Now that the General Election campaign is well under way in earnest, we all want to know what a possible future government would do for us and how their
policies would affect us.
OUR DOGS has asked each of the three major parties to expand on their policies relating to animals in general and dogs in particular.
The Conservative Party
The Conservatives do not have a policy document relating to animals per se, but have identified certain areas that they will consider if they form the next Government.
Hunting With Dogs
Tory leader Michael Howard has already pledged that a Conservative Government will repeal the Hunting Act to allow hunting with dogs to continue as before, prior to the November 2004 vote to outlaw the sport.
Conservatives are also concerned that the ban on hunting may have an impact on the way farmers dispose of their fallen stock. Under new legislation, fallen stock may no longer be buried on farms for environmental and health reasons. A ban on hunting will undermine the new Scheme that is designed to collect and safely dispose of the carcasses. There are 143 hunt kennels which processed over 500,000 carcasses last year. Their possible demise as a result of the ban will result in extra costs for farmers and DEFRA itself has acknowledged this will be an extra burden for some farmers. Surely we should be seeking ways to encourage farmers to co-operate on this matter rather than imposing unnecessary costs on them.
The Conservatives recognise the need to be vigilant in protecting Britain from a wide range of animal diseases, from rabies to avian flu, which is becomingly increasingly prominent. The Conservatives have been very active in scrutinising the Government’s efforts on this matter and have been pushing the Labour Government’s Ministers to better improve our biosecurity.
The recent rabies’ case in France is certainly worrying and the party believes that there is definitely a case for frequently reviewing the Pet Travel Scheme in terms of disease entering the UK and that it should never be allowed as a medium for entry into this country. Of course if the disease status of another country changes, such as France, its inclusion on the qualifying list for the Pet Travel Scheme should be amended accordingly.
In terms of diseases entering this country, though, the party is more concerned about illegal meat imports which the Government seems incapable of being able to control. It is estimated that every year on average 11,800 tonnes of animal products are imported into this country and 214 kg of this is infected with foot and mouth disease. The Government, however, with only six sniffer dogs, seized only 185,800kg in 2003-4. Certainly much more needs to be done in this area otherwise we will fail in keeping this country free of exotic diseases.
Animal Welfare Bill and Tail Docking
The Labour Government has produced a Draft Animal Welfare Bill. The Bill is intended to update Animal Welfare legislation which dates back to 1911.
Legislation on tail docking has been included in the Bill. As your readers know, docking, which may be defined as the amputation of the whole or part of a dog's tail has, since July 1993, been illegal under UK law, if performed by a layperson. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has for many years been firmly opposed to the docking of dogs' tails, including working dogs, whatever the age of the dog, by anyone, unless it can be shown truly to be required for therapeutic or truly prophylactic reasons.
However, we feel, in alliance with many breeders and dog owners and veterinary surgeons, that tail docking for certain breeds of working dog is more humane and hygienic for example for working terriers and some gun dogs. It is commonly argued that dogs would suffer if docking ceased, that it is a perfectly humane procedure when properly carried out, and one which prevents far more distress than it causes. We will therefore be seeking to amend the legislation accordingly.
The draft AWB has now received pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and a report by the Committee has recently been published. The Committee supported the continuation of docking for hygienic and therapeutic reasons and supported docking for prophylactic reasons where the vet could be assured that the dog was to become a working dog. It was opposed to tail docking for merely cosmetic reasons.
Conservative MPs much look forward to examining the legislation in detail when it is officially presented to Parliament to ensure that it provides effective protection for domestic and working animals in a modern age. We can assure you that we will be giving the issue of whether to introduce an amendment to remove the clauses on tail docking robust and thoughtful consideration and will certainly take your views into account, even if the party remains in Opposition after the election.
Thank you for taking the time to write and please keep us in touch with your views.
NICK MAYS COMMENTS:
It is clear from the Conservatives’ comments that they believe in minimal interference in animal matters. The comments regarding Labour’s proposals to ban tail docking are interesting, as it was a Conservative Government that amended legislation some years ago to the current status quo – and sees no reason to amend this still further, trusting in the expertise and greater knowledge of dog breeders in this matter.
The repeal of the Hunting Act will be a controversial measure and will no doubt earn Conservative Government much flak for being opposed to animal welfare, although it may be that the repeal would be enacted more as a means of protecting rural communities and individual livelihoods more than from a welfare point of view.
Regarding quarantine, the previous Conservative administration remained staunchly opposed to any relaxation of the quarantine laws until just before th4e 1997 General Election, when then Prime Minister John Major attempted to ‘buy’ pet owners’ votes by promising to relax quarantine… which was news to his own MPS in the sea port towns who had not even been consulted. A future Conservative Government would be playing a very dangerous electoral game if they imposed quarantine restrictions again five years after they had been relaxed on the possibility of rabies entering the UK, given that there have been no significant rabies outbreaks anywhere in mainland Europe and also, of course, due to the undoubted popularity of the PETS Scheme which has seen thousands of pets enter the UK safely form abroad since the scheme came into effect in February 2000.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party’s stance on animal legislation was short and sweet and centred largely on the Animal Welfare Bill, which, if re-elected to Government, Labour plan to introduce formally early in the life of the next Parliament.
