Meeting date: Thursday, January 25, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 25 January 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Electric Shock Training Collars, Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Presiding Officer’s Statement, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Electric Shock Training Collars
- Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Presiding Officer’s Statement
- Decision Time
Electric Shock Training Collars
I ask those members of the public who are leaving to do so quietly.
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08960, in the name of Maurice Golden, on electric shock training collars. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament understands that a range of experts, including academics, dog behaviourists, trainers and vets, consider the use of electric shock training collars to be both harmful to a dog’s wellbeing and ineffective as training aids; believes that regulating use of these devices would do little to help protect dogs from harm and could create unnecessary bureaucracy; notes that Wales has implemented a ban on their sale and use, and notes the calls urging the Scottish Government to acknowledge that only a complete ban will offer dogs in the West Scotland region and across the country maximum protection, and for it to implement such action swiftly.12:49
Let us be under no illusion: electric shock collars are harmful and must be banned. For that reason, I am delighted that the Scottish National Party has listened to me and the 20,000 people who have signed my petition calling for such a ban.
Part of our role as an effective Opposition in this Parliament is to hold the Government to account, but another part of it is to influence Scottish Government policy. The Scottish Conservatives have led the way on this issue, and the SNP Government has listened. However, this is first and foremost a victory for animal welfare in Scotland and for the countless animal charities and trainers and members of the public who have campaigned for this result.
I also recognise the cross-party support that the issue has received, with a representative from every party in the Parliament supporting a ban.
I appreciate the work that the member has done personally on the issue. Will he also put pressure on the Westminster Government to enforce a ban on the sale and distribution of shock collars? Without that, we will not really have a ban in Scotland.
I will address that point in about two and a half minutes. The member should feel free to intervene again if I do not fully explain it, but I am confident that I will.
Although yesterday’s announcement is welcome, we still need clarity on whether it is a complete ban that applies to all harmful training devices. For example, it has been argued that devices with varying settings might be treated differently.
We also need clarity on the consultation with animal welfare organisations, a move that I support but which also raises concerns. The SNP’s previous electric shock collar consultation initially offered the prospect of a ban, only to result in a proposal for regulation, and we need clarity on who will be consulted this time, how long the process will last and what will be consulted on. There must be no attempt to use the consultation process to water down the ban with the arguments that we sometimes hear about, for example, shock collars being necessary for deaf dogs when, in fact, non-shock vibrating collars are a viable alternative. Equally, the idea that training in relation to livestock chasing can justify the use of electric shock collars is refuted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs research that shows the effectiveness of positive reinforcement in such training.
Another significant point is that we need clarity on the legal aspect of the ban—that is, on how the courts will enforce it. The guidance that is to be issued will be advisory and judges will not be bound to take it into account. I would welcome the cabinet secretary’s initial thoughts on those matters today, with further details coming in due course.
Going back to Mark Ruskell’s intervention, I believe that we must also consider banning the import and sale of electric shock collars. Although I believe that implementation of the draft guidance that was released yesterday will effectively ban these harmful devices in Scotland, I am supportive of going one step further. That is why I have written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to urge him to look into the matter. My colleague Ross Thomson, who is a dog owner and dog lover and a former member of this Parliament, has pledged to lead efforts in Westminster to ban the devices.
Let us remember why banning the devices is so important: they are harmful, and they have no place in dog training. The premise is very simple. Electric shock collars and other electric pulse training aids work by delivering a shock to a dog with the intention of ensuring that it associates that shock with a specific behaviour and is thereby deterred from repeating that behaviour. It sounds so reasonable, but if we strip away the polite-sounding description, we are left with the fact that the devices electrocute dogs. That is not right and it is not fair.
Unsurprisingly, electrocuting dogs can result in long-term harm. A 2013 DEFRA study highlighted the negative impacts: one in four dogs trained with the devices showed signs of stress compared with fewer than one in 20 trained through positive methods. It was also shown that long-term impacts were still present even when the collars were used by professionals trained to industry standard. That last point is particularly significant, because it shows that regulation of the use of electric shock collars would not work, even if only qualified trainers were allowed to use them.
