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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 26, 2017

Public Petitions Committee 26 October 2017

Agenda: New Petitions, Continued Petitions


New Petitions

Glue Traps (PE1671)

Welcome to the 19th meeting in 2017 of the Public Petitions Committee. I remind members and others in the room to switch phones and other devices to silent.

The first item on the agenda is consideration of two new petitions, the first of which is petition PE1671, by Lisa Harvey and Andrea Goddard on behalf of let’s get MAD for wildlife, on the sale and use of glue traps. I welcome Maree Todd MSP, who has an interest in the petition.

Two written submissions in support of the petition, from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the petitioners, are included with our meeting papers. The petitioners’ submission takes the form of an open letter from 10 wildlife charities to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. The organisations that signed up to that submission are the Humane Society International UK, let’s get MAD for wildlife, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, OneKind, the Mammal Society, Scotland for Animals, the wildlife conservation research unit, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals UK, rare bird alert, and birders against wildlife crime.

I welcome to the meeting Andrea Goddard; Claire Bass, who is executive director of the Humane Society International UK; and Elizabeth Mullineaux, who is a veterinary surgeon for the wild animal welfare committee. Thank you for attending the meeting. You have the opportunity to make a brief opening statement of up to five minutes. After that, the committee will ask a few questions to help to inform our consideration of the petition.

Thank you for inviting me to give evidence at this committee meeting. I am truly grateful for the opportunity. I also thank Claire Bass and Elizabeth Mullineaux for assisting me in providing evidence in support of the petition. Advice from Libby Anderson from OneKind, Maree Todd MSP and others has also been invaluable.

In January this year, my co-petitioner, Lisa Harvey, discovered in a pet shop a female blackbird that had been trapped on a glue board, which had been placed on the ground by a pest control company—to catch rodents, I presume. The blackbird was still alive and had torn off her own leg, tail feathers and most of one wing in her attempt to escape. Lisa was so distressed by what she found that she reported it to the store and posted the story on social media. The story went viral, and many who commented on it said that they could not believe that those traps were legal.

As an online wildlife campaigner, I picked up on the story and contacted Lisa to ask whether she would be interested in setting up a petition to support a ban on those devices in Scotland. With my help, we did just that. As members can see, the petition gained just under 5,100 signatures in six weeks.

Since then, we have spoken to our local MSPs and other animal welfare organisations to garner support. Consequently, the Humane Society International and I put together an open letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, which was signed by 10 prominent wildlife organisations. We await her formal response to that letter. All members should have a copy of the letter and a copy of the SSPCA’s written evidence, which very much supports asking for a ban on glue traps.

Generally, we are concerned that rodent glue traps are a crude and often ineffective method of wildlife control that inflicts unnecessary suffering. They are indiscriminate and are used and misused excessively and inappropriately. Rodent glue traps are widely sold and are available for public purchase across Scotland for as little as 99p for two traps. Their use is completely unregulated and it has not been possible to establish how many traps are sold and used each year. Given their prevalence in shops and online, it is likely that the figure is many thousands.

Glue traps are designed to trap and immobilise mice and rats but not kill them. Trapped animals may suffer in many different ways: the glue can clog eyes, nose and ears, and the animal may tear and chew off fur or limbs in an attempt to free itself. If the person who has set a trap does not return frequently to check it and dispatch the trapped animal, ultimately the animal will die a slow death from starvation, dehydration and/or exhaustion.

Animals that are caught on a glue trap are defined as being under the control of man and are thus subject to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, which dictates that animals must be dispatched humanely. In practice, members of the public or poorly trained professionals are often unaware of their responsibility to deal with a trapped animal and are unwilling or unable to dispatch trapped animals humanely. A YouGov poll that was commissioned by Humane Society International in 2016 revealed that a significant percentage of the public would dispose of live trapped animals in dustbins, inflicting slow and agonising deaths, or would even drown them.

The majority of glue trap manufacturers do not supply appropriate warnings or instructions on their packaging, so users often commit offences under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, inflicting unnecessary suffering, and are unaware that they are doing so. Additionally, it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to set glue boards in a place where legally protected species might be caught. Nonetheless, many instances of trapped birds, reptiles, amphibians and even pets have been recorded. Such instances are, doubtless, underrecorded, as the unwitting perpetrator will not report their own crime and the evidence is easily disposed of.

