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Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill (Second sitting)

Debated on Tuesday 9 November 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Geraint Davies, † Esther McVey

† Begum, Apsana (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)

† Blake, Olivia (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)

† Daly, James (Bury North) (Con)

Doogan, Dave (Angus) (SNP)

† Evans, Dr Luke (Bosworth) (Con)

† Glindon, Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab)

† Grundy, James (Leigh) (Con)

† Hudson, Dr Neil (Penrith and The Border) (Con)

Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)

† Lake, Ben (Ceredigion) (PC)

† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

† Moore, Robbie (Keighley) (Con)

† Prentis, Victoria (Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Saxby, Selaine (North Devon) (Con)

Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Sarah Thatcher, Abi Samuels, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee


Minnette Batters, President, National Farmers Union

Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Adviser, Compassion in World Farming

Rob Taylor, Livestock Priority Delivery Group, National Police Chiefs’ Council

Rob Quest, Chairman, Canine and Feline Sector Group

Mike Webb, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Justine Shotton, President, British Veterinary Association

Mike Flynn, Chief Superintendent, Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Dr Hazel Wright, Senior Policy Officer, Farmers Union of Wales

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 9 November 2021


[Esther McVey in the Chair]

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Examination of Witnesses

Minette Batters, Peter Stevenson and Rob Taylor gave evidence.

This afternoon, we will hear first from Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union, who will appear virtually; Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming, who will also appear virtually; and Rob Taylor from the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s livestock priority delivery group. We have until 3 pm. Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Minette Batters: Thank you so much. Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union.

Peter Stevenson: Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming.

Rob Taylor: Good afternoon. I am Rob Taylor, the all-Wales wildlife and rural crime co-ordinator for the police. I am also the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s chair of the livestock priority delivery group.

Q52 Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us. Minette, may I start with your views, and those of your members, on the live export provisions generally?

Minette Batters: Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee. We respect the Government’s manifesto commitment on live animal exports, but our main concern is the double standards of the approach. If we take the Australian trade deal as an example, we are allowed to move animals in Australia for 48 hours without any water at all, or overseas for boat journeys lasting up to a month. That has caused enormous concern for members. Farmers in this country passionately want to maintain and grow our animal welfare standards, but we are concerned primarily about the double standards of the approach with other trading partners, which will potentially undercut farmers in this country.

Q But in terms of the actual live export provisions, your members can live with them as they are. You have no specific comments to make.

Minette Batters: I think there is a case to be made on unintended consequences, potentially for Northern Ireland to Great Britain, GB to Northern Ireland, the Isle of Wight, and the highlands and islands. We need to be very clear for future reference about precisely what the movements are when they are crossing water.

Q Yes, the Bill refers to the British Isles. What is your view, and your experiences and those of your members, on the problem with livestock worrying, particularly over the last year and a half or so, when we have seen a lot of pandemic puppies?

Minette Batters: Yes, it has been a massive problem, and we really welcome the new terminology in the Bill about attacking as well as worrying. We have never felt that worrying really does justice to what is going on. We face a situation where 15,000 sheep have been killed every year. That is information provided by SheepWatch UK. We feel very strongly that the terminology needs absolute clarity of thinking for farmers, dog walkers and the police. A dog at large should be a dog on a lead of no longer than 2 metres, to avoid confusion. A dog “with its owner” is not always with its owner, so we feel there needs to be absolute clarity that a dog at large is on a lead.

Q Would you have exemptions for a farmer’s dog or a sheep dog?

Minette Batters: If that were needed for clarity, it would be quite easy to facilitate. It would be in the farmer’s interest to make sure their dog is controlled but, if it were needed for clarity, we would support that.

Q You will have seen that the Bill expands the definition of “livestock.” Is that something you feel strongly about?

Minette Batters: I think it needs to be like that to cover everything.

Q Peter, I know you have campaigned for many years on live exports. What are your views on that part of the Bill?

Peter Stevenson: Yes, Compassion in World Farming is pleased that the Bill includes a prohibition on live export for slaughter and fattening, but the Bill does not prohibit the export of high-value breeding animals, which we accept—we have never campaigned for that.

I have worked on this campaign for 30 years, and it began long before I started, probably 50 or 60 years ago. Of course we are pleased, and I congratulate the farming sector. The height of the trade was in 1993, when Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food figures showed that we exported 2 million sheep and an unbelievable 500,000 calves, nearly all male, to the continent for slaughter. The farming sector has got those figures down, and they are now much reduced. We export about 30,000 to 45,000 sheep a year and, in practice, calf exports from Great Britain stopped about 18 months ago. There have not been any pig exports for slaughter or fattening for some years. The farming sector has done terribly well.

I am sure some farmers have misgivings about this ban, but I urge them to say, “Yes, please impose it.” I think it is right that this chapter now comes to an end.

Q Rob, do you support the measures in the Bill on livestock worrying—or attacking, as Minette would remind us we should call it?

Rob Taylor: Very much so. This has been a long journey. I represent the police forces of the UK, and I was the team manager for North Wales police in 2013 when we started the first designated rural team of its type anywhere in the UK. We now have more than 25 dedicated teams throughout the UK. The problem of livestock attacks previously existed in our rural and farming communities, but it was never identified. The main reason is that no dedicated team existed, and the Government and the Home Office do not require the police to record the statistics. In a very short time of managing the team, I saw the sheer scope and scale of the horror of livestock attacks in our rural communities.

On average, in north Wales alone, we were seeing 125 attacks a year under the antiquated law, with the death of many sheep and dogs, including those that were being shot or euthanised. Over the following years, I decided to try education, which did not work.

I am a big believer that there needs to be an end result of rectifying this problem. We engaged four other forces to go on this journey with us and to find statistics that show it is not just a north Wales problem. As a force, we had recorded our stats voluntarily, but the other four forces had not and had to take six months to get those statistics up to a certain level. Their statistics replicated ours, and they showed the pure horror of livestock attacks throughout the UK.

I am now in charge of rural events in Wales, so I have oversight of all four forces in Wales, and three of them are voluntarily providing statistics. Those statistics remain high and continue to increase, with the death of many sheep and dogs, and at substantial cost. The law is antiquated and does not cover the offence as it occurs, and it does not support the police in the investigation of such offences.

Q On that last point, do you feel the enhanced police powers in the Bill will help prosecute such offences?

Rob Taylor: Yes, and I say that with some authority as we have worked on the law for the past eight years, and we have worked intensively with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Sheep Association and other interested parties to get it to this point today. I have been in many meetings where many amendments have been made. I have read through it in detail and know it back to front. I am more than convinced that it will give the police and the courts the power to move us forward, so that the Bill will make a huge difference to not only policing, but irresponsible dog owners throughout the UK.

Q Can I end by asking: lead or no lead, in your view?

Rob Taylor: It is an interesting question. I would say lead in certain circumstances. If someone is in a field with cattle, the issue is that with the dog on a lead, the cattle will stampede. People have been killed in such environments. It is not straightforward. However, in a field with sheep, we definitely recommend that it take place.

The law is many years old, and there are a number of things in that that actually will be in place for 2022, such as obtaining DNA sampling. The big one for me is that previously you could not ban a dog owner. If a dog killed 100 sheep, the owner would appear before the court and receive a maximum fine of £1,000. The next day, they could go back, buy three dogs and continue the offence. I think it is ludicrous that that still occurs in our countryside in 2021.

Q Good afternoon to our witnesses. Minette, could I start with you? On livestock attacks, do you think that the maximum fine of £1,000 is sufficient?

Minette Batters: No, and it would be interesting to hear from the police on that. We feel that there need to be stronger controls. While I have the opportunity, the same applies for hare coursing. It is still far too easy to commit a crime with a dog without a severe penalty. We have a severe penalty on hare coursing with vehicles, but at the moment that cost falls to the police. We need to see that being tightened up.

Q I suspect that this is a slightly leading question, but do you think there is sufficient compensation for farmers whose livestock have been attacked?

Minette Batters: With the loss of livestock at the scale that we are seeing at the moment, no, there is not. It is perfectly avoidable. The real challenge is that once a dog has attacked and killed a sheep, it will do it again. We have to have zero tolerance to stop that happening in the first place, otherwise it will continue to happen.

Q On the export of livestock, we all welcome the situation we are now in, with far fewer animals, and welcome the legislation. Is that really the issue around the transport of livestock? Some of the written evidence suggests that the real issue is journey times in general.

Minette Batters: Well, with the climate we have here, air throughput is absolutely essential to ensure that animals are travelling comfortably. However, in banning live animal exports and opening up our market to a much greater level of raw ingredients, I think that there is a very strong case to be made on competitiveness. We are seeing rising standards of animal welfare and animal transport and the banning of live animal exports, but we are not seeing any recommendations to impose any of those laws on other countries. That is quite a major challenge as we move forwards. We all want to see higher levels of animal welfare, but, above all else, we want things to be fair.

Q Thank you. Peter, I think everyone will congratulate you and your organisation on all the campaigning you have done over the years. I ask you the same question: what are the issues around animal welfare and the transport of animals?

Peter Stevenson: Until it finally becomes law, the key issue is still bringing an end to the export of animals for slaughter. As I said, calf exports in effect ended at the end of 2019, when Scotland decided to no longer export them. However, that trade could resume. We are seeing young animals—between two and five weeks—exported from the UK all the way down to Spain, and then, in certain cases, after a period of fattening, re-exported from Spain for slaughter in Lebanon and Libya. Let us try to finally get that through and make it an Act of Parliament.

Although it is not in the Bill, I am aware that DEFRA has been consulting about changes for journeys in the UK, on shorter journey times, more space, more headroom and greater care about making sure animals are not overheating during journeys. All that is welcome. I know that the farmers had a number of concerns about DEFRA’s proposals; DEFRA’s response to the consultation struck a reasonable balance between welfare concerns and farmer’s concerns. I know that DEFRA is still talking to stakeholders about that. So yes, I think even within the UK we should be having shorter journeys. We have always campaigned for a maximum journey time of eight hours for slaughter and fattening. DEFRA says, and I know this from supermarkets too, in practice most journeys to slaughter are below eight hours.

