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‘Animal rights’ MPs on RSPCA ‘payroll’

FOUR MPs have been slammed by a conservationist for being part of the RSPCA’s alleged ‘animal welfare’ agenda, as well as losing their independence of action by being on the RSPCA’s payroll.

Andrew Meades of the Safewings Wildlife Conservation sanctuary in Isham, Northants launched his blistering attack after the RSPCA announced the appointment of four MPs as Vice Presidents late last month.

The four MPs appointed as Vice Presidents to "strengthen the existing support structure" at the RSPCA are Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe MP, Ian Cawsey MP, Norman Baker MP and Dr Caroline Lucas MEP.

RSPCA Director general Jackie Ballard commented at the time: "We are really delighted to welcome our new Vice-Presidents. With so many high-level challenges facing us in our ongoing campaigns to promote improving standards of animal welfare, it is important to bring in fresh support and enthusiasm, especially from such eminent and committed individuals."

Mr Meads did not, however, share Ms Ballard’s delight in the MPs’ appointment. Mr Meades told OUR DOGS: "It is becoming more and more apparent that the RSPCA will go to any lengths to gain control of ALL animal welfare law and issues. In their quest for total dominance they have forgotten the very roots they were founded on, Animal Welfare. Now it would appear they are more of an Animal Rights Political Party than the Charity supposedly based on Animal Welfare.

"To enlist four MPs as Vice Presidents is beyond comprehension yet no surprise. Will these MPs be on the RSPCA payroll? Will this see the RSPCA`s personal Animal Rights Agendas introduced with the political backing, through the back door, it will now most obviously have? Will these obvious Animal rights supportive MP’s declare certain interests regarding animal welfare issues?

"The whole Animal Welfare Issue has become a farce, fanatical beliefs have clouded common sense and reason and now the antis have an even stronger hold on our companion animals. It is time to wake up before the RSPCA and ill informed and unqualified MPs destroy yet another human right."

Helen Briggs of the RSPCA’s Press Office refuted Mr Meade’s comments. Speaking to OUR DOGS earlier this week, Ms Briggs commented: "The RSPCA is not an animal rights organisation, but an animal welfare organisation - and as such we work on a practical level to improve the lives of animals both here in the UK and around the world.

"The RSPCA is a registered charity and is properly subject to its obligations under the law and to the Charity Commission. Any political activity or campaigning undertaken by the RSPCA takes careful account of Charity Law and the guidance issued by the Charity Commission.

"The RSPCA was set up in 1824 to do two things; firstly to investigate alleged cases of cruelty and secondly to improve and update animal welfare laws. From the outset we have worked with politicians (of all political persuasions) to change the law and improve animal welfare. Indeed it was Richard Martin MP who worked with others to set up the RSPCA in the first instance. Our founders laid the way for the 1911 Protection of Animals Act (under which we still prosecute cases of animal cruelty). Since then the RSPCA has successfully lobbied for laws such as the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act 1999 the Pet Travel Scheme Order 1999 and the Fireworks Act 2003."

Meanwhile, Andrew Meades pointed out: "I remember commenting in 2001 that the Private Member’s Bill being put forward by Labour MP for Brigg and Goole Ian Cawsey was nothing less than an RSPCA Animal Welfare Bill, low and behold Ian Cawsey is now a Vice Chairman!"

Ms Briggs also refuted this point, saying that the RSPCA worked closely with Ian Cawsey MP on his Private Member’s Bill in 2001. However, he had consulted widely, including animal sanctuary owners, and the results of this consultation formulated his Bill.

"He also consulted the Government which is committed to including the issue in the Animal Welfare Bill which we hope will be introduced in due course," she added.

"There remain aspects of the law that do not sufficiently protect animals and the RSPCA will continue to lobby for a more secure future for our animals' welfare. The Society is not seeking 'total dominance' of animal welfare law - as Mr Meads knows, elected MPs and the Government are charged with this responsibility. The RSPCA will not apologise if our effective lobbying results in improvements to animal welfare. Surely Mr Meads agrees?

"Mr Meades’ accusations are offensive to everyone who works hard for the Society and those who support its aims to improve animal welfare."

Ian Cawsey MP also spoke to OUR DOGS. "I know Andrew quite well and have had dealings with him in the past on matters regarding animal welfare legislation," he said, although I have to say he is somewhat incorrect in his assertions here.

"None of the RSPCA’s Vice Presidents is on the Society’s payroll, as it is a voluntary position. Like the other Vice Presidents, I am there to give help and advice on animal welfare matters. All four VPs are MPs from all the main political parties, each with a strong background in animal welfare, which must surely be a strength, not a weakness. Ultimately, good animal welfare needs good animal welfare legislation and this can only be delivered through Parliament."

Mr Cawsey added that he had no animal rights leanings, but was concerned only with sensible animal welfare policies. "My support is for animal welfare agenda, I don't care for animal rights matters. The fact is, animal welfare is an important issue to many people in the country.

Constituents expect their MPs to take an interest in animal welfare. Mine certainly do and tell me so frequently. To that end, I do the best I can. Being the Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, most people see this as relevant background to speak out on animal welfare matters."

Details of the four MPs appointed as Vice Presidents to the RSPCA:

Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe MP

Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald; previous posts include Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Secretary for Health and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment. Ms Widdecombe has worked closely with the RSPCA on the issue of live animal transport, hunting with dogs and the Animal Welfare Bill.

Ian Cawsey MP

Labour MP for Brigg & Goole; Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Miliband MP. Mr Cawsey piloted a Private Members Bill through Parliament on the issue of animal sanctuaries that will hopefully be incorporated in the Animal Welfare Bill. He has also supported the RSPCA on many of its campaigns such as laying hens, broiler chickens and hunting with dogs. Ian is currently the Chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW).

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP

Green Party Member of the European Parliament for the South East of England Region; Principal Speaker for the Green Party. Dr Lucas has been very supportive of the RSPCA on a number of issues including getting an 8-hour time limit for live transport of animals and implementing the ban on the use of animal testing for cosmetics. She is a member of the European Parliament's Intergroup on animal welfare.

Norman Baker MP

Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes; Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary and Animal Welfare Spokesman. Mr Baker has worked hard on many issues from animals used in experiments to performing animals and fur farming. He is an officer of APGAW.