There was broad cross-party support for the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill when it was debated in parliament yesterday, which is great news for Scotland’s animals.
This Bill currently working its way through parliament which, if it becomes an Act, will strengthen protections for animals by making changes to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, which is our main piece of welfare legislation.
The main changes it suggests, which were all agreed upon yesterday, are:
- Increasing the maximum sentences for serious welfare and wildlife crimes to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. These are significantly higher than current penalties. Also, increasing the penalties for less serious offences.
- Introducing Fixed Penalty Notices (flat-rate fines, like parking tickets for example) for less serious offenses.
- Making it easier to protect service animals, by removing a clause that allows you to claim self-defence (this is also known as Finn’s law, after a police dog who was stabbed and a successful push for similar legislation down south).
- Giving authorised people, such as police and SSPCA, more powers to rehome, treat, and euthanise animals which have been taken into possession, shortly thereafter. At the moment, they must stay in a rescue shelter until the court case is complete, which can be years in some cases. No matter how good the shelter, it is not the best environment for an animal long term. This is especially a problem for puppies taken from puppy farms, who can end up spending all of their youth in a shelter, missing out on important socialisation.
OneKind is supportive of this bill, and we have been involved in its formation from the beginning: providing information to MSPs, making suggestions, and giving evidence in the consultation process. This was acknowledged by several MSPs, who quoted us or thanked us for our contribution, including Kenneth Gibson MSP who thanked us during the debate for our parliamentary briefings.
Cephalopods and decapod crustaceans
We also made suggestions for amendments to the bill. We recommended that the definition of protected animals be extended to include cephalopods (like octopus and squid) and decapod crustaceans (like crabs and lobsters), as there is lots of evidence that these are also sentient animals. Colin Smyth, Labour MSP, mentioned and supported this recommendation during the debate.
Additionally, we recommended that the courts be required to consider restorative justice processes and rehabilitation programs for anybody who is convicted of welfare or wildlife crime offenses. This would address the root causes of their behaviour (which may include trauma or mental health issues) and help them re-integrate into society. The Scottish Government was not supportive of this suggestion, dismissing it as “not proportionate or cost-effective”. However, this was picked up on and questioned by several MSPs who support our proposal.
Mark Ruskell, Green MSP, said that restorative justice and rehabilitation are vital in a modern justice system. Colin Smyth quoted from our briefing on the topic and said that he was disappointed by the government’s response. Liam McArthur, Liberal Democrat MSP, said he hoped that he hoped for an amendment at stage two to offer alternatives to the current penalties, including restorative justice. Claudia Beamish, Labour MSP, is considering lodging such an amendment, requiring the government to develop a bespoke program. She mentioned the discussions that she and Colin Smyth have had with OneKind, commenting that we have shown “experience and good judgement” in our suggestions.
So we are hopeful that the Scottish Government will be persuaded to reconsider on this issue!
There was also discussion around some of the finer points of the bill, on which not everybody agreed, and some requests for clarification on certain points. Now that the general principles of the bill have been agreed, these details will be taken forward to stage two for further discussion by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.
We will keep a close eye on how it proceeds and continue to work with MSPs to make sure that we get the best protections possible for all of Scotland’s animals.