1. The Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (The SHG) was set up over 25 years ago and provides support and legal advice to people who are being investigated or prosecuted for Animal Welfare related offences, including those relating to licensing issues.
2. The SHG does not believe that licenses do anything to further animal welfare. What they achieve is a layer of bureaucracy that is imposed on all establishments, good or bad, which drains the resources of the licensing authority, be it local authority or UKAS accredited body and which drains the resources of the business on which they are imposed. The SHG believes that those resources will always be much better spent targeting poorly run establishments and responding to complaints than ticking boxes at good establishments.
3. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is clearly sufficient to ensure the welfare of all animals, whether pet or commercial. Licensing of any sort should not be imposed unnecessarily. The SHG therefore proposes that it is for government to show good reason why it is necessary to impose the burden of licensing and why the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (AWA)is insufficient to ensure the welfare of animals in animal establishments without the added regulatory burden of licensing or belonging to a regulatory organisation.
4. Animal Welfare in the UK has suffered from successive governments attempting to obtain it ‘on the cheap’ leaving the regulation to non-governmental bodies whose activities and prosecutions have been severely criticised and the subject of recent and proposed reviews and investigations.
5. The SHG is gravely concerned that these proposals, if not properly policed by local authorities, could lead to yet another shambles as has occurred by government leaving the AWA to be run the way it is instead of properly funding local authorities to carry out the functions they were empowered to do under the Act. We do not wish to see these proposals, if implemented, turned into a political weapon.
6. It should be noted that all of the breach of licensing conditions cases that the SHG has been involved in have been complaint led. The real protectors of animal welfare in animal establishments are the customers of those establishments and members of the public who bring their concerns to the notice of the authorities.
7. The SHG believes that the AWA, if properly policed by adequately funded local authorities protects the welfare of all animals, in or out of establishments, and makes licensing requirements redundant.
Question 1: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to introduce a single Animal Establishment Licence? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
8. The SHG agrees that a single Animal Establishment Licence would cut down on cost and bureaucracy. We question the need for licensing of Animal Establishments. The AWA clearly provides protection for all animals in such establishments. We fail to see what licensing can achieve over and above the existing provisions of the AWA.
9. Most prosecutions that we are aware of relating to Animal Establishments are complaint driven. i.e. members of the public who are either customers of the establishment or people who have had access to the premises approach the authorities with complaints.
10. If there is to be a licence for animal establishments we would prefer to see an open or general licence downloadable from the internet and cost free, the presumption being that these businesses will cater for animal welfare and obey the law. Restrictions could then be imposed on an individual and undoubtedly complaint driven basis. We believe that this would leave good animal establishments free to get on with their businesses and would serve to target resources at those who fall below the expected welfare standards, with prosecution under the AWA as the ultimate sanction.
Question 2: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to promote or require use of the Model Conditions by local authorities, for activities where they have been agreed? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
11. If licensing is to be imposed then it is important that it is imposed equally and fairly across the country. Model Conditions should be introduced for all licensable activities. Local authorities should be required to use them unless they believe that a lighter burden should be placed on Animal Establishments in their area.
Question 3: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to prohibit the sale of puppies below the age of eight weeks? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
12. Blanket prohibitions invariably lead to injustice. What is the owner of a litter of puppies under the age of eight weeks to do if the bitch dies or loses her milk? Or if she rejects the puppies? Where is the benefit in prohibiting the sale of such puppies to prospective owners with the time and dedication to care for them? We would argue that it is far better for that owner to sell the puppies to someone who has the time and interest in raising them than to keep them on simply because of an age prohibition.
Question 4: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to make clear that the statutory licensing threshold for dog breeders is set at three or more litters per year? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
13. We are opposed to statutory licensing of dog breeding. Prosecutions and investigations are invariably complaint driven, be it into licensed or unlicensed breeders. Licensing has not prevented bad breeding .It has not prevented bad environmental conditions or bad animal welfare. What it had done is put up the cost of puppies and make dogs a scarce commodity in the UK. This is why so many dogs are imported for sale by businesses and charities and why they find it profitable to do so with prices for many dogs being hundreds or thousands of pounds.
14. We note that DEFRA does not differentiate between those dogs imported by businesses and those imported by charities, and that charities like the RSPCA regularly import dogs for sale despite their claims that there is a dog overpopulation problem.
