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Licence threat?

DOG SHOWS and many other animal shows could be under threat of punitive licensing regulations or may even be banned, if the wishes of animal welfare extremists in a government approved Committee hold sway when the Government's Animal Welfare Bill is published.

The shock revelations have come from leading animal enthusiasts involved in the ongoing consultation process of the draft Bill, which was published earlier this year.

Chris Newman and Andy Gibbs are associate members of the Associated Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) and also leading members of the FOCAS coalition of animal clubs and societies.

As reported previously, the draft AWB was subjected to scrutiny by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select (EFRA) Committee who made a total of 101 recommendations relating to clauses of the draft AWB.

Newman and Gibbs were alerted to the Committee's recommendations relating to 'Animal Fairs', a term originally coined to cover animal-related shows where 'exotic' animals (i.e. reptiles and amphibians) might be sold to the public. Now, however, EFRA appears to be using this an all-encompassing term used to cover all animal shows.

Last week, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) - who have overall responsibility for the wording of the Animal Welfare Bill - published its response to the EFRA recommendations - authored by minister Margaret Beckett - which included a lengthy segment on 'Pet Fairs' in which DEFRA appeared to be giving serious consideration to EFRA's recommendations that all such events should be licensed. Newman and Gibbs then raised their concerns to their fellow members of FOCAS who represent numerous animal clubs, societies and livestock fancies, including groups as diverse as the British Rabbit Council, British Herpetological Association and the National Fancy Rat Society.

*EFRA's Recommendations are followed by DEFRA's response:

Recommendation 75:

We consider it vital that the legal status of pet fairs be clarified. Obviously, the confusion caused by the wording of the Pet Animals Act 1951 is most unsatisfactory. Given the current situation is so murky, and that the ethics of pet fairs are so hotly contested, we are extremely concerned that Defra appears to have assumed that it should legislate so that pet fairs are clearly legal, without first consulting widely on this issue. Defra appears to have proceeded straight to the question of asking how pet fairs should be regulated, without first asking whether they should be clearly legalised. This is a significant deficiency in the approach adopted by Defra in updating animal welfare legislation. We recommend that, before Defra proceeds to draft regulations which would repeal the 1951 Act and introduce, in its place, a licensing regime on pet fairs, it first consult on whether pet fairs should be made unequivocally legal. (Paragraph 316)

DEFRA's response:

We recognise that there is ambiguity over the legality of pet fairs and the licensing provisions in the Bill provide an opportunity to remove this uncertainty. Following consultation with welfare interests, local authorities and the organisers of pet fairs, it is our belief that these events could be held under licence. The welfare offence, additional regulatory safeguards and a government code would allow pet fairs to take place without the welfare of an animal being compromised when compared with an animal being sold in a pet shop. However, we recognise that strong views are held on both sides of this argument and we will continue to review the evidence when preparing proposals for consultation.

Recommendation 76

We recommend that Defra reappraise the basis on which its proposed regime for licensing pet fairs is predicated.

DEFRA:

We agree that more work needs to be done on the draft proposals relating to pet fairs. This will include a public consultation.

Chris Newman says: "From this it is clear that DEFRA will now hold yet another public consultation on the issue of Pet Fairs (shows).  This consultation is expected shortly and it is vital that any organisations that have an interest in shows respond when this comes out.

"EFRA not only questioned if sales of animals should take place at these events but if exhibition shows should be permitted!"

OUR DOGS spoke to Ian Cawsey, Labour MP for Brigg & Goole who is Chairman of the Associated Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and asked him whether the blanket licensing of shows was a serious option, thanks to EFRA's 'Pet Fair' designation.

Concern

Mr Cawsey said: "There are certainly concerns from animal welfare organisations about Pet Fairs, especially those at which animals are sold to the public. The main area of concern is that this could encourage impulse purchases, when members of the public are not advised on the proper care for these animals, nor have adequate facilities in which to care for them at home. The main area of licensing would be for the RSPCA or for Local Authorities to call at the Pet Fairs - or shows if you prefer - and check up on the welfare of animals.

"Another is that these people could rent the village hall for a show and bring in all sorts of weird and wonderful animals to sell direct to the public. So this could be argued that it is unfair to pet shop owners, who have to abide by strict licensing regulations, that these people are trading against them."

OUR DOGS put it to Mr Cawsey that there was a very definite - and perhaps deliberate - 'blurring' of the lines between a trade-centred show and the average style of pet show -maybe a rabbit or hamster show - where few, if any, excess animals are sold by breeders to the public, or a dog or cat show, where private sales are not permitted - to a full-scale sales-centred event.

Mr Cawsey responded: "Of course we don't know what, if anything, is actually in the Animal Welfare Bill until it is published - whenever that may be. It's certainly unlikely to be published and brought forward before a General Election if there is one this year.

"At end of day, commonsense should prevail. Most of issues raised are with regard to real 'Pet Fairs' that largely focus on the selling of animals, the 'car boot sales' of the animal world.

"There are concerns in general terms relating to any pet show that anyone selling an animal should pass on proper advice for its care and well-being. However, I feel that most of this furore that's arisen lately out of genuine concerns that every pet show may be licensed is a typical 'frightening' tactic. There will always be people who feel under pressure by legislation. We saw this when the Hunting Bill was being debated, when the Countryside Alliance was telling shooters and fishermen that they'd be next if hunting was outlawed?"

But didn't the League Against Cruel Sports say exactly that when the Hunting Act was passed? "We're going after fishing and shooting next? Haven't the Government already started to look at tightening up regulations on game bird shooting?"

Mr Cawsey replied, hurriedly: "Animal welfare groups will always say things like that, but it is down to the Government to make the legislation. And we're always looking at reviewing regulations on matters such as hunting. Anyway, with regard to the Animal Welfare Bill, let's just say that after eight years in Parliament and eight years before that on the local council, I'm well used to seeing that tactic. They say: 'This may affect us, so let's get more people on our side.'"

Mr Cawsey concluded: "As always, the devil's in the detail. There is broad support for what the Animal Welfare Bill is trying to achieve. APGAW are trying to persuade all political parties that the Bill is a good idea. Let's not forget that when it is published, it is subject to debate in both Houses of Parliament and subject to scrutiny at Select Committee stage."

Last Tuesday Phil Buckley commented, "The Kennel Club has noted Government's response to the Efra Committee and their comment as to whether Pet Fairs should infact be legal at all, and as to why Defra had not widely and publicly consulted on this particular point. As an associate member of the APGAW, the Kennel Club was due to attend the cancelled meeting on March 1st to discuss the issue. Whilst the purchase and sale of dogs is not acceptable at shows such as Crufts, we have noted that the Working Group on Pet Fairs feel that canine events may fall within the definition of a Pet Fair. 

However, in our discussions with the Defra Animal Welfare Team, feedback received from them appeared to indicate that we should not be concerned. At the time we did appreciate that there was no room for complacency and we do sincerely hope that APGAW do reschedule the meeting to thoroughly discuss this issue and that Defra includes the Kennel Club in its future consultations."

OUR DOGS will continue to monitor all developments relating to the Animal Welfare Bill.
*The Government's reponse to the EFRA Committee's recommendations on the Animal Welfare Bill can be found online at:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmenvfru/385/38502.htm