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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 June 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Provisional Outturn 2019-20, Justice Sector Response, Recovery and Renewal, Mental Health Transition and Recovery, Business Motion, Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, Domestic Abuse Bill, Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill , Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22044, in the name of Mairi Gougeon, on the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

I am delighted to present the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill to Parliament for the stage 3 debate. I am passionate about protecting Scotland’s animals, as are many other members, as we saw during the debate on amendments. I can definitely say that we have thoroughly scrutinised the bill throughout the process, as demonstrated during the final amendments that we have just dealt with.

I will use my opening contribution to discuss some of the other measures that the bill introduces. The debate has tended to focus on issues such as those addressed in the amendments that we have just discussed, but I do not want us to lose sight of or forget about some of the groundbreaking measures that the bill introduces.

The bill increases the maximum available penalties for the worst animal cruelty and wildlife offences to enable courts to impose appropriate sentences, depending on the circumstances of each case. That follows growing public concern about the truly horrific nature of some of the crimes against wild and domestic animals that have been reported. Thankfully those crimes are rare, but they rightly attract a great deal of concern when the maximum penalties that can be imposed seem inadequate, considering the sickening behaviour involved.

The ability to try serious wildlife and animal welfare offences either by summary proceedings or indictment gives the courts much greater flexibility in the range of penalties that are available to them. That will allow a court to take full account of all the facts of a case, and the penalties awarded to more closely reflect the nature and impact of any specific offence.

A welcome and helpful aspect for enforcement agencies of the increase in maximum penalties to five year imprisonment and the availability of trial by indictment is that the six-month time limit to investigate offences will be removed. That will be of great benefit to the enforcement agencies and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service because, in many cases, it can be difficult for them to gather within that timescale all the relevant evidence and complete the detailed forensic investigations that are often needed to secure a conviction.

Another improvement that will be welcomed by the enforcement agencies is the power to put in place fixed-penalty notice regimes for animal health, animal welfare and wildlife crimes. That will facilitate the development of more modern, proportionate and efficient ways of encouraging compliance with future regulations. Those will mostly be technical in nature and applicable where offences do not involve serious harm to animals but where regulations might benefit animal health, welfare or wildlife protection overall. That important additional enforcement tool has been widely welcomed by local authorities and the Scottish SPCA for its potential flexibility, proportionality and efficiency.

The bill also improves protections for police dogs and horses by introducing Finn’s law in Scotland. It recognises the important role that such animals play in protecting us in sometimes very difficult circumstances. I know that that matters to quite a few members and I am sure that we will hear more about it. I had the pleasure of meeting Finn and his handler, Dave, as well as colleagues in Police Scotland, and I have been touched by their support for the measures proposed in the bill. By removing a potential legal defence for an attacker, we will provide police animals with equivalent protection to other animals that are not routinely used in dangerous situations to apprehend a suspect or control a crowd. Alongside that, the increase in the maximum penalties available means that all Scotland’s animals will benefit equally.

One of the most strongly welcomed parts of the bill for animal welfare enforcement agencies will be the provisions on emergency arrangements for animals that have been taken into possession to protect their welfare. The Scottish SPCA, which I have worked closely with on the bill, has described the measure as transformative. It should allow the Scottish SPCA in future to quickly rehome animals that it has taken into its care, rather than having to keep them for months on end while waiting for the outcome of a court case. The bill will therefore deliver meaningful changes to assist dedicated enforcement staff without placing new obligations or financial burdens on them. With the amendment that was agreed to earlier, the bill also improves the welfare of seals, restricting the reasons why industries can receive licences to lawfully shoot seals, and raising the penalties for those who do so unlawfully without a licence.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I appreciate that today has been a long day and I deliberately did not participate in the stage 3 deliberations. However, I want to put on the record two important points. Given the point about seal culling, will the minister give appropriate guidance to the aquaculture industry, so that it knows what options are available to it in the event that a seal breaches a net in a fish farm? I know that that is a real issue and a number of farms are now unsure about the mechanisms that are available to them in that scenario, so I hope that the minister will follow that up.

