A damning report by MPs into the enforcement and effectiveness of animal welfare laws in the UK has been released today (Wednesday, 16 November).
The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee conducted a review into the effectiveness of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, its enforcement with regards to domestic animals and whether it remains “fit for purpose”.
A series of discussions, involving experts in animal welfare, police and the Local Government Association, took place during the spring and summer.
A “major weakness” of the Act was found to be that no state organisation is statutorily responsible for animal welfare.
“It is unacceptable that in a modern society no state organisation is responsible for animal welfare,” the report reads.
It recommends the government makes it the responsibility of local authorities to enforce the Act and “must ensure” they are given the right resources to do this.
It also highlights the point that current penalties for animal welfare offences in England are “among the lowest in Europe”. It suggests increasing the maximum penalty for animal abusers to five years and asks that Defra begin talks with the Ministry of Justice about this by the end of the year.
The difficulty in keeping track of animal abusers, plus the complexity of the equine identification system and the “impossible” job of enforcing it are also raised.
MPs have recommended that the government “systematically and significantly” reduces the number of equine passport-issuing organisations — of which there are currently more than 60 — and looks into the possibility of establishing just one body to issue passports.
“We are disappointed that the UK government did not meet the EU’s deadline of 1 July 2016 for creating a new database,” adds the report. “We expect the minister to write to us to confirm that the database is working by 1 January 2017.”
The report also wants the government to set out a timetable for the secondary legislation that was “foreseen 10 years ago” in the Animal Welfare Act. It states that a lack of this “undermines” the Act itself.
Role of the RSPCA
While the report states the charity has an “invaluable role” in investigating allegations of animal abuse, it recommends the RSPCA should step back from acting as a prosecutor of “first resort” where possible.
“The RSPCA does important working investigating animal welfare cases,” said committee chair Neil Parish, Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton.
“I would like to see its dedicated and professional staff continue that vital work.
“The committee is not convinced, however, that the RSPCA is in a better position than the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when it comes to prosecuting animal welfare cases.
“It should step back from making prosecutions itself, continuing instead to work closely with the police and prosecution service to protect the welfare of animals.”
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The report states the CPS needs to be “suitably resourced” to take on the increased work and asks the government look at amending current laws to make the RSPCA a specialist reporting authority.
“We recognise that the organisation fulfils a role in animal welfare not currently performed by local government,” it adds.
“However, recent criticism has led to its reputation being diminished in the eyes of the public.
“We welcome the organisation’s acknowledgment that it needs to be more transparent and accountable.
“The RSPCA must ensure that its new complaints procedure is better publicised, including the external reviewer aspect, and made clear for members of the public.”