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Scotland votes for docking ban - but working exemption could follow

DOCKING OF dogs’ tails in Scotland will be banned outright with no exemptions, following a vote by the Scottish Parliament on an amendment to the Animal Health and Welfare Bill last week.

Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted by three to one in support of the Scottish Executive’s proposal to prohibit the ‘mutilation’ in last Wednesday’s Stage 3 and final debate on the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill. All tail docking is to be ended, both for cosmetic purposes and with no exemptions for working dogs. In addition, it will be an offence to take a dog from Scotland to be tail-docked in another country.

The new Bill will update Scottish animal welfare legislation, much of which is nearly 100 years old. Animal charities are pleased that the Bill not only retains the existing prohibition against cruelty and causing unnecessary suffering, but also places a duty of care on people who keep animals, in the same way as the Westminster Animal Welfare Bill which applies to England and Wales. This means that the owner or keeper of an animal will be required to take reasonable steps to ensure its welfare.

Many controversial animal welfare issues are not included in the Bill, but will be dealt with in regulations made under the Bill by secondary legislation over the coming months and years.

The animal charity Advocates for Animals welcomed the tail docking ban. Advocates’ Director, Ross Minett, said: ‘This is a historic day for animal welfare in Scotland. Our understanding of, and attitudes towards, animals have changed much over the years and this new legislation is urgently needed to reflect these changes.

‘We are delighted that the Scottish Parliament has today voted to prohibit all tail-docking of dogs. At long last we will see an end to this painful and unnecessary mutilation in Scotland. This ban has widespread support amongst vets and the people of Scotland. We congratulate the Scottish Executive for proposing this ban and members of the Scottish Parliament for supporting it.

‘As Scottish people we like to think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers that lead the way in animal welfare matters. This new Bill is a good start. However, over the coming months regulations will be made on many more important animal welfare issues, giving the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament a real chance to turn these fine words into reality.’

However, a day after the crucial vote, Ministers of the Scottish Executive hinted that they may still allow the tails of working dogs to be docked. Although the majority of MSPs have voted for a blanket ban but were told that an exemption could be introduced for working dogs after further consultation.

Breeders and gamekeepers in favour of docking have argued that it prevents the tails of working dogs being caught in hedges and briars, injuring the animals.

MSPs including Deputy Environment Minister Rhona Brankin remain opposed to the practice, however she said exemptions could still be included in the relevant section of the bill and these would be brought before parliament.

Brankin commented: ‘Section 18 will not be enacted until the regulations allowing exemptions have been drafted, consulted on and approved by parliament. This means that no final decision will be taken on the tail docking of dogs until the regulations are completed.’

A majority of MSPs also backed an amendment in Environment Minister Ross Finnie's name, forbidding anyone from taking a dog out of Scotland to have the procedure carried out, although such a move could be subject to a legal challenge under Human Rights legislation.

Conservative MSP Ted Brocklebank criticised ministers for not backing exemptions. He said: ‘It beggars belief that owners of working dogs would expose them to unnecessary suffering.

‘Why do politicians in this place arrogantly assume that they know better than the owners of these working dogs?’

Liberal Democrat MSP Andrew Arbuckle backed consultation on the issue.