In 2010, the Pest Management Alliance issued a code of best practice for glue boards. Those principles are not statutory, but they state that glue boards should be sold or used only by adequately trained and competent professionals; that all other options for rodent control must be considered before glue boards are used; that glue boards must be inspected within 12 hours of placing; that detailed records and location plans must be made and copied; and that trapped rodents must be dispatched humanely. However, as glue boards are widely available to the public, the very first of those principles is being totally ignored by shops and manufacturers, and the guidelines are not supplied with the majority of glue traps—nor is the application of the principles policed in any way. That, in effect, renders the entire code of practice ineffectual and rather pointless.

We believe that the current widespread use and misuse of glue boards in Scotland is causing significant and completely unnecessary suffering both to target and non-target species. There is absolutely no logic in allowing the sale of these items to the untrained public for do-it-yourself control. We would not dream of allowing the sale and use of such products to catch, for example, feral cats. The suffering that the products inflict on mice and rats is equally unacceptable.

The professional pest control industry may argue that glue traps should be regulated for use in certain situations in which other control methods cannot be used or have already failed. In considering that point of view, we refer the committee to the regulations that are in place in New Zealand, which tightly restrict the use of rodent glue traps to professional pest controllers in only very limited situations.

These crude, indiscriminate and horrific devices do not belong in any progressive, forward-thinking country. We urge the committee to recommend legislative action to prohibit the public sale and indiscriminate use of glue traps in Scotland. We suggest that there be consultation with a range of expert groups, which we can recommend, on the implementation of primary legislation or potential amendment of section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to prohibit glue boards as a method of taking wild animals. Such a ban would enjoy broad public support and would show that Scotland takes the welfare of all animals—pests or otherwise—seriously.

Thank you very much. Is it your view that there should be no public sale of the traps at all, or are there any circumstances in which you think that professionals should be allowed to use them?

We sympathise with pest control companies and acknowledge that they have to provide a service to people who have a pest problem. However, there are lots of alternative methods that they can use to dispatch those animals. We can suggest alternative methods. For example, you can get electrocution boxes that electrocute rats and mice that go inside them. That is a much more humane way of controlling those animals.

So although your petition talks about indiscriminate use of glue traps, your preference would be for there not to be any use of them.

Andrea Goddard

Ultimately, we would like them not to be used at all, as they are completely horrendous and inhumane.

There are examples of that approach in other countries. For example, New Zealand stopped the public sale of glue traps in 2010 and gave the industry five years to sort itself out and stop using them. As of 2015, ministerial approval is required in order to get a licence to use a glue trap. New Zealand takes a really tight approach to pest species because of concern about its native birds, but no one has applied for that licence in the past two years. That shows what the industry can do, even in a country that perceives rats and mice as posing a danger to native birds and wildlife. In Victoria, in Australia, legislation requires pest controllers to apply for a licence to use glue traps, but they do not do that very often because they have found other methods of working. Of course, we appreciate that a licensing system might be difficult to implement.

Your petition notes that previous petitions to the United Kingdom Government have failed in their attempt to obtain a ban on the sale or use of these products. Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened with those previous petitions, such as whether they received a response from the UK Government or if you have any thoughts on why they were unsuccessful?

I cannot remember the exact details. When I first considered putting together this petition, I did some research and found that the SSPCA had petitioned the Government a few years ago. I am not sure what happened with that petition but, since it is still legal to buy glue traps, it was clearly not successful.

The Humane Society International UK lobbied Westminster for exactly the things that Andrea Goddard is asking for in this petition. We got a lot of interest from MPs down there—there was an early day motion, and written questions were tabled and answered. At the time, the UK Government said that it had no plans to ban glue traps but would look into the possibility of replicating some of the systems that exist in Australia and New Zealand, which Liz Mullineaux mentioned. However, that was immediately before the Brexit vote and, since then, the issue has gone a little bit further down the list.

Do you have any idea of the number of professional companies in Scotland or the UK that use the traps? What sort of percentage do so?