The second issue is the mountain hare amendment that has just passed. If, down the line, we discover that there are unintended negative consequences that fly in the face of the well-meaning intention of the amendment, will the minister have the resolve to come back to Parliament and amend the legislation at a future date if it is necessary?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Minister, can you start to wind up, please?

Mairi Gougeon

Yes, I will be as brief as I can.

We tried to give the committee as much notice as we could about the seal amendment, and we have engaged with the industry throughout the process. I assure the member that that engagement will continue so that we can work through any issues.

I said at the end of my comments on the mountain hare amendment that we will have to monitor the situation closely. We want to make sure that we have the consultation, because the provisions will have an impact. We have to be sure that we know what that impact might be. We have to work with Scottish Natural Heritage because there will be an impact there. We want to be able to do the groundwork and consult properly as we develop a licensing regime and before the protection comes into force. I assure the member that we want to make sure that all that work is done. As we said during the debate on beavers, we have to closely monitor the measures that we will bring into force if the bill is passed.

I will conclude, as we are under time pressure. Despite all the measures that I have outlined, this is just the start of the process and it does not mean that the work will stop. We have planned a whole programme of work on licensing, consulting on animal transport improvements, and continuing our successful publicity campaign and collaborative work on illegal puppy dealing. There are lots of important issues when it comes to animal welfare and the bill is very much the start of the process.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

19:45  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

From the outset and at all stages, the Scottish Conservatives have supported the general principles of the bill, which are to update the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. After a decade of experiencing and enforcing that act, it was clear that some aspects of the penalties that were applicable under it should be updated.

We have also supported most of the provisions that are now, after the stage 3 amendments, in the bill and that have the overall objective of increasing the range of sentencing options in relation to animal welfare and wildlife offences. We fully support the provision of more stringent sentencing powers, which will send the strong and clear message that cruelty to wildlife and animals is totally unacceptable.

There were, however, several amendments that we could not support, in particular those introduced at stage 3 that had not been subject to the normal scrutiny and examination that they would have had at stage 2. Not going through the committee process, when there was no good reason not to, only increases the potential for poorly drafted and bad law. I fear that that might happen, particularly with regard to the amendment on mountain hares.

It is very disappointing, but not surprising, to see the Greens once again—in my opinion—abuse the flexibility in the parliamentary process by bringing in amendments at the last minute. I believe that their stage 3 amendments were outside the original scope of the bill as we in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee understood it and were on an issue that we had been told at the outset of the bill that it would not cover. Not only does that bring good law-making process into question, it is disrespectful to the committee process. With particular reference to the ECCLR Committee, I and my fellow members pride ourselves on the evidence-based way in which we look at legislation in a sensible and generally non-party-political way.

There is only one reason for the Greens doing that: it is grandstanding and the worst type of virtue signalling. They fail to recognise that that method actually puts bill proceedings at risk. There is so much good law in the bill, and inserting a last-minute, controversial amendment put the whole thing at risk. That method is counterproductive and actually prevents potentially good legislation, which the Greens could have brought forward; in this case it puts at risk the hugely important topic of animal and wildlife offences.

Throughout the bill process, we have supported fixed-penalty notices, which the minister touched on and which are now part of the bill. They will give authorities a greater degree of flexibility to determine penalties. We need to ensure that people face the consequences of their criminality, and we need to see an improvement in the disparity between the number of fixed-penalty notices that are issued and the number that remain unpaid.

Concerns about the use of fixed-penalty notices and how information related to them was shared and held between the relevant authorities had been previously raised. There is no central register to hold that information, and the committee recognised a need for more joined-up thinking when it comes to intelligence sharing.

It is clear that animal welfare crimes are linked with other crimes. I therefore welcome Colin Smyth’s amendment ensuring that there will be a report to ensure that we make the best use of the data to provide valuable information to the public, to stakeholders and to the Parliament on animal welfare crimes. Having access to data to identify convicted offenders is a vital part of the bill, but it must be done in the right way.