Instead, we can focus on what works. Reward-based training is already successfully used by many organisations. They include the Blue Cross, which believes that it is the only effective approach; the Dogs Trust, which last year rehomed around 1,000 dogs in Scotland following reward-based training; and Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, which has some of the most experienced canine behaviourists available and which supports using only positive training methods—in fact, it will not rehome an animal with anyone who plans to use aversive training techniques.
Those organisations, along with the Kennel Club, the Scottish Kennel Club, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home and others too numerous to mention, have been crucial with regard to keeping the issue in the spotlight, and we should not forget the more than 20,000 people who signed my petition. To all of them, I say thank you. We achieved our goal. We made a difference. Now, let us make sure that we see that difference delivered.12:56
I congratulate Maurice Golden on securing the debate and Ben Macpherson on his parallel motion.
I advise the chamber that, with your consent, Presiding Officer, I will have to leave immediately after my speech, as I will be chairing the Conveners Group sometime around 1 pm.
Returning home late last night from a Burns supper, I learned that the Scottish Government now supports a ban on the use of electronic shock collars. Maurice Golden and Ben Macpherson are new blood. I want to pay tribute to Kenny Gibson, who cannot be here because he is chairing a cross-party group, and to Alison Johnstone, as both have campaigned for a ban on the use of electronic shock collars since at least 2011. I also commend Colin Smyth, who has pursued such a ban since he came into Parliament.
Along with all the animal charities, including OneKind, the SSPCA, the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, the cross-party group on animal welfare, which I chair, will welcome the announcement. Indeed, on 8 January 2015, I led a members’ business debate entitled “a shocking way to treat a dog”. I say gently to Maurice Golden that not one Conservative member signed my motion for that debate, which called for a ban on electronic shock collars. At that time, the Government was not disposed to follow the lead of Wales, which banned the use of shock collars in 2010. I therefore welcome not only the Government’s change of heart but the conversion of at least some members of the Conservative Party. For me, some animal welfare issues should be matters of individual conscience, and I invite Maurice Golden to join the cross-party group on animal welfare, as we have more work to do. As the cabinet secretary knows, we are an extremely proactive group.
Now to the nitty-gritty. I note the terms of the cabinet secretary’s press release and I welcome the guidance. However, I know that, in Wales, the ban was secured by regulation, so I have some questions, the answers to which I will read later in the Official Report. Will regulation be the Government’s chosen route, and can that be achieved through the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006?
The Welsh regulations also apply to cats—believe it or not, shock collars are also used on cats. The Welsh Government says:
“The regulations ban the use of any collar that is capable of administering an electric shock to a cat or dog.”
I know that the cabinet secretary is very much a cat lover and has had a cat for many years, so I suspect that she will be sympathetic to the suggestion that any ban should also apply to the use of shock collars on cats.
If the ban is to be achieved through regulation, how long will that take, broadly speaking? Regulation should be a faster route than primary legislation. If it is not to be done through regulation, by what means will it be done? Will it be done through a standalone bill, or perhaps through a member’s bill?
I say to Maurice Golden that I am afraid that there is nothing new in this place. After my debate three years ago, I hosted an event at which MSPs were encouraged to try electronic shock collars on their wrists. Only a few turned up, but those who tried the collars were converted on the spot. I hope that Mr Golden has a similar experience with any MSPs who attend his event.
I have had pets all my adult life—a dog and a series of cats. I would think of using a shock collar on my lovely and indomitable Mr Smokey no more than I would think of using one on myself, although some might think that the latter would not be a bad idea.
Training by pain and not persuasion is just plain wrong. We have cross-party and Government impetus, and I congratulate again all the petitioners and parliamentarians—both current and previous MSPs—who have never given up on a ban. I thank Maurice Golden for securing the debate and the Government for undertaking to see that the ban becomes a reality while I am still here.13:00
I thank Maurice Golden for lodging his motion. Labour’s support for a full ban on electric shock collars is consistent and long standing. In the 21st century, there is no place for the use of those barbaric devices. In recent months, it has been hugely encouraging to see more and more MSPs come forward to support that position, which I know is shared by many members across the parties.
