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Animal Welfare Bill – questions & answers
DEFRA answer some of the main questions being asked about the Animal Welfare Bill

1. Is the Bill going to make fishing illegal?

No. Anything which occurs in the normal course of fishing (including commercial fishing and angling) is exempted entirely from the Bill. However, all fish for which a person is responsible (such as ornamental fish and farmed fish) will be protected by both the cruelty offence and the duty to ensure welfare.

2. Why doesn’t the Bill ban animal performances in circuses?

The Bill is not about banning things. It is designed to set out the general principle that people have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of animals they are responsible for. The duty to ensure welfare will apply to those who are responsible for animals used for performance.

Detailed legislation on specific sectors or practices, including bans if appropriate, will be addressed by secondary legislation. This way it can be changed relatively easily in accordance with changing science and the values of society. There will be public consultation and the opportunity for everyone to comment before any area is regulated in such a way. The Government is currently considering the case for using these powers to introduce some form of regulation for those who train animals to perform.

3. Does the Bill give the Government too much power to make regulations?

Current legislation to protect animals is very outdated and has proved to be too inflexible to adapt to changes in science and society. In order to ensure that this does not happen again the Animal Welfare Bill sets out a broad framework and leaves much of the detail to secondary legislation that can be amended and revised more easily should the need arise.

To a large extent the power to make secondary legislation replicates existing powers for farmed animals and simply extends it to non-farmed animals. The Bill also brings current licensing powers into one place. The Bill therefore provides an entirely reasonable level of regulation-making power, and any secondary legislation will be subject to public consultation and parliamentary agreement.

4. Will the Bill increase the regulatory burden?

The Government is committed to better regulation and this Bill, and proposals for secondary legislation, have been put together with that in mind.

By simplifying and consolidating the law the Bill reduces red tape. It will enable the Government to overhaul existing licensing regimes regarding companion animals, many of which are outdated, burdensome and ill-focused.

The main provision of the Bill, the welfare offence, will not impose any new burden on responsible pet owners. The majority of animal owners already ensure the welfare of their animals and will not be affected by the change. But it will enable enforcement agencies to deal more effectively with the minority who fail to apply good standards.

5. Is the Bill going to ban tail docking?

The Bill will ban all mutilations of animals. However, there will be a regulation to exempt certain mutilations for which a ban is considered inappropriate. Examples would be castrating and spaying cats and dogs, or ear tagging cattle.

Sincere views are held by those who both support and oppose a ban on docking, and we take the view that it would not be for Government to alter the status quo, and that it is an issue for Parliament to properly decide.

6. How does the Bill affect sports shooting?

The Government’s rural election manifesto promised to "work with relevant bodies to ensure that country sports are protected". The Bill is entirely consistent with that. It will not affect traditional field sport practices, as free ranging game birds are considered to be wild and are therefore not protected under the Bill.

Further, we are working with game rearing organisations to produce a Code of Practice to ensure high welfare standards are met in the production of game birds for sport shooting. Of course, the welfare offence will also apply for farmed game birds during the breeding and rearing process.

7. Why are you banning young children from owning pets? Does the Government really need to stop children winning goldfish at fairs?

A child will still be able to "own" a pet and a parent will still be able to buy a pet for a child under 16. The Bill will increase from 12 to 16 the minimum age at which a child may buy a pet. This provision is intended to prevent purchase on a whim, without parental consent and to ensure that proper thought is given to subsequent care and welfare.

These are also the reasons why we are proposing that unaccompanied children under 16 should not be able to win an animal as a prize. It will not prevent accompanied children, or adults, from winning pets. Though, of course, those giving the animal and those who then receive them will still be subject to the requirement in the welfare offence to ensure that their new pet is cared for properly.

8. How does the Bill compare to the Scottish Animal Health and Welfare Bill?

There are many obvious similarities between the Bills which reflect the agreed consensus on the best way to solve problems which have been identified in both Scotland and England & Wales. There are though some differences and these reflect, in some cases, simply different drafting preferences and, in some cases, the different priorities of the two Governments.

9. What about the new sentences and punishments?

The Bill increases the penalties available for cruelty and animal fighting offences. The maximum penalty for such an offence is imprisonment for up to 51 weeks, or a fine of up to £20,000, or both. Currently those convicted of the most serious offences under the 1911 Act can only be sent to prison for up to 6 months, or fined up to £5,000, or both.

Offences of failing to ensure welfare of animals or breaches of disqualification orders will attract a maximum penalty of 51 weeks and/or a maximum fine of £5,000. Other offences under the bill will attract a maximum penalty of 51 weeks and fine up to £2,500. These offences will include obstruction of inspectors and failure to comply with court orders.

10. How will this affect farming?

Policy regarding the welfare of farmed animals has been agreed at European Union (EU) level for many years now. As such, the legislation in the UK governing farmed animal welfare is very comprehensive. However, protection of non-farmed animals has not kept up with these developments. The purpose of this Bill is therefore to bring the legislation concerning the welfare of other animals into line with that for farmed animals and consolidate it in one place. It does not constitute a major change for farmers.