I have very little time left, but I must welcome one excellent piece of the bill. Maurice Golden’s amendment on the review of additional animal offences will lead to reconsideration of electric dog collars, which the Government has, unfortunately, failed to ban.

Finally, my colleague Liam Kerr has done terrific work to ensure that Finn’s law, which aims to protect the police dogs and horses that serve alongside our officers and which has already been introduced in England and Wales, will be extended to Scotland.

The bill is long overdue. It ensures that those who continue to commit painful and cruel crimes against animals will now know that they will be dealt with with the full force of the law. It is welcome to see the Scottish Government deliver on its commitment to make that happen and to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom have legislation that cracks down on wildlife crime.

19:49  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

This is, indeed, an important bill, and it is right that penalties and powers related to the offences in the bill are brought into line with a more modern understanding of the severity of those offences.

Scottish Labour understands that all animals are sentient. It also understands that we are in the midst of an environmental emergency. The Government’s record on biodiversity is not that strong. One in 11 of Scottish species is threatened with extinction, and there is a serious need for a plan for accelerated action after 2020.

With those two points in mind, my colleague Colin Smyth and I worked hard to reinforce the legislation to make the bill even more meaningful than when it first came to our committee. My sincere thanks go to OneKind, the RSPB, Open Seas, the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust and Scottish Badgers for their input to the bill and for helping us with our amendments.

I am relieved that the nesting and resting places amendments have been agreed to. The devastation of those shelters has been well documented in the bill process, and we know that the harm done can be equivalent to a direct attack—and just as fatal.

I am disappointed that my amendment 61, on marine protected areas, was not agreed to. To base the penalties simply on the value of the fish caught misses the other untold ecosystem damage and the damage to specific marine species that may have been done. Such actions are wildlife offences just as they would be on land, where it is much easier for people to take notice.

However, I welcome the fact that—surprisingly—Alison Johnstone’s amendment 30, on the protection of mountain hares, was agreed to. That protection is long overdue. I am very pleased that the amendment on vicarious liability for the illegal use of traps and snares, which I was supported in lodging by the minister, was agreed to. However, I am disappointed that the other amendments were not supported, given the many suspected incursions in relation to raptors in my region and other issues of which I am keenly aware, involving a small number of managers and landowners.

Briefly, I want to highlight the issue of the extension of the SSPCA’s powers of investigation, which is an issue that has been live since the previous session of the Scottish Parliament in the then Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, of which I was a member. It surely cannot be right that officers can deal with a live animal that is caught in a trap but cannot deal with a nearby trap that has a dead animal in it. As we know, wildlife crime often happens in remote and isolated rural parts of Scotland.

It makes sense for the minister to further investigate the possibility of extending the SSPCA’s powers, including by considering any conflict of interest or governance arrangements implications. The expertise of the SSPCA would be a welcome addition to tackling such crimes in the context of constrained police resources and remote locations.

Finally, I turn to the programme requirements for a more restorative or rehabilitative approach to less serious animal and wildlife crimes. I am very pleased that the minister is acting quickly to commission research on that approach.

In his closing speech for Scottish Labour, my friend and colleague Colin Smyth will highlight some of his amendments that have been agreed to. The protection of animals and wildlife is something that people in Scotland feel impassioned about—and rightly. I have sought to listen to those voices and to strengthen the bill accordingly. Scottish Labour will support the bill today.

19:53  

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

The Greens will back the bill tonight. The minister makes the important point that we should not lose sight of the significant provisions in the bill—in particular, increased maximum sentences, fixed-penalty notices, disqualifications from owning animals and Finn’s law. However, there has been a missed opportunity to have a full reform of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. The late amendments on seal culling are the clearest example of where, if the bill had been introduced with a much broader scope, it could have fully addressed a much wider range of animal welfare and wildlife issues. This afternoon, members from all parties—with the exception of the Liberal Democrats—have introduced amendments that have, in effect, broadened the scope of the bill.