The Labour campaign headquarters say: Labour has introduced a range of measures to improve the welfare of animals, and dogs in particular. We have:
l Extended the Pet Travel Scheme, including to the USA, Canada and 15 EU countries, and so that guide dogs can travel in the cabin
l Set up and funded the Companion Animal Welfare Council
l Agreed voluntary measures with the Kennel Club to breed out extreme features
l Agreed with the greyhound industry that they will speed up improvement to the welfare of greyhounds and donate money from betting income to greyhound welfare.
We will go further. We have published a draft Animal Welfare Bill, and will introduce the Bill as soon as possible after the election. This will update laws dating back 100 years to give companion animals the same protection as farmed animals enjoy. It will mean that, for example, for the first time keepers can be prosecuted where suffering is likely to occur, double the present maximum jail sentence for cruelty and substantially increase the maximum fine for cruelty to £20,000. The Bill will also improve conditions in animal sanctuaries and boarding establishments.
NICK MAYS COMMENTS:
Without being partisan in any way, what the Government say is, in effect, correct. They have introduced all the measures mentioned above and the Animal Welfare Bill has been published in draft form.
However, some commentators have said that the PETS Travel Scheme has been extended too quickly to North America and Canada, where rabies is endemic in many states. However, thus far, no rabid animal has been imported into the UK.
Greyhound welfare groups have stated that the improvements to the welfare of racing Greyhounds promised by the Greyhound Racing industry do not go far enough or are totally inadequate if policed’ by the Industry itself. Lobbying on this issue will continue to beset any future Government.
The Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) do seem to follow their own agenda, part of which is the introduction of a compulsory dog registration scheme – and the Council has advised the Government of this on previous occasions. However, to date, Labour have not picked up on this and, as previously noted, have not included dog registration in either the recently enacted Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill or the draft Animal Welfare Bill. However, this is not to say that such a measure could not be included in legislation at a later stage, particularly if or when the AWB is formally published and debated in Parliament.
The ‘extremes’ issue for dog and cat breeds – which is tied in with the Animal Welfare Bill - is another area where ‘focus groups’ have attempted to call the shots in legislation and the spectre of the Council of Europe’s Convention On Pet Animals is evoked from time to time by organisations such as the RCVS who seek legislation and edicts to ban certain ‘extreme’ type breeds. Once again, pressure groups with their own agendas must not be allowed to prevail by pushing for intrusive measures in issues that are best left to those people who best understand them – the breeders and exhibitors.
Labour also state that the Bill will also improve conditions in animal sanctuaries and boarding establishments, but there is a genuine fear here that new licensing requirements for animal sanctuaries will be set too high and ‘policed’ in a high-handed manner, which will see many smaller sanctuaries and charities being forced to close - at great expense to animal welfare, as they care for animals in need that larger organisations such as the RSPCA do not concern themselves with.
Also, as previously stated, the draft AWB does contain measures – again put forward by individuals and group with vested interests that could see animal shows – or ‘Pet fairs’ as the bill terms them - subjected to stringent licensing requirements, whilst the greater powers promised to the RSPCA may result in inspectors being able to enter a person’s premises without a warrant to seize animals merely on the suspicion of animal cruelty or neglect.
On all of the parties’ pledges, the need for dog owners and organisations representing dog owners – and pet owners in general - to make their voices heard within the political establishment has never been greater.
As the political lobby group Dog Theft Action have eloquently aid in their recent letter to all MPs and prospective MPs contesting the General Election: "Remember – at the end of every dog lead there is a voter."
The Liberal Democrats
THE LIBERAL Democrats outlined their policies, taken from their Election Manifesto:
Improve animal welfare. Liberal Democrats will establish an Animal Protection Commission, so that all animal welfare matters are brought under the responsibility of a dedicated, expert body, with the duty to ensure animal protection laws are properly enforced and kept up to date.
Why it is necessary
Animal welfare issues overlap many different government departments and it has become apparent that there are problems co-ordinating government policy on these matters. In some instances several different departments may be involved in the same matter.
The aim is to bring all animal welfare related matters under one roof and thus have a dedicated and expert Commission dealing with such issues. It would be answerable to Parliament via a Cabinet Minister from DEFRA. Membership of the Commission would include representatives of farmers, scientists, veterinarians and animal welfare organisations, as well as other interested parties. The aim would be to create a public arena for an open and informed discussion about such matters.
It would be funded from existing funding that is currently spread over several departments.
The Liberal’s main animal policies can be found in their policy paper 61, Respecting all Animals.
