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AWB - UK pet fairs pet sales ruling

AS THE Animal Welfare Bill fast approaches the conclusion of its Parliamentary consideration, a recent High Court ruling on the validity of ‘Pet Fairs’ is set to have implications for this controversial part of the new Bill.

As reported previously, when the AWB has been discussed by Standing Committees in both the Houses of Commons and Lords there has been some discussion on so-called ‘pet fairs’ which allow the sale of animals and plans contained within the Bill to curtail these. However, some MPs and peers have had difficulty in differentiating between ‘true’ pet fairs, where animals are sold commercially, and ordinary pet shows where a limited amount of ‘trade’’ takes place – usually when animals are sold or exchanged between club members.

They key legislation that the AWB is set to replace is the 1951 (Pet Animals) Act which prevents the sale of animals in the street, including on barrows and in markets. On Wednesday last week, the 1951 Act was ruled by Mr Justice Walker in the High Court to also apply to pet fairs and shows, thanks to an amendment made in 1983.

Animal welfare worker Malcolm Haynes won his case against Stafford Borough Council challenging its decision to allow the licensed sale of parrots at a Parrot Society UK show in Stafford last October. Mr Justice Walker ruled that a concourse of buyers or sellers such as found at shows, fell under the 1951 Act. The ruling effectively criminalizes the sale of animals at future ‘pet fairs’.

The effect of the ruling may be short-lived, however. The new Animal Welfare Bill is designed to replace a plethora of older legislation. Including the 1951 Act and any amendments made to it. As it currently stands, the new Bill addresses the issuing of licences, proposing that local authorities should licence the organisers of pet fairs in a similar manner to existing pet shop licences. Whether such licensing would also apply to pet shows is still unclear.

However Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Miller has tabled an amendment to the Bill to stop the change in the law, which would see the present rules replaced by as yet unspecified regulations for pet fairs.

Commenting, Baroness Miller said: "This ruling is excellent news for animal welfare. It is important that the very real protection afforded by the law is maintained in both spirit and letter in future legislation, rather than being put at risk by entirely untested regulatory mechanisms."

Unfortunately, the High Court ruling has now set a precedent, as the original case that Malcolm Haynes brought against Stafford Council was challenging a very specific type of pet fair where wild birds were being sold as opposed to captive bred parrots, but as with all legislation, it has had far reaching consequences for ordinary pet shows.

It can only be hoped that any amendments made within the Animal Welfare Bill clearly differentiate between commercial pet fairs and hobby-based pet shows.