many smaller animal charities and rescue sanctuaries at the apparent speed at which the Government has decided to insist on strict licensing and inspection of all sanctuaries.

The AWB is currently being discussed in Standing Committee and it appears that the Government is now being urged to licence the sanctuaries through the Bill itself, rather than Secondary Legislation as previously proposed.

Andrew Meades, who runs the Safewings Wildlife Conservation Project in Isham, Northants is planning to arrange a ‘summit meting’ of all concerned animal sanctuaries and interested parties to discuss and, if needs be, oppose the Government’s plans.

Mr Meades told OUR DOGS: “There is growing concern that many areas of the New Animal Welfare Bill are being pushed through by extremists’ pressure and an area of serious concern is how the many UK Sanctuaries will be affected by new legislation.

There is concern in regard to the Licensing / Registration and Inspection of Sanctuaries once the new Bill is introduced. Many Sanctuaries will face closure due to possibly high additional costs and due to possible unworkable, unviable guidelines.

Many MPs have called for Sanctuaries to be licensed in the first area of the Bill and not, as was proposed, in the secondary Legislation.

“The vital work of many of the UK`s Sanctuaries and its importance in areas of Animal welfare means it is paramount that suitable, workable guidelines are introduced and this should come from those experienced Sanctuaries that are the forefront of animal rehabilitation and welfare in this Country.”

A venue has been provided for this important meeting, namely the Cotswold Wildlife Park, Oxfordshire at a date set once responses are received from a number of sanctuaries, whilst Mr Meades is hoping for some representation from DEFRA, the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) and MPs.

* For further information on the summit, please contact: Andrew Meads, Safewings Wildlife Conservation Projects, South Street, Isham, Northants, NN14 1HP. Tel: 01536 726113. Email birds@safewings.wanadoo.co.uk

 


Pet Fairs - Or Unfair?

“Some [animal welfare organisations]... would like a ban on all such gatherings. The Government is not convinced that that is justified, but we think that strict licensing requirements are the best way forward” - Ben Bradshaw, Minister

The subject of ‘Pet Fairs’ was raised by a handful of MPs, but it became clear from the debate that very few had any notion of the distinction between events where animals were put up for sale or a straightforward animal show where the exhibition of animals was the primary cause of the gathering.

Much of the blame for this confusion must lie with the EFRA Committee that drafted the AWB, because the distinction was not made and ‘Pet Fairs’ has become a generic, catch-all term for all animal shows.

The most worrying aspect of the comments made by most MPs who voiced concern over Pet Fairs was that such events should be licensed, or even banned, which could see perfectly straightforward animal shows subjected to licensing by local authorities, presumably at cost. According to the proposed Secondary Legislation on this point, licences would only be renewable on a show-by-show basis, rather than over a period of months.

David Lepper (Brighton Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op) set the tone by saying: “There has been some discussion about what is not in the Bill, and matters that will be the subject of secondary legislation and the regulatory impact assessment. I would like to concentrate on annexe C of the regulatory impact assessment, which deals with pet fairs because the terms of the Bill do not pay sufficient attention to the recommendations on pet fairs in the report by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the draft Bill. I do not, for instance, agree with the statement in the regulatory impact assessment that there

“is a lack of evidence to suggest that pet fairs by their very nature cannot maintain acceptable welfare standards.”

“When considering the draft Bill, a major concern of many members of the Select Committee was the wealth of evidence of poor welfare standards at pet fairs. A number of local councils refuse to license pet fairs, and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health believes that they are illegal. The Government are right to seek to clarify their legality, but they are approaching it the wrong way.”

Mr Lepper added that worries about pet fairs had been exacerbated by recent concerns about avian flu, and pointed out that such gatherings could be a breeding ground for the spread of disease.

