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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee 17 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, Subordinate Legislation, Climate and Nature Emergencies


Contents


Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Good morning, and welcome to the 11th meeting in session 6 of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee. I remind members who are using electronic devices to switch them to silent mode.

Our first item of business is consideration of the legislative consent memorandum for the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. I refer members to papers 1 and 2. I welcome Mairi Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, and her officials, who are not joining us remotely but who are certainly remote in that they are at the back of the committee room. I welcome Andrew Voas, the veterinary head of animal welfare, and Keith White, a solicitor, from the Scottish Government. I invite the cabinet secretary to make an opening statement.

Thank you, convener. I am delighted to be before the committee to discuss the LCM, to give effect in Scotland to some of the clauses of the bill.

The bill will make provision for the welfare of certain kept animals that are in, imported into or exported from Great Britain. The Scottish Government proposes legislative consent for the clauses that are related to prohibiting the export of animals for slaughter and fattening, animal welfare and retained direct European Union legislation, and the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets. It also proposes consent on amendments to the licensing of zoos in Great Britain.

The provisions of the bill that do not extend to Scotland relate to the keeping, selling and breeding of primates and the offence of livestock worrying. The Scottish Government has the devolved power to legislate for the welfare of primates through secondary legislation, and the Scottish Parliament has already legislated to improve the protection of livestock in relation to incidents of worrying through its support of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force on 5 November.

The Scottish Government recently committed to working with the other United Kingdom Administrations to seek to end the unnecessary long-distance transport of animals for fattening or slaughter outside the UK. The bill provides an opportunity to have consistent control over such exports and to assist enforcement agencies to ensure that such unnecessary movements no longer take place.

The bill makes provision for prohibiting or regulating the movement of animals into Scotland for the purpose of protecting animal welfare or animal health. Committee members will be all too aware that the importation of animals—puppies, in particular—involves widespread suffering and illegality. Puppies are frequently imported with fraudulent paperwork, underage and unvaccinated, before being transported and sold to unsuspecting buyers in Great Britain by dealers who illegally pose as home breeders. Reducing the number of pet animals that can be imported by individuals, along with restrictions on the import of young animals or those in late pregnancy, will significantly help to address those issues. The measures have been called for by many of the main animal welfare organisations, and the Scottish Government supports their introduction.

There are also concerns about the growing number of dogs that are being imported with cropped ears and other unnecessary and cruel mutilations that are not legal in the UK. The bill seeks to address those concerns.

The licensing of zoos has been applied consistently across Great Britain for many years, more recently under the provisions of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. That consistent approach has worked well to protect animals that are kept in zoos, and I would like that approach to continue.

The proposed amendments to the 1981 act seek to introduce more meaningful conservation, education and research activities for all licensed zoos, through improved standards for modern zoo practice that have been developed by the Zoos Expert Committee. That will greatly improve the knowledge base in relation to many animals and contribute to their future care.

The Scottish Government fully recognises that for the measures in the bill to be successful, it must be introduced consistently across Great Britain to avoid unscrupulous importers and exporters seeking to change their point of entry or exit in an attempt to exploit any inconsistencies between Administrations, which they no doubt would seek to do, considering the high value of puppies and certain breeds of dog.

Consistent legislative measures across GB will also greatly assist when it comes to the interpretation and enforcement of new controls. A co-ordinated GB-wide approach to tackling the issues that are covered by the bill is widely supported and welcomed by many key stakeholders.

I am strongly of the view that allowing the UK Parliament to legislate for all GB Administrations in those areas is the most timely, efficient and effective way to achieve those important changes.

Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. We will move on to questions.

Do you intend to make suggestions on how the bill might be strengthened? A briefing from the Dogs Trust suggests that 97 per cent of owners have three dogs or fewer, but the legislation says that five dogs should be allowed to be imported under the pet owners scheme. Is that appropriate? Do you have any intention of strengthening that provision to ensure that the puppy trafficking that we are seeing through the likes of Cairnryan does not continue?

