BREEDERS OF docked breeds were outraged after DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw indicated a Government U-turn on the docking of tails in working dogs, announcing the decision for an outright ban on the docking of tails during the committee stage of the Animal Welfare Bill and offering no exemptions for working dogs.
The ban will affect 58 traditionally docked breeds listed by the Kennel Club in England and Wales, including the Queen's Pembroke Welsh Corgis, whose tails are docked.
The prophylactic docking of tails is carried out to prevent serious tail damage, complications and pain for working dogs, including Spaniels, Terriers and police dogs.
During pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, both DEFRA and a committee of backbench MPs accepted that it was in the best interests of working dogs to allow the prophylactic docking of tails to continue. The Government made assurances when the Bill was published in November 2005 that it would not affect shooting in any way.
DEFRA Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw indicated after listening to the opinions of MPs in the standing Committee considering the Animal Welfare Bill that he would be introducing a statutory instrument banning the practice of docking at the Third Reading of the Bill.
In doing so he went back on his undertaking in the autumn, when the Bill was published, that the Government's preference was to maintain freedom of choice and not intervene because "…sincere views were held for and against".
Mr Bradshaw told the Commons: "Going by the balance of opinion in the committee, we would bring forward a statutory instrument... which would implement a full ban on the tail docking of dogs."
Mr Bradshaw gave the Government's support for an unmodified ban despite support by a member of his own party on the committee, Paddy Tipping, who wants an exemption for working dogs.
More than 90 per cent of vets have been in favour of a ban on the practice of docking and they have been supported by an alliance of animal welfare groups, headed by the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and the BVA. Pro-dockers saw this as a betrayal by the Government on its earlier promises.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it would be launching a consultation on the total ban.
Countryside organisations said the decision was another assault upon the traditional practices of the countryside by a Government that had already allowed a botched attempt to ban foxhunting on to the statute book.
Simon Clarke of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said: "This has dreadful animal welfare implications for upwards of 100,000 working gun dogs.
"Evidence from Sweden after there was a ban shows that 35 per cent will sustain an injury in the first two years. It is traumatic for the dog and can lead to amputation later in life.
"A small amendment in the Commons allowing docking for working dogs could save an awful lot of unnecessary suffering. We are struggling to comprehend why this has been done."
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart commented: A ban on the tail docking of working dogs will compromise animal welfare and increase suffering, as it did when docking was banned in Sweden.
"The Animal Welfare Bill is the first test of the Government's commitment to shooting since the passing of the Hunting Act. If the Government allows a ban, having accepted the case for the docking of working breeds, it will be failing both the shooting community and their dogs. It will also undermine the concept of the Bill - to improve animal welfare."
Peter Squires, President of the Council of Docked Breeds said after the debate on docking, held during the Committee stage of the Animal Welfare Bill: "How can democratic decisions be made by MPs who both display their ignorance of the facts surrounding the issue and appear to be quoting directly from RSPCA propaganda which is not backed up by any scientific facts whatsoever?"
"When the Committee discussed whether or not slugs and snails feel pain, they demanded scientific proof. Why did they not demand it in the case of puppies’ tails? Had they done so, it would have been an end to the debate on tail docking, for no such scientific proof exists," said Mr Squires.
He dismissed MPs’ suggestions about inventing a sheath for dogs to wear over their tails to prevent damage and that owners should wait until they know that their dogs are going to work before having their tails shortened.
"The most basic review of tail injury reports shows that trying to keep a sheath or bandage on a working dog’s tail is a complete non-starter. And as for the suggestion that owners should wait until a nine-month-old puppy enters basic training before putting it through a major surgical operation requiring general anaesthetic and extended convalescence, words fail me. The whole point of docking a newborn puppy is to prevent major surgery in later life."
He then attacked Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw MP for making a U-turn on Government policy without even setting out the case for his published preference.
"Ministers have had three and a half years to consider this subject since it was first opened to public consultation. Government officials have studied it from every angle and perspective, and they finally admitted last October that their preference was to maintain the freedom to choose and allow vets to dock if they considered it appropriate.
"Mr Bradshaw didn’t even so much as set out the case for freedom of choice, let alone argue in favour of it. He has capitulated to ignorance and prejudice.