We do not know total numbers—I would not even like to guess, but I would say that a lot do. However, a substantial number of companies proudly proclaim that they do not use glue traps on account of the welfare issues that are associated with them.

So there is an awareness that their use is controversial.

Yes, absolutely. Increasingly, the traditional pest control industry is moving towards a more ethical and enlightened approach that does not immediately involve killing everything. Many companies see glue traps as a particularly egregious and unnecessary method and refuse to use them.

You mentioned the statutory and non-statutory guidelines that are in place. Are you saying that there are no guidelines that are currently in place or which could be put in place that would adequately support the use of the traps?

The Pest Management Alliance has a code of best practice that we would like to think that the industry adheres to. The issue is that the public do not see those codes of practice. That is a worry. The principles in those codes of practice are not communicated to members of the public who use the products. That is our main concern.


The issue is about the disconnect between the public and the guidelines. You believe that those who are professionally registered look at the guidelines. Are those guidelines adequate?

Andrea Goddard

It is difficult to know which companies adhere to the guidelines.

If people adhered to the guidelines, they would rarely use glue traps. The starting point in the guidelines is that all other methods should have been considered first, with detailed records having been made on everything else. That, I guess, is where New Zealand and Australia have ended up. There are still circumstances in which a person considers that they might want to use glue traps, but if they have fully considered the Pest Management Alliance’s code, they would not use them very often at all.

At the other extreme, people can go online, Google “glue traps” and then buy them. There is nothing on the packaging that suggests that using the glue trap will kill the animal trapped. There is a big disparity between the guidelines and what is on general sale.

Our briefing states that glue traps are used most commonly by professional contractors, but you have made it clear that the devices are available for sale to the public—although I note in your letter to the cabinet secretary that a number of retailers have stopped selling the product. What level of regulation or monitoring is applied to the sale of glue traps?

As far as we are aware, there is no regulation or monitoring of sales. Glue traps are widely available in corner shops and do-it-yourself stores; chemists, strange though it may seem, often sell them, too. There is no control at all—anyone can walk into a shop and buy a glue trap for 99p.

Our campaign has resulted in about 220 stores, including some large wholesale stores such as Booker, making the decision to withdraw glue traps from sale on the basis of the animal welfare concerns that we presented. That was entirely voluntary—there is no regulation governing their sale or use.

If there were to be regulation or monitoring, where would responsibility for that lie?

I cannot answer that question in relation to Scotland. We have talked to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which regulates other traps. For example, on break-back traps, there is an exemption for humaneness checking for what it affectionately terms “small ground vermin”. That is another issue that we have.

In theory, the Animal and Plant Health Agency could be the responsible authority for considering the circumstances in which the use of glue traps could be justified; Liz Mullineaux talked about that. I think that that would be a very small number of cases. I am not sure what the equivalent to the Animal and Plant Health Agency would be in Scotland.

Andrea Goddard

When people apply for licences of any kind for the control of deer or other animals, they do so through Scottish Natural Heritage. I assume that it would be the governing body in this area, too.

Good morning, everyone. Andrea Goddard gave an example of a blackbird that was caught in a glue trap in a pet shop and said that the story went viral—I think that I saw it.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to use glue boards to trap birds. In 2014, the Scottish Government’s position was that it had no plans to ban their use for catching rodents, but that it planned to review aspects of policy in relation to animal traps. I have not noticed anything happening in that area since then. Are you aware of any consultations, discussions or outcomes from any Scottish Government reviews in the area?

Andrea Goddard


There has been no sign of anything happening.

Andrea Goddard

No, not that I can recall—sorry.

Perhaps we can discuss that issue later.

Have you had conversations with the pest control industry about the issue?

Andrea Goddard


What was its response? I had not been aware of the matter—I am not sure whether that is the same for other committee members. It sounds horrendous that a person can buy something that is unregulated. My instinct is to ask why we would have glue traps at all. In your conversation with the industry, did it explain why it thought that the traps might be necessary?