Mr Lepper added: “It is right that the Government make it clear in the regulatory impact assessment that although they wish to consider licensing pet fairs, they do not wish to bring within the scope of that licensing regime shows and exhibitions by genuine hobbyists, those concerned primarily with the welfare of the animals or birds that they keep who wish to exhibit those animals and exchange information about their care. But where the Government have gone wrong is in asking whether pet fairs should be regulated by a licensing regime, rather than clarifying the law on whether they are illegal. Should not the question have been whether they should be allowed to exist, rather than whether they should the licensed? …

“Later this evening, I shall present to the House a petition on the issue containing some 15,000 signatures. The petition asks the Government to think again and hold to their promise to consider an outright ban as part of the consultation on any secondary legislation. It also asks them to go further and deal with the issue now in the Bill, so that the proposed legislation does not overturn the current understanding - this is the view of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and a number of councils throughout the country - that pet fairs are illegal.”


Norman Baker (Lewes) (Liberal Democrat) said that clarity was needed about pet fairs. “…Many of us believe that the Pet Animals Act 1951 bans pet fairs, yet they go on all the time. It appears that they will be licensed or registered and allowed to continue, contrary to the 1951 Act. That is legal nonsense and needs to be cleared up. I shall introduce a new clause on pet fairs to try to achieve a ban. I am not confident that the Government will accept it—the Under-Secretary shakes his head without having seen it, which is to prejudge the matter. Never mind, I hope that it will give the Government the opportunity at least to issue a statement to clarify the position.”
“On licensing and registration, I am worried that the Government are proposing to allow the registration of certain activities, rather than licensing them. The hon.

Member for Brighton, Pavilion raised that point earlier in connection with pet fairs. I remember when the district council in Lewes stopped registering roadside fast-food traders - hot dog stalls - because it could not control them; it could only register them. It found that the stalls were putting up signs saying, ‘Lewes district council registered’, as though some kind of mark of approval had been given. It can be counterproductive to register an activity. In the context of a duty of care and of animal welfare, we should consider licensing in most cases, rather than registration. I am not sure that the idea of registration is worth pursuing at all.

David Amess, (Southend West) (Conservative) agreed that the issue should be looked at carefully: “The Hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) made a point about pet fairs which I know will slightly annoy the Minister. We do not have the time to go into the minutiae of what has gone on behind the scenes, but I ask the Minister to look at the issue carefully. Pet fairs are currently banned under the 1983 amendment to the Pet Animals Act 1951 which outlaws the business of selling animals:

“in any part of a street or public place, or at a stall or barrow in a market”.
“I can remember my father, who is now dead, so I can say this, taking me to the animal market in Club Lane, Petticoat Row. I thought that it was marvellous, but I now realise that it was a very wrong way to sell animals. I am not happy with the two or three pet fairs that exist. The Minister has all the documentation on them and I ask him to look carefully at the issue.”

Caution was urged by Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Labour), who pointed out: “On pet fairs, I am not sure that all hon. Members appreciate that the term can cover a wide range of gatherings. Some of them involve the sale of animals or birds, whereas others merely involve the exchange of expertise by enthusiasts who come together to share good practice. Therefore, there are some arguments - although they were not offered in the Chamber today - for the retention of pet fairs in some form. That is one reason why the Government are considering licensing rather than banning them. We have not seen any convincing evidence that it is impossible to meet the welfare needs of animals at pet fairs.”

David Lepper, responding to Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw’s summing-up said: “I believe that the Minister is wrong in that, and in my contribution I made it clear that I wanted to make a distinction between pet fairs and markets where birds and other animals are sold, and gatherings of enthusiasts who want to exhibit, and exchange information about, the birds or other creatures that they rear. I think that he will find that most of the animal welfare organisations that believe that there is evidence to justify banning pet fairs distinguish between them and gatherings of enthusiasts for the purposes of exhibition and the exchange of information.”

Minister Ben Bradshaw responded: “Some may, but others would like a ban on all such gatherings. The Government are not convinced that that is justified, but we think that strict licensing requirements are the best way forward.

My Hon. Friend made a point about the repeal or otherwise of the Pet Animals Act 1951. It is our intention to repeal Section 2 of the Act, as amended, and to clarify its provisions with respect to pet fairs. I apologise that the final version of the Bill includes a power to repeal Section 1 but has inadvertently omitted the repeal of Section 2. We intend to address that through Government amendment at the appropriate stage.”