The evidence shows that the devices cause distress, anxiety and emotional harm to dogs. It is clear for everyone to see, as is the evidence that the range of highly effective positive training methods renders the collars needless. The charity Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home has been in existence for more 150 years. Over 15 decades, it has cared for and rehomed dogs that have often displayed the most difficult behaviour, yet its work has achieved incredible and lasting results through positive and reward-based methods without ever having to resort to aversive training techniques such as shock collars. Not only are the positive alternatives more humane and effective than sending a painful electric current through the neck of a dog to frighten it into obedience, but a growing body of evidence suggests that the use of shock collars is counterproductive.
It was clear from the answers—or, rather, non-answers—from the Government to a series of written questions on shock collars that I lodged last year that the Government’s initial approach to try to regulate such collars ignored the evidence and was, frankly, unworkable. The proposal was, in effect, to create a qualification in cruelty for trainers, which was simply abhorrent. We cannot regulate cruelty. Therefore, I welcome yesterday’s Government announcement that it plans to ditch the existing policy. The question now is whether the new approach that is proposed by the Government, which is the issuing of guidance under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, will be strong enough to prevent the full use of shock collars.
Under the 2006 act, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal or to fail to meet its welfare needs. However, at present, it would be almost impossible to prosecute someone for the use of a shock collar on those grounds. The proposal to issue guidance under the act, stating that aversive techniques will include shock collars, would add some clarity to the provisions. However, would that be strong enough to result in prosecution? Although charities such as the Dogs Trust welcome the Government’s change of direction, they have understandably said that they would prefer a ban to be introduced under section 26 of the 2006 act. A ban that was introduced in secondary legislation would be just that: a ban.
The proposed guidance from the Government states that a person may be committing an offence of causing unnecessary suffering if they use a shock collar; equally, though, they may not be. The onus would remain on the prosecution to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt not just that a collar had been used but that unnecessary suffering had been caused. That is still a high threshold.
I hope that, when the cabinet secretary sums up the debate, she will share with the chamber whether she believes that the proposed guidance will have the same legal status as, for example, the approach of the Welsh Government—which has used secondary legislation to lead the way in the United Kingdom and ban the use of shock collars—and why guidance is the approach that is being taken by the Scottish Government. If the answer is simply the need for speed, there is no reason why guidance cannot be a temporary measure until a more robust approach, introduced through secondary legislation, can be adopted.
Many politicians may want to take credit for the Government’s welcome change of position on the issue. However, I pay tribute to animal welfare charities such as the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, OneKind and Blue Cross for their campaigning work and the work of their supporters to achieve this change. I also commend the outstanding work of charities to advocate for animals on a host of issues.
There is much still to do. I hope that yesterday’s announcement by the Government will signal further changes in policy, such as a reverse of the deeply regrettable decision to lift the ban on tail docking, a consultation on a ban on snaring and a commitment to go beyond Lord Bonomy's recommendations and ensure a proper ban on hunting. I hope that we will soon see the proposed legislation to raise animal cruelty sentences in line with the campaign by Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home and others. If we see those changes, I assure the Government that it will have the full support of all Labour MSPs and, more importantly, the full support of the public.13:04
I, too, firmly believe that electric shock collars for dogs are inherently cruel and totally unnecessary. I thank Maurice Golden for securing a debate on this important animal welfare issue. It is great to join colleagues in welcoming the Scottish Government’s bold and decisive action yesterday to promptly and effectively ban the use of electric shock collars and other electronic training aids that are capable of causing pain or distress to dogs.
As members are aware, I, too, have recently been campaigning on the issue, together with key animal welfare organisations including OneKind, Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, Blue Cross and the Scottish SPCA. I pay tribute to all their work on the issue, and to fellow MSPs who have campaigned for change—particularly Christine Grahame, who has championed the matter for some time. Most of all, I pay tribute to the cabinet secretary for acting responsibly and decisively on the basis of evidence and ethics. She made it clear yesterday that causing pain to dogs through inappropriate training methods will not be tolerated here in Scotland and that the SNP will ban electric shock collars and other electronic training aids.
The Scottish Government has listened to legitimate views and opinions on both sides of the issue and, in carefully considering the issue, it has recognised growing public concerns. There is no doubt that the cabinet secretary’s announcement will create a full ban on the use of electronic training devices. The ban, which will be developed through the use of section 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, will be prompt, effective and legally robust. Putting on my old lawyer’s hat, I can advise that using that act is an effective way to make sure that the ban is not unnecessarily vulnerable to judicial review.
