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Launch Of The Draft Animal Welfare Bill

The most comprehensive modernisation of laws on domestic and captive animals for a century was introduced in draft today by Ben Bradshaw, the Animal Health and Welfare Minister.

The new law will introduce a new duty of care on pet owners to look after their pets properly, in accordance with good practice, and will, for the first time, define what constitutes cruelty. It will consolidate and modernise over 20 pieces of animal welfare legislation relating to farmed and non-farmed animals

The Bill will:-
* Strengthen and amend offences relating to animal fighting, for which provision is currently made in the Protection of Animals Act 1911;

* Modernise and re-define the offence of cruelty, which is already a substantive offence under the 1911 Act;

* Impose a duty of care to ensure the welfare of animals on owners of animals and those responsible for them based upon existing good practice.

A similar provision already exists to protect farmed animals;

* Extend powers to make regulations in respect of both farmed and non-farmed animals. This will enable action to be taken as welfare needs arise. It will also facilitate compliance with EU and international obligations on animal welfare;

* Improve the way that activities are regulated, where there is a need to ensure animal welfare standards are met.

* This will involve bringing together many common provisions on licensing that exist in separate pieces of legislation, with a focus on improving the quality of inspections. Licensing will be required for both new and currently regulated activities but will be required only where necessary to ensure animal welfare standards;

* Impose a ban on mutilations - such as the tail docking of dogs - subject to limited exceptions only where there are welfare or good management reasons for the mutilation;

* Increase the effectiveness of animal welfare law enforcement. This will include the provision of additional powers for inspectors from central and local government and the police where it has become apparent that this is necessary. It should make it more difficult to circumvent a disqualification order made by the court; and

* Increase the range of sentences available to the courts when dealing with the various offences in the Bill.

Mr Bradshaw said:
"This is the most comprehensive review of the law on pets for a century and will set the framework for the next century.

'We recognise that the existing animal welfare legislation does not allow effective action to be taken where a pet, although not currently suffering, is being kept in such a way that suffering will probably occur at some future point. This is clearly not satisfactory.

"The draft Bill extends a duty to promote animal welfare - currently present in farmed animal legislation - to all animal keepers. This will mean that all domestic or captive animals must be cared for in accordance with best animal management practices. This is a major improvement to current welfare laws which are often based on the view
that good welfare is about taking action after an animal has suffered.

"The Bill also introduces into our law a clear definition of cruelty against an animal and provides those responsible for enforcing the law with the powers needed to deal effectively with people who ill treat or neglect animals in their care.

"The Bill will also provide powers to introduce secondary legislation and Codes of Practice to protect the welfare of non-farmed kept animals. This enabling power is already available for farmed animals and our aim is to ensure that in future all domestic and captive animals will be protected by legislation that can be easily revised
to take account of changing welfare needs and increased scientific knowledge.

"What this Bill does not do is threaten a gardener who kills a slug or steps on a snail with a £20,000 fine! As a keen gardener, I am a regular drowner of slugs in beer. This Bill applies to vertebrates only and only to vertebrates in the care of man."

Mr Bradshaw said that he would be introducing a Bill that would last at least another 100 years. Previous legislation tended to be inflexible and rooted to an age that had to rely on horses for transport and farming. The law was unable to move with the times and we are not going to repeat that mistake.

In January 2002 Defra began a review of existing animal welfare legislation with a public consultation exercise on the possible contents of an Animal Welfare Bill. The consultation generated a lot of interest and a number of ideas which have been invaluable in preparing the draft Bill.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee has decided to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Animal Welfare Bill and has made arrangements to enable the public to contribute their views and comments.



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