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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 21 June 2017

Agenda: Motor Neurone Disease Global Awareness Day, Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Freedom of Information Requests, Agriculture, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017 [Draft], Point of Order, Decision Time, Stroke Care


Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017 [Draft]

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is consideration of a further Parliamentary Bureau motion. I ask Joe FitzPatrick to move, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, motion S5M-06257, on the approval of the draft Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017 [draft] be approved.—[Joe FitzPatrick]

The Presiding Officer

I believe that several members wish to speak in the debate. Each member has up to four minutes.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I recognise and understand why tail shortening is a highly emotive topic right across the chamber. My colleagues on the Conservative benches and I strive for the highest level of animal welfare.

The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee sat through many hours of evidence on both sides of the argument. A wide range of people, from gamekeepers to farmers—all of whom are dog lovers and are committed to the welfare of dogs—contributed to the committee’s evidence sessions, expressing their support for changes to the legislation.

I make it clear that we are supportive of the ban on tail docking that is in place. However, having considered the available evidence very carefully, we have taken the decision to support the Government in creating an exemption to the ban on tail shortening for a very limited number of working dogs.

It is important to clarify exactly what the exemption will mean. It will permit the shortening, by up to a third and by a vet, of the tails of spaniel and hunt point retrieve puppies when a vet believes that they are likely to be used as working dogs and possibly risk serious tail injury later in life.

Tail shortening will quite rightly continue to be illegal for the vast majority of dog breeds. The change will bring us into line with similar exemptions that already exist in the rest of the United Kingdom.

We believe that permitted tail shortening will reduce the incidence of painful injuries that a working dog can sustain later in life—injuries that could lead to the amputation of a dog’s tail.

Let us not forget—and I am sure that on this we can agree across the chamber—that all vets are committed to improving animal health and welfare. Vets will always act in the best interest of the animals they are treating. We are allowing vets to make professional, informed and considered decisions as to whether a puppy that is presented to them from a breed of dog with a higher chance of tail injury is likely to be used as a working dog. That is the right decision to take. I have trust in our vets. I trust them to make the right decision to reduce the risk of extreme suffering for working dogs.

The problems are not just external. As Peter Chapman mentioned, we are now at risk of staff burnout: staff are being put under enormous pressure for another year because of shortcomings that had nothing to do with them. The 2016 Audit Scotland report found that the IT division and the programme team do not work as one. That is an area that John Finnie touched on. Administrative problems have also led to some farmers receiving duplicate payments, which together are valued at £490,000. That adds an administrative cost for their recovery.

Presiding Officer, it is clear: the SNP simply does not care about rural Scotland. It is no wonder that rural Scotland sent it a message earlier this month. Their safest seats turned blue in order to put some proper pressure on this incompetent Government. When it should have been sorting this mess out, its mind was on one thing only—furthering its cause of independence.

To finish, I will note what local farmers ask me about the First Minister. They ask, “What will it take for her to consider her own position on the matter?” On the eve of the Royal Highland Show, that is certainly a fair question.

On balance, members on the Conservative benches believe that tail shortening is a humane method of reducing the chance of the undisputed extreme pain and long-term suffering that tail injuries can cause working dogs. It is for those reasons that the Scottish Conservatives will support the SSI.


David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I rise to oppose the SSI before us. As the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has made clear, the tail docking of dogs in Scotland was banned in 2007 under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. The Parliament looked at the evidence then and, by an overwhelming majority, passed the legislation. The Parliament was recognised worldwide for putting animal welfare first.

Approval of the SSI tonight would be a retrograde step for animal welfare. Let me be clear that no animal welfare or veterinary organisation has supported the proposal to overturn the ban. The Dogs Trust was “deeply saddened” by the proposal. Blue Cross warned that the SSI changes a strong stance on animal welfare

“based on a narrow range of responses with little consideration of the negative implications.”

The British Veterinary Association confirmed its opposition to the exemption and warned that it would be a backwards step, when previously Scotland has led on animal welfare.

I quote a hard-working Highland vet, Matthew Erskine, who is a member of the BVA. He tells me that tail docking and shortening involve

“the cutting through or crushing of skin, muscles and up to seven pairs of nerves, bone and cartilage in puppies under five days old without anaesthetic.

