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APGAW AGM considers dog issues

SEVERAL ISSUES relating to or with relevance for dogs were raised at the Annual General Meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, held on Tuesday, November 28th 2006 in Committee Room 6 at the House of Commons, London.

The meeting was chaired by APGAW Chairman Eric Martlew MP, who opened the meeting by saying it had been an interesting and successful year and thanking the associate members for their enthusiasm and support, commenting that the Group has tried to have meetings on timely and contentious issues that have been in the public eye and has been pleased with the number of people applying to be members. He said that this year (2006) had seen the Animal Welfare Act go though and the Group set up the enquiry into the welfare issues surrounding racing greyhounds. He thanked Administrative Secretary, Cassie Hague for all her hard work looking after the Group.

The Administrative Secretary read out the names of the existing officers and they were re-elected en bloc:

Nick Palmer MP to the office of Vice-Chair
Norman Baker MP, Baroness Gale and Lord Soulsby to the office of Honorary Secretary
Tim Loughton MP to the office of Treasurer
Eric Martlew MP to the office of Chair

The Chair announced that sadly there was a vacancy in the officers of the group due to the early death of Tony Banks. The group elected former DEFRA Minister, Eliot Morley MP as Joint Vice-Chair of the Group.

Minister addresses Meeting

The Chair welcomed DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw and congratulated him on his recent promotion to Minister of State. He thanked the Minister on behalf of the Group for the safe passage of the Animal Welfare Bill

The Minister thanked the Chair for his kind remarks and support and encouragement and stated that there was another significant character in Animal Welfare who deserved a lot of thanks and that was his predecessor Eliot Morley. He was delighted that we now had the Animal Welfare Act but said that this isn’t the end of the road but merely the beginning.

Although the welfare offence will mean an immediate and significant improvement in animal welfare – and represents the biggest step forward for over 100 years - a lot of the detail will be in regulations, secondary legislation and codes of practice etc. and all of these remain to be put in place. He said that DEFRA had listened carefully to the representations made in both Houses and have accelerated the timescale of the secondary legislation on some important issues such as greyhounds, pet fairs and circuses.

He said that he believed that the state of animal welfare in England in general, and with only a few caveats, is now higher that it had ever been. In fact he felt it is amongst the highest in the world. He commented that this presented a dilemma – he believed that we have reached a limit for what we can do for animal welfare in terms of legislation in the UK.

He had therefore asked his department to produce an action plan on engagement with EU legislation. He commented that he believed that enlargement was generally a very good thing but that it had presented some challenges in terms of animal welfare, giving examples of Transport Regulations and the Broiler Directive.

Following on from this, Richard Smith from Dogs Trust asked the Minister: ‘With the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act, when does the Government intend to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals?’

The Minister replied that he did not have an exact date in part due to concerns about the details of the Convention, not least relating to the amendment on animal breeding and in terms of its impact in welfare and legal terms.

Greyhound Industry

Eric Martlew MP then asked the Minister to expand on the criteria he had recently set out that the greyhound industry would have to deliver at a minimum to allow self-regulation to continue, in the wake of the expose by the Sunday Times over the disposal of unwanted racing Greyhounds.

The Minister replied that he had summoned the industry to inform them that they had a last chance to get their house in order but emphasised that if the industry does not do this, the Government will introduce independent statutory regulation rather than independent regulation. He said that he felt that many people within the industry had similar aspirations for the industry.

Lord Lipsey, Chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board commented that the greyhound industry had received a ‘loud and clear message’ from the Minister about the specific accountable system of self-regulation required and that the industry would deliver such a system.

Quarantine and rabies regulations were also discussed. Lady Mary Fretwell of Passports For Pets asked if the Minister could give any indication on how DEFRA’s review of rabies import control policy was progressing, when it would be published and how it related to movement on the same questions in Brussels? The Minister replied that DEFRA would be presenting the report in February of 2007. [In fact, the report was published in early February].

Animal Police?

Nicholas de Brauwere from Redwings Horse Sanctuary asked whether the local authority inspectors who will essentially be ‘animal police’ will be trained in the welfare needs of the diverse range of animals covered by the new Animal Welfare Act as well as the mechanisms of this law; and to what extent will the expertise of the animal welfare charities will be required to ensure knowledgeable and objective assessments of the welfare of animals presented to the inspectors?

The Minister replied that DEFRA was funding extra enforcement training for Local Authorities on the back of the Animal Welfare Act. In certain circumstances, Local Authorities may decide to call on the expertise of particular animal welfare organisations or other specialists by contracting inspections out to those with the necessary expertise. In the spirit of the Local Government White Paper, the Animal Welfare Act has a bottom-up approach and DEFRA would not dictate how Local Authorities implement the Act.

This could possibly lead to many Local Authorities asking the RSPCA ton undertake inspections and carry out investigations, despite the RSPCA’s long-standing public assertion that they neither sought nor wanted additional powers under the Animal Welfare Act.

Holly Lee from the Kennel Club asked the Minister what training will be put in place for animal welfare inspectors whose powers will increase as a result of the Act’s inception. The Minister responded that extra funding had been allocated for the ongoing AW Bill enforcement training. He hopes that they will take this responsibility seriously and also free up some of their own resources for this purpose.

‘Commercial Pet Shows’

Colin O’Hara from the Parrot Society asked whether the Minister was aware that on the 6th November 2006 the Rt Hon member for Maidstone and The Weald (Anne Widdecombe) stated to the House that the Parrot Society, at their June show, had circumvented the law by claiming that their birds were breeding stock and not pets.

He pointed out that birds that are offered for sale or exchange now at Parrot Society events are breeding stock, the same can be said for most other hobbyist breeders of the livestock and must not be confused with companion animals that share their owner’s daily lives. The Parrot Society wants to see the highest possible standards set for such events, without the emotion that is attached to the word ‘pet’. Will the Minister bear this in mind when the Codes of Practice are prepared for public consultation?

The Minister replied that he didn’t believe that Ann Widdecombe had been correct and he suggested that the Parrot Society should take that up with her, adding that he would also be happy to send a letter to that effect. He agreed that birds sold at hobbyist events were neither pets nor commercial stock.

Candy King from the dog theft scanning pressure group Dolly’s Directive asked whether the Minister would ensure that all dogs that come into contact with all organisations are checked for permanent ID, whether that be a tattoo or microchip so that the maximum number of dogs can be returned to their owners. The Minister replied that he was not sure that all Local Authorities would have those facilities but that he would think about this issue and write back to Dolly’s Directive.

The Minister took impromptu questions from the floor, before the meeting was concluded.