If the bill had been broader, the Parliament would have been able to properly scrutinise seal culling, the related issue of acoustic deterrent devices and many more issues that have had only a brief airing today. Looking forward, I hope that the next bill on animal welfare and wildlife will come soon and that we will not have to wait years for the Government to move its position on issues such as the extension of the powers of the SSPCA or outlawing electric shock collars. The timeline for extending the SSPCA’s powers so that its officers can investigate wildlife crime has been a farce thus far.

Although I welcome the commitment that the minister has given to setting up an independent review body, I ask her to show real leadership on the issue. Up until now, we have had six environment ministers over the past nine years who have announced consultations, reviews, delays and alternative ways forward such as special constables, which have manifestly failed. Every time we go round that cycle, we come back to the same conclusions—that wildlife crime is rife, that the police are overstretched and that the role of the SSPCA needs to be extended.

The Greens have placed considerable faith in the minister to deliver on that. The SSPCA’s powers could have been included in the bill, but they were not and I did not lodge any further amendments at stage 3. We have accepted the independent review, but it must have a firm timescale for delivery, and an up-front Government commitment to extending the powers must be its starting point. I would like to hear from the minister, in her closing speech, a timescale for not only the reporting of the review but the enacting of its long-overdue recommendations.

Many of those who work at the front line of tackling wildlife crime and upholding the rights of animals will warmly welcome the passing of this bill. However, there is still much more to do, and many crimes will still go undetected and unprosecuted. Traditions must be challenged by evidence, and decisive action and legislation are still needed to restore our relationship with the natural world. I look forward to this Parliament delivering that agenda in the years to come.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Liam McArthur to make a remote contribution, for which he has up to three minutes.

19:56  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

It has been a long afternoon. Some of us have probably exceeded our screen time for the week and it is only Wednesday, so I will be brief.

Scottish Liberal Democrats warmly welcome the passing of the bill. I commend the minister and her officials on steering the bill through; those who gave evidence throughout the process; and, of course, the ECCLR Committee members for their valuable scrutiny work. Of course, the committee can scrutinise only what it has in front of it, and I again question the approach that has been taken by the Greens. Stage 3 is—and always has been—an opportunity to tidy up a bill and not a point at which new proposals are parachuted in, backed by email campaigns. That is not a substitute for evidence gathering and robust scrutiny.

All that said, Scottish Liberal Democrats strongly back the aims and provisions of the bill. At the outset, we were reminded by a number of witnesses that Scotland currently has among the lowest sentences and penalties for animal cruelty anywhere in Europe. As I said during the stage 1 debate, 12 months in prison, a fine and a ban on keeping animals for the worst acts of animal cruelty compare poorly with up to five years’ imprisonment for fly-tipping. That comparison does not reflect well on our justice system and does not reflect public attitudes towards crimes of animal wildlife cruelty. The system was in need of reform.

By increasing the maximum available penalties for cruelty and causing unnecessary suffering to both wild and domestic animals, the bill helps to address that—thanks in no small part to some of the amendments that were agreed to earlier this afternoon. As the Law Society of Scotland made clear, broadening the range of the prosecutorial options that are available is helpful. It also has the effect of potentially increasing police powers in the detection of more serious crimes.

It is to be hoped, however, that the measures in the bill act more as an effective deterrent. It is in all our interests to see a reduction in the number of cases rather than an increase in the prison population. In that context, I commend Claudia Beamish for the work that she has done in pursuing alternative approaches around restorative justice, which not only have the potential to be more effective in reducing reoffending but can also help to avoid compounding the serious problem of prison overcrowding in Scotland.

Claudia Beamish also led much of the effort to extend the use of vicarious liability. Although, ultimately, it has been expanded to include only a small number of practices—including illegal trapping and snaring—that represents an important step forward and, I hope, a way of deterrence.

