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Peer sparks tail docking exemption farce in Lords

THE EXEMPTION for working dogs to the tail docking ban to be brought in under the Government’s Animal Welfare Act next month looked set to be scuppered last week when a anti-tail docking peer on a key House of Lords legislation committee refused to accept the exemption, which was democratically approved by Parliament.

For a while, the objection raised by the Countess of Mar could have seen the docking ban come into force, but without any exemption, although the actual implementation of the ban would have been delayed by six months.

The drama unfolded on the eve of Crufts last week on Wednesday 7 March, when the Grand Committee of the Lords met to discuss a package of three statutory instruments on ‘mutilations’ arising from the Animal Welfare Act. One of these dealt with the exemption from the ban on tail docking contained in the Act for working dogs including gundogs.

The Committee acts by consensus. An unexpected objection from the Countess of Mar - who declared an interest as an Honorary Associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) who have opposed the exemption -disrupted this. As a result the regulation will be taken on the floor of the Lords when time is available. This applies to all three regulations which include bans on devoicing cockerels, clipping dogs’ ears and drilling tortoises’ shells.

Consensus is required in Grand Committee of the House of Lords, so parliamentary procedure dictated the response by Lord Rooker, Animal Welfare Minister, who then withdrew the Government's Statutory Instrument on tail docking.

Lord Rooker said: ‘Having considered the matter, we will come back at a later date, obviously not in Grand Committee. This will have to go to the floor of the House.’

The ban on the unnecessary mutilation is due to come into force at the end of March in Wales and on 6 April in England, as part of the Animal Welfare Act. It allows an exemption for working dogs (in accordance with regulations made by Parliament and the National Assembly of Wales).

The Countess’s objection does not affect the principle of an exemption for working dogs which has already been agreed by both Houses of Parliament and is enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act. What is now under consideration is how the exemption will be implemented. The regulations have already been passed by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (for compliance with the law) and the Merits Committee (for compliance with policy). They will next be debated in the Commons on Tuesday morning.

The Animal Welfare Act is an enabling Act that gives powers to the Government to act to improve animal welfare through a series of regulations. Should those regulations not have been passed by parliament when the Act comes into force on 6th April, then it will mean that the clauses relating to docking - and other ‘mutilations’ - will not come into effect. The status quo on docking before the ban will remain in force. There will not be any risk to docking the tails of vulnerable working dogs.

Christopher Graffius, Director of Communications fro the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, who lobbied for the exemption for working dogs said: ‘The Countess of Mar appears to have unwittingly worked against animal welfare when she disrupted the consensus on the Grand Committee of the House of Lords. Her action has introduced a delay on the implementation of a range of clauses dealing with mutilations including the cosmetic docking of dogs' tails. The exemption for working dogs remains safe and we are now working with the government to ensure that sensible regulations are put in place as soon as possible.’

Peter Squires of the Council for Docked Breeds commented: ‘It would seem that those opposed to docking will stop at nothing to scupper these new regulations, however undemocratic their actions may appear. They continue to bring spurious objections into the debate, designed merely to delay introduction and to confuse the issue.

’Time is short and they are fast approaching the Easter recess, so finding extra parliamentary time to introduce further changes is unlikely to happen’.

Minister Comments

On Tuesday of this week (March 13th), there was a further development within Parliament. The Delegated Legislation Committee met and considered the tail docking exemption conundrum, in the light of the Countess of Mar’s objections.

With regard to the Lords’ recent consideration of the regulations, DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw said: ‘…The Government did not withdraw the regulations on the strength of the Countess of Mar’s arguments, but because Grand Committee procedure does not allow for any Division. Lord Rooker, the DEFRA Minister in the House of Lords, and my officials have held a meeting with the Countess of Mar and other peers this morning, and I am told that they are now satisfied that there is no drafting error in the regulations, contrary to what they thought.

There will be another debate in the House of Lords at the end of March. Given the positive indications that I am told were made in this morning’s meeting—the Countess of Mar has always opposed all tail docking, even of working dogs—we believe that peers will be largely satisfied with regulations and that they will not wish to frustrate their progress, which would mean that the cosmetic docking of dogs’ tails could continue for at least another six months.’

Kennel Club advice on docking
(as at 14th March 2007)

The law regarding the docking of dogs’ tails will change in Wales on 28th March 2007, in England on 6th April 2007 and in Scotland on 30th April 2007. Any change to animal welfare legislation in Northern Ireland is in its very early stages at present and lobbying will continue there. Apart from the fact that the legislation comes into effect slightly earlier in Wales, the law will be the same for both England and Wales.

While an exemption for working dogs was achieved for England and Wales, there is no such exemption in Scotland. As a result the law will affect competitors and show organisers in different ways in England & Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Inevitably there will be a certain amount of interpretation of the law which will only be made clear if it is tested in the Courts. However the Kennel Club has attempted to clarify the great complexities of the new law, as far as possible, through the following Questions and Answers.

The Kennel Club does not approve of the legislation which has been introduced but it nevertheless has a duty to advise:

Societies whose shows the KC, SKC or WKC licenses

Exhibitors and Competitors who attend these shows



on how to proceed so as to avoid putting themselves in danger of acting unlawfully.
It is not the intention of the Kennel Club to police the law actively nor to get involved in disputes as to whether or not dogs have or have not been illegally docked or illegally shown. That is a matter for the authorities. The Kennel Club will however be required to follow up any convictions successfully brought under the Acts and will require to discipline proven offenders accordingly under its own Regulations.

The rules are complicated because of the different dates on which they are to be introduced and because of the slight differences between one part of the UK and the other.
Broadly speaking however here is a brief outline:

Dogs docked before the relevant dates

These can continue to be shown at all shows in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However if your dog was docked on or around the various relevant dates (from 28th March 2007 to 30th April 2007 inclusive) you should refer to the detailed Questions and Answers below which will describe the exact situation.

Dogs docked on or after the relevant dates

Irrespective of where they were docked, they may not be shown at shows in England and Wales where the public is charged a fee for admission.

If they were docked legally either in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or abroad they may be shown at any show in Scotland or Northern Ireland - but in England and Wales they may only be shown at shows where the public is admitted without the payment of a fee.

However if your dog was docked on or around the various relevant dates (from 28th March 2007 to 30th April 2007 inclusive) you should refer to the detailed Questions and Answers below which will describe the exact situation.

Illegally docked dogs

Dogs which have been ILLEGALLY docked are not permitted to be shown at any shows licensed by the Kennel Club, the Scottish Kennel Club or the Welsh Kennel Club.

The following are some of the detailed questions and answers which arise. Some of the answers are, of necessity, rather complex. The Kennel Club regrets this but the problems are not of its making – they arise because of the complexities of the Acts. These are complexities about which the Kennel Club warned legislators in advance. Unfortunately these warnings were not heeded.

Click here for Kennel Club Question & Answer information on the docking issue