Conservatives consult the world of dogs
The Conservative Party this week took the decision to consult with all interest and lobby groups in every sector of society prior to putting together its manifesto to be published before the next election, including animal welfare.
Representatives from the Pet Care Trust, the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), the RSPCA, Wood Green Animal Shelters, Advocates for Animals and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home met on the fifth floor at 1, Parliament Street in sight of the House of Commons for a meeting for which the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Bill Wiggin MP, had allowed five hours.
Those present, who are almost all experienced lobbyists, recognised that this was unprecedented. Meetings with MPs at whatever level are usually extraordinarily constricted and half an hour of their undivided attention is exceptional. Bill Wiggin had already held similar meetings with representatives of exotics/reptiles, ornamental fish and cats with more to come.
Mr Wiggin had written to the major organisations concerned with animal welfare saying: ‘It is my
intention to draw together all the policy suggestions from meetings to discuss domestic animal welfare and to assess which policies the party can deliver in Government and then to publish them as a manifesto. I firmly believe that we need a sound and sensible policy for animal welfare for the 21st Century and by bringing together all the expertise and views of the organisations who can achieve this’.
Those present greatly appreciated the opportunity to talk directly someone who was likely to take over the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Mr Wiggin made it clear that even if he did not, the extensive notes of the meeting would be available to whoever had the Agriculture Portfolio in the future.
The topics discussed ranged from the European Convention on Pet Animals, the reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act, focusing on the ‘Deed Not The Breed’, the uneven standards applied to the licensing of boarding kennels and pet shops, together with the problems of home boarding in relation to the 1963 Act regulating boarding kennels, the increasing use of electric shock collars, fireworks, the way in which stray dogs are handled by local authorities, puppy farming and licensing of breeders, as well as a raft of other concerns which were the subject of seven pages of detailed minutes taken down by Bill Wiggin’s researcher.
The various animal welfare organisations have their differences but most of these are minor in comparison with the areas on which there is agreement In terms of legislation and amendments to existing law, the meeting was able to present united views on the most important issues.
It became clear during the meeting that there were some areas a Conservative government would not be willing to take on board and Mr Wiggin made it clear that he was in favour of reducing regulation rather than increasing legislation. He was, however, not only very willing to look at amendments to existing laws but to ask questions in the House of Commons which might encourage the government to move more quickly on current issues. This included minor amendments to the regulations concerning the seizure of dogs suspected as being of ‘the pit bull type’ but which gave no indication of being dangerous and the codes of practice which DEFRA are supposed to be putting in place but which seem to have become stuck in a log jam within the department.
Commenting afterwards Bill Wiggin told OUR DOGS: ‘I am delighted that so many organisations could attend the meeting on dogs and discuss with me the issues that matter to them and help my colleagues and I in the Conservative Party develop our animal welfare policies.
‘All too often the Government put forward proposals on animal welfare, put them out to consultation, then ignore what has been said. I want to do things differently and involve those with an interest in animal welfare at the earliest opportunity before proposals are made. The discussion on dogs was very helpful… I will be discussing with colleagues the issues raised and will put forward a manifesto of agreed policy which we can deliver in Government, which of course I hope will address as many of the concerns raised as possible.
‘We are a nation of animal lovers and I want to make sure that the Conservative Party maintains a strong, productive relationship with the organisations representing animals and animal-owners. Everyone wants to see responsible animal ownership and this will be at the core of the policies we develop. I am grateful to those who attended for taking the time to come along and join the discussions.’