Members will also be aware that I have circulated my own petition and motion on the issue and that I did not support Maurice Golden’s motion. Although I agree with Mr Golden’s general call for a ban and pay tribute to him for lodging the motion, I was not able to support the wording of the motion because it included a significant inaccuracy. With respect, Mr Golden’s motion falsely states that Wales has banned the sale of electric shock collars. The Welsh Assembly, like the Scottish Parliament, does not have the power to do that—only the Tories at Westminster can ban the sale of electric shock collars in Scotland, in Wales and across the UK, because the ability to ban the sale of those cruel devices is fully reserved to Westminster.
Therefore, together with my Westminster colleagues—particularly Tommy Sheppard MP and Deidre Brock MP, who has tabled an early day motion at Westminster—I call on the UK Government to follow Scotland’s example and use its reserved powers to ban the sale and distribution of electric shock collars. At the moment, people can buy those cruel devices easily and cheaply. We need to stop that, and it is up to the Westminster Government to step up and do that.
In good faith, I welcome and support Mr Golden and other Conservative MSPs putting pressure on their colleagues and being part of a collective effort to pressurise the Tory UK Government to do the right thing, because it is time to ban electric shock collars completely across the UK.13:08
I declare an interest as an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association. I join members in thanking Maurice Golden for bringing this issue to Parliament ahead of any eruptions that we might have in committee. I also pay tribute to the cross-party work that has been done in this Parliament over a number of years to build the case against electric shock collars as well as the fantastic work that has been carried out by animal charities in Scotland.
“should avoid punishment when training your dog as it teaches response out of fear; this is bad for its welfare and can cause behavioural problems later in its life.”
Those are not my words but the words used by the Scottish Government in its existing “Code of Practice on the Welfare of Dogs”. I am pleased that the Scottish Government has recognised, as the Welsh Government has already recognised, that even the regulated use of electric shock collars is wholly inconsistent with its own approach to animal welfare, which is embedded in its guidance.
The evidence shows that punishment does not work. For example, one major behavioural study that surveyed and filmed owners and dogs found that punishment led dogs to become less playful and less likely to interact positively with strangers. It also found that dogs that were trained using a more patient, reward-based approach were more able to learn a novel training task. Therefore, punishment affects both a dog’s behaviour and its ability to learn.
The scientific evidence for the case against e-collars has built up over the years. The University of Utrecht study, for example, showed that, when dogs are subjected to shocks, they unsurprisingly show clear signs of stress, fear and pain, which leads to long-term stress-related behaviour. We have heard about the recent DEFRA studies that reinforce that finding. They show negative behaviour with the use of e-collars even when training is conducted by professional trainers using lighter-touch training regimes.
There is, of course, a small but vocal lobby of e-collar advocates—I am sure that they have bombarded members’ email inboxes—just as there was a vociferous lobby of working dog owners who believed that there was a welfare benefit to amputating hundreds of puppy-dog tails to prevent the amputation of a single adult dog’s tail. There was a point towards the end of last year when the Scottish Government was in danger, once again, of tying itself up in knots by pandering to that lobby and creating vocational qualifications in the use of aversive training aids—a kind of national vocational qualification in torture. To be honest, I could never see my local college offering that as a positive destination for school leavers. It was never a viable option.
The Government’s fresh move to update the guidance and make it clear that aversive techniques could compromise dog welfare is the correct approach. It adds clarity and makes it more likely that prosecutions could take place under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. My only question to the cabinet secretary is about the timescale for the introduction of that update.
The Scottish Government has acted within the limits of its powers but it is now vital, as other members said, that the Westminster Government uses its powers to ban the sale and distribution of e-collars. Every time that I google the words “shock collars”, I am bombarded by adverts encouraging me to buy them, alongside adverts for trainers who offer shock services. Public awareness is low and the implications of using e-collars need to be spelled out to responsible pet owners who may be unaware of the evidence and their legal responsibilities. It will be incredibly difficult to catch and prosecute unscrupulous owners and trainers who use the devices without an accompanying ban on their sale and distribution introduced on the same timescale as the amendment to the guidance.
