THE MOST fundamental piece of animal welfare legislation for nearly a century, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, passed into law when it received Royal Assent on Tuesday, November 7th.
The key points of the Animal Welfare Bill had been hotly debated over four years of discussion and amendment between both Houses of Parliament, with input from many animal welfare groups and hobby organisations, including the Kennel Club.
introduces a duty of care on people to ensure the needs of any animal for which they are responsible;
creates a new offence of failing to provide for the needs of an animal in your care;
allows action to protect animals to be taken much earlier rather than have to wait for an animal to show the signs of suffering, enforcers will be able to intervene before suffering begins;
places more emphasis on owners and keepers who will need to understand their responsibilities and take all reasonable steps to provide for the needs of their animals.
Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: ‘The Government believes that by extending the duty of care to non-farmed animals, it will reduce animal suffering in this country. This is the culmination of several years’ work during which the government has worked closely with stakeholders. The result is legislation of which we can all be rightly proud.’
The Act comes into effect in England and Wales on 6 April 2007, and is largely an enabling Act, which will pave the way for further rafts of animal-related laws under secondary legislation. (An equivalent law has already been passed in Scotland in the form of the Animal Health & Welfare Act).
The RSPCA welcomed the enactment of the new legislation. While the vast majority of pet owners already exercise such responsibility, figures released by the RSPCA earlier this month show that, in the first ten months of 2006, the charity’s inspectors still discovered:
31,199 animals without access to water – 59% increase (on same period last year)
43,544 animals not receiving suitable veterinary treatment – 63% increase
73,008 animals kept in a dirty or unsuitable environment – 61% increase
29,185 animals unable to express normal behaviour – 73% increase
In most cases, the advice given by inspectors has led to improvements in the welfare of these animals. However, so far this year, almost 11,000 people visited by the RSPCA have chosen to ignore care guidance. Their neglect could lead to the suffering of thousands of animals.
‘At last people will have a legal duty to properly care for their animals and the RSPCA will be able to respond positively to reported incidents of neglect,’ said Jackie Ballard, RSPCA Director General.
‘Our whole purpose is to prevent animals from suffering at the hands of cruel or ignorant people, and this new law will help us in that mission.’
The Pet Care Trust also welcomed the Act. Janet Nunn, the Trust’s Chief Executive commented: ‘We are pleased the Bill has been approved and will pass into law next April as it enshrines in law the standards that good pet care businesses and pet owners are already working to on a daily basis, This common informers’ act is unique in its reach as it will apply not only to every relevant business but to each of the 25.9 million households that own a pet in our country.’
The Trust still has concerns over the extra burden of record keeping the Bill will impose on the 20 million pet owning households and 10,000 pet care micro-businesses. The current six-month period for bringing a prosecution will be extended to three years for any breach of the new duty of care. Conservative MPs have flagged their concern that the first codes set out for pet owners to follow are unduly prescriptive as they currently stand.
The Kennel Club broadly welcomed the Act, although it had specific areas of concern, such as the ban on tail docking. Initially, DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw had clearly stated that he favoured the status quo on tail docking, but the Government had allowed an amendment to ban tail docking, with an exemption for working dogs.
Electric shock collars are still not on the face of the Act, but the Kennel Club will continue to campaign for a total ban on their use when the secondary regulations are drafted.
One area in which the Kennel Club was pleased to see its campaigning efforts pay off in was with regard to the tightening of the dog fighting clause, which has increased the number of offences and therefore those being prosecuted.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said, ‘We are very pleased the Animal Welfare Act has received Royal Assent. This is a real victory for all animals, and those concerned with their welfare. ‘The devil will now be in the detail’ with drafting the secondary regulations, but we will ensure we are part of that process on behalf of dogs and their owners.’
A full report on the Animal Welfare Act and its contents
will appear in a subsequent edition of OUR DOGS
The Kennel Club has produced a helpful FAQ Factsheet for all those who would like more information and advice. Please visit www.thekennelclub.org.uk
The Animal Welfare Act is expected to come into force in England in April 2007.
To access the act please visit www.defra.gov.uk