Q In your written evidence you and others raised the vexed question of a potential Northern Ireland loophole. Without re-rehearsing the entire complicated issue around the Northern Ireland protocol, could you say a little about your concerns as they relate to this issue?

Peter Stevenson: There is a potential loophole, but it is not really possible to assess how much the loophole will, in practice, exist. The Bill exports from England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland; because of the protocol, it would not legally be able to include Northern Ireland. There is a danger here, which I am hoping is theoretical rather than actual, that people in England, Wales and Scotland could send animals to Northern Ireland that then go on to the Republic and on to the continent. In practice, it does not sound that likely; the only ferry service to Northern Ireland from Scotland, which is the route that has been traditionally been used from Cairnryan to Larne, is operated by P&O and they have a very clear written policy of not taking animals for slaughter or fattening. A colleague of mine checked with Stena Sealink, which also operates from Cairnryan to Belfast, and they said that they are not licenced to take animals, and they seem to have no desire to get involved in that trade.

I am hoping that we will not see animals going from GB to Northern Ireland, and then on to the continent. However, there certainly is a danger of that. In the regulation-making powers that are given by the Bill on live exports, DEFRA could consider including some sort of requirement that, for people who are taking animals from GB to Northern Ireland, there is some way of certifying that those animals are genuinely destined for Norther Ireland and not bound for re-export to the Republic and the continent.

Q I have one final question on poultry, which was raised in your written evidence and the evidence of others. Could you say a little about that?

Peter Stevenson: A bit like breeding animals, there has not been evidence of real problems with poultry over the years in the way that there has been with the export of sheep and calves. As far as I am aware, all the poultry being exported are day-old chicks; they have a yolk sac that for a certain amount of time is providing them with energy and liquid. Under current EU law, as long as the transport is finished by the time they are 72 hours old, they can be transported for 24 hours. I think DEFRA proposed to let that law remain in place.

When we look at the science, I think the figures could possibly be revisited; perhaps 24 hours is a bit long—perhaps 16 hours would have a better effect for the health and welfare of these tiny chicks. There is an argument for saying that those journeys should be completed within 48 hours of hatching—not 72. I think there should be some revisiting there, but we are not saying that the export of these day-old chicks should be brought to an end.

Q This is a general question for Rob. Throughout the Bill—and this goes beyond this Bill—the enforcement issues seem to be difficult. We pass laws, but do not really check whether they are enforced. In particular, we do not really check whether those we are asking to enforce—the police, the border agency or the local authority—have the resources to do it. That is why I am really glad that you are here. Would you tell us a bit about your view on that, and whether the Bill will work, in the sense that the people who are going to enforce it have the resources to do it?

Rob Taylor: Absolutely. As I said previously, I think bridges were crumbling between the police and farming communities, going back 20 years. Since 2013, I have seen a huge upsurge in the way in which the police deal with rural and farming communities. I highlight the fact that there are over 25 rural crime teams, which are expanding week on week. In Wales alone, we have over 40 dedicated rural officers, and I am dealing with them, along with four sergeants, as the all Wales crime co-ordinator. The resources are definitely there. On the 125 cases in North Wales, I can speak with authority as the previous team manager. Every single case is dealt with professionally and thoroughly from cradle to grave by a dedicated rural crime officer, and that is the same for Dyfed-Powys Police, Gwent Police and South Wales Police, who are currently coming on board. The same applies to a number of teams that exist throughout England as well.

Q As you would imagine, the Opposition are often pleased about what happens in Wales, but it is not the same everywhere in the country. I do not know whether you are in a position to comment on the rest of the country. In addition, I was struck by the evidence from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about the potential transfer of prosecution powers from it to police and local authorities. Given the extraordinary pressure on police and local authorities, I find that quite troubling. Again, I would look to you for guidance on whether we should be troubled and whether we should worry that the Bill will not lead to the outcomes that we hope for.

Rob Taylor: I firmly believe that it will lead to the outcomes that we are hoping for. Having dedicated officers makes us more efficient in how we deal with things. For example, if you go back 15 years, I was a young police constable in North Wales, dealing one day with a shoplifter and the next expected to go to a farm to deal with a livestock attack involving 10 or 15 sheep. I did not have a clue what I was doing—that was the case before dedicated teams came in.

I give North Wales as an example, but North Yorkshire has exactly the same kind of team, based on ours. I worked with them to start up that team a number of years ago, so I can speak with authority for them as well. They are experienced officers who will go to a farm, know exactly what the issues are, deal with them efficiently and quickly, and take everything on board. The new law makes it easier for officers to deal with the problem. In the olden days, you could not get DNA to prove an offence, so you had to try, try and try, and spend lots of time trying to prove the offence. The new law gives us the power to do that more efficiently by using dedicated officers. I am an absolute firm believer that this law will give us the power to do what we need to do, and do it better.

The next two Members who wish to speak are James Daly, followed by Ben Lake.

Q Thank you very much, Ms McVey. Can I ask some questions about the specifics of the Bill—clause 27 onwards in part 2 —regarding the seizure and retention of dogs? Can you give me your views on that? Clause 27(1) says that if

“a constable has reasonable grounds to believe that the dog has attacked or worried livestock on agricultural land or a road or a path…The constable may seize the dog”.

There is some more wording, but what is clear from subsection (3) is that the owner of the dog in those circumstances has seven days to reclaim it. There is a suggestion that at the end of that period, if it is not reclaimed one of the options open to the police is the destruction of that dog. Is that your understanding of the position?

Rob Taylor: No, it is not. My understanding is that the dog could be rehomed or passed on to someone else. It is not destruction—that is not my understanding.

Q And the police will be in a position to find a home within seven days for dogs?

Rob Taylor: The dog will be placed in the care of a dogs home, then it will be up for relocation to a suitable home. The problem that we have at present is that we seize a dog, and as soon as the owner turns up we have to give it back. Otherwise, we seize a dog and are stuck with it until whenever, and it is a really difficult one.

Q There is a potential contradiction in the Bill regarding the situation that I have just read out, where a constable has reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence has taken place, and the dog can be collected after seven days. Then we go on to clause 27(8), which says:

“The constable may seize the dog and detain it—

(a) until an investigation has been carried out into whether an offence under section 26 has been committed by reason of the dog attacking or worrying livestock, or

(b) if proceedings are brought in respect of such an offence, until those proceedings have been determined or withdrawn.”

Effectively, that means that we have one situation where there is seven days and another situation under clause 27(8) where the dog can be kept until the end of criminal proceedings. What is the difference between the two? Is it that under clause 27(8) the person has been charged with the offence and the dog will then be kept potentially on an indefinite basis, compared with the seven days I just referred to?

Rob Taylor: I would have to read through it again in detail, but I think part 2 relates to the risk that the dog is going to reoffend. I would need to read through it again to make sure, but from the meetings I have been in that is the belief I have. We see time and again that a dog will offend, be taken back by the owner and then at the scene, and the next day go out and kill three or four sheep. The next day it does exactly the same again. My belief is that the power there is for detaining the dog until the case is completed.

Q Okay. You can see the difference between what constitutes a decision for seven days and what constitutes a decision for what would potentially be a very lengthy period of time. I have to go on. I am from a criminal law background and have dealt with many cases in this area. Realistically, where we are now, you could have a case that was disputed and could go on for over 12 months. You would accept that?

Rob Taylor: Absolutely.

Q So what happens to the dog for that length of time?

Rob Taylor: It would be kept in kennels until such a time.

Q How would we as a Committee be confident that the dog’s welfare needs would be met after such a long time in kennels?

Rob Taylor: The dog would be kept in kennels and would be fed and watered properly, as other dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are. The first situation applies when the dog owner is not known. The second applies when the dog owner is known. The dog could be kept to prevent it from reoffending again. Over the last 15 years I have been dealing with dog offences, I would say that that power has probably been used once or twice. It is an extremely rare situation.

Q A witness who gave evidence this morning said that there are examples from Scotland of dogs being kept for three or four years.

Rob Taylor: I have never come across that.

Q My final question is on the power of disqualification, which I assume you fully understand. People obviously can have more than one dog, so there may be a situation where one dog is responsible for an act that has led to the owner being convicted of a criminal offence. A disqualification order would suggest that other dogs in the home can then be seized, even though they have not been responsible for any potential criminal behaviour. Is that correct?

Rob Taylor: Absolutely. Court orders are given many times for people who commit offences against badgers or other similar offences of cruelty. They are given a banning order, which prevents them from keeping dogs. It is for them to actually dispose of the dogs or they commit a further offence of being in possession of a dog while subject to a court order.

Q I understand that, and I appreciate the point you are making. Clause 33(4) says:

“Any dog taken into possession in pursuance of an order under subsection (1) or (2)”—

which is the disqualification order—

“that is not owned by the person subject to the disqualification order is to be dealt with in such manner as an appropriate court may order.”

That covers a number of different circumstances. I am concerned that dogs that have not acted in an inappropriate manner, shall we say, are potentially going to be disposed of and destroyed. That seems remarkably unfair.

Rob Taylor: No, absolutely. We see it time and again with wildlife offences and other such offences. If you are subject to a disqualification order, it is your responsibility to dispose of those dogs, whether by rehoming them, giving them to somebody else or making sure that they are given to a dogs home. You cannot possess those dogs. Previously in my evidence I said that the problem we have is not with the dogs. It is about irresponsible dog ownership. You could have a great dog, but if the owner is a bad owner, they are going to continue to commit these offences. This is exactly the same. I am aware of numerous people in north Wales who are banned from keeping animals. There are numerous people throughout the UK who are banned from keeping animals, and quite rightly so. They are irresponsible and they treat animals in an appalling manner.

Q I have one final brief question. We clearly do not want to be in a situation where, if a disqualification order is made, the person convicted of a criminal offence is given responsibility for rehoming a dog. That seems ridiculous, but that is what you are suggesting would happen.

Rob Taylor: I do not see an issue with that.

Q So you do not see it as the responsibility of the police or somebody else to rehome a dog in an appropriate way when it has been taken, to ensure that its welfare is maintained?

