OneKind animal welfare charity has welcomed many of the proposals in a comprehensive Parliamentary Statement on Animal Welfare today (Wednesday 9 January 2019) by the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon MSP.
In particular, OneKind welcomes commitments for legislation on fox hunting, the creation of an Animal Welfare Commission and the mandatory installation of CCTV in Scottish slaughterhouses. The Scottish Government is also amending the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 to increase maximum sentences for cruelty to animals, with special provision for attacks on police dogs (the so-called Finn’s Law), and to make it easier for local authorities and the Scottish SPCA to re-home animals seized during welfare investigations.
Following consultations over the last two years, the Scottish Government intends to introduce legislation to regulate animal sanctuaries and re-homing centres, and to license dog, cat and rabbit breeding and discourage breeding of animals with a predispostion for genetic conditions leading to poor health and welfare. It will also adopt proposals by Jeremy Balfour MSP for a Member’s Bill to modernise pet shop licensing standards.
In the fight against puppy traffickers, a follow-up campaign is planned to build on work last year to change the behaviour of potential buyers.
On fox hunting, the Scottish Government intends to implement the recommendations made by Lord Bonomy in his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. These include improved definitions of hunting, removal of the word “deliberately” from the main offence, tightening up on the drafting of exceptions and reversing the burden of proof so that an individual requires to show that an exception applies.
In addition, the Scottish Government has responded positively to calls from animal welfare organisations including OneKind to reduce to two the maximum number of dogs that may be used to flush a wild mammal towards guns for shooting. It also intends to discourage trail hunting, which is used in England as a pretext for hunting foxes. Disappointingly, however, the Scottish Government also plans to explore a new licensing scheme to permit the use of more than two dogs in upland areas “where necessary for legitimate predator control”.
OneKind Director Bob Elliot said:
“It is good news that the Scottish Government has taken on board the serious concerns about the current Act, which was recently found to be unworkable in a court case against a mounted fox hunt. Others, including animal welfare charities and the police, have been saying this for years.
“Monitoring by OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland since the current law came in has recorded numerous examples of unnecessary animal suffering including prolonged pursuits, killing of foxes by hounds, and digging out of foxes using terriers, which can amount to baiting.
“At first sight we welcome the reduction of the number of dogs permitted for flushing to two, but obviously we are greatly concerned at the proposal to license greater numbers in some cases. There will be no gain for animal welfare if this provides a new loophole for fox hunts to exploit, although we entirely accept the Minister’s intention is to prevent this happening.
“The changes will make the legislation more effective and enforceable, but ultimately we support a full ban on all use of dogs to chase and kill sentient wild mammals. We continue look forward to the proposed Member’s Bill expected from Scottish Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, and welcome the Minister’s acknowledgment of those proposals.”
Animal Welfare Commission
OneKind has been pressing for the establishment of an Animal Welfare Commission for Scotland to provide expert advice on the welfare of domesticated and wild animals in Scotland, and welcomed the inclusion of this proposal in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2018 -2019. The Minister stated today that legislation was being progressed, with an interim body to be appointed shortly to assist with this.
OneKind Policy Advisor Libby Anderson commented:
“The recent debate over animal sentience has shown how strongly the public feel about the welfare of individual animals, and this is thrown into sharp focus by the impending loss of EU institutions and legislation that may reduce protection of animals in future.
“A strong Animal Welfare Commission will act as the guardian of all sentient animals in Scotland, including free-living wild animals, as they already receive less welfare protection under the law.
“The new Animal Welfare Commission will be a first in the UK and OneKind expects the legislation to state plainly that it is founded on the recognition that animals are sentient beings and therefore there is a duty on government and its agencies to pay full regard to their welfare.”
CCTV in abattoirs
OneKind welcomes the announcement of regulations to introduce compulsory video recording of slaughter in abattoirs, and the Minister’s intention that these will apply to all relevant areas of slaughterhouses in Scotland. OneKind has campaigned for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses and worked with Animal Aid to gather a 10,000 signature petition which was presented the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP.
In April 2017, Food Standards Scotland released information showing that there were 706 breaches of animal welfare standards recorded, with 176 breaches taking place inside Scottish abattoirs between 1 May 2015 and 31January 2017. Some of the breaches included:
- Animals abused by workers – One worker was seen kicking a sheep and another pushing and dragging a pig by its tail.
- Injured animals – Hundreds of animals were found bruised, injured, wounded or with broken bones.
- Animals slaughtered while heavily pregnant – A total of 130 animals were killed in the later stages of pregnancy.
- Animals repeatedly stunned before being killed – 45 incidents were recorded where multiple or inadequate stunning took place or where procedures did not work.
The proposal for mandatory CCTV was backed by the vast majority of respondents to the Scottish Government consultation carried out in 2018.
Announcing her intention to introduce legislation, the Minister said earlier today:
“More than eight out of ten slaughterhouses in Scotland have already installed CCTV coverage in their premises voluntarily, and over 95% of all animals slaughtered in Scotland are covered by some form of CCTV. However, the standards of that coverage can differ from location to location.”
OneKind agrees that consistency is essential and will continue to call for full monitoring of all relevant areas whenever there are live animals present, including unloading, lairage, stunning, bleeding and shackling. Under the current voluntary arrangements, often linked to retailer standards, not all existing systems cover all of these areas at present.
OneKind has obtained more recent information covering the transport of animals to slaughter in Scotland, which continues to raise concern about the welfare of individual animals.
The Scottish Government’s intention to introduce increased sentences for the worst types of animal cruelty is also welcome. Currently, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 provides a maximum sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £20,000 for the most serious offences, but sentences rarely exceed a few weeks or months due to the discounts that courts are obliged to give to first offenders, or for an early guilty plea.
Sentencing in Scottish courts is inconsistent but the five-year maximum sentence proposed by the Scottish Government will give courts a greater range of options.
The Scottish Government also plans special penalties to deal with attacks on police dogs, an initiative known as ‘Finn’s Law’ following a serious attack on a police dog in England.
Libby Anderson commented:
“It is certainly time for the historically low sentences for animal cruelty in Scotland to be increased. At the same time, OneKind believes that animal offences must attract further post-conviction orders including life-time bans on keeping animals and the provision of therapeutic programmes to foster empathy and understanding of animal sentience.
“Regarding Finn’s Law, we deplore attacks on police dogs or any other service animals. We humans owe them a greater duty of care because of the role they play in assisting us. However, in terms of the animal’s experience, there is no difference between the suffering of a service animal and the suffering of any other.
“OneKind would support provision for attacks on service animals to be made aggravated offences, given that sentences are to be increased to reflect society’s abhorrence of all cruelty and recognise the suffering it can cause to any victim.
Bob Elliot summed up the OneKind response to the package of measures:
“Overall, we’re delighted with the Minister’s sincere commitment to promoting better animal welfare across a wide variety of areas. In particular, the Animal Welfare Commission has tremendous potential to promote and maintain the highest standards of animal protection and, by so doing, to take a lead in the UK.
“We would be failing in our duty, however, if we didn’t continue to call for more. So we are still looking for an outright ban on foxhunting and a complete ban on the use of indiscriminate snares. It’s also time for new regulations to govern the use of animals in displays and performances, such as the reindeer used in Christmas displays all over the country, and for further attention to the welfare of animals – including fish – that are farmed for food in Scotland.”