The measures that are proposed in the bill will have a significant impact as they stand. As I have said, the maximum number of animals that can be imported will be five per vehicle, which is already a significant change. Again, though, we are in constant discussion with animal welfare organisations; indeed, I am due to meet the Dogs Trust, and I will, no doubt, have that conversation with it. It is important to have that discussion with such organisations, and then discuss with other Administrations the question whether further amendment is needed. Obviously, I am more than happy to have the discussion and to consider the matter fully.

The current provisions seem to make exceptions for the tail docking of working dogs and the declawing of cats. In the light of those exceptions, are you satisfied with the legislation? Does it go far enough?

It gives us the power to introduce regulations that will help to prevent the importing of dogs with mutilations that, at the moment, are illegal right across the UK.

The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission has done work on that, too. The regulations will have a significant impact when they are introduced along with some of the measures that I have mentioned such as the minimum age at which animals can be imported, which were the subject of a recent consultation that closed in October, the results of which we are currently analysing. I hope that they will stop the importation of dogs with such mutilations.

Is it okay to ask about zoo licensing, convener?

Absolutely.

The UK Government is to ban the keeping of primates as pets in England to ensure that the care of primates is kept up to zoo-level standards. It is also phasing out the ownership of primates in general. Will the Scottish Government follow suit?

We can already do that in Scotland through secondary legislation. We continue to look at and consider the issue. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission has been doing work on the keeping of exotic pets, which shows that, as I have said, we already have the power to look at and control that. I should say that, in the legislation at the moment, it is not straightforward that it would be a complete ban on the keeping of primates, and I think that what the UK Government is looking to introduce through this legislation are powers that already exist in Scotland to allow us to give effect to that.

My officials might want to add to that.

As the cabinet secretary has said, we have the power to introduce licensing regulations in Scotland, and we have recently done so for the licensing of animal rescue centres and cat, dog and rabbit breeding. We could introduce licensing for exotic pet keeping or primates, and, indeed, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission has set up a working group specifically to look at exotic pet keeping. We will consider its recommendations in the future and legislate if appropriate.

Why can the same commitment not be delivered through the bill?

Because we do not need the powers in the bill to give effect to that in Scotland. It is not that we are not going to do it; we have the powers to do it already, and SAWC is looking at the matter. It makes sense to look at its work on the issue before we take anything forward.

I have more of a point than a question. You are talking about restricting the number of dogs to be brought over. I would just urge that, when you have conversations with the Dogs Trust this afternoon, you are cognisant of the fact that people who have dogs as working companions, such as shepherds, keepers and guys like that, will often have at least five dogs. Shepherds travel a lot between Ireland and Scotland for work. It is just to make sure that there is a provision in the regulations that enables them to do that.

On tail docking, it is absolutely essential that working dogs that are going to ground or under cover have a shorter tail, for their own welfare. You will have seen the evidence in the past of dogs that are working with big waggy tails going through undergrowth and coming out with them shredded. You might be aware of that, but I just wanted to point it out.

We are not looking to stop legitimate movements of animals. However, we have a significant problem when it comes to the illegal trade of puppies, in particular, that come into the country. It is important that we get the balance of measures right. That is why we are in constant discussion with various animal welfare organisations, the British Veterinary Association and the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission to look at the proposals. I think that what is proposed will significantly impact the illegal trade, which is what we want to clamp down on.

In relation to the ban on live animal exports for slaughter, is the Scottish Government considering further regulations on animal transport, and will those be progressed at a Scotland or a UK level?

That is what the bill gives effect to—it gives us the power to make further regulations should we want to make changes to animal transport legislation. Again, however, given the nature of movements of livestock, in particular, throughout GB, it makes sense for us to discuss it with other Administrations if we are to make changes.