15. Three litters a year does not give those who breed for show sufficient leeway. Five litters per year was reasonable. Again the difficulty is in the attempt to force a one size fits all legislation onto breeds which differ so greatly in the number of puppies born in a litter.
16. How can it be fair or reasonable to expect a show breeder whose dogs produce one or two pups per litter to adhere to the same restrictions imposed on a breeder whose dogs produce twelve or more pups per litter? Especially when they are breeding in order to obtain show winning stock?
Question 5: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to legally require pet sales to provide written information when selling animals? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
17. Anyone buying an animal online and wishing to find information detailing how to keep that animal is spoilt for choice in the age of the internet. Most pet shops in the High Street already carry a range of informative literature and booklets available for people to buy. All of them are willing to offer advice and help. It seems draconian to force each sale to be accompanied by literature when the person buying the animal may well be an experienced keeper of that type of animal. We should be encouraging businesses to produce less printed paper, not more.
18. We suggest that there is no evidence that most people either do not know how to care for the animals they buy, or are unable to obtain that advice if needed.
19. It would be far more environmentally friendly for pet shops to be required to offer either written information or links to online sources of information rather than for each animal to be accompanied by a batch of unwanted and unnecessary paperwork that will find its way into the rubbish bin.
Question 6: What other proportionate measures could address concerns around the care of exotic animals?
20. We do not believe that exotic animals suffer more disproportionately than other types of animal simply because the people who go to buy them have either already done their homework or take advice from the seller.
21. Perhaps the biggest problem in all of this has been the move to drive pet sales from pet shops in the high street. A move promoted by the animal rights industry that was intended to cut the numbers of animals kept by people and which has had a detrimental effect on animal welfare. Physical pet shops selling animals should be encouraged and given special incentives. It is not when animals are in the eye of the ever-vigilant public that they suffer, it is when they are hidden away that things can get out of hand.
22. If there are concerns about the care of any type of animal perhaps those charities or organisations who express the concerns would obtain better results by running advertising campaigns detailing the proper care of those animals instead of campaigning to get the keeping of them banned.
Question 7: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to allow licences to be issued for a fixed term, set at any point in the year? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
23. Agreed. Licenses that run from fixed points in the year encourage people to wait for that point in order to get the full year. They penalise those who apply shortly before the start of the new licensing period.
24. If licenses are to be issued for fixed terms then it is only reasonable for them to run from the time of application rather than the beginning of the year regardless of when they are applied for. This is financially beneficial for all concerned.
Question 8: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to increase the maximum length of a licence that local authorities may issue to up to three years? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer
25. We agree with the move away from yearly licensing. We would prefer to see local authorities authorised to give much longer licenses than three years. Perhaps an automatic incremental increase from three years to five to seven unless there is good reason to suspend that process for any individual business.
26. Alternatively, if there is to be a licence for animal establishments, we would prefer to see an open or general licence downloadable from the internet and cost free, the presumption being that businesses will cater for animal welfare and obey the law. Restrictions could then be imposed on an individual and undoubtedly complaint driven basis. We believe that this would leave good animal establishments free to get on with their businesses and would serve to target resources at those who fall below the expected welfare standards, with prosecution under the AWA as the ultimate sanction.
27. Clearly the costs of our proposals would be far less for all concerned except for those animal establishments that failed to provide for adequate animal welfare
Question 9: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to allow licence holders to transfer licences to new owners of the same premises, subject to notification of and approval by the local authority? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
28. Agreed. This allows people who have built up thriving businesses more opportunity to cash in the equity they have built up.
Question 10: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to require licence holders to notify local authorities of major changes, such as a change of premises or scale of activities? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
29. The difficulty here is what constitutes a ‘major’ change in scale of activities? A doubling in turnover? Someone selling one dog a year could hardly be claimed to have created a major change in the scale of their activities by selling two dogs a year, but someone selling a hundred dogs a year moving on to sell two hundred dogs in a year might have done.
30. We would expect all successful businesses to grow in scale. The length of license should take that probability into account.
31. If an animal establishment is licensed then it is acceptable for it to notify the local authority of change of premises.
32. There should be a defining list of what is considered to constitute a ‘major’ notifiable change should this proposal be implemented, otherwise it will lead to uncertainty and inevitable appeals and challenges.