Rob Taylor: If people are caught hare coursing or badger baiting and they have a disqualification put on them, it is their responsibility to rehome the dog and move it on; otherwise, they commit further offences. It is as simple as that. The two choices we have here are that we actually do that or we let the person commit an offence, such as the 100 sheep killed in Kent a few years ago. That person might go out and buy five Alsatians the next day. Where does it stop? There has to be a point at which that person is recognised as an irresponsible dog owner and not fit to keep dogs.

Q There is no dispute regarding disqualification from future purchase. What I am concerned about is the dog that is already under the ownership of a person and what happens to that dog, which has done nothing wrong whatsoever.

Rob Taylor: But that dog has done nothing wrong whatsoever up until that point. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase and attack. If the person’s dog that has committed the offence is no longer being walked, that person is walking his two whippets, Jack Russells or Yorkshire terriers and is irresponsible. That person remains irresponsible and that dog, once it attacks, will have a natural ability to chase. If the person decides to walk his dogs through a field without a lead or suitable responsibility, they will commit an offence and we are back to square one. We then have to get a disqualification order for the dog, which gets disqualified, and we carry on disqualifying that person, who could then have 20 dogs. We would spend 20 years trying to get that person not to be able to take their dog for a walk.

Q I also want to ask Mr Taylor a few questions, sticking to part 2 of the Bill, specifically clause 39, on the meaning of “worrying livestock”. We heard in evidence this morning from both the Blue Cross and the RSPCA that there are some concerns that the definition of a dog “at large” is far too broad and that it could have unintended consequences. I am interested to know whether you share any concerns about clause 39(3)(b), which elaborates that a dog is “at large” unless it is

“within sight of a person and the person—

(i) remains aware of the dog’s actions, and

(ii) has reason to be confident that the dog will return to the person reliably and promptly on the person’s command.”

Do you think that this may have unintended consequences for your ability to enforce to the law?

Rob Taylor: No, not at all. It needs to be clarified here that an act that takes somebody to court is the upper echelon. I can see five phases with regards to a livestock attack. If a dog is at large in a field or is loose beyond the control of the handler and no sheep have been chased or worried, that would be a word of advice or a lead letter, which is a standard letter that we send off. If there is an attack where a dog is chased, it moves up to a community resolution, whereby we can impose things such as the dog owner having to have control. It is a bit like a yellow card in a football match. It can then move up to a caution, then it moves up again to a prosecution. The prosecutions and destruction orders tend to be the ones that are repeat offences or where the dog handler is irresponsible from day one. That is a decision for the police managers, such as me, to make.

There are five phases. It does not mean that every single offence would go straight in at level 5 and that we would prosecute; there are various ways we deal with this. The problem we have is that the people who are at level 5, who are irresponsible and keep committing the same offences, keep buying dogs and keep going out and letting their dogs attack sheep. The problem we have is at the level 5 area, but I should say level 1 is that we do not take any action. Level 2 would be advice, level 3 would be community resolution, level 4 would be a caution and level 5 would be prosecution and possibly destruction.

Not every prosecution ends in a destruction. That would be a decision for me as to whether there are aggravated features within the offence, such as the dog has done it twice or three time before, it is a continued offence or the number of animals killed is on such a massive scale. For example, 11 cows were chased in Anglesey and had their udders ripped off. They ran across walls, broke all their legs and died—£22,000-worth. In my opinion, that would be a high-scale offence. Sadly, that offender was never caught.

Q On enforcement, there may not be any merit, but do you think that there is any benefit, in terms of public awareness and understanding of owners’ responsibilities, in limiting the definition of “at large” to a dog that is on a lead of a particular length?

Rob Taylor: It would possibly make it simpler.

Q Minette, other witnesses this morning suggested that there is an omission from the Bill, in that there are no provisions to offer compensation to livestock owners when they have suffered a dog attack in this way. I am interested in whether the National Farmers Union has a position on that and whether it would like to see such clauses inserted into the Bill.

Minette Batters: An attack can cost tens of thousands of pounds to that farming business. We feel that it has to be proportionate to the crime committed and at the moment it is not. It is probably not for us to put a figure on it, but it is not proportionate to the crime at the moment.

Q I have a question about the list of exempted dogs in clause 39(2)(b). Do you have a view on whether that list of dogs might be too broad given that it includes

“a working gun dog or a pack of hounds”,

and given their use in the countryside? Rob or Minette?

Minette Batters: I am simply not close enough to the detail. I think it would be an extraordinary situation for a pack of hounds that are hunting by trail anyway to end up in this position, so I cannot see either scenario happening in my opinion.

Rob Taylor: I think that was previously included in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, and it was just left in as it stands. I agree with Minette. I do not think it is contentious and it is quite limited if it were to occur. That is the reason it is in there.

Q Welcome, everyone. Following on, the working gun dog definition might be interesting to look at because we have working gun dogs, but they do not work—although they might go on the checkout in Asda occasionally on a Saturday morning. I wonder whether we need to look at that definition, because if somebody is walking their dog, it goes after a sheep, and the dog happens to be one of those breeds but not a working dog, there is a grey area there. Do you have an opinion on that?

Rob Taylor: I think the word “working” means actually in the process of working, for example, retrieving a pheasant.

Q They do that even if they are not supposed to. This morning, the Dogs Trust said the majority of livestock worrying is from dogs that have escaped from a garden. We are talking a lot about on lead/off lead. That is very important, and we must get it right. In your experience, are you seeing that the vast majority of attacks come from dogs that have escaped from properties? Minette, is that what your members are seeing as well?

Rob Taylor: We did a survey of the five police forces, as I said, between 2013 and 2017. We recorded the best stats we could. Luckily, North Wales had incredibly good stats because we would voluntarily record them every 24 hours, so we were very accurate. In North Wales, in excess of 70% of attacks were where the owner was not present, so that is a big one. The other four forces were Devon and Cornwall, North Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and Sussex. They came in with figures that were slightly less than that.

My frustration over the year is that everybody comes out with dogs on leads campaigns, whether it is a local council, the RSPCA or farming unions, whereas most of the time the problem is not that the owner is not present, but that the dog may have escaped, gone off or is some distance from the owner.

Q Thank you. Minette, is that what you are hearing from your members as well?

Minette Batters: I think the evidence speaks for itself. As Rob has just said, in 70% of attacks nobody was present, but ultimately the dog has not been constrained within the garden or on a lead. The bulk of these attacks happen with dogs out on their own with nobody in the vicinity at all.

Q There is a slight grey area because it is either that an animal has escaped from a property where the owner probably does not even know it has gone, or someone is walking in the countryside, the dog bolts and they have not got it under control. Those are two very different scenarios.

Rob Taylor: There is also a third one. I have been to many livestock attacks in my years; I was a warranted Sergeant until 2016, when I retired and became a manager as a civilian, so I have been to these attacks with my team myself. The third scenario is that the dog jumps out when the car boot is opened. That is quite a common one; we see that a lot, or people just take their dog out for a walk and think it would never do it. A common thing that people say to us is, “My dog would never attack,” and lo and behold it has just killed three sheep. Those are the common ones. I would like to think it lessened when more people were home due to lockdown, and I would be interested to see those statistics.

However, as we know, more people at home bought more dogs, so that emphasises the problem itself. The main problem would be that somebody would buy a dog. Predominantly, about four years ago, everybody went husky-crazy and bought huskies. I am not sure if it was from a TV programme that featured huskies as quite a part of it, but something like 70% to 80% of the attacks we had that year were huskies. People just went crazy for huskies, and of course, after they stopped being puppies, they left them in their insecure gardens and went to work. Quite commonly, we would have an attack, go around to the house, and the owner would not even know the attack had happened until we followed a trail of blood to their back door and saw that the dog had blood on its fur.

Q That is an interesting point. A few years ago it was huskies; what seems to be the dominant breed at the moment? Is there a dominant breed?

Rob Taylor: There is a real mix. I started looking at full moons and all sorts, because I really thought there was some theory in it. I believe it was similar when Harry Potter was very pro on the TV and in films, and everybody was buying barn owls. I will not name the programme, but there was a similar thing with a very famous programme, which I think has finished now, and people started buying huskies left, right and centre, and that was the problem. Those who know dogs know that huskies are a very difficult breed to keep because they can run all day, sleep for one hour, and eat some blubber on ice. Having them in a garden backing on to a field full of sheep is probably the worst-case scenario.

Q Thank you to our witnesses for appearing before us. Peter, are you confident and encouraged that this legislation will actively improve the welfare of animals that are transported? I am specifically thinking of livestock and horses. Are there other things that we need to be doing in parallel to this, such as bolstering and supporting the abattoir network to reduce the distances that animals need to be transported? Are you encouraged that the legislation will improve welfare?

Peter Stevenson: Yes, I am encouraged that it will. Obviously it is not going to tackle all sorts of things, but specifically on the prohibition on live exports for slaughter or fattening, I believe that will improve welfare. As I said, until very recently, several thousand calves per year were being sent from Great Britain down to Spain. We also have sheep that were being sent to a variety of countries for slaughter—to France, the Netherlands and Belgium—but in 2019, there were some sheep going all the way to Hungary and Bulgaria. The big worry there is not just the length of the journey—although that is a big concern—but the fact that the animals may be re-exported.

As I said, in 2020, if I remember rightly, an animal welfare organisation was able to film calves with UK ear tags being loaded on to a ship in Spain—having been sent to Spain, and after a period of fattening—to be sent on to Libya, and also slaughtered in Lebanon. This will stop that risk of UK animals being sent on huge, long journeys.

In terms of other things, yes, I totally agree with your point: we have the problem, and have had it for many years, that the local network of small abattoirs has been rapidly disappearing because of economic constraints. We need Government to come in and help with that by providing funding, because otherwise there is a danger that we continue to have long journeys here, just within Britain.

It is also important that there are a number of farmers who want to engage in what are called private kills. They want to send their animals to a local abattoir, and then have the carcass back so that they can add value and sell it directly to customers. That is beneficial because it means a short journey to the abattoir for the animal, but in terms of boosting local rural economies, that is important, and we certainly need a network of small abattoirs. We also need to see some of the longer journeys within Britain coming down. Most journeys to slaughter are already under eight hours, but we really want to see all of them under that. Of course we recognise that there has to be an exception for very remote parts of Britain, such as the highlands.