There is a critical point there for the MPs and for lobbying at Westminster. Both Governments need to move together. The Scottish Government has set the bar and the Westminster Government now needs to follow. I hope that genuine cross-party pressure can be exerted to bring that about.13:13
I thank Maurice Golden for bringing the matter to the chamber and congratulate him on securing the debate. I pay tribute to my friend and colleague Ben Macpherson for his work on the issue. Across the Parliament, we have a shared view on the matter, but his work has helped to refine the argument.
I commend the Scottish Government for the action that it is taking. Having considered the evidence carefully, I agree that it has taken the correct position.
As Mark Ruskell said, I do not think that there is any member who has not been bombarded by a range of groups with different views. In my surgeries and office, I have met people from both sides of the argument. I was struck by the sincerity of trainers on both sides. Both are ultimately concerned with the welfare of dogs and ensuring that dog owners are responsible. That underscored to me the point that the challenge is not to correct dogs’ behaviour when it gets to the stage at which people would justify using shock collars; it is to prevent it from getting to that stage.
I had a range of submissions, including one from a dog owner who had used a shock collar on a puppy. The argument that the owner made was that it had helped to address the puppy’s behavioural problem quickly and was far more humane than taking the dog to puppy classes, where it would be terrified by 30 other puppies. I declare an interest as a dog owner. One of the most important things to do with a puppy is socialisation—to engage it with other dogs and human beings, so that suggested to me that a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding exists.
The approach has to be about positive methods of training dogs. It is about early intervention and encouraging responsible ownership. Buying a dog does not start with collecting the puppy or putting down a deposit. It should start months before with research to understand the breed and the issues relating to dogs, and with identifying and engaging with reputable breeders. All of that is incredibly important.
The approach is also important more broadly, because the preventative approach of responsible and informed ownership not only creates a situation that removes the need for shock collars that some people perceive, but prevents a range of other problems that can emerge. Shock collars cause pain and distress to dogs, but many other activities and issues cause a lot more pain and distress.
As I said, I am a dog owner—my wife and I have a pug. One does not necessarily think of pugs as dangerous dogs that need shock collars, although given their capacity to follow people around at their feet, they can be a trip hazard. [Laughter.] However, nearly every pug that we see is overweight. We know that we have an obesity crisis in Scotland, but we also have an obesity crisis among pugs. Why is that? It is because owners who allow their dogs to get to that weight are not informed about the welfare of the dog. Good welfare is not about rewarding the dog and giving in to those pleading eyes; it is about responsible dog ownership, including making sure that the dog is properly exercised and properly fed. That is just one example.
My view is that, if we have a culture in which more people are responsible dog owners from when their dogs are puppies, their dogs will not have behavioural problems later in their lives. On that basis, I argue that the Government has made the correct decision. The focus for all dog owners, with the incredible range of support that is available from dog welfare charities, should be that the solution to all behavioural problems is not to let them develop in the first place.13:17
I congratulate Maurice Golden on securing today’s important members’ business debate. As the Scottish Conservative spokesman for animal welfare, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue and to condemn the use of electronic shock collars and other pain-based training devices.
Electronic shock collars or ESCs, which are sometimes described as aversive training devices, work by using discomfort or fear to train a dog. They are worn around a dog’s neck and work by delivering an electric shock—either via remote control or automatically—to the dog in order to “correct” undesirable behaviour. The devices do nothing more than inhibit behaviour by creating a fear response. Dogs show behaviours for various reasons. A dog’s only way to communicate is by barking, growling or running away. If we try to stop a dog communicating, we are not addressing why it is choosing to express itself as it is, which can sometimes be a fear response to something with which it is uncomfortable.
Recent research that was commissioned by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs showed significant long-term negative welfare consequences for a proportion of dogs that were trained using ESCs. One in four showed signs of stress, compared with less than 5 per cent of dogs reacting to positive training methods. One in three yelped at the first use of an electric shock collar and one in four yelped at subsequent uses. The research concluded that even when ESCs are used by professionals following an industry-set standard, there are still long-term negative impacts on dog welfare.
The study also demonstrated that positive reinforcement methods are effective, for example in treating livestock chasing, which is the most commonly cited justification for the use of ESCs, particularly in rural Scotland.