Question 11: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to maintain the registration requirement for performing animals? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
33. The SHG is opposed to registration on the grounds that the AWA is perfectly adequate to provide the correct protection for every animal. We note that no examples have been given as examples of situations in which registration or licensing would protect an animal but the AWA would not.
Question 12: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed changes to the registration system for performing animals? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
34. We do not see any reason for these animals to be registered. We do not see any gain from changing the regulations to refer to the welfare requirements in the AWA because the AWA already applies to these animals. If there is any reason to believe that these animals are either neglected or suffering in any way then the AWA provides adequate protections.
35. Again we would expect any investigation or enforcement to be complaint driven, more so because these animals are regularly exhibited in the public domain
36. If the registration requirement is to be kept then we hope that the same protections in terms of powers of entry are applied since many performing animals live in the homes of the performers who own and perform with them.
Question 13: To what extent do you agree or disagree with these proposals on powers of entry? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
37. We agree with the proposals but believe that they do not go far enough.
38. There should be restrictions on the identity of the four people allowed entry. They should not include politically campaigning organisations. Those allowed entry should be employees of the licensing authority with the exception of a veterinary surgeon if one is not available within the employ of the licensing authority. We would however prefer that DEFRA vets be used.
39. Warrants should not be obtained at the behest of third parties.
40. There should be a list of reasons deemed likely to defeat the purposes of entry that can be used to justify failing to provide notification of intention to apply for a warrant, and notification should be provided in writing with reasonable time given to volunteer access.
41. If a warrant is used without prior notification then it should be served in normal business hours and time given for a solicitor or vet of choice to be obtained by the person responsible for the premises, or the person in charge of the premises at the time.
Question 14: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to allow an exemption from licensing requirements for businesses affiliated to a body accredited by UKAS? Please provide any comments or evidence to support your answer.
42. Using the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) as an example of self regulation is, at best, misleading. The GBGB is essentially a continuation of the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC) whose remit had always been the regulation of those aspects of greyhound training and racing affiliated to it. Indeed, it would have been surprising if the GBGB had failed in any way, but the success of an existing regulatory body with many years experience is not indicative of the prospective success of newly formed regulatory bodies with aims that might range from empire building through a light animal welfare regulatory regime to keeping the local authority off their members backs.
43. We fail to see any benefit in the licensing of animal establishments in terms of animal welfare but we are concerned that the likely outcome of UKAS registered bodies set up to bypass local authority licensing will create safe havens for those businesses and organisations large and powerful enough to put together such self regulatory bodies. If initial complaints are to be dealt with by such bodies it is likely to be detrimental to animal welfare by preventing or delaying any oversight from the local authority in its capacity as an inspector under the AWA.
44. Even with licensing irregularities, the majority of cases we have been involved in have been complaint driven, either by customers of the organisation involved or by members of the public reporting something they have seen. The only achievement of licensing itself is to provide a range of regulatory offences to bring against the people concerned. Animal welfare issues and access are all capable of being dealt simply and efficiently via the AWA which begs the question of the need to over-egg the regulatory pudding if the aim is less burdensome regulation.
45. The main problem with report led investigations is that those organisations who prevent public access to their premises are able to hide any wrongdoing. For instance it is virtually impossible to see what happens to animals in RSPCA centres and yet animals in prosecution cases have been injured and died.
The chief concern about self regulation would be for any self run body providing protection for its own with the public excluded, and no opportunity for oversight whatsoever.
Question 15: Do you think sector-led UKAS-accredited certification schemes could improve animal welfare in unlicensed areas? If so, what would work best and how could this process be encouraged?
46. We do not believe that any such scheme can improve animal welfare in unlicensed areas. If anything it will only make it worse by leading to less scrutiny and a false veneer of respectability.
47. If regulation and licensing are too burdensome for unlicensed areas such as animal sanctuaries, whey are they not too burdensome for other areas such as small dog breeding operations? Some sanctuaries and rescues are essentially big businesses with larger turnover than many pet shops or dog breeding establishments. They import animals for sale. A minimum donation is nothing less than a sale fee. A genuine charity or rescue would be only too willing to see the animals in their care find a good home irrespective of sale price.
Anne Kasica & Ernest Vine
on behalf of The SHG