THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to keep to its word to update archaic legislation when Parliament reconvened earlier this week, in a joint appeal by the country’s leading animal welfare organisations.
A call for the urgent introduction of the Animal Welfare Bill to update piecemeal and confused legislation comes from Battersea Dogs Home, The Blue Cross, British Veterinary Association, Cats Protection, Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, PDSA, RSPCA and Wood Green Animal Shelters.
The co-authored letter states: "In light of experience, practice, and developing scientific understanding, we believe there to be an urgent need for the introduction of legislation intended to promote appropriate standards of care for companion animals, and to safeguard them from the consequence of abuse, neglect and ignorance." The organisations are united in their call for a ‘duty of care’ on all those who assume responsibility for an animal to be defined on the face of the Animal Welfare Bill.
The current law, in the form of the Protection of Animal Act 1911, does not afford much protection to pets – an animal has to actually suffer before its owners can face prosecution. RSPCA figures show this doesn’t always act as a deterrent to cruelty caused by neglect, and all too often professional advice – when not backed up by legislation – is ignored rather than acted upon.
"Day in day out, our inspectors have to stand by and see the death or deterioration of animals at risk before the current law will allow them to intervene," said Jackie Ballard, RSPCA Director General. "Getting a new welfare offence on the statute books will, we believe, represent the most important piece of legislation affecting captive and domestic animals for almost a century."
The organisations are also jointly calling for broad enabling powers in the Bill, to allow detailed regulation to be introduced and updated by means of secondary legislation.
"Animal welfare organisations are united in their desire for the Animal Welfare Bill, which was not progressed because of the election, to be introduced as soon as possible so that we have 21st Century protection for animals," said Chris Laurence, Veterinary Director, Dogs Trust.
The first draft of the Government’s Animal Welfare Bill was published in June 2004, and since then has been scrutinised by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. However, the General Election halted the introduction of the Bill during the previous sitting of Parliament.
The AWB was not mentioned specifically in the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament earlier this week, although DEFRA has indicated that the Bill will be "brought forward" at an "appropriate time".
The signatories to the joint letter say any further delay will be detrimental to animal welfare.
Dr Bob McCracken, President of the British Veterinary Association said: "It has often been said that owning an animal is a privilege, not a right. With the publication of the draft Animal Welfare Bill last July the Government provided the opportunity for society to make this a fact. On behalf of the animals under its care, the veterinary profession urges Government to honour its commitment and introduce the Animal Welfare Bill without further delay."
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said: "As the major political parties’ election manifestos underlined their commitment to the Animal Welfare Bill, it is the responsibility of the animal care industry to inform the legislators on how to make it as effective as possible in combating cruelty against animals."
The organisations agree that once the Bill is enacted, it is implemented in an effective, transparent and accountable manner and properly enforced with appropriate penalties.
Steve Goody, Blue Cross Director Companion Animal Welfare said: "We urge the Government to fulfil its manifesto pledge and drive forward the proposed Animal Welfare Bill. A thorough review of existing animal welfare legislation is long overdue and eagerly anticipated."
Echoing this view, Col. Duncan Green, Director General, Battersea Dogs Home said: "We would welcome the Animal Welfare Bill because most animal welfare legislation is out of date and confusing. Most important is that a duty of care should be imposed on those responsible for pet animals, which current legislation does not."
Richard Hooker, Chief Veterinary Surgeon, PDSA said: "Responsible pet care is at the heart of what our vets and nurses do in treating over 4,650 pets every working day at our 46 PetAid hospitals across the country. It is essential that the government act now to effect this vital piece of legislation which will help safeguard thousands of pets’ lives."
Dominic Sullivan, Head of Legal Services, Cats Protection said: "The law clearly needs to be updated to provide the necessary protection to reduce the suffering of animals as well as to punish adequately those who abuse animals. The sooner the government updates the present legislation, the better."
Dennis Baker OBE, Chief Executive of Wood Green Animal Shelters said: "Current animal welfare legislation dates back to the rule of George V. It reflects the attitudes of that age and provides no real protection for animals. We call upon the Government to re-introduce, and all parties to support, the proposed Animal Welfare Bill which will provide effective legislation against cruelty to animals."
Jackie Ballard, RSPCA Director-General, said: "The main premise of the Animal Welfare Bill, a 'duty of care' for pet owners to their animals, is something the RSPCA is absolutely delighted with.
"Getting this Bill onto the statue books will represent the single most important piece of legislation affecting captive and domestic animals for almost a century. And since there has already been a substantial level of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, we urge the Government to ensure that it becomes law as soon as possible."