Fears that ‘rights of entry to be sneaked in’
AS THE Government look set to introduce the Animal Welfare Bill in the next session of Parliament, concern is growing over many of the Bill’s clauses that will have long-term effects on the day-to-day ‘business’ of animal welfare.
The main area of concern remains that of the increased powers given to the RSPCA to prevent animal cruelty, which extends to their ‘rights of entry’ to property to remove animals that RSPCA Inspectors believe to be at risk.
Andrew Meads of the Safewings Wildlife Conservation Projects centre in Isham, Northants has particular misgivings that the RSPCA may get police-like powers through a ‘back door’ method through the AWB, due to increased powers given to them in a similar piece of legislation that comes into effect next month.
The Government’s Farming Bill has recently been passed and will go onto the statute books. On June 7th 2004 the RSPCA signed a written Agreement with Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, giving the RSPCA ‘Approved Prosecutor Status’ under the terms of the Bill, which comes into effect on September 1st 2004. This effectively means that the RSPCA can grant powers to any agency to enact animal welfare policy on a day-to-day basis – and, as such, the ‘Approved Prosecutor’ will grant RSPCA Inspectors the power to enter ‘commercial premises’ to remove animals that they believe to be at risk – without a warrant or a police escort.
Andrew Meads told OUR DOGS: "To my knowledge no-one involved in the consultation for the new Animal Welfare Bill was aware that this was happening under the Farming Bill. When I contacted the Police for our county (Northamptonshire) I was told that they ‘thought it was still under consultation’ but that Northants police had not even seen a copy of the consultation document!
"This in my opinion came through the ‘back door’ under farming welfare and will cover commercial issues. The worrying factor is what can and will be determined as ‘commercial’.
Commercial in this context means animals kept for commercial purposes! Will we see this adapted into ALL animal Keepers that breed mammals, birds and reptiles? After all, if you breed animals – and maybe sell a few of the offspring – you could be classed as ‘commercial’."
It is hoped that the AWB will be put before Parliament in November this year and be introduced – in part at least - in 2005.
Twenty-five existing animal welfare laws dating back to 1839 will be repealed including the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 2000 which had already increased RSPCA powers.
"This Approved Prosecutor Status will obviously be re-introduced through the Animal Welfare Bill," added Mr Meades. "It will be further endorsed by the appointment of Inspectors which will be appointed by local authorities BUT with the regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State: ‘The Secretary of State may, in connection with guidance under subsection (1) draw up a list of persons whom he considers suitable for appointment by a local Authority to be an Inspector for the purpose of this act’.
"I am deeply concerned that as the RSPCA will already have ‘Approved Prosecutor Status’ under the Farming Bill legislation and thus the Inspectorate position will be taken up by themselves thus giving the RSPCA powers to police the Animal Welfare Legislation and introduce their own personal, political agenda, which in my opinion is not Animal Welfare but more closely linked to Animal Rights. There is a considerable amount of difference between animal welfare and animal rights. How long will it be before we see the RSPCA Inspectors being given carte blanche to enter premises without a warrant, deeming them to be ‘commercial’?
"They will be given the legal powers to enter premises, using force if necessary, and WITHOUT a warrant or Police Officer present. They may enter the premises in your absence. They may seize your animal(s), if considered in distress, to sell, dispose of or euthanase.
You will, even if you win the case be fully liable for all costs arising from the care of your animal(s) during the prosecution process which can now take 3 years.
"Safewings are gravely concerned that there will be no Governing body to police the RSPCA and that there are no systems or procedures in place to protect members of the Public against wrongful powers of seizure and prosecution."
When the Animal Welfare Bill was published last month, OUR DOGS contact the RSPCA and were assured by the Press Office that they would not be seeking extra powers to gain entry to properties in this way. However, the increased powers already granted to the Inspectorate under the Farming Bill may give animal owners cause for concern.
Two years ago, when the Government first announced the AWB, these exact concerns were expressed at the time, hinging on increased RSPCA powers and the definition of ‘commercial premises’. Again, at that time, the RSPCA denied it was seeking such powers.
Andrew Meades urges anyone concerned about this issue to express their objections by contacting:
Secretary of State Margaret Beckett MP
Their Local MP
Local Radio Stations
The deadline for the close of the consultation process is August 20th 2004.
Andrew Meades may be contacted at:
Safewings Wildlife Conservation Projects, Isham, Northants
NN14 1HP. Tel; 01536 726113