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Select Committee slams new Animal Welfare Bill
Posted 1 March 2005
The Animal Welfare Bill was included in the Queen's Speech in November. This means that it should be introduced in this parliamentary session - although the anticipated General Election may intervene.
The new Bill includes measures that will strengthen existing laws. Particularly welcome is the new offence of 'failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the welfare' of animals. This will allow action to be taken before an animal comes to harm, rather than waiting until an act of cruelty has actually been committed - as is the case now.
But the proposed legislation also has some glaring faults. In particular, Animal Aid has campaigned vigorously for the removal of an annex to the Bill that will legalise pet fairs. We have also lobbied on behalf of racehorses and of birds used by the shooting industry.
Select committee investigation
In September 2004, a government Select Committee volunteered to scrutinise the Bill, providing a fresh opportunity to put our views across. Andrew Tyler, Animal Aid's Director, gave oral evidence and repeated both our opposition to pet fairs and our call for a ban on the breeding of pheasants.
Sitting beside Andrew was Charles Nodder - a leading lobbyist for the gamekeeping industry. Nodder was concerned that the Animal Welfare Bill could be used for 'unwarranted prosecution of gamekeepers and game farmers'. He argued that shooting estates should not be responsible for pheasants after they had been released into the countryside - as happens before each year's shooting season. He claimed that the released birds are wild and that gamekeepers should not be answerable 'if' pheasants suffer. Animal Aid pointed out that the birds continue to be fed and their predators killed long after their release - and that those who rear them should be held responsible.
On December 1, the Select Committee published a highly critical report on the Animal Welfare Bill. It condemned the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for a lack of openness and tendency to pre-judge important issues.
It cited the way that the government department had decided to legalise pet fairs without sufficient investigation of the welfare implications. It accused DEFRA of setting up a working group to decide 'how' the change should be implemented rather than investigating whether the practice should be allowed at all. This is despite the fact that such events are currently illegal under the 1951 Pet Animals Act, which prohibits the sale of animals in a public place. It was equally critical of DEFRA's treatment of pheasant breeding.
Animal Aid will be tracking the progress of the Animal Welfare Bill as it passes into law and will work to ensure that MPs on the floor of the House and on the key committees are fully informed and primed to intervene on pheasants, pet fairs and other issues.
DEFRA should now be prepared to take into account the select committee criticisms and amend the Animal Welfare Bill. Please write a letter to your MP welcoming many of the proposals in the new legislation, but asking for improvements.
Selling animals at pet fairs causes great suffering and there is no valid reason to legitimise such events. To do so would be a step backwards for animal welfare.
Breeding pheasants for sport shooting is cruel and immoral.
Gamekeepers should have a responsibility for the welfare of birds even after they are released.
The use of mutilations and restraints on mass-produced pheasants constitutes 'unnecessary suffering'.