Q Thank you, that is very helpful. May I pass that over to Minette? I am sure you would be supportive of animals being farm-reared and entering the food supply chain locally. That will reduce travelling times and improve animal welfare. Do you think that for your members there is enough clarity in the Bill that farm animals can still be moved for breeding purposes? We have been fairly explicit in the Bill that it is for fattening and slaughter, but is there enough clarity that other movements would be permissible for breeding stock?

Minette Batters: I think everyone regrets the fact that we have lost the small local abattoirs. The fact is they have gone, and the distribution centres are so consolidated that we have lost our local routes to market. I used to have two local slaughterhouses within 20 miles. There is nothing now in that mileage range, and that will be the same in many parts of the country. We have lost the small abattoirs: it was too impossible for them to run. Everybody would like to get back to that, but it is just not available at the moment. There have been many conversations about mobile abattoirs, but we do not have the legislation in place to achieve that.

Everybody is supportive of the local agenda, but we drove that out and it has gradually got worse and worse. We have fewer and fewer abattoirs. We would need to bring them back and we would need to incentivise and empower that more local, added-value way ahead, which—like Peter—I am very supportive of. At the moment we have totally diminished it. Can you remind me of your other point?

Q It was about movement of animals for breeding purposes—high-level breeding animals that still need to be moved around in the farming world. Is there enough clarity in the Bill? It is clear for fattening and slaughter, but it is important that animals are still able to be moved for breeding purposes. The caveat is that we do not want people exploiting that as a loophole.

Minette Batters: We should not forget how hugely important that point is, both on genetics and on welfare. The position on border control posts has been hard-fought, and is still at some risk as negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol continue. It is essential that we prioritise breeding stock—it is a number of 30,000 and it is important for both sides, the UK and the EU. We must avoid any unintended consequences. I remain concerned, on the European side, that we get this in place. Things are moving forward, but it is not a done deal yet.

Q I want to refer back to something Minette said earlier, and I apologise if I misunderstood it. With regard to dog attacks on sheep, I think you said that once a dog has become a sheep killer, it will remain a sheep killer for life. Is that what you said? I understand that is a commonly held view among the farming fraternity.

Minette Batters: I think Rob backed up what I said. It is not impossible to train a dog out of that behaviour, but once a dog has attacked a sheep it is extremely hard to turn that dog around and it would need supervision at all times with livestock to avoid that scenario happening again.

Q Once a dog has breached that point of no return—once it has become a sheep killer—I take it from what you have just said that you believe it is virtually impossible for that dog to be safely rehomed because of the danger that, unless it is under very close supervision from that point onwards, it would remain a sheep killer and would attack livestock again.

Minette Batters: We have to bear in mind that if a dog has killed a sheep it is not the sheep that it has an affinity with; it is the fact that it has drawn blood. You then have to ask yourself what other damage it could go on to do, whether that be to other dogs, other animals in general, or indeed people. Once a dog has made an attack it is really in a very vulnerable place, for the damage it might go on to do.

Are there any further questions from Members? In that case, I thank our witnesses: Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union; Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming; and Rob Taylor from the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s livestock priority delivery group. Thank you very much indeed.

Examination of Witness

Rob Quest gave evidence.

We will now hear from Rob Quest, the chairman of the Canine and Feline Sector Group, who is appearing virtually. We have until 3.30 pm for this session. Could the witness please introduce himself?

Rob Quest: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Rob Quest. I am the current chair of the Canine and Feline Sector Group.

Q Hello, Rob. Thank you for giving evidence to us. I have only a few questions for you. You will have heard some of the debate about livestock worrying. Are you in the lead or no-lead camp?

Rob Quest: Interesting. I think our consensus would be that we would support dogs on a lead in an enclosed field with cattle. That is easier to enforce than the general “at large” wording that was there, but we understand that the main concern with worrying is dogs that get out of people’s houses and have no one anywhere near them.

Q We heard evidence from Rob Taylor that there were concerns with dogs being on a lead around cattle in particular, because of the risk to the human with the dog of being attacked. Would that tally with your experience?

Rob Quest: Yes. I think the guidance would be that if cattle come towards you and there is an issue, you have to let go of the lead or take the lead off the dog, because we understand the dangers there.

Q Moving on to the pet travel rules, where do you stand on putting in an exemption to include rescue dogs?

Rob Quest: Wearing my hat as chairman of the CFSG, and with my local authority experience of whoever knows how long, we would not support an exemption for rescue animals. The puppy issue is one thing, but we have problems with rescue animals as well.

Q Can you give us any examples from your experience?

Rob Quest: We get some of the same problems that you have with puppies—false paperwork, fake vaccine certificates and so on—with rescue dogs as well.

Q Good afternoon. You may well have heard some of the evidence given by previous witnesses, but to return to the importation of dogs and cats in a vehicle, what is your view on the number—five or three?

Rob Quest: We would support three. It is probably easier for the enforcers if there is just a blanket of three, but we understand that there are also issues if you limit it too much. When families are travelling, they may have more than three. We understand from the data that it is very unlikely that individual families would have more than three animals, but if more than one family were travelling they may have three. Overall, we think that three is a good number.

Q I put this question to one of our earlier witnesses. There are pretty strong measures in the Bill to deal with puppy and dog smuggling, but there is a view that some of those who are driven by profit might begin to look at cats as well. There is some evidence to suggest that, particularly with some breeds, money has been extorted through that process. Does the Bill need to be strengthened in terms of cats? I am particularly thinking of such things as declawing.

Rob Quest: Yes, we would support cats being treated in the same way as dogs, and the same rules applying to cats as to dogs. From an enforcement point of view, again that makes life easier. Families may have dogs and cats, and to have different rules confuses things, so we would support treating cats the same way. There is evidence that the number of cats being imported has increased. Certainly, through Heathrow airport our cat seizures have gone up over the last two years.

Q You may well have heard the discussion earlier about so-called fashion-based mutilations. Does the Bill do enough to tackle those?

Rob Quest: We agree wholeheartedly with banning the import of cropped and docked dogs. My experience at Heathrow airport is of a big increase in the number of dogs coming in from the USA with cropped ears. As part of our remit, we also know that there has been an increase in breeds such as the Dobermann coming from Europe with cropped ears. We would fully support a ban on the import of those.

Q From your experience, how confident can we be that the various authorities charged with enforcement have the resources, training, numbers and skills to do what we expect them to?

Rob Quest: We have a concern about dogs coming in through the ports and on the train, because the requirement of the checkers is just to check the microchip numbers. They do not get them out of the containers. If they are flown in through an airport—as I say, we get cropped dogs coming in from the US—they will generally be released into a kennel, and it is very easy to see that they have cropped ears, but we have a concern that they are not inspected fully by the pet checkers, which are usually the ferry company or the train company, when they come in on that route. That is something that we highlighted in our response.

Q Should there be visual checks?

Rob Quest: You need to have a visual check; otherwise, you will not know whether the animals have been cropped and docked.

Q To what extent should the responsibility lie with the carrier?

Rob Quest: If they do a visual check, it is easy to tell that a dog has had its ears cropped. It could be a requirement to do visual checks, or the whole checking process could be handed over to officials, but that comes with another pile of issues.

Q Indeed. Would you like to say a little more about what those issues might be?

Rob Quest: Resources would be the main one, and the priorities of officials at ports. If the checkers could be properly resourced and part of the official enforcement authority, that would be a good result, but we understand that issues of resources go along with that.

Q Hi Rob. I have just looked on your organisation’s website. Your organisation advises the Government on important dog and cat health and welfare issues and standards. Is that correct?

Rob Quest: Yes, the Canine and Feline Sector Group is made up of a wide range of organisations, such as Dogs Trust and the RSPCA, which you have already heard from, and the British Veterinary Association.

Q If the state is detaining an animal in kennels, for whatever reason, for a lengthy period of time—potentially up to 12 months, or longer—would you advise the Government or have any views as to the welfare issues for that animal, which will almost exclusively be a dog, in respect of the legislation?

Rob Quest: Overall, animals in kennels under long-term official control are usually under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, rather than this legislation, but we would always advise that dogs should be in kennels for the absolute minimum amount of time. The sooner we can get them out of kennels and put in a proper home, the better.

Q But where there is no other option, if a dog is detained by the police or any authority, perhaps for very good reason, are there any facilities other than kennels where it can be looked after for a lengthy period of time? I am asking in complete ignorance, so please forgive me.

Rob Quest: No, if a dog is not compliant on import it would have to go into one of the authorised quarantine kennels. The maximum time in those kennels to make a dog compliant is currently four months, and then it can come out. The minimum time is generally 21 days, but it may be less, depending on what subsequent paperwork turns up regarding that non-compliance.

Q Rob, I noted your comment that, sadly, you have noticed an increasing number of dogs with cropped ears coming through Heathrow, which really rams home the importance of visual checks. The legislation aims to reduce the movement of animals that have been mutilated, so I wanted to ask if you have seen a similar increase in the number of cats coming in with their claws removed. That will be much harder to detect visually than a Dobermann with cropped ears. Have you picked up on that at all? We need to ensure that cats that have been mutilated are covered by the legislation as well.

Rob Quest: No, we have not, but that might because, as you say, it is much more difficult to know if a cat’s claws have been taken out. We have not noticed that, but it is certainly something we could look for in future. As you say, it is very easy to see if a dog’s ears have been cropped when they are taken out of the container. We have not seen anything like cropped claws. I imagine that would be mostly from the States, because that is quite routine practice there.

Q Your evidence, and the evidence we heard from Dogs Trust this morning, has really reinforced that this is good legislation but it needs an effective effector arm, if you like, to monitor and enforce it. With border checks and adequate resources for that, we will be able to try to stop people moving animals in those situations.

Rob Quest: I would agree.

Q We have talked a lot today about cats and dogs, but the legislation also covers ferrets. I wonder if there are any animals that have been missed, or what you see with regard to ferrets in particular. I understand the reasoning behind it, but is there any comment there? The Committee has not heard anything about that today.

Rob Quest: We do not see many ferrets being imported, to be quite honest. We see literally thousands of dogs and cats, but a handful of ferrets.