I do not for one minute believe that trainers or dog owners who currently—excuse the pun—use ESCs have any intention of harming their dogs. I believe the exact opposite: they love their dogs as much as anyone else. However, we are now a society that looks far more closely at our relationship with animals. The decision to ban the devices is, in many ways, down to the change in public opinion and attitude. Indeed, that change in attitude recently brought about the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018, which bans wild animals in travelling circuses. Many years ago, the practice would not have raised an eyebrow, but it is now totally unacceptable to use wild animals for public entertainment. To a far greater extent than we did in the past, we in modern society make our arguments with regard to animals not solely on the basis of scientific evidence but on moral grounds.
The Scottish Government launched a consultation on banning or regulating use of electronic training aids at the end of 2015. That consultation covered remote-control training collars, anti-bark collars and pet containment fences that use a static electric pulse, sound, vibration, or water or citronella sprays. An independent survey that was commissioned by the Kennel Club in 2015 found that 73 per cent of the Scottish public were against the use of electric shock collars and that 74 per cent would support a Government ban.
Until yesterday, the Government was considering a licensing policy based on a qualification, which would still have allowed electric collars to be used in some cases. However, simply to regulate that cruel act is tantamount to supporting the use of electric collars.
I am delighted that the campaign by my colleague Maurice Golden and the fact that we were to have this debate have put pressure on the Government, and I sincerely hope that the evidence and representations in Maurice Golden’s campaign will persuade the Government to introduce appropriate legislation to bring in a total ban. How the ban will be enforced is still unclear, so I would welcome clarification on that.
I thank the many individuals and organisations that have provided briefings for the debate—in particular, Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home and the Dogs Trust. I look forward to the Government taking action to ban the devices in the near future. That outdated method of training needs to be put to rest, and more effective ways to train dogs need to be endorsed and promoted.13:22
I thank Maurice Golden for bringing this important subject of debate to the chamber. MSPs across the Parliament care deeply about animal welfare, and we will achieve lots if we work together.
The fight against electric shock collars has now been won in Scotland, of course. I warmly welcome that, but the fight remains to be won in the United Kingdom. Although the motion does not refer to the UK Government’s failure to act to date, I welcome the opportunity to make the case for banning sale and supply of electric shock collars throughout the UK.
I congratulate my colleague Ben Macpherson on his extensive and tireless campaigning on the issue—not least through his online petition, which calls on the Scottish Government and the UK Government to take what action they can to ban these harmful devices. He deserves a lot of credit for the welcome shift in policy that the Scottish Government announced yesterday, when it made it clear that it will introduce an outright ban on electronic training devices that cause pain or distress to dogs. The Scottish Government also deserves credit for having clearly listened to, taken on board and responded to people’s concerns in its welcome shift to an outright ban.
Both Scotland and Wales have now concluded that the best way to protect animal welfare is to ban electric shock collars. It is crucial that we now turn our attention towards pressuring the UK Government to use its power to ban the sale and supply of those harmful devices across the UK.
The arguments against allowing the sale and supply of electric shock collars are the same as those against allowing their use. Electric shock collars are cruel and ineffective, bad for animal welfare, and do not work.
I will deal with welfare first. As well as suffering from the immediate pain and distress that are caused by the electric shock, dogs are likely to suffer long-term adverse effects, which mean that future attempts at positive-reinforcement based training are likely to be rendered ineffective. Just as important, evidence from animal welfare charities and the majority of professional trainers makes it clear that the only effective way to train a dog is through positive reinforcement.
In the interests of animal welfare and effective training, I whole-heartedly agree with the Dogs Trust, which has said that
“Under no circumstances”
“condone the use of equipment or techniques that use ... pain or fear to train a dog.”
The “no circumstances” part is important, because the only way to make it clear that adverse training is completely immoral and ineffective, and to ensure that it is never used at all, is to ban the sale and supply of the devices altogether. Unfortunately, that is something that only the UK Government has the power to do. Therefore, in the spirit of Maurice Golden’s motion, which condemned electric shock training collars as
“both harmful to a dog’s wellbeing and ineffective as training aids”,
I call on him and his colleagues to use whatever influence they might have with their UK colleagues to urge the UK Government to do its part by banning the sale and supply of these harmful devices. The Scottish Government has listened and responded: I hope that the UK Government can demonstrate that it is listening as much to the compelling arguments against electric shock collars and that it will take action as urgently as we have done here in Scotland.13:25
It will be quite clear that the subject of electronic training collars—or e-collars—is a complex and highly emotive one, and a matter of concern to many. There has been deliberation by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament in previous years, as well as conversations taking place in other parts of the UK. I remind members that the status quo ante is that, both north and south of the border, there has been no regulation of the collars’ use at all.