About three or four pest control companies got back to me and said that they would quite happily sign the petition. As Claire Bass said, some pest controllers are very sympathetic and would not use glue traps because of the inhumane implications. We have quite a few pest control companies on board with the petition. We asked the Pest Management Alliance to sign the open letter, but it said that it would not do that because of the potential bureaucratic implications, which is understandable.

My question really is whether it is simpler to ban the traps completely rather than try to regulate, which would be challenging.

There are three options. One is an outright ban, which would be a lot easier to implement. Alternatively, there could be a ban with exemption clauses similar to that in New Zealand, where pest control companies can apply for a licence to use glue traps on a case-by-case basis. In the state of Victoria in Australia, glue traps have been banned just for public use, although there are quite a lot of loopholes because there is no regulation as to what is classed as a pest control company. That would not be the preferred option for us.

Do you know what the volume of use of glue traps is? Do you have any idea of the turnover or market capacity in Scotland?

Andrea Goddard

It is difficult to get a grasp of those numbers but, as I said in my opening statement, it is likely that thousands are used in Scotland.

We have tried to get those numbers, but we struggled. The only indicator that we have had is when a large wholesaler that voluntarily withdrew the traps from sale after we had campaigned on the issue told us that it had shifted 100,000 traps in a four-month period through its wholesale side. That was UK wide, but it gives a rough indication. That was Booker Wholesale, which is a sizeable company.

Are the traps manufactured in the UK? Have you spoken to the manufacturers?

We have dealt extensively with one pest control company, STV International, which has actually modified its packaging and withdrawn the traps from advertised sale to the public—it now tries to sell them only to pest control professionals. That is the only UK manufacturer that we are aware of, but a lot of the traps say “Made in China” and have really badly translated instructions and pictures of guinea pigs on the front. It is really a bad and confused marketplace.

As we have no more questions, we might now want to think about how to take the petition forward. I thank the petitioners for highlighting the issue, which I was not aware of previously and which seems like an area that we would want people to look at, certainly if alternatives are available. Do members have any suggestions on what we might do?

Just for information, where does the competence lie on the issue? Does the Scottish Government have the ability to ban the traps?

We might want to ask the Government whether it thinks that it has that ability. That might be a way of dealing with the issue. I suspect that the Government must have that ability. I do not know what the issue would come under but, if it comes under animal welfare, the Government has some responsibility for that. There is a separate question about whether it can ban something in commercial terms. I do not know about that.

If we write to the Scottish Government and find that it does not have the competence, we would have to write to the UK Government.

I suggest that, in the first instance, we write to the Scottish Government to pick up on Angus MacDonald’s point about whether there has been any follow-on from the commitments that have already been made and to ask what the Scottish Government’s responsibility is and what its view on the issue is.

Our briefing on the petition says that Jim Hume asked a question on the issue quite a long time ago, and the response at that time was that the Government had “no plans” to ban the traps. That suggests that the Government feels that it has the right to do so.

Yes. If the Government thought that it had no authority or competence to do that, it would have said so at that point.

Yes. The slight issue for me is that, having read the evidence and having listened to all that has been said, I feel strongly that it would be reasonable to consider a public ban. I wonder whether we should state that up front, if all committee members are minded to do that, and ask the Government what such a ban would include rather than just ask whether it has done anything and wait for a response.

Would it be reasonable, given the evidence that we have heard, to say that we believe that a compelling case has been made for a ban and to ask the Government to outline, in its response, what it intends to do given the ineffectiveness and cruelty of the traps? That would be slightly more than just asking whether the Government has a view on the matter.

I am looking at the issue from a time perspective. We could write to the Government, asking whether it has done anything, and it could write back and say no. We would then have to write again, saying that there is a compelling case for a ban. Given the numbers that have been talked about today, there would be an awful lot of usage while we were faffing around, thinking about it.

Are there any specific groups of professionals in the industry that we should write to? We could perhaps ask the clerks which groups those would be.

If we are going to ask the Scottish Government for a ban, can we clarify what kind of ban we are talking about? Is it just a public ban? I was struck by what is happening in New Zealand, where professional bodies are being allowed five years to phase the whole thing out.