Q That is really helpful for the Committee to know. Are there any other animals that you feel should be covered by the Bill?

Rob Quest: No, I do not think so at the moment. We can get things right for dogs and cats first, and then perhaps look at other animals.

As there are no further questions, I thank Rob Quest, chairman of the Canine and Feline Sector Group.

Examination of Witness

Mike Webb gave evidence.

We will now hear from Mike Webb, head of policy and public affairs at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. We have until 4 o’clock for this session. Will the witness please introduce himself?

Mike Webb: My name is Michael Webb. I am the head of policy and public affairs at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Q Thank you, Mike, for coming to give evidence. We have been touching on the same issues repeatedly. You have probably been following our proceedings, so without a great preamble can I go straight to the issues that concern us? On pet imports and pet travel, would you be in the five animals per vehicle camp or the three animals per vehicle camp?

Mike Webb: It will probably not surprise you to learn that I am in the three animals per vehicle camp, for reasons similar to those explained by colleagues earlier in the day. We still are yet to bottom out the intention behind setting the limit at five. It is worth recognising that the change to expressing this per vehicle rather than per person is incredibly welcome. That will make a significant difference.

We are arguing in favour of three simply because we do not believe that it will affect dog owners to a significant degree, given that so few people own more than three dogs. There are different figures being banded around. We have used the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association figures, which say that 94% of dog owners have two or fewer dogs. That means that by extending it beyond three we would not capture too many legitimate dog owners, whose lives we certainly do not want to make difficult.

Q I think the concern today has centred on dog owners travelling together legitimately—a person with two dogs travelling with another person with two dogs.

Mike Webb: It is a legitimate concern, although where I had some concern from the information from Brittany Ferries this morning was how many of the people travelling with more than three dogs in their party are a dog owner with two dogs and another dog owner with two dogs. Actually, four dogs in a car is quite a lot. How many of them are people who are passing those dogs off as their pets when, in fact, they are not? That is exactly what this law is trying to stop.

Q Do you agree that there should be no exemption for rescue dogs?

Mike Webb: Yes, given the loophole that was expressed earlier. We run an academy at Battersea that is focused very much on working with rescues, both domestic and international, to try to improve standards. One of the things we are working on is trying to prepare as well as we can for the advent of this legislation. My feeling is that most people recognise that it is necessary and that, if there were to be an exemption for rescue dogs, a significant loophole would be open to abuse. So for the time being at least, we would agree with that.

Q Finally, can you give us your views on whether cats should be included in any conversations about theft? What sort of values are you seeing for cats that are stolen at the moment?

Mike Webb: I think the issue with cats at the moment is that although the trade is perhaps less lucrative and less well known or understood than with dogs, we know that it is increasing. We have seen a steady increase in the number of cats brought into the UK over the last five or six years. The number we have been quoting is an estimate from PDSA that suggests 48,000 cats were brought into the UK between the start of the pandemic and May of this year. That is quite a sizable increase on five or six years ago, and it is continuing to grow. Our view is that the Bill puts forward some really sensible and welcome provisions for dogs, and it just makes sense to extend those to cats. This is a really good opportunity to significantly improve animal welfare. By extending some of these measures, particularly around pregnant cats, this is a great opportunity to improve animal welfare across the board, not just for dogs.

Q I will take my lead from the Minister and ask the lead question: on livestock attacks, where do you stand on leads?

Mike Webb: Clearly, the Bill is trying to strike a sensible balance. We share the concern of some others that some of the definitions currently in the Bill perhaps muddy those waters a little. There is no need for some kind of blanket ban on off-lead walking. At the same time, however, if people have a reasonable suspicion that there is going to be livestock in the area, it is absolutely essential that they keep their dog on a lead. From our perspective, this is about people’s livelihoods. Dogs should not be walked off-lead in areas where there will be livestock present.

Q That was a brilliant politician’s answer, if I may say, because I am not entirely sure where you are on leads after that. Never mind; I get the drift. I will move on to the import issues, some of which you have already talked about. I would like to explore two areas. The first is the difficult issue, throughout all the legislation, of where dogs are confined to kennels and the unintended consequences of being tough in other areas. What is Battersea’s view on how we might go forward on that?

Mike Webb: We welcome the seizure powers in the Bill, because if people are bringing animals in for a less than reputable purpose, ultimately there is no reason why those people should have those animals back. However, there are still a few areas that we feel need ironing out. In particular, with the move towards border control posts, which I believe are due to be operational from January, what happens if someone, either innocently or otherwise, takes their dog to the wrong place? One assumes that there will be adequate kennelling facilities at the designated border control post for animal movements, but what happens elsewhere? Our concern is that people might be given the dog back and told to return whence they came, thus exposing the dog to a hazardous journey. On how the imports system will continue to operate, we think the Bill makes some pretty sensible proposals. We hope that in some areas greater clarity will come out during Committee stage and in further scrutiny.

As ever, I think that we are good at identifying problems, but solutions are sometimes more difficult.

Mike Webb: If I may propose a solution on the imports idea, it seems to me that there is a great opportunity for partnership working here. Obviously, border control posts, the police or Border Force, will only want to keep kennelled animals for a period of time. It seems to me that what they will require is partners to move those animals to thereafter. There is a strong and very dedicated network of rescue centres around the country, so we would encourage Border Force, for example, to get to know their local rescue centre, which might have kennelling space that they are able to help them with.

Q Thank you; that is helpful. I want to explore a slightly different area from the ones that we have explored with other witnesses so far. Do you have any potential solutions for the vexed issues with microchipping, such as the multiplicity of data- bases and the problems that creates for vets in some circumstances?

Mike Webb: In a perfect world we would have one easy-to-access database, but we do not live in that perfect world and we are unlikely to. Ultimately, these are commercial entities and it would be very expensive and complicated to get back to a position of there being only one microchipping database for dogs, and that is before it becomes compulsory for cats, which we expect in the coming months. It is really essential that there is one simple, easy-to-access place that vets can visit to find out which database is holding the information on the chip they scanned, rather than having to go through, I think, 13 currently compliant databases—plus however many non-compliant databases. If there was one simple portal with the capacity to access the different databases that vets need, that would surely save them a whole lot of time.

Q I was interested in the statistics you gave on the number of animals coming in. I think you talked about cats, so I guess you would have a feel for the number of dogs being imported as well. Some of them, sadly, end up going into rehoming shelters, such as your charity, and homes and so on. For your charity and partners, has there been any concomitant increase in the number of animals coming in with health issues? I am thinking of exotic diseases to the UK. Diseases such as leishmaniasis and canine brucellosis have health implications for the animals coming in as well as those already in this country and, importantly, in some disease situations for people.

Mike Webb: Not yet, but it stretches credibility to think that it is not going to happen eventually. As we see more and more animals coming in at the border with relatively little checking, and certainly no visual checking, it seems only a matter of time. This is already a consistent worry for rescue organisations, as you can imagine. When we see an animal that causes any sort of suspicion, we separate it into our isolation kennels. That is not a particularly nice experience for the dog, but happily so far every time that has happened we have done the necessary blood work and it has come back with nothing to worry about, but we have to remain ever vigilant.

Q That is helpful. Chair, I will pursue the line of questioning about the specifics of some of the diseases with the president of the British Veterinary Association, Justine Shotton, when she is with us. Measures could be brought in through legislation, be it primary or secondary, to improve checks on animals prior to entry, ensuring that they have health checks, and potentially preventative health treatments, before they arrive. In your view, as a key stakeholder, would that help the population of animals in this country and then, indirectly, people?

Mike Webb: I think it would provide the public with greater security and confidence in the animal that they are bringing in. We remain somewhat sceptical of whether people are as aware as they might be of the risk of animals that they bring in.

Q I think that is right, because a lot of people will be trying, with good intentions, to rehome an animal and will maybe import an animal, but they will not know whether the animal is harbouring a very serious disease, because no checks have been done. There is that factor of the unknown.

Mike Webb: Yes, and we certainly see people who are unaware of behavioural issues with animals that they have bought that come into Battersea. We have seen that increasingly throughout the pandemic. We are seeing a greater proportion of our intake of animals that have particular behavioural problems. It may well be that over time we see the same with health problems too.

Q Following up on something we heard from a previous witness, are you seeing an increase over the last 12 to 18 months of animals coming in that have potentially had mutilations, such as cropped ears?

Mike Webb: We are for cropped ears, yes.

Q Can you put a figure on that at all?

Mike Webb: Yes, but they are still fairly small numbers. I looked it up this morning. Six years ago, in 2015, we had only one animal with cropped ears, and last year we had 12. They are still fairly small numbers, but that is how these trends work. We see this time and again with rescue centres. Trends tend to hit us a bit later because of the nature of how we source animals. A lot of animals are given up to us for whatever reason. We do not necessarily perform the same role that a breeder would in the animal supply process. We tend to see trends a little later, after they have taken root. We monitor social media discussions and we are seeing an awful lot more promotion of animals with cropped ears. That is why we feel that the Government are acting in a timely fashion. Ultimately, these are mutilations that for a long time have been considered illegal in this country. If it is illegal for a UK vet to perform this kind of procedure, surely as a country we should consider it similarly illegal for someone else to do it and bring the animal into the UK. We would absolutely include the declawing of cats in that.

Q Thank you. I think you make a very pertinent point that sometimes we are lagging behind the trends. In popular culture there is a subliminal promotion of these animals as being normal. They are in celebrity culture as well. I think of Pixar’s film “Up”, which has Dobermans with cropped ears. People look at that and think that is normal. Really, there is a role for all of us to call that out and say that it is not normal. The Bill will help in saying that if procedures are illegal in this country, you cannot bring in dogs or cats that have had those procedures from elsewhere. We all have a role to play in that.

Mike Webb: We do, and I would add that the definitions under section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 are actually quite clear that anything that is not of medical benefit to the animal should be considered an unacceptable mutilation under the Act. We support that and think the Bill strengthens the provision already in law very well.

If there are no further questions from Members, I will thank the witness, Mike Webb, head of policy and public affairs a Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, on behalf of the Committee. Thank you very much. Our next session will be at 3.45 pm.

Sitting suspended.

