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Animal Welfare Bill to be enacted... sometime

THE GOVERNMENT’S much-vaunted Animal Welfare Bill is set to be officially published and "brought forward" to Parliament… at some point.

The Bill was one of a raft of measures mentioned as part of DEFRA policy in the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday last week, but is just one of around 40 Bills due to be enacted in the current session of Parliament which will ruin from May this year until October 2006. The 18-month session has been caused by the recent General Election.

The AWB was published in draft form last year and has already proved controversial, in many places. As reported previously by OUR DOGS, some of the measures sought by groups and individuals who sit on the Government-appointed Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) select committee, and who advise the Government on the content of the Bill, include the licensing and possible prohibition of certain animal shows, the piecemeal licensing of animal sanctuaries and the granting to animal welfare inspectors of extra powers to allow them to enter private premises without a warrant on the suspicion of cruelty taking place.

DEFRA were maintaining a low profile on the actual timing of the AWB’s enactment, although there is to be further consultation before the Bill is published.

A DEFRA spokesperson issued the following statement about the AWB to OUR DOGS:

‘The Bill supports the Government's commitment to enhancing animal welfare by extending controls beyond the agricultural context to all animals in man's care. It would simplify animal welfare legislation for enforcers and animal keepers by bringing more than 20 pieces of legislation into one.

‘The Bill would:

Reduce animal suffering by enabling preventive action to be taken before suffering occurs.

Improve animal welfare by introducing a duty on those responsible for animals to do all that is reasonable to safeguard the welfare of their animals. This would be for the first time for non-farmed animals.

Extend to companion animals the use of welfare codes agreed by Parliament which are currently used to underpin the welfare of farmed animals.

Extend existing powers to make secondary legislation, currently limited to the welfare needs of farmed animals, to include non-farmed animals and bring current licensing powers into one place.

Deter persistent offenders by strengthening penalties and eliminating loopholes.

‘duty of care’

‘The Bill was published in draft on 14 July 2004 following two years of extensive public and stakeholder consultation. It was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) select committee between July and October. The Committee report was published in December 2004 and welcomed the Bill while making a number of recommendations - many of which the Government has incorporated into the Bill.’

Jackie Ballard, RSPCA Director-General, commented: ‘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.’