BVA considers that puppies suffer unnecessary, acute pain as a result of docking, potentially resulting in chronic pain, and are deprived of a vital form of canine expression. A survey carried out by Noonan et al ... indicated that 76% of vets ... believed that tail docking causes significant pain and no vets believed that the procedure was free of pain.”

The Veterinary Record published an article by David Morton, called “Should the tail wag the dog?”, in which he said that between two and 108 puppies would need to suffer the pain and distress caused by tail docking in order to bring the prevalence of tail injury down to that of non-working breeds. He stated:

“By any calculations, still far more animals need to be docked than are injured. So even based on a pragmatic, utilitarian argument, it is still questionable whether this is acceptable.

Surely it is better just to treat those injured, as ... the total sum of overall harm would be far less than that caused by docking all puppies in a litter as a preventative measure.”

Enforcement of the regulations will be problematic. Only a vet can carry out the tail shortening procedure but the vet must be satisfied that the dog, aged five days or less, will definitely be used for work in connection with the lawful shooting of animals. How will that work in practice? As was outlined in evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, any breach of the regulations can result in sanctions by veterinary professional bodies as well as criminal proceedings under the 2006 act, including the possibility of imprisonment.

Like many members, I am proud of this Parliament and our achievements—free personal care, the smoking ban and the Scotland Malawi partnership, to name but a few. Our approach to animal welfare is up there as well. It may not be as headline grabbing but it is significant, important and progressive. I feel proud to be part of such a Parliament.

Today could be a turning point, when we put aside party interests and think about who we are and how we carry ourselves. I urge members to oppose the SSI—all that is needed now is the will to do and the soul to dare.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I am one of the few current members of this Parliament who considered the evidence on tail docking when the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill was passed just over a decade ago. I am also someone who has actually witnessed a tail docking operation in a litter of puppies, and it gives me no pleasure to have to rise to oppose this ill-conceived, illogical, anti-scientific reversal of what was a progressive policy to protect the welfare of dogs.

The American historian Henry Brook Adams once said:

“Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.”

Let us look at the facts that will be ignored by the majority of SNP and Tory members in this chamber, if they press their buttons in defence of tradition and against the science of veterinary medicine.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Does the member agree that, with BVA Scotland, animal welfare organisations throughout Scotland and 70 per cent of the public opposing exemptions to the ban on tail docking—which is its proper name—back benchers, particularly on the SNP benches, should vote tonight because of their impartial and informed opinions, and should reject exemptions to tail docking?

Mark Ruskell

I am delighted to support Christine Grahame on this issue, and I commend the leadership that she has shown on animal welfare issues for many, many years in this Parliament. I just hope that more of her colleagues will join her and the rest of us tonight.

Tail docking in a puppy is a painful tail amputation—it is not a shortening, it is an amputation—that is required to be carried out without pain relief. It makes no difference in terms of pain whether the tail is totally removed or partially removed. By the Government’s own admission, this law will require at least 80 puppies’ tails to be amputated to prevent an injury requiring amputation in a single adult working dog. How is that a net benefit to animal welfare? Does a puppy feel 80 times less pain than an amputated adult dog? Where is the veterinary evidence for that?

Let us be clear about where the proposal started. It began with Richard Lochhead in 2007—a new minister understandably keen to placate the country sports lobby. What followed was a series of flawed studies. The first one was based on a self-selecting survey of shooters who were asked to report tail injuries in working dogs. It was a biased, campaigning piece of research led by traditionalists, not veterinary evidence. A second study then looked at populations of working breed dogs, but there was a complete failure to investigate other more damaging causes of tail injury, such as poor kennelling, and no analysis of alternatives to protect working dogs, such as tail sheathing.

There was no research into the negative impact of tail docking on behaviour, communication and potential confrontations between dogs. Professor Donald Broom, in his evidence to the committee, said that removing a significant part of a dog’s tail is

“like preventing a significant part of human speech”,

yet the Government wants to allow it to happen to working dogs without any analysis of the behavioural problems that it could cause dogs and people.

A promised third study into the actual tail injuries of actual working dogs based on veterinary cases was never commissioned, but why bother with the evidence when the Government already has the votes in the bag?

