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Animal Welfare Act - Questions and answers

Is the Act going to make fishing illegal?

The Government has announced its intention to ban the use of certain wild animals from travelling circuses. What does this mean for circuses?

Does the Act give the Government too much power to make regulations?

Will the Act increase the regulatory burden?

Is the Act going to ban tail docking?

How does the Act affect sports shooting?

Why are you banning young children from owning pets? Does the Government really need to stop children winning goldfish at fairs?

How does the Act compare to the Scottish Animal Health and Welfare Act?

What about the new sentences and punishments?

How will this affect farming?

Who will enforce the Act?

Will the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) gain more powers under the Act?

 

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1. Is the Act going to make fishing illegal?

No. Anything which occurs in the normal course of fishing (including commercial fishing and angling) is exempted entirely from the Act. However, all fish for which a person is responsible (such as ornamental fish and farmed fish) will be protected by both the cruelty offence and the duty to ensure welfare.

 

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2. The Government has announced its intention to ban the use of certain wild animals from travelling circuses. What does this mean for circuses?

The ban will apply to travelling circuses only - zoo performances, performances in the audio visual industry and performances in static circuses will not be affected. Discussions will start shortly with industry, welfare organisations and other government departments on the content of draft regulations, which will then go to public consultation.

 

In drawing up proposals for secondary legislation, we intend to ensure a clear read across between zoo licensing standards and those standards that we will require from permanent circus premises. Individuals or organisations who train performing animals will be subject to inspection. This will be in addition to existing proposals that we introduce a Code of Practice for circuses and performing animals to deal with other issues such as training activities, trainer competences and accommodation needs for animals when travelling.

 

3. Does the Act give the Government too much power to make regulations?

Current legislation to protect animals is very outdated and has proved to be too inflexible to adapt to changes in science and society. In order to ensure that this does not happen again the Animal Welfare Act sets out a broad framework and leaves much of the detail to secondary legislation that can be amended and revised more easily should the need arise.

 

To a large extent the power to make secondary legislation replicates existing powers for farmed animals and simply extends it to non-farmed animals. The Act also brings current licensing powers into one place. The Act therefore provides an entirely reasonable level of regulation-making power, and any secondary legislation will be subject to public consultation and parliamentary agreement.

 

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4. Will the Act increase the regulatory burden?

The Government is committed to better regulation and this Act, and proposals for secondary legislation, have been put together with that in mind.

 

By simplifying and consolidating the law the Act reduces red tape. It will enable the Government to overhaul existing licensing regimes regarding companion animals, many of which are outdated, burdensome and ill-focused.

 

The main provision of the Act, the welfare offence, will not impose any new burden on responsible pet owners. The majority of animal owners already ensure the welfare of their animals and will not be affected by the change. But it will enable enforcement agencies to deal more effectively with the minority who fail to apply good standards.

 

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5. Is the Act going to ban tail docking?

The Act will ban all mutilations of animals. However, there will be a regulation to exempt certain mutilations for which a ban is considered inappropriate. Examples would be castrating and spaying cats and dogs, or ear tagging cattle.

 

Sincere views are held by those who both support and oppose a ban on docking, and we take the view that it would not be for Government to alter the status quo, and that it is an issue for Parliament to properly decide.

 

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6. How does the Act affect sports shooting?

The Government’s rural election manifesto promised to “work with relevant bodies to ensure that country sports are protected”. The Act is entirely consistent with that. It will not affect traditional field sport practices, as free ranging game birds are considered to be wild and are therefore not protected under the Act.

 

Further, we are working with game rearing organisations to produce a Code of Practice to ensure high welfare standards are met in the production of game birds for sport shooting. Of course, the welfare offence will also apply for farmed game birds during the breeding and rearing process.

 

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7. Why are you banning young children from owning pets? Does the Government really need to stop children winning goldfish at fairs?

A child will still be able to “own” a pet and a parent will still be able to buy a pet for a child under 16. The Act will increase from 12 to 16 the minimum age at which a child may buy a pet. This provision is intended to prevent purchase on a whim, without parental consent and to ensure that proper thought is given to subsequent care and welfare.

 

These are also the reasons why we are proposing that unaccompanied children under 16 should not be able to win an animal as a prize. It will not prevent accompanied children, or adults, from winning pets. Though, of course, those giving the animal and those who then receive them will still be subject to the requirement in the welfare offence to ensure that their new pet is cared for properly.

 

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8. How does the Act compare to the Scottish Animal Health and Welfare Act?

There are many obvious similarities between the Acts which reflect the agreed consensus on the best way to solve problems which have been identified in both Scotland and England & Wales. There are though some differences and these reflect, in some cases, simply different drafting preferences and, in some cases, the different priorities of the two Governments.

 

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9. What about the new sentences and punishments?

The Act increases the penalties available for cruelty and animal fighting offences. The maximum penalty for such an offence is imprisonment for up to 51 weeks, or a fine of up to £20,000, or both. Currently those convicted of the most serious offences under the 1911 Act can only be sent to prison for up to 6 months, or fined up to £5,000, or both.

 

Offences of failing to ensure welfare of animals or breaches of disqualification orders will attract a maximum penalty of 51 weeks and/or a maximum fine of £5,000.

 

Other offences under the bill will attract a maximum penalty of 51 weeks and fine up to £2,500. These offences will include obstruction of inspectors and failure to comply with court orders.

 

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10. How will this affect farming?

Policy regarding the welfare of farmed animals has been agreed at European Union (EU) level for many years now. As such, the legislation in the UK governing farmed animal welfare is very comprehensive. However, protection of non-farmed animals has not kept up with these developments. The purpose of this Act is therefore to bring the legislation concerning the welfare of other animals into line with that for farmed animals and consolidate it in one place. It does not constitute a major change for farmers.

 

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11. Who will enforce the Act?

Enforcement of the provisions of the Act will be carried out by the police, Local Authorities and the State Veterinary Service, who will be able to recruit the assistance of other specialists such as veterinary surgeons where appropriate. We anticipate that most of the day-to-day enforcement work relating to farm animals will continue to be undertaken by the State Veterinary Service.

 

Local Authorities will also be able to appoint inspectors who are considered suitable for appointment on a temporary basis, e.g. a British Horse Society Inspector helping out in an area where there is a particularly high concentration of livery yards and riding schools. However, LAs will not appoint an organisation en masse to carry out LA functions. In particular, concerns that the RSPCA may be appointed en masse as local authority inspectors are misplaced. The appointment of inspectors will be based on the expertise of the individual concerned.

 

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12. Will the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) gain more powers under the Act?

The RSPCA will not gain, nor have they sought, any additional powers under the Act.

 

We anticipate that most of the day-to-day enforcement work relating to pet animals will continue to be undertaken by the RSPCA, who currently undertake the majority of cruelty prosecutions under the 1911 Act. We anticipate that the RSPCA will also undertake the majority of prosecutions under the new welfare offence, though the RSPCA estimate that this will only lead to an additional 100 or so prosecutions a year.

 

However, as now, where access to premises is sought, the RSPCA will have to be accompanied by a Local Authority inspector or constable who has powers of entry under the Act.

 

The RSPCA has long established expertise in both the investigation and prosecution of cases involving animal welfare. Animal welfare law has been common enforcers’ law - anyone is entitled to bring a prosecution – since Parliament began legislating on it. To take away the power of the RSPCA to bring prosecutions would not only put an unreasonable enforcement burden on the police, but would be to the detriment of animal welfare.

 

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Page last modified: January 24, 2007

 

 

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