The document relating to companion animals reads:
"Liberal Democrats believe that animals should only be kept as pets if they can be cared for appropriately and their needs can be met.
7.0.1 Companion animals can greatly improve our quality of life, providing
enjoyment, company and exercise. Most pets are well looked after and enjoy happy lives but there can be instances of ill-treatment and neglect. People do not always fully consider the consequences of owning a pet and can find themselves unable to manage the responsibility.
7.0.2 If all dogs were fitted with microchips identifying their owner it would
be easier to hold irresponsible owners to account and to deal with stray dogs.
Microchips do not harm the animals and are already used by the RSPCA. The government sponsored Dog Identification Working Group recommended in 2000 that a system of microchipping should be introduced and that 75% of dogs could be registered within 5 years.
Liberal Democrats will:
l Introduce a system of compulsory registration for the ownership of dogs,
involving clear identification, ideally through microchips. The scheme would
be self-financing with the registration fee paying for the microchip, the national register and the dog warden network
7.3.1 Animal sanctuaries that do not meet the criteria of a zoo are not effectively regulated in any way. A loophole exists in the law whereby animal boarding establishments have to be licensed but sanctuaries do not.
Ian Cawsey MP introduced a Private Members Bill on this subject in 2001. The government has yet to introduce its own legislation, despite expressing an interest.
Liberal Democrats will:
l Properly define animal sanctuaries
l establish operating standards for sanctuaries
l introduce legislation requiring sanctuaries to be licensed and inspected.
7.4 Dangerous Dogs
7.4.1 There have been many serious incidents involving dangerous dogs attacking humans, sometimes fatally. In 1991, the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed in response to a spate of attacks across the country but it was a rushed and poorly thought out piece of legislation.
Problems still exist with dangerous dogs. In 2001, 3,400 people were hospitalised after dog attacks - a 25% rise over the previous five years.
In Germany, the police can confiscate dogs suspected of being dangerous. The dogs are then subjected to a series of tests to prove whether they are actually dangerous. If the dog passes the test it is returned to its owners. If the dog fails the test it is given one more chance to be retrained and re-tested and if it fails again it is destroyed.
Liberal Democrats will:
Update the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to move away from breed-specific
legislation and towards a system which is similar to the German system."
NICK MAYS COMMENTS:
Much of the LibDem’s policy document remains unaltered since it was published two years ago. The Government has since introduced the Draft Animal Welfare Bill, which seeks to license animal sanctuaries – although this is a highly controversial matter and, if the Bill is ever published to be voted upon, much discussion will take place on this point.
Dog Registration is still the favourite pet subject of politicians form many parties, but the Labour Government has made no moves to introduce compulsory registration in the past 8 years, nor did it take the chance to do so in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, which becomes law in July. The simple fact is – as demonstrated clearly in Northern Ireland where such a scheme has been in operation since 1983, it is not self-funding and only responsible dog owners register their dogs. Irresponsible owners, who allow their dogs to stray and cause problems, do not register their dogs.
The LibDem’s views on ‘dangerous dogs’ are so totally incorrect as to be farcical, especially as Germany has the most fascist, breed-specific dog laws in all of Europe – which were, in fact, based upon the UK’s own discredited Dangerous Dogs Act. Two years ago OUR DOGS pointed this out to Guy Burton, the party’s Advisor on Rural & Cultural Affairs who said at the time:
‘The policy is designed to bring an end to breed-specific legislation and introduce better protection for dogs through tests.
‘Not only does the temperament test assess the dog's attitude to other dogs, humans and other stimuli, it also ensures owners are subjected to an hour of instruction in responsible ownership.
The tests, as we understand them, also ensure the right of appeal for the dogs in question as well.
‘Coupled with our continuing dog identification policy, the incentive for breed-specific legislation would presumably be reduced as well.’
OUR DOGS pointed out that the Party was in error and that Mr Burton had avoided answering the question fully. Mr Burton contacted OUR DOGS again and said: "Regarding the German temperament test, from my understanding, these tasks are in position already and owners are entitled to appeal. But we would use similar tests to bring into play responsible animal ownership.
People must realise they have a duty of care to an animal, to really think about things. Coupled with some form of comp id, there would be no need for breed specific legislation go towards more responsible ownership."
Finally, Mr Burton said that the policy document writers "…did consult with various groups and organisations, but not, as far as I am aware, the ones you have drawn attention to."
Statistically, the likelihood of the Liberal Democrats ever forming a Government (or even the official Opposition) is unlikely. However, it is extremely worrying when one of the three main political parties in the UK can make such fundamental errors and perpetrate patently false and incorrect information on matters that will affect dog owners everywhere if ever they became law.
Not only that, having had these errors pointed out to them to them two years ago, they still have not taken note of corrected them, or even, it seems, sought advice from organisations such as the Kennel Club, Dog Holocaust or the Dogs Trust who understand such issues.
The need for dog owners and organisations representing dog owners to make their voices heard within the political establishment has never been greater.