I do not think that we have got to that point. We are saying that the case against the traps is compelling and asking for the Government’s response to that case and what it is willing to commit to within what it is able to do. We can then look at the issue further. We have not yet got to the point of saying how the ban would express itself. With respect, we have not heard the alternative argument about why some people might think that the traps might be necessary in some circumstances, although there has been some reference to that.

My sense is that we should write to the Government and to the professionals. It is interesting that a number of professional organisations have said that they would not use the traps. It may be that the issue is more about individual members of the public trying to sort a problem themselves, in which case there is an issue about awareness.

I suggest that we also write to the SSPCA. It will obviously not support the traps, but it might have some knowledge of what happened to previous petitions and things like that. It would be useful to get its view, just to add weight to the case.

The open letter has been helpful. In other circumstances, we would have written to all those organisations, asking what they think. We have that letter, which makes a strong argument, and we should reflect that in our letter to the Scottish Government. It would also be worth writing to the SSPCA, saying that we are interested in the issue and asking whether it is aware of where the responsibility would lie. We could perhaps find out a bit more about the legislation that New Zealand and Australia have passed, which might inform our thinking.

There is quite a lot to do in responding to the evidence. We will push the Scottish Government on how it wants to move forward and on the commitment that it has already made. The clerk has also suggested that we write to the National Pest Technicians Association, asking it for its view.

Is there anything else? Maree, do you want to add anything?

I am very pleased with the outcome if that is what you are going to do, convener. I met Andrea Goddard, who is a constituent of mine, in the summer and found her case compelling. I have met the Government once and have started preliminary inquiries along much the same lines as you suggest. I have not yet had a response from the Government, but I am keen to progress the petition and I am pleased to have the support of the Public Petitions Committee for doing that.

There are a number of actions that we can pursue. I thank the petitioners very much for coming along. Both the written evidence and the evidence that has been given today has been extremely helpful to the committee’s considerations.

09:44 Meeting suspended.  

09:45 On resuming—  

Scottish Electoral System (PE1670)

The second new petition for consideration today is PE1670, by James Cassidy, on reforming the Scottish electoral system to make it democratic and accountable. The petition calls for a review of the current system, which allows candidates for a constituency seat to also stand on the regional list.

The note by the clerk and the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing provide background and context with reference to the Scotland Act 1998, the Arbuthnott commission and the National Assembly for Wales, and the clerk’s paper notes the Scottish Government’s response to PE1666, in which it states its commitment to consulting on electoral reform this year. I invite comments or suggestions for action.

Perhaps everyone should declare an interest. The fact that we all have an interest in the issue might be part of the problem. I can understand why the petitioner has the sense that politicians will have a direct view as a result of personal experience. It is interesting that, from early on, my party said that candidates could not stand for a constituency seat and on the regional list, although there were exceptions in certain circumstances. At one time, we pushed for that to be the rule for all parties, but once it became clear that that was not the case, changes took place.

It is interesting that the Labour Party adopted that approach in the National Assembly for Wales. I do not know whether the same rule applied to all parties. [Interruption.] It appears that it did. I think that the Welsh Assembly has subsequently moved away from that position. I can see there being a strong argument against someone who has been rejected by the electorate being able to get in on the list. I suppose that the counter-argument is that, in effect, we are talking about two elections that are run at the same time, although they are intertwined.

The whole premise of the Scottish Parliament is that we do not get a huge majority one way or the other, which requires us to work in partnership to a greater extent. I would be interested to find out what would happen to the system if we changed the rules on candidates.

There are two different issues. There is an acceptance that a proportional representation system changes the nature of what happens at elections. Within that, there is the issue of which PR system to use. There will be different anomalies in different systems. There has been a different iteration of the system in Wales. Even within Scotland, a different approach has been taken by different parties. Frankly, that has been driven partly by where parties have been electorally. In the early days, the Labour Party won seats on the constituency side, so it was less interested in the list, whereas the smaller parties had more interest in the list. Over time, the position has changed.

The Scottish Government is consulting on electoral reform to find out what the Scottish people would like to happen. I presume that we would need to ask how that is going and when it is expected to report. We are simply told that publication of the consultation paper is “planned for this year.” That process is on-going, so I do not think that we can do anything other than ask the Government how it is going. We could also ask the Electoral Commission what is going on with that.

