The Kennel Club should be monitored and restricted in the manner it derives and disposes of its relatively high income, which in 2002, including the Crufts net profit, exceeded £8.6 million. It is the exhibitor, breeder and dog owner, from whom this income is derived.
The enthusiast has had no freedom of choice, being under peril of punishment from this private members club, which leaves itself open to the allegation that it is acting contrary to the Competitions Act, 1998, (the Act) as being in "Abuse of a dominant position".
It operates a monopoly and has threatened to impose sanctions against any person or club that does not recognise its imposed authority. This in itself is anti-competitive and a total restriction on an open and free market. Why have canine societies for so many years blindly adhered to the private members Kennel Club edict that societies will not be members of or become affiliated to any federation of canine societies? It is this type of Federation which should govern the canine world, where every canine society has representation - when will the United Kingdom Federation of Canine Societies be formed? It is the view of many that now is the time for the creation of such a federation.
The members of the Kennel Club pay only £150 p.a. for what they consider the privilege of being one of the 779 paying members, in total this amounts to the small sum of £116,850, which does not even pay for its general committee member's travelling expenses (there are 882 members in all, including honorary and honorary life members). We know who is paying for this private members club's excesses, the non-members, who do not receive any actual benefits, although Im sure the Kennel Club would dispute this. They demand that you, the dog enthusiast meet their costs, that is exploitation, when you have no say in how those funds are spent and they are slow in coming to the realisation that they are not acting in compliance with the law.
Canine societies are separate entities, they should be unrestricted and allowed to hold dog shows on whatever dates they so choose. The Jockey Club has been reprimanded and was given 'guidance' by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), when they attempted to restrict one race course from holding a race meeting. The instruction from the OFT was that there is no power to impose restrictions and that market forces should be allowed to prevail. It follows that the Kennel Club has no authority to give preference to certain societies for specific show dates and conversely restrict others. The Act also stipulates that there should be potential for new competitors to enter the market place, this would include for example a new group society forming for a given region, without restriction from any organisation in a dominant position.
Paying the piper
The Kennel Club is charging exorbitant fees for the registration of litters, a charge of £12.00 per puppy, for what is a minute or two's work is excessive. Registrations and pet insurance in 2002 generated for the K.C. a total of £7.31 million, this was their major source of income and is extortionate. If their excessive fees and the alleged abuse of their dominant position were drawn to the attention of the OFT, it is highly likely they would instruct the K.C. to reduce their charges dramatically. We have seen in the real world telephone and national utility companies being restricted in this way. The K.C. seeks to impose and reinforce their monopoly by suggesting that dogs registered by any other authority cannot be shown at K.C. Licensed shows. Such a statement again is contrary to the Competitions Act.
It is also anti-competitive to suggest that canine societies should have to approach an undemocratic organisation, which the K.C. is, for a licence or permission to hold a dog show. I have spoken to a number of enthusiasts who were astounded when the K.C. had the temerity to fine the Scottish K.C. for a late application for a show licence. What is more astounding is that the Scottish appeared to have paid the fine. They are and should operate as a separate entity, particularly as they are a national body with a democratic constitution.
He who pays the piper should call the tune but in canine matters this does not apply - not for the present - but it is the objective of many and an essential for the future.
History demonstrates that dictatorships retain power by threats and intimidation and it is no coincidence that the K.C. has adopted these practices. We have seen judges, who officiated at a recent show, the officers and committee of which had failed (in the eyes of the K.C.) to apply for a licence. These judges, I think they were six in number, were each fined £50.00. for judging at an unlicensed show. I know of no act of parliament which allows the K.C. to fine non-members. It appears that the K.C. General Committee see themselves as the legislature, the judiciary and the jury rolled into one. The K.C. General Committee apparently regard any slight breach of its imposed rules as a dangerous challenge to its authority - well here is a legal challenge - it is somewhat elementary, and there is a mounting chorus of opinion, that the K.C's authority extends only over its membership. The private members K.C. is in breach of everyone's human rights, when it endeavours to extend its authority over the entire canine world as it has no mandate.
The dog agility fraternity have recently been holding events without K.C. licences and the K.C. has made comment in the canine press, but they have restricted this comment to matters of insurance and trivial rule issues. It appears that they are now shying away from imposing sanctions, the applying of which would be unlawful. Nevertheless what they have said could still be considered to be anti-competitive, but is it possible that they are belatedly becoming aware of the laws to which they are subject? There is no necessity for societies under any enactment to obtain the consent of Clarges Street, who are only interested in drawing revenue and exerting control. To prohibit a society from holding more than one show per year is a restriction of societies rights to trade.