Examination of Witness

Justine Shotton gave evidence.

We will now hear from Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, who will appear virtually. We have until 4.30 pm. Could the witness please introduce herself for the record?

Justine Shotton: My name is Justine Shotton, and I am the president of the British Veterinary Association, which is the national representative body for veterinary surgeons in the UK.

Q Hello, Justine. Thank you very much for giving evidence to us. Do you support the livestock worrying provisions in the Bill, and specifically the expansion of the definition of livestock?

Justine Shotton: Thank you very much for the opportunity to give evidence. We are absolutely in favour of the livestock worrying part of the Bill. We have one area of concern: there need to be safeguards in the Bill to ensure that any seized dogs are not held in kennels for long periods, because we are worried that that could affect their welfare. That is really our main concern in that area.

Q Lovely. I will move straight on, then. Do you also approve of the export ban for fattening and slaughter, and are you happy with that area of the Bill?

Justine Shotton: We feel that this is an area where we really need to focus on not just journey times but the overall experience of the animals. In some instances, the journey time may be shorter even if they are going abroad. We need to be mindful of the whole picture and the welfare impacts on the animals, so it is a bit more nuanced. We need to be really aware of not only the quality of the journey overall, but whether such things as time spent in markets or collection centres will affect the journey and will be considered in terms of the journey time. We need some tightening up of the welfare experience of animals in collection centres and markets. We also have a concern about how the Bill could affect rural areas, in terms of travel time from the highlands and islands. We want to ensure that a ban on exports does not oversimplify the issue when there are other welfare considerations.

Q Absolutely. Have you been fully sighted on the consultation on animal transport generally?

Justine Shotton: Yes.

Q Great. A lot of that is not dealt with in the Bill, which deals specifically with live exports, but is dealt with elsewhere.

Justine Shotton: Yes, and we are very happy to support and feed in where we can.

Q Brilliant. Thank you. You might have heard some of the discussion in Committee today about whether reducing the number of pets that can travel per vehicle from five to three is a good thing. Where do you stand on that?

Justine Shotton: We support a reduction in the number of animals per consignment in general, and the ability to restrict imports on welfare grounds, as in other areas that are detailed. If the reduction goes ahead, we ask for a tightly worded exemption, so that people relocating permanently back to the UK who have more than three pets can bring them all. We are concerned about that in particular, but we support measures in general that reduce the number of animals per consignment.

Q So you would be more happy with three per vehicle than with five.

Justine Shotton: To some extent, the numbers are relatively arbitrary, but overall we feel a reduction is sensible. We have some key asks on the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets. We feel there should be mandatory pre-import testing, particularly for dogs with unknown health status coming from countries where we know that diseases that are not present in the UK are endemic. That is partly to protect our dog populations, but also to protect public health, because some of these are zoonotic diseases. We are seeing an increasing incidence of such diseases as Brucella canis. We would really like an amendment to be tabled on that.

We have seen your evidence, and of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border asks questions about that frequently. Thank you; that is all from me.

I am sure he will ask some more, Minister. We now go to the hon. Member for Cambridge.

Q Good afternoon. Thank you for giving us your time and expertise. I will run through things in the order that the Bill covers them, starting with primates. In your written evidence, you say you are concerned about a number of loopholes that you think might make the Bill ineffective. What should we do to strengthen it?

Justine Shotton: We have a very detailed annexe to our briefing, which we have sent you, so I refer you to that on specific wording changes. We are particularly worried about single-kept primates—how changes to the number of primates you might be holding could lead to primates being on their own, which has serious welfare implications for such a social taxon. If a licensing scheme is implemented, rather than a complete ban, then we want that to be as tight as possible, with very high standards, so that keeping primates really is the exception rather than the rule. That would involve experienced keepers, who would be part of international breeding programmes, for example, so the standards were at least as per zoos, if not higher. We know that local authorities will need support and resourcing to enforce this, and we can absolutely support vets, in terms of instructing them around the training that they require, and acting in their areas of competency.

There are a few asks on the detail. We feel that the licence length is far too long at six years, and want that brought down to four years, with inspections every couple of years. We also want a reduction in the rectification time from two years to six months, because two years is a very long time for welfare issues in primates.

A key concern around this part of the Bill is that it could be applied to other wild animals, and if that goes in there, there needs to be a caveat: species-specific needs should be considered and relevant stakeholders engaged before it can be applied to other species. It could work well with primates if we can get a few changes in there, but we do not think it is appropriate for it to apply to other species at this point.

Q I think what I took from that is that you would prefer a ban.

Justine Shotton: We would prefer a ban, unless the licensing standards are extremely high, so that licensing really is only for the occasional individual with legitimate reasons, where we can adequately ensure the welfare of those animals.

Q Moving on to attacks on livestock, we have basically reduced this down to a question of whether you are in favour of leads. Do you think dogs should be on a lead?

Justine Shotton: We do feel that dogs should be on a lead. We do not want to discourage people from walking their dogs in the countryside. We know the welfare benefits for the dogs, as well as for their owners and their mental health, but we think it is appropriate to have dogs on leads when they are around livestock.

Q On export for slaughter, a lot of this ground has been covered by other witnesses, but I noticed that in your written evidence, you talked about certified training for farmers, drivers and hauliers. What would that look like?

Justine Shotton: I think we would have to engage with our stakeholders in more detail to see exactly what that looks like, but it is about ensuring that the welfare needs of animals can be met throughout the journey—a lot of injuries and welfare compromises happen around loading and unloading—and around being fit to transport in the first place. We want to ensure that anyone in charge of those animals at any point along their export knows how to meet their welfare needs. They need adequate veterinary-led training in that.

Q Thank you. On the import of dogs and cats, you have already made the point about pre-import testing. Again, how would that work in practice? What are the implications?

Justine Shotton: I think it how it is applied depends on the country. There are a number of different tests for different diseases, but we would want to see those put on an import certificate that came with a dog that had been declared to be free of certain diseases via testing, and we would want to see adequate results from approved laboratories. That is the way it works for other diseases and other species, when it comes to imports and exports.

Q In discussions with previous witnesses, the point has begun to be made that the provisions for dogs should probably be extended to cats. Is that your view, too?

Justine Shotton: Yes. We have a number of additional asks. For example, we would like the reintroduction of tick and tapeworm treatments for cats as well as dogs, and a reduction in the amount of time before animals—dogs and cats—come in for the tapeworm treatments. As a general rule, we think that the diseases are slightly different, depending on the species and the country, but ideally pre-import testing would apply to both groups.

Q Finally, on zoos there is a specific ask to change the term “specialist” to “expert”. Could you explain the thinking behind that?

Justine Shotton: Absolutely. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which is our regulator, uses the term “specialist” to refer to vets who have achieved the highest academic level of qualification, which is a diplomate status in a certain field. When they have achieved that level, they can be called “specialist,” so it is a particular term in a professional context.

For example, I am a zoo vet. I have worked in a zoo for seven years and I look after primates on a daily basis, but I am not a specialist. I could be considered an expert in primate care, I suppose, and I should be considered one of the people whom it would be appropriate to have look after primates and ensure that their welfare needs are met, but I am not a specialist. That is why we would like that wording changed.

Q The Minister will be relieved to hear that Justine has answered many of my questions already. To reiterate a couple of them, you are keen for health checks to be made on animals prior to entry, covering diseases such as brucellosis and leishmaniasis. I am interested in your comments about reintroducing mandatory tick and tapeworm treatments for cats. Can you give the Committee your perspective on why it is important that we do that quickly?

Justine Shotton: That is to protect not only those animals, but animals in the UK. Certain parasites can be detrimental and harmful to human health, so we want to ensure they are eliminated before those animals come in. The timeframe is important in terms of the elimination. There are also some nasty tick-borne diseases. This would protect not only our pets but public health, and the timeframe is important because of the lifecycle of those animals and the timeframe in which they breed infection.

Q Certainly, there are reports of dogs in this country picking up exotic tick-borne diseases when they have never been out of this country. They have picked up a tick in this country, obviously from a dog that has come into Essex or somewhere. The Government can act on that pretty quickly, can they not?

Justine Shotton: Absolutely.

Q Good. I am going to duck around the species a little bit, Chair, with your forgiveness. I want to go back to primates. Justine, you are a zoo vet. I take your point about being a specialist, as opposed to having expertise, but can you give the Committee some perspective on the number of vets who have the relevant experience or expertise to treat, diagnose and look after primates in this country? Are they spread around the country geographically, or are they concentrated next to zoos or in zoos? Can you give us any perspective on that?

Justine Shotton: I would say that the numbers are relatively low. Very few zoos have staff vets—they are mainly the big zoos—so we are talking about just a handful of people. Some of the smaller zoos and wildlife parks use local vets with a level of expertise that would be appropriate. It is a relatively small number. I could not give you an exact figure, but off the top of my head, it is probably fewer than 50.

If there was a licensing scheme, rather than a complete ban, we would need to make sure that since the licensing standards were so high that really it would apply to a very small number of animals, so that the vets would be able to service those animals and look after their welfare needs appropriately.

Q You have come on to my follow-up question. If licensing came in, would there be enough vets able to get involved in that, and to deliver the health and welfare monitoring of those animals?

Justine Shotton: Again, it depends on how many licences would be granted. From my personal perspective, zoo vets can be very busy, and they may not, in terms of biosecurity, want to be going off site to look at primates in other areas and other collections. I think we need to be mindful of that. There are vets in practice who could service a need if appropriate, but it would need to be relatively small numbers. That is my personal opinion.

Q Thank you; that is helpful. There has been a lot of debate about a ban versus licensing. Can you give us your perspective? We are still trying to get to the bottom of how many people in this country would be looking after a primate in zoo-type conditions. How many people are there? Is there really a reason to be keeping a primate in that situation outside zoo premises?

Justine Shotton: Unfortunately, we do not know the exact numbers. I never came across that when working in private practice. In small animal practice, I never saw a primate as a pet. There was a local wildlife park that had primates, and it was looked after by a zoo practice.

I think it would be hard to define the numbers exactly. We worked with the British Veterinary Zoological Society on our response, and it did not know the numbers either, so I think they are small. However, there could be places where there are legitimate keepers who keep primates as part of, for example, breeding programmes that may be helpful for international conservation work. The numbers would be low, but that could be a legitimate reason.

