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(Updated 28/02/01)

Tories plan tough new cruelty laws

By Nick Mays

SWEEPING NEW animal welfare laws were promised by the Conservative Party last week in an attempt to replace Labour as the party seen to care most about animal welfare - as well as, no doubt, to garner a few animal lovers’ votes in the process.


Under a draft Protection of Animals Bill, to be introduced if the Tories returned to power, the police would be given increased powers to take ‘preventative action’ before any harm was caused to animals.


In what amounted to a ‘sus law’ for animal owners, a new offence prohibiting actions defined as “likely to cause unnecessary suffering’ would be introduced.


The Tory move aims to capitalise on the growing resentment and dismay amongst animal lovers that Government has failed to live up to its animal welfare pledges. The Tories promise to curb the use of animals in experiments, in circuses and for exotic species imported for the pet trade.


The minimum age for a child buying a pet would be raised from 12 to 16.


Tighter controls would be imposed on animal sanctuaries and clearer labelling would be introduced to prevent consumers from unwittingly buying meat from animals reared in conditions that do not meet British farm standards.


Efforts would also be made to persuade the World Trade Organisation to recognise animal welfare safeguards in future international agreements and to undertake new measures to protect dolphins and porpoises.


Controversial


The proposed new policies were welcomed by the RSPCA and the National Farmers Union of England and Wales. Although the Bill covered a wide range of issues that the Labour Government had failed to tackle, the controversial question of hunting with hounds was not covered by the Bill.


Tim Yeo, the Shadow Minister of Agriculture, was accompanied by two Lurchers, Gypsy and Sport, for the announcement of the policy in London late last week.


“Hunting is not on our agenda,” declared Mr Yeo. “This Bill has been drafted in such a way that hunting cannot be brought into it.”


Warming to his theme, Mr Yeo explained the reasoning behind the Bill. “Britain is a nation of animal lovers,” he added. “The Conservative Party supports the men, women and children who are fighting for more humane treatment of animals. Our approach is action, not rhetoric.”


The Bill would also amend the 1911 Protection of Animals Act and to end the “secrecy” over animal experiments.
The Home Secretary’s Animal Procedures Committee would be forced to publish details of tests. The Committee would also have to explain why non-animal methods of testing were unsuitable before licenses for experiments were granted.


Government inspectors would be give powers to make surprise inspection visits of animal testing premises,
In what would not doubt be a very popular move, cosmetic testing on 38,000 animals per year would be outlawed in the UK and a similar ban throughout the EU supported.


Essential


Mr Yeo made it clear that some animal testing would have to continue for essential medical research, but that this would be strictly monitored. The controls would be backed by “firm enforcement of the law against any illegal disruption of medical research” - a clear warning that animal rights activists could expect firm legal restraints if they attempted to attack scientific premises.


The next Conservative Government would seek controls on under-funded animal sanctuaries to prevent further animal welfare problems for the animals in the sanctuaries’ care. Imports of tigers and other exotic species for the very few circuses that still use them would be banned.


Of key interest to dog owners, self-funding dog registration scheme would be introduced but, in a clear departure from previous proposed registration schemes, this would be entirely voluntary.


However, there was no mention of any plans for the repeal of the flawed Dangerous Dogs Act.


An RSPCA spokesman was careful not to offend political allies in the Labour Government by commenting; “We welcome any moves by any party to improve animal welfare.”