That was the starting point, and I sought to correct that position, even though the formal consultation had come to no consensus on a way forward. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring the highest standards of welfare for all animals. However, finding the most appropriate way forward on the matter of electronic collars has been challenging. Some avenues were, and remain, closed to this Government—that matter was acknowledged today by a number of members including Maurice Golden, Ben Macpherson, Mark Ruskell, Ruth Maguire and possibly others.
These items cannot be cleared from our shelves—metaphorically speaking—so, following the public consultation in 2015, I announced plans in the programme for government to
“tightly control the use of electronic ... training collars”
to allow only appropriate use under the supervision of properly qualified dog trainers. That approach was proposed in light of the continuing mixed views on the devices, along with evidence put before me that modern e-collars provide non-painful settings and can be used as part of a balanced training programme.
I considered that approach to be a proportionate response to a complex issue. However, the continuing concern about that proposed approach has led me to review the proposals. That is why I have decided not to pursue the initial plan to explore a way of approving trainers to allow the continued use of the collars in targeted circumstances. I know that that will disappoint those owners who genuinely believe that their animals have benefited from the collars and those trainers who have been engaging constructively with officials.
I have therefore asked officials to prepare clear Scottish Government guidance, reiterating that any physical punishment of dogs that causes unnecessary suffering is not acceptable in Scotland and is an offence under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. That includes the use of electronic collars that administer an electric shock, anti-bark collars and any device that squirts noxious oils or other chemicals or substances into a dog’s face or other part of its anatomy.
The guidance will be issued under section 38 of the 2006 act and will supplement the existing Scottish “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs”. Draft guidance is already on the Scottish Government website and I recommend that members seek it out. The guidance will make clear that causing unnecessary suffering by the use of such devices is an offence. Together with recommendations in the current code of practice, courts may take into account compliance, or non-compliance, with the proposed guidance in establishing liability in a prosecution.
The guidance will help to support the important work of the front-line enforcement agencies that have the difficult job of dealing with animal welfare problems in Scotland. It will go much further than the current “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs” in England—I think that most people accept that. It will also address wider concerns about training devices and methods than are dealt with by the legislation in Wales, which, I need to caution members, has resulted in only one prosecution since it was brought in. There are bigger and more difficult questions around all this.
The draft guidance will no doubt be the subject of further discussion with welfare organisations, particularly those that are involved in the practicalities of enforcing animal welfare legislation. I encourage the SSPCA, in particular, to be involved. I think that Maurice Golden asked about the timescale; I can advise that consultation is now live and comments are invited by 14 February. We will then consult the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, before we finalise the wording. The intention is to move on the issue as quickly as is reasonably possible.
In the near future, I hope to issue guidance on other dog welfare issues, such as the purchase of illegally bred or imported puppies and the breeding of dogs with extreme conformations that lead to chronic suffering because of difficulty breathing, walking or giving birth—I suspect that Tom Arthur’s beloved pugs come into the category of animal for which that has become a significant problem.
I wanted to respond to something that Christine Grahame said, so it is unfortunate that she has had to leave, to chair another meeting. The guidance at present does not cover cats. I am happy to consider similar guidance in due course, although I caution members that electronic collars for cats tend to be used for boundary fence systems, which I think that Finlay Carson mentioned, rather than for training. That raises different and more complicated issues in respect of electric fencing, which is used elsewhere. We need to be a little careful and understand that cats are in a different category in this debate.
I think that I have dealt with most of the issues that were raised, so I will conclude, albeit a little early. I am convinced that the issuing of timely guidance—and it will be timely—under section 38 of the 2006 act will be an effective, practical and immediate way of addressing the legitimate and widespread welfare concerns about collar use in Scotland. The measure will address the issue of electronic collars practically, proportionately and as quickly as we can do—crucially—with the powers that are available to us.
Thank you, cabinet secretary. Concluding early is always useful on a Thursday lunch time.13:32 Meeting suspended.
14:30 On resuming—
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