On Wednesday evening, June 17th, MSPs voted unanimously for the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill to become law. This is a big step forward for improving welfare for Scotland’s animals. The main functions of the Bill, which we have previously written about in more detail, are to increase maximum penalties for welfare and wildlife crimes, to introduce fixed penalty notices as an alternative to prosecution for more minor crimes, and to give new powers for authorities such as the Scottish SPCA to re-home seized animals prior to court proceedings being completed.
Additionally, many amendments were tabled at Stage 2 of the Bill’s progress through Parliament. Some of these were related to our campaigns and we worked closely with MSPs to give evidence and support for certain amendments.
Altered or refined amendments on some of the same topics appeared at Stage 3 on Wednesday, as did some on entirely new topics. Each of these was voted on before the final Bill, as amended, was agreed upon.
OneKind has been involved in the progress of this Bill from the start, and it affects many of the issues that we have worked on for years. Here are some of the results most important for our work improving the lives of Scotland’s animals.
Two of our core campaigns in recent years have been to end the indiscriminate shooting of mountain hares and seals. We are delighted to report that late, agreed upon, amendments to this Bill will achieve both.
Alison Johnstone MSP, who is species champion for mountain hares and has epitomised the spirit of that role in her tireless work to gain more protection for them, tabled an amendment making them a protected species. This will mean that they can only be killed under licence, ending the mass culls which we have highlighted and campaigned against over the years.
The Scottish Government brought forward an amendment which removes the two main licences that are issued for shooting seals in Scotland, to protect salmon farms from perceived damage. This will effectively end seal shooting, which OneKind has been working towards for more than ten years.
Sadly, an amendment tabled by Mark Ruskell MSP seeking to ban the shooting of beavers unless they were in favourable conservation status was voted down. Beavers continue to be shot despite being a recently reintroduced ‘protected’ native species. We will continue to work towards better protection for them.
Acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs)
Although preventing the salmon farms from shooting seals is a very positive step, there are concerns around alternative methods of deterring seals that may also have negative welfare impacts. Recognising this, Mark Ruskell MSP tabled an amendment requiring the Scottish Government to review the use of ADDs and produce a report by March 2021. Happily this amendment was agreed to. These devices emit noises which deter seals but they are known to be harmful to other marine animals including whales and dolphins.
Restorative and rehabilitative processes
Throughout the progress of the Bill we have been leading and informing the conversation around empathy development programmes and restorative justice approaches for people who have committed offences against animals. These would address the root causes of their behaviour (which may include trauma or mental health issues) and help them re-integrate into society. This topic has garnered much interest from MSPs. Although it did not make it into the bill, the Scottish Government has commissioned research into the possibilities for empathy training and related approaches in rehabilitating those who have committed offences against animals. In announcing this, the rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said that, “I am pleased to have the support of OneKind for the project, and I look forward to the research involving that organisation and other stakeholders such as the Scottish SPCA and criminal justice social workers.”
Traps and snares
Vicarious liability will now be extended to offences involving traps and snares, allowing landowners and managers to be prosecuted in addition to the individual trap operator. This will avoid scenarios where nobody admits responsibility. It is an important step but we will continue to work until we secure a complete ban on these cruel devices.
Although this Bill will bring many improvements in protections for animals there are also areas of concern it does not cover. For this reason Maurice Golden MSP tabled an amendment requiring the Scottish Government to review the provisions of the Bill to ensure that they are sufficient for ensuring good welfare. One topic specifically mentioned for review is the use of shock collars. This is something that OneKind is opposed to and has made representations on previously, so we welcome this scrutiny.
Disqualification orders are a ban on keeping animals for a period of time or life. The courts already have the power to impose disqualification orders but do not do so consistently and no record of disqualification orders is kept. Amendments brought forward by Maurice Golden and Colin Smyth will require the courts to consider if a ban is necessary to improve welfare when sentencing and record their reasons if they choose not to impose one. OneKind has advised Colin Smyth on this topic and he acknowledged that when speaking.
We have long advocated for a central register for convictions, penalties and orders. The passing of Colin Smyth’s amendment requiring the Scottish Government to report within five years the progress they have made on information sharing amongst enforcement authorities is a first step in the right direction.