Finally, I again congratulate Alison Johnstone on her successful amendment on mountain hares. Although I stand by my earlier comments about the Greens’ cavalier approach to parliamentary scrutiny and note that there is much work to do to make those proposals workable in practice, on a personal level, I acknowledge and respect the work that Alison Johnstone has put in on the issue over a prolonged period.

The bill enjoys overwhelming public support and will help to address the number of long-standing shortcomings in the way that animal welfare and cruelty are treated under our legal system. However, as with the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, it is almost certainly only the latest step, which will be followed by others in due course. For now, the Scottish Liberal Democrats welcome and strongly support the passing of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Gillian Martin is the only speaker in the open debate. I will have to hold her to three minutes.

20:00  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The clock starts now, Presiding Officer.

As the minister did, I will concentrate on the initial policy aim of the bill, which is to increase penalties for animal abuse. However, first, I will put on my Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee hat and mention the committee’s vital role in scrutinising policy and teasing out all the consequences. I will not say any more about that; other people have mentioned it.

The committee scrutinised the bill well. We had some quite incredible evidence on the need for increased penalties, including the potential for increased custodial sentences for the most heinous crimes against animals. That evidence prompted the committee to push the Government to make changes to the bill, including changes in relation to the criminalisation of the wilful destruction of animal habitats, which in many cases is tantamount to killing them; the power of the SSPCA to investigate a case when an animal is found dead as a result of suspected cruelty; and better intelligence sharing between law enforcement and the SSPCA.

I thank the minister for her receptiveness not only to the committee’s recommendations, but to the many amendments that were lodged at stage 2. She worked with members, which is to her credit—she has done an outstanding job.

One of the most important measures in the bill is that relating to the ability to quickly and permanently rehome animals that are seized as part of a police investigation. Along with colleagues at the SSPCA, I have called for that for a long time. I have spoken before about the devastating situation in Fyvie, in my constituency, where hundreds of bitches and pups were illegally kept in appalling conditions. Many members will have seen the BBC Scotland documentary that featured shocking pictures of the burnt bodies of puppies in a burnt-out car. The memory of that will never leave me. The outcome of the prosecution of those responsible could not include significantly proportionate custodial sentencing. The surviving animals were cared for by the SSPCA in shelters for the two years that it took for the animal abuser who bred them to be sentenced, as, time and again, he attempted to frustrate the legal process. Many of the animals had to be put to sleep as they were in such poor health. The bill will rectify all of that and will send a strong signal that in Scotland time is up for animal abusers such as Frank James.

I still have a few seconds left, so I have time to say that, as the grey seal champion, I am delighted that seals cannot be shot any more, even if that measure came in at the last minute. We saw hardly any seals when I was growing up in Newburgh, but now, because they are not being shot any more, the haul-out site there is filled with thousands of them—we are becoming quite famous for it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the closing speeches.

20:03  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Scotland has some of the lowest penalties in Europe for animal welfare and wildlife crimes. The bill is an important step towards addressing that. It will give courts the powers to make sure that the penalty fits the crime. It sends a clear message that we take those issues seriously, that we recognise the sentience and value of animals and that we will not tolerate animal cruelty and wildlife crimes.

I pay tribute to the animal welfare organisations for their hard work and campaigning on those issues, including Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for its campaign on Finn’s law and five-year maximum sentences. Blue Cross, Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals and Cats Protection were also instrumental in championing that campaign.

I pay tribute to Scottish Environment LINK for campaigning for higher penalties for wildlife crime and extending protection to resting places, and for raising the issue of vicarious liability. I pay tribute to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for its calls for higher penalties for wildlife crime. I pay tribute to OneKind for its work on many issues—from rehabilitative sentencing and disqualification orders to information sharing, to name but a few. I pay tribute to OneKind’s revive coalition partners for helping to end the mass cull of mountain hares. Finally, I pay tribute to Scottish Badgers for its support and help with my amendments on badger setts. I thank all those organisations for giving our animals a voice.