Q So the numbers could be low, but there could potentially be people who are keeping primates, not as pets, and who are affiliated with zoos and are part of conservation programmes. You feel that from the veterinary profession’s viewpoint, there is a small number of people whom that would work for, and you are comfortable with that.

Justine Shotton: Exactly. I know personally from my zoo experience that that is the case for other species. We have worked with organisations that have that, and it could be a useful place for animals to go and to come from the zoo populations. Most zoos only trade as part of international breeding programmes with other zoos, but there is a small place where this work could be needed when it comes to primates.

Q Finally, do you think the Bill could be strengthened if we were a bit clearer in some of the definitions and the criteria? I am thinking of things such as putting six months in the Bill as the minimum age at which animals can be brought into the country, and specifying the need for health checks, rabies titre tests and so on before animals come in. Also, potentially, there could be a definition of what we mean by a heavily pregnant pet. We heard Paula from the Dogs Trust say in evidence that it is currently illegal to bring in an animal in the last 10% of gestation, but that it would be sensible use some other definition—say, the last 30% to 50% of gestation. Do you think the Bill would be strengthened if we were clearer, and that that would perhaps tighten up some loopholes?

Justine Shotton: Clarity is really important. On primary or secondary legislation, we do not have a particular view, as long as it is robust and enforceable. We feel that if there is secondary legislation, particularly around imports of pets, perhaps some of our asks around tick and tapeworm treatment could go there; it would be even easier to amend that. On gestation, in an ideal world, we would support the ban of importation of any pregnant bitches, but we understand how difficult that is, particularly without ultrasound scanning, which is why either a proportion of gestation or, when you visually assess it, around 42 days seems appropriate. It is not the ideal situation, but it would be impossible to enforce below that.

Thank you. Hopefully the Minister and the Government can help us through this process. It is really helpful for us to hear that your view is that this important stuff needs to be done in either primary or secondary legislation, but on some of these issues, such as the health status of animals, it needs to be done quickly, so we can stop diseases coming in and stop cruel practices. Hopefully the Government can work with everyone on that.

Q I point out what I said earlier about my interest in zoos. On zoos, Justine, your report mentions the “Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice”. What is your understanding of that, and your concerns about it?

Justine Shotton: Our main concern is that these are under review, and we and other stakeholders have not had sight of the new standards. We also do not know whether there will be a transition period. That is really important, particularly for some of the smaller, less resourced zoos and particularly after the pandemic. Zoos have really struggled during the pandemic, even the very big ones. We absolutely support higher welfare standards in zoos, but we need to be mindful that if there are changes that will take time, zoos need time to make those changes, otherwise there could be welfare harms to those animals, particularly with the challenges we are seeing around exporting zoo animals at the moment, which is very difficult. They could go into other areas of trade where their welfare may be compromised. Our key ask is around having sight of the new standards and a legitimate transition period for those smaller zoos in particular.

Q That is really helpful to look at the welfare side. I do not know if your organisation has a position on conservation because that has been brought in together with the zoo aspect. Do you have any comments on that?

Justine Shotton: Again, I think we would want to see what it entails. Personally, I work for a conservation-focused zoo and I think conservation is really important and absolutely a key part of why zoos should exist in society. However, in terms of our comments on conservation more broadly, we would want to see what that would look like before we could comment, how achievable it is and exactly what it would cover.

Q How do you think things are set up to provide the communication, both to you as practising veterinarians and to the public about the standards of welfare?

Justine Shotton: Yes, probably more can be done in both of those areas in terms of communicating to vets and other members of the zoo community about welfare and what zoos can do. We do a lot of animal welfare assessment, for example, in zoo animals. We have published a lot on that in our zoo in particular. I think sometimes the public do not realise the breadth of what goes on in good zoos to maximise animal welfare, so I think public education is vital as well.

Q I want to pick up on some of the breeding issues in primates. What is your view on whether the licensing scheme would leave scope for inappropriate breeding if there was not enough oversight? Do you think the annual health check from a veterinary surgeon would help combat that? I was interested to see your addition of that in your written evidence.

Justine Shotton: In terms of breeding in general, if there was licensing, that would have to be very tightly worded around breeding itself. It calls for neutering in another part of that wording, and we want to be really clear that that also includes contraception. Primates live in these social groups, and if you neuter rather than contracept them, sometimes that can really disrupt the group dynamic. There are a lot of methods of safe contraception available that experts in primate medicine would be able to advise on, which is why, again, it fits in with the annual health check that we are recommending. The vet would be able to have that conversation with the primate keeper and discuss the appropriate method of contraception or, in possible circumstances, breeding if it was part of a legitimate reason for breeding.

Q Is there anything that you think is missing around primates as well that you would like to see if licensing were to be developed?

Justine Shotton: Yes, as I mentioned, making sure that the welfare issues of single kept primates are met, so that if there is a change in the number of primates that people are proposing to keep, it is assessed on a case-by-case basis. We want to make sure that the licensing and rectification periods are reduced, as I mentioned already, and that there is adequate resourcing for local authorities as well as training. The other thing we would be calling for under a licensing system is a centralised database of primate keepers, so that it is easy to access and see where all these primates are being kept.

As there are no further questions, I extend our thanks to Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, for joining us.

Examination of Witness

Mike Flynn gave evidence.

We move straight on to our next witness, Mike Flynn, who is also joining us virtually. He is the chief superintendent of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Could you please introduce yourself?

Mike Flynn: I am Mike Flynn, chief superintendent of the Scottish SPCA. I am delighted to be here.

Q Thank you for joining us. I have only really one question: do you think it is helpful that we have been able to work as four nations on the import and export measures for the Bill? Do you think that will help with enforcement?

Mike Flynn: I am absolutely delighted that you have worked with the devolved Administrations. If certain parts of the Bill are not UK-wide, that will open up loopholes for everyone. Take cropping dogs’ ears, for instance: if it is not banned in Scotland, they would import them into Scotland and transport them down to England. It really has to be UK-wide.

Q Thank you for joining us. My question follows on from that: the written evidence from Compassion in World Farming stresses that is absolutely essential, particularly on the live export ban, that all the Administrations work together in tandem. How confident are you that we are in situation?

Mike Flynn: On the importation of dogs and the import and export of livestock for further farming, I think you are on the right track. I have spoken to people in the Scottish Government and they are happy with that—I believe a consent motion has already been laid before the Scottish Parliament. As I said in my previous answer, if there is one part of the UK that is exempt, it will open up loopholes and encourage people, especially in the puppy trade, to exploit that loophole.

Q In that case, I am almost bound to follow up with a question about your concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol. Do you think that might create any problems?

Mike Flynn: That is way above my pay grade, I am afraid. That will bring many problems, but it is something that the UK Government and the Administrations will have to work through.

Q We heard evidence this morning about the most recent Scottish animal welfare Act—I do not know which one it was. There was criticism of it; I think the RSPCA said that it was not helpful as some of the language was ambiguous. Could you comment on that? Have you seen the same? Are there any examples that you feel we could learn from, to avoid falling into the same traps?

Mike Flynn: I think what David Bowles of the RSPCA was referring to was in the protection of livestock and dogs attacking and worrying sheep, the definition of on the lead or under close control. We argued at the time that if a dog is not on a lead in an area where there is livestock, it is not under close control. Your Bill states they must be on a lead less than 1.9 metres long. I have been in this job for 34 years, and I have never known an occasion when a dog has attacked a sheep when on a lead, because you have physical control. Some say a dog always comes back and if they whistle it will do that, but that is not the case. Some dogs will just run blind. They may have walked past the same sheep day after day for years, and then one day it could just go. The devastation is horrendous for the farmers and the animals involved.

Q In Scottish law, is there an offence similar to what we are talking about where a dog attacks or worries livestock?

Mike Flynn: Yes. It was in the original 1953 Act. The Member’s Bill that Emma Harper put through last year updated it to include a wider definition of livestock—ostriches, llamas and all that kind of stuff—and to increase the penalties up to 12 months’ imprisonment and a £40,000 fine.

Q One witness who has given evidence stated that in certain cases that are proceeding or have proceeded through the Scottish courts, dogs are kept in kennels for long periods—we were given one example of up to four years—while legal proceedings are ongoing. Do you have anything you can say in respect of how dogs’ welfare is maintained while legal proceedings are ongoing?

Mike Flynn: The case that Paula referred to earlier of a spaniel did take just under four years to conclude in court, because it kept getting postponed, for various reasons. Thankfully, the law in Scotland has recently changed—as recently as a month ago. Up until then, in any case that we took—because we are a reporting agency to the Crown Office, authorised by the Scottish Minister—we had to keep the animal as a production if the person refused to sign it over, until the conclusion of the criminal case. It was that or we had to take a civil case against them, which could cost up to £60,000. So that led to animals being kept in our kennels. We have the best staff and best kennels in the world, but it is not welfare friendly to keep a young dog, which is a two-year-old adult by the time it gets out of there. The law has recently changed the emphasis: animals that are seized in certain circumstances can now be disposed of after a three-week period. We have to issue a decision notice on the person, stating our intention is to dispose of the animal. “Dispose” does not mean destroy; we can rehome it, but it can be put down on veterinary advice. The person can appeal that decision, but that would be very, very unlikely.

This was originally designed for the big puppy farming cases, because we have had cases where—well, the biggest that I think we had was one where we seized 109 dogs, and they were in our care for just under 18 months. First, it is very bad for animal welfare; secondly, it is a horrendous cost to a charity, because we never get that money back. I think the biggest cost we have had was from a case with 58 dogs that had been in for 23 months. It works out at £15 per dog per day—that cost us £440,000.

There is a compensation element. W have to notify the person in the event that they lose the case or the sheriff decides otherwise. They are compensated for the current value when the animal was seized. In that individual case, the maximum compensation would have been £25,000, so we would have saved £415,000 and protected animal welfare.

Q Indeed, and I think you are highlighting the problem where an offender or somebody who has been involved in this behaviour is on state benefit; they may be asked to repay the debt at £5 per week. Is that right?