We consulted on the issue early in the year, and we recently published the response to that consultation. However, if we are going to make any changes to animal transport, we will also consult on any proposals that come forward, because we want to ensure that we do not disadvantage those who live in our remote and island communities when it comes to animal movements.

Minister, we have already corresponded with you on the topic of border controls. In relation to movements between the UK and Ireland in the context of EU exit, what are the implications of the bill for border controls in relation to domestic animal movements and the prohibition of livestock exports, including enforcement requirements?

There will always remain a concern. Even if we implement the restrictions across GB on imports of dogs, cats and ferrets—and I hope that doing so will significantly impact the illegal trade that currently takes place—we have to be cognisant that criminal enterprises and organisations tend to be behind many of those movements, and they will be looking for any avenue to get access. There will always be the threat that there could be exports or movements of animals into Northern Ireland from the EU that would then have access to Scotland. We will just have to pay close attention to that. I hope that, with all the measures that are proposed in the bill, the powers that we are given and the regulations that will come in future will have a significant impact on that trade. However, we will have to keep a close watch on that element.

I have just one other question, on zoos. There was correspondence about the timescales for implementation of some of the new regulations. The conservation aspects of the regulations are all welcome, but have you any concerns that the timescales might put some of our zoos and conservation parks in Scotland at risk because of the short time that they potentially will have in which to implement the policies in the bill?

I believe that the draft standards that are being proposed are due to go out to consultation shortly. I am not aware of those concerns—they have not been raised directly with me—but Andrew Voas might have more information on them or on whether they have been raised with officials.

Once the draft standards are available and with the zoos for consultation, it will help greatly. Zoos will then have a better understanding of exactly what the draft standards propose and they can consider how much work would be required to make any changes that would be necessary to meet those standards.

How will the Scottish Government engage with the Scottish Parliament and Scottish stakeholders when it comes to any secondary legislation that is made under the powers in the bill?

09:15  

Part 3 requires that regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure. If we make those regulations in Scotland, there will be an opportunity for scrutiny by the committee. If we also give consent for the secretary of state to legislate on our behalf, we will go through the usual processes for that. We intend to work with the committee and to keep you informed to ensure that scrutiny can take place.

Returning to the first question, how will the legislation help when minibuses with more than one person in them might be used to try to bring in larger numbers of young pups or kittens?

It will help in a number of ways. You gave the example of how a minibus might be full of animals, depending on the number of individuals who are in it. That would not be possible any more. There would be a maximum of five animals per vehicle, regardless of the number of individuals. That would have a significant impact.

We will also see changes when the regulations are implemented. One of the biggest and most positive changes will be the ability to introduce an age limit for movement. We might be able to prevent the import of dogs who are less than six months old. We think that that would significantly impact the trade, as would the proposals that are subject to future regulations and deal with moving heavily pregnant dogs. The combination of all those measures will, I hope, put a stop to that trade, although there are elements that we will have to keep a close eye on.

To follow on from that question, I am intrigued that five animals can be brought in in a car, whereas only three animals can be brought in by air or by a foot passenger. Will you give me an understanding of the reasons behind those figures?

The officials might have further information about how we arrived at those numbers.

There has to be a balance between allowing the reasonable movement of families or family groups—who may have a few animals between them—and reducing the limit, which is currently five animals per person. As we have heard, that could mean that six people could bring in 30 pups in a minibus. That will stop.

The proposal at the moment is for five animals per vehicle. The Dogs Trust has been lobbying to have that number reduced. That is a possibility that we would want to discuss with the other GB Administrations. The number of five animals per person comes from current EU legislation. We have to set a reasonable figure that allows reasonable and legitimate movement but that has an impact on the abuse of the pet travel scheme that goes on at the moment.

There are no further questions. Are members satisfied to delegate authority to me to sign off the committee’s report to the Parliament about the LCM?

Members indicated agreement.

Thank you, cabinet secretary. We will suspend briefly to allow a changeover of witnesses.

09:18 Meeting suspended.  

09:21 On resuming—