There is at least one limited liability company, Dog Shows Limited, registered at Companies House, which has invited societies to licence themselves under its auspices. Should the K.C. object or impose sanctions on any society, which licences a show with this company, or indeed holds a show under its own auspices, or should any exhibitor or judge be intimidated in any manner they may seek the protection of the OFT, which is likely in the light of the Irish experience, which I shall mention later, to take action under the Act, they are duty bound so to do. My advice to the K.C., which they are unlikely to accept, is that they seek legal advice in order to avoid contravention of the Act. The legislation was placed on the statute book for the protection of the general community and all societies should seek and take refuge under its provisions to counter exploitation. The K.C. should avoid making itself a prime target and should suspend its past policies of sanctions and intimidation.
The German Shepherd Association of Ireland, which is affiliated to the Irish KC, sought to hold a show incorporating Schutzhund displays, which was not sanctioned by the Irish K.C. It should be remembered that the Competition legislation emanates from Brussels and applies throughout the European Union. The Irish K.C. was advised by the Irish Competitions Authority that they had no right to inhibit the activities of the GSA, its judges or exhibitors.
As the late and highly revered Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls and President of the Court of Appeal, Civil Division, said when we entered the then European Economic Community "the European laws will flow up our estuaries and rivers". Some were sceptical as to the benefits, but we now find that oppressive organisations are finding that their assumed powers are being eroded by laws which reinforce the liberty of the individual.
The responsibility of any form of government, however small the area of interest, such as in the world of dogs, carries with it the need and requirement for accountability. I would therefore ask the question, does the K.C. spend its financial resources to the good of the canine world in general. The answer to that is an obvious "No". We have seen in the past two years £1.7 million spent on the refurbishment of Clarges Street, which was assessed only last year as being valued at £7.5 million. I make the point that £1.7 million is over 23% of the value of the building and this is a rather large amount to expend on superficial refurbishment. I feel sure that the same work could have been carried out for a far lesser sum, but as I have not visited the Kennel Club recently I cannot speak of the quality of the work. These funds are secured by the exorbitant charges made to non-member enthusiasts for dog registrations and are used for the benefit of the 882 members. Recently £300,000 was spent on the newly created Gallery area on the ground floor.
To require others to pay for a ruling clique's art gallery by imposing extortionate fees, are the ethics of a banana republic. Let no one say that such charges result in legitimate profits, they are the proceeds of a monopoly and let me re-state the position, this is contrary to the spirit and provisions of the Competitions Act. We will forever be grateful to Europe for this enactment and as a result in the future all canine societies should become self governing autonomous bodies.
It has been said that the K.C. modelled itself on the Jockey Club, as I mentioned in a previous article in this newspaper. At the Kennel Club AGM in May a lady member drew to attention the fact that the Jockey Club only has 140 members intimating that the K.Cs. ruling minority of 882 was in a far different position. The chairman pointed out that it was not the number of members which were being spoken of but the principal. The fundamental principal of democracy is that a relatively small minority should not govern a considerably larger majority, probably approaching one million, without their consent. Many of us non-members are not lovers of the K.C's. cake, we do not approve of its unequal distribution.
On an equally pertinent note the Jockey Club from 2005 has agreed to relinquish its control of racing to the British Horse Racing Board, due to the formers outdated and undemocratic structure and its perceived reluctance to tackle corruption. There are more similarities with the K.C. than first appearances would have you believe - when did the K.C. make any efforts to improve standards of honesty in the world of dogs?
The escape route for the K.C. would be a more dramatic change than merely the increase of the K.C. membership to 1500, which is purely an appeasement and is unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future. I am informed that many K.C. members see associates as 'wanabees'. Who on earth would want to be an associate when full membership was being denied to them?
The K.C. has two alternatives; either full democratisation, which its current membership would object to; or incorporate society representation, permitting K.C. membership for officers from all canine organisations. Failure to adopt one or other of these options, for the betterment of the world of dogs, should trigger the formation of the United Kingdom Federation of Canine Societies, to take on the democratic governance of all canine affairs and thus kerb the appalling exploitation currently being experienced by persons in the hobby.
A key element of the Competitions Act, is that businesses or organisations can be fined up to 10% of their United Kingdom turnover for breaching the legislation, which in the case of the Kennel Club could amount to in excess of £860,000, if they were found to be in breach, we trust that these words will bring an alarming resonance to the ears of its members