Mike Flynn: Well, there is provision to recover reasonable costs, but sometimes the people that we deal with—I am sure the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals experiences the same—have no financial means. Where is the punishment in £5 a week for the rest of their life or something like that? If the animals are signed over, or with the new provision, we can get them into loving new homes a lot quicker and then it does not matter how long it takes for the criminal proceedings to commence. If Westminster has any power, I am sure the RSPCA would love you to introduce something similar down there.

Q Thank you, Mike, for appearing before us today. I was very encouraged by your response to the Minister about the importance of the devolved nations working together on this important legislation. In your answer, you said that it has to be joined up; otherwise there will be loopholes. Can you give us examples in, perhaps, previous legislation where loopholes have opened up and where that has adversely impacted on animal welfare? I am specifically thinking of things like Lucy’s law and third party sales. Have you experience of that in the United Kingdom where there have been discrepancies in different parts of the UK and it has had adverse animal welfare impacts inadvertently?

Mike Flynn: There must be several examples, but one that springs to mind is that until about nine years ago, when a consequential amendment to sentencing powers was brought in, somebody banned in England was not banned in Scotland. It was not UK-wide until that amendment came in, so people from Manchester and Liverpool who were banned were moving up to Scotland and evading the ban—I am sure there would be Scottish people doing the same. But the amendment closed that, so if people are banned in England and Wales, they are also banned in Scotland, and vice versa. So you have things like that.

Lucy’s law has been widely talked about, but there are loopholes in that. Somebody can say, “I bred it myself.” People who bring in pregnant bitches did not breed the dog, but they hand the bitch over when it gives birth. Let us be honest: a lot of the people we deal with are out-and-out criminals. I am talking about the puppy trade. They just use puppies as a commodity, and if they can find a loophole, whether it is through England, Wales or Scotland, they will find it and use it because the profits are so huge.

Q That is really helpful. The legislation will hopefully be able to close the loopholes in some of the other laws as well. Being clear on heavily pregnant dogs coming in and the age of dogs and cats coming in at the minimum age of six months will close some of the loopholes.

Moving on to a different species, in the evidence we have taken today we have not covered horses and ponies. I see from your experience, Mike, that you have worked with all creatures great and small, and you have some experience in the equine world as well. The export of livestock in the Bill covers horses. We on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have taken evidence that not one horse has been legally exported to the EU for slaughter, but potentially thousands have been exported illegally. A lot of that comes from identification issues and people passing the animals off as going for competitions and suchlike. Do you feel that the Bill will help shut that loophole and improve the transport of animals so that horses move around only for legitimate reasons? Will the Bill help the equine world?

Mike Flynn: I do not see that it can do any harm. As you have just explained, a lot of the movement of these animals is illegal in the first place. You have to sign the horse out of the food chain, and that does not happen. You just need to go back to the horsemeat scandal many years ago. Our main port in and out of Scotland is Cairnryan, which has a direct link to Northern Ireland. There was a regular trade of equines going from Scotland to Northern Ireland and down into southern Ireland. Where they went after that, I have no idea. Anything to deal with that will help. The legal issue in my opinion is exporting for further fattening or immediate slaughter.

Q We touched on some previous evidence about the identification of dogs, and databases as well. Do you think that the equine health and welfare world would be improved by having improved identity documents and a centralised, digitised database? When you inspect animals that are moving around, that will help shut down the traffic in these animals.

Mike Flynn: There is a whole other debate on that being taken up by mainly the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare about the identification of equines and how it can be forged and misrepresented and all that kind of stuff. So, yes, you have got that.

On the dogs side, you heard earlier—from Paula, I think it was—about how there might be dogs coming in from Romania and the lack of border checks. We have had animals coming in. We are not swamped with them like down south, but we do get quite a large number of dogs coming in from Romania being delivered directly to people in Scotland. The last case is pending prosecution. The paperwork had been checked by APHA, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, at the port of entry, but nobody had actually looked at the dog, and that dog should never have been transported. It was in an appalling condition.

We have stopped a lot of puppy dealers and agents. They have microchip certificates and they have six dogs, but there is no guarantee—we have proven it many times—that the microchip certificate with a number on it matches the dog that is in the car. That could be, “Yes, I’ve got this dog, but it has not been vaccinated as it was claimed it has been.” The Scottish Government are bringing in another provision about rehoming a vanload from outwith Scotland into Scotland. If it is a dog that comes in from a European country, part of the condition is that it must be checked by a UK-registered veterinary surgeon before it is delivered to its final destination because of the standards of veterinary care elsewhere, and the number of forged documents that come in is phenomenal.

Q Finally, Mike, in your experience in Scotland, are you picking up increased numbers of dogs coming in—you mentioned dogs from Romania—that have concomitant health conditions and exotic diseases that are a potential risk to the canine population in the UK and also to people? Are you picking that up from your members and rescue centres?

Mike Flynn: What we have picked up is the number of very disturbed dogs that are coming in. A lot of the ones from Romania come from alleged kill shelters. They were just strays, rounded up off the street, so you have a lot of behavioural problems. There are a lot of health problems with the dogs. I have not come across one that has infected another dog here, but there are huge welfare issues, which could be easily addressed by a physical examination as they come in.

Q If we do those checks, and are tighter on the guidelines coming in, and then have helpful legislation like this, do you think that we will be able to improve the health and welfare of those animals that are being moved into the country?

Mike Flynn: Without question, because as I say, they are not being checked. Because there are not enough pups in the UK we have a massive problem with them coming over from Ireland, but there are not even enough of them at times, so they are bringing them in from Romania, and charging people vast sums of money to get a dog delivered to them—in one case, at midnight on a Saturday, and in an appalling condition. You have all the veterinary fees that you are incurring. You have the welfare of the individual dogs. All that could be avoided through sensible legislation such as this, and proper enforcement.

Q Thank you, Mr Flynn, for your evidence. May I take you back to the issue of livestock worrying? I was interested to hear your comments about the Scottish example, and that the wording of the definition in the Scottish Act of a dog under control or at large had, in practice, proven a bit problematic. I have an idea why that may be, but I am keen to hear of your thoughts and experiences on the wording in the Scottish Act.

Mike Flynn: I know that David Bowles from the RSPCA voiced a concern earlier. From my 34 years’ experience—we do not directly deal with this, but we assist the police quite often—I have never known a dog that has attacked or savaged a sheep that has been on a lead in the field with its owner attached to it. It is very rarely intentional. The majority say, “My dog would never do that,” until the day that it does. The dog runs wild. Some people say, “But the sheep was still standing when I got my dog back.” They do not realise that it has aborted about an hour later. From the trauma, they can die of stress an hour after you have regained your dog. If your animal is on a lead, it cannot attack something; it is as simple as that.

Mike Flynn, chief superintendent of the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, thank you very much indeed for your time.

Examination of Witness

Dr Hazel Wright gave evidence.

We move on to our final witness of the day, Dr Hazel Wright, senior policy officer at the Farmers Union of Wales, who is joining us virtually. We have until 5.30 pm. Dr Wright, please introduce yourself for the record.

Dr Wright: My name is Dr Hazel Wright, and I am the senior policy officer for the Farmers Union of Wales.

Q Hello, Hazel. Thank you very much for giving evidence to us. I have only one question for you. We have heard today that livestock worrying and attacks have been a particular issue in Wales. Would you like to give us a summary of your experiences, and those of your members?

Dr Wright: Yes; they are huge and longstanding. The Bill is well overdue in that regard. We have repeat attacks and offences on farms. A National Sheep Association survey said that one farm had been hit up to 100 times in one year. The financial and emotional consequences of that are huge. Surveys from North Wales police, which was the first police service to record the data, gave estimates of about 300 or 400 attacks in about three and a half years, which is one every three days. That is just in north Wales. In a system that has low profitability and low margins, those kinds of attacks are make or break for some businesses, especially those that have built up their breeding stock over long periods. They have managed to build businesses up from scratch. Some of them are having problems with succession, for example. It is a massive issue, which I cannot be overestimated in the current climate.

Q Good afternoon. Following up on that question, are you satisfied to that extent with the measures in the Bill or do you think that dogs should be kept on a lead near livestock?

Dr Wright: Everything that I say from now on is caveated with the fact that the Bill is incredibly welcomed and is good news. However, I do not think it goes far enough to define under close control or proper control. We need to have a situation where dogs are on a lead in fields near or adjacent to livestock. I notice that the Bill says that if somebody believes their dog will return “reliably and promptly” then it is under close control, but I honestly do not believe that anyone can be confident that that would be the case when their dog is in a field near livestock. Dogs are natural predators—it is in their genetic make-up. I feel that the Bill needs to go one step further and ensure that dogs are kept on a lead.

Q Given what a big issue it is, do you think that the fines and the compensation mechanisms to farmers are sufficient?

Dr Wright: No, I do not, actually. Because there are repeat offences, I feel that the seriousness of this in the past has not reached the critical level to be a deterrent for people. If we want it to be a deterrent and we want it to work, the fines have to be serious. They have to relate to the amount of financial devastation that there has been on farms. We are talking about tens of thousands of pounds of losses on some farms—and those losses are just financial, and do not include the other indirect losses with breeding stock, and so on. We have to take it seriously, and the fines should be increased.

Q It is lovely to see you, Dr Wright. I want to come back to the previous questions and the definition of what is under control. You made it very clear that the Bill could be strengthened by omitting the second part of the definition and keeping it to a leash. Do you want to comment further as to whether we should look at the length of the lead? You made it very clear that it should be the case that a dog is under control if it is on a lead. Is there anything further that you want to add on that?

Dr Wright: The length of “1.8 metres or less” seems reasonable. I cannot see a problem with that in and of itself. As you say, the Bill says “under proper control”, which is an arbitrary statement. It depends on the confidence of the dog walker, which may or may not be real-life situation confidence. I think that many people assume that their dog would come back when, actually, in that situation, it would not. It is a lack of understanding. I know I am reiterating what I said before, but it is so important for our membership to get this part right. I do not have a problem with the 1.8 metres, but I think dogs have to be on a lead when near or adjacent to livestock.

Q Two further questions, if I may, Ms McVey. On