I have some sympathy with the petitioner’s position on the electorate having rejected somebody. What he might not be taking into account is that, although the electorate often wants to retain a sitting constituency MSP who does a good job, it may also like another candidate or another candidate’s party. There might, therefore, be a big rash of party votes, because the electorate knows that that other candidate is high up the list and will get in, too. The issue is not necessarily about rejection; sometimes it is about balance. Not everybody votes blindly for a party, and some people vote different ways in the list vote and the constituency vote.

I have a bit more sympathy for the point about a sitting MSP who is not elected first past the post in the constituency and then comes in on the list. There could be an argument there that the system is undemocratic. It is a really difficult system. Democracy is not perfect, whichever way you cut it. However you arrange it, somebody will say, “That’s not democratic.”

I was reading in the committee papers that the Arbuthnott commission believed

“that preventing dual candidacy would be undemocratic”.

The commission

“put the interests of the constituent at the centre of our concerns”.

People and parties have spent a lot of time considering this issue. My party is looking at it again, too, because it poses a problem. We have to be careful that we do not end up in a situation where the best candidates may not get into Parliament. At the end of the day, we want a good Parliament, so we need a democratic system that is flexible enough that we end up with good people in here to make decisions for the country.

I wanted to say what happens in my party. In 2011, the majority of our candidates stood for the constituency and on the list. In the 2016 election, it was up to each individual to decide whether they wanted to be on the list. The majority of candidates who were confident of retaining or winning a seat did not stand on the list. The party gave candidates the option.

We were the same.

In the early days of the Parliament, I would not have been able to stand on both, but nor would I have considered it necessary. It is interesting. When I was elected in the first session of Parliament, both of the key people against whom I fought the seat got in on the list. On one level, that seems unfair, because technically they had been rejected by the electorate. On the other hand, they were people who had a great deal to contribute and their party had endorsed them to stand on the list. The best example is the First Minister, who was beaten twice and finally won the constituency seat. Did she make a contribution while she was on the list, when she had technically been rejected by the constituency? From her party’s perspective, she clearly did.

The petitioner highlights something that the parties have been wrestling with. There is no doubt that there is an issue here. You might have said, “I’m going to get rid of that woman. I don’t want her any more”, and then she pops back up. The issue arises because there are two systems working together. It has been looked at in some detail externally, and internally by parties. Members in this room will have a personal interest in the issue, which makes it much more difficult to be objective.

On how to take forward the petition, it would be worth writing to the Scottish Government and the Electoral Commission. The Government is going to consult on electoral reform. What will that consultation consist of? Is there a timescale? Will it be conducted internally by the Scottish Government, or is the Government considering consulting more broadly with people, such as the petitioner who feels that there is a democratic deficit?

Is it appropriate for us to deal with the petition? It feels to me like what is being asked is a matter for the Electoral Commission. I feel that the Electoral Commission should be dealing with the parties and coming to a conclusion, rather than asking us as elected members to decide whether the way in which we are elected is fair. That is extremely difficult for us.

I understand what you are saying, but we are just acting on behalf of the petitioner; we do not have to make a decision or give an opinion ourselves. We are just getting information for the petitioner.

We are reflecting that there is an issue, which we—our parties and everyone else—have all wrestled with. The Scottish Parliament now has responsibility, I think, for its own electoral system; we made a decision about 16 to 18-year-olds voting in local government elections, for example. The reality is that, even though there might be a personal interest in it, there is also a constitutional obligation.

We could write to the Scottish Government and to the Electoral Commission to establish whether there is an issue, certainly from the point of view of the Electoral Commission, and, if the Scottish Government has a review, to ask what that will look like, how it will be conducted and how it will draw on the strongly held views that the petition reflects. It is not just an individual view.

It would be quite interesting to learn whether the same issue has arisen with similar systems in other parts of the world, and the Electoral Commission might help us with the aspect of how the systems work. However, there are downsides to any electoral system.

We acknowledge that there are substantial issues. Do members agree to ask the Scottish Government to add a bit of detail to its commitment to a review, and to ask the Electoral Commission to reflect on the issues that have been highlighted in detail in the petition?

Members indicated agreement.