Those organisations, together with cross-party co-operation, have ensured that, since its introduction, the bill has been strengthened, including by a number of important amendments that we have agreed to at stage 3. I am delighted that my amendments on strengthening the penalties for disrupting a badger sett, on increasing the maximum penalties available for offences introduced by regulations, on disqualification orders and on information sharing were all agreed to today.

I am also delighted that Alison Johnstone’s amendment on making mountain hares a protected species was agreed to. The on-going culling of mountain hares and the growing risk of local extinction is shameful, and proper protection is a long-overdue step forward.

The bill is welcome and important, but it is just a step forward on the long journey to end the scandal of the waste and immorality of animal cruelty that still plagues and shames Scotland. I would like much more to have been agreed to in the bill. I am impatient for an end to animal cruelty: the cruelty of the use of snares, greyhound racing, hunting with dogs, live animal exports and tail docking. I am also impatient for better protection for cephalopods and decapod crustaceans.

I make a special mention of Mark, who is in primary 7 at Sunnyside primary school. Mark drew a wonderful poster for world Oceans Day, calling on us to see the suffering of our sea creatures. We might not have delivered that extra protection today, but I hope the commitment that the Government gave to consider the research on the issue further will lead us to doing so one day. My message to Mark, and to everyone who wants to see an end to animal cruelty, is that they should keep up the campaign, take pride in the bill—which is a step forward—and come back tomorrow to redouble their efforts for the long journey ahead.

20:05  

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

In closing for the Scottish Conservatives, I express my thanks to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for its work on the bill. The Conservatives fully support tougher sentencing for animal cruelty and certainly think that the most serious cases of cruelty should be dealt with more severely.

I thank members for their thoughtful contributions. However, I must take this opportunity to call out the puddle-headed amendments that the Greens put forward at stage 3. Their manuscript amendments have proved neither elegant nor satisfactory for those of us who believe in proper scrutiny. For the Greens to lodge manuscript amendments at the 11th hour was counterproductive and has not done justice to the important bill that we are debating. This landmark bill was nearly derailed as a result of their ill-conceived amendments, which lacked solid scientific evidence and stakeholder contemplation.

The Scottish Conservatives received a huge amount of correspondence on Alison Johnstone’s stage 3 amendment on mountain hares. People told us that the amendment is significantly flawed and lacked scrutiny, and many pointed out that Ms Johnstone did not mention that her amendment will have unintended consequences for birds that are on the conservation list.

The Greens ploughed on regardless with their shameful virtue signalling, trying to implement bad law that does not reflect the actual situation on Scotland’s hills and mountains, and choosing to ignore scientific facts and not taking the time to consider a balanced approach.

Now the Scottish Government is ignoring its own Werritty report, the James Hutton Institute, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and it has been strong-armed into joining the virtue signalling. The rural heartlands will remember that. Once again, we see a city-centric Government ignoring rural communities and doing dirty backroom deals with the Greens.

From the outset, the Scottish Conservatives have worked with other parties to ensure that fines and penalties for the worst animal cruelty offences are increased. [Inaudible.] I thank Claudia Beamish for her work on that and welcome the announcement on the Scottish Government’s restorative justice programme. I hope that that work will include research to link domestic abuse and animal cruelty.

Other parts of the bill are also positive. It goes without saying that Liam Kerr should be thanked for bringing forward Finn’s law. I was pleased that Maurice Golden’s amendment to encourage the proper use of disqualification orders was agreed to with the support of all parties.

Reckless destruction of badger setts is not acceptable and the Scottish Conservatives were happy to support increasing maximum sentences and fines for offences against badgers.

Furthermore, the Scottish Conservatives are pleased that sense prevailed in relation to the vicarious liability amendments, which would have punished responsible landowners and others for crimes that they did not commit or had no knowledge of.

The Scottish Conservatives were content to support amendments introducing maximum penalties that provide courts with the necessary tools to deal with heinous offences, including the reckless destruction of wild habitats and the collection of and trade in rare bird eggs. We thank Claudia Beamish and Angus MacDonald for lodging those amendments.