The Scottish Green Party agrees with every professional veterinary body in the UK that the reintroduction of tail docking for working breed dogs is wrong on animal welfare grounds. Scotland had the most progressive animal welfare laws anywhere in the UK when the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 was passed, but now we see the Scottish Government attempting a race to the bottom, to mirror the weak legislation and loopholes that exist in England.

We need rationality, reason and evidence brought to the Parliament whenever a change in the law is proposed. This proposal, shamefully, has none of those. It is a backward step and it is a dangerous precedent for this Parliament to set.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank all those on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for their diligence and for the work that they carried out in scrutinising the statutory instrument. It cannot have been an easy task, as views both for and against amending the current blanket ban on tail docking are strongly and, I believe, sincerely held. I am also conscious that, unlike other speakers in this afternoon’s brief debate, I have not had the benefit of sitting through all the evidence presented to the committee. Nevertheless, it is an issue with which I am familiar, and I am grateful to the various organisations that have provided detailed briefings in the run-up to today’s debate, not least because of the short notice that they would have been given of the debate and the vote.

At this point, I see little purpose in again rehearsing the arguments that we have heard from Finlay Carson, David Stewart and Mark Ruskell. Suffice it to say that the Scottish Liberal Democrats accept that the basis for the case being made both for and against the proposed change is founded on welfare concerns. Inevitably, those concerns will be weighted differently by different people. On that basis, as Christine Grahame rather forcefully and rightly pointed out, it seems inappropriate to apply the party whip to the decision. Therefore, my colleagues will vote accordingly.


The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

The Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2010 imposed an outright ban on tail docking of all dogs. Today’s draft regulations would amend those regulations to allow an exemption for tail shortening by a veterinary surgeon in limited circumstances, but only for the purpose of benefiting dog welfare and only in connection with breeds that are used in shooting activities.

This is a very emotive and divisive issue but, as Liam McArthur said, there are welfare issues on both sides of the debate. We firmly believe that shortening the tails of puppies that are at risk of tail injury while engaged in lawful shooting activities in later life will improve the welfare of those dogs. Research that was commissioned from the University of Glasgow showed that, in one shooting season alone, around one seventh of working dogs sustained at least one tail injury, with a higher incidence for certain breeds.

In line with the research findings, however, we intend that shortening should apply only to those dogs that are most at risk. The proposed exemption therefore applies only to the two types of working dog—spaniels and hunt point retrieve dogs—that are most at risk and most commonly used in those lawful activities. The regulations will also ensure, as far as possible, that only those dogs that are likely to be used for lawful shooting purposes can have their tails shortened and that that can be done only by veterinary surgeons.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Roseanna Cunningham

I am sorry, but I need to finish this.

The operating vet must be satisfied with the evidence that is produced that shows that

“the dog is likely to be used for work”

in later life. The regulations will place the responsibility for making the decision in the hands of those who are best placed to make an informed professional judgment. They are the practising veterinary surgeons, mostly in rural Scotland, who know the clients who are working dog breeders, understand the risks of injury that are associated with normal shooting activities and, most important, have a professional duty to ensure the welfare of all animals in their care. Individual vets will of course be under no obligation to shorten tails if they do not believe that it is in the best interests of the animals that they are presented with.

Mention has correctly been made of tails being used for communication. In a number of instances, the term “amputation” has been used instead of “shortening”, with the implication that the whole of the tail would be removed. However, the evidence showed no greater reduction in the probability of injury by removing more than the end third of the tail. The regulations therefore limit shortening to that extent. Dogs with two thirds of their tail and all of their other ways of using body language to communicate will still be able to socialise normally, as anyone who has ever seen a working spaniel happily and vigorously wagging a tail that has already been shortened will understand.

Yes, tail shortening is briefly painful, but that has to be weighed against the often prolonged recovery from serious tail surgery in an adult dog that has suffered pain before treatment and may also suffer in recovery. The pictures of those injuries are every bit as shocking as anything else that members may have seen. The evidence suggests that working dogs with a shortened tail are up to 20 times less likely to injure their tails in later life. I therefore ask members to follow the committee’s recommendation and support the amended regulations. Whatever members’ personal views on shooting as a sport, I believe that the amendment is proportional, that it is based on the best evidence that we have and, most important, that it will improve the welfare of dogs that are involved in a lawful activity.