I was disappointed that there were technical issues with the amendment on illegal pesticides. I ask the Scottish Government to consider calling for a further amnesty to deal with that specific issue.

Overall, the Scottish Conservatives support the bill, but were deeply disappointed by the actions of the Green Party.

20:10  

Mairi Gougeon

If anything can be taken from the debate, it is the passion and strength of feeling that members across the chamber have for animal welfare and our wildlife, and the seriousness with which we treat those issues not just here in Parliament but more widely in Scotland. I am proud to have introduced this important bill to strengthen and modernise the enforcement of our world-leading legislation.

I truly believe that Scotland has some of the best animal welfare standards in the world. This important and focused bill will have impacts on the ground as soon as it comes into force. When it becomes law, the bill will send an even stronger message that animal cruelty and wildlife crime of any kind will not be tolerated in Scotland. The cases that Gillian Martin highlighted gave a good illustration of that.

The bill provides much greater flexibility for authorities to deal with a wide range of offences, and it will protect the vulnerable people and animals involved in what are often troubling animal welfare situations. It will reduce the burden on courts, enforcement authorities, police and farmers. The bill is welcomed by stakeholders and has strong support from the public. I hope that the provisions lead to behaviour changes that further reduce animal cruelty and wildlife crime.

From the outset of the process, I wanted to engage with members across the chamber to develop strong legislation with the welfare of our animals and wildlife at its heart. This was always above politics as far as I was concerned, and I thank Gillian Martin for her kind comments about that.

There are areas in which we have not always been able to agree, but I do not doubt for one second that every single one of us involved in the process has had the improvement of animal welfare as our main motivation. There are many areas in which we have come to a resolution as a result of the work that has been done in committee and with members throughout the chamber. With that consensus, for example on increasing the penalties for the destruction of setts and habitats, we have been able to move quite a long way. We have looked at, and been able to find a solution to, elements of vicarious liability. It is clear that there is a strong desire across all parties to make the significant improvements to animal protection that the bill will deliver and give our front-line enforcement bodies the legal framework that they have been asking for and which they need to be able to do their job most effectively.

I want to cover a few of the points that have been raised in the debate. Colin Smyth spoke about cephalopods and decapods. In response to a recent parliamentary question I have committed to considering new evidence, and I have written to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee to confirm that I will carefully consider the results of a research review that will shortly be commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when those are available. If appropriate, the extension of protection can be achieved by secondary legislation using an existing provision of the 2006 act.

Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell raised the issue of the Scottish SPCA’s powers. There was a lot of discussion in the committee evidence sessions and at each stage of the bill about the issue, and I genuinely believe that we have taken the right approach by establishing a task force that will fully consider the issue and the implications of any proposed changes to those powers. I know that the SSPCA fully supports that approach. Mark Ruskell said that the starting point needed to be an up-front commitment to increase the SSPCA’s powers, but that would have pre-empted the work of the task force, which should address the issue as fully as possible.

During the debate there have been a lot of hotly contested issues and strong arguments, which goes to show how passionate we all are about animals and wildlife in Scotland. Although there have been areas of disagreement, I do not want us to lose sight of where we have all agreed, the many positives that we are achieving through the bill and the massive strides that we have made in improving the welfare of animals and wildlife. We now have a full suite of penalties for animal welfare, animal health and wildlife offences. We have increased the penalties for the worst and most serious cases of animal cruelty and wildlife crime, and we have the ability to thoroughly and better investigate that crime. We have increased protection for our service animals through the introduction of Finn’s law, and let us not forget the truly transformative change when it comes to the ability of our enforcement authorities to rehome and care for animals taken into their care.

I thank those across the chamber who have engaged with me on making those improvements, and I thank the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for its detailed work and scrutiny. I thank those who work on the front line—the SSPCA and many others—who are so passionate about what they do and have worked closely with us during this process. Day in, day out, particularly during the current crisis, they work to care for and protect Scotland’s animals—thank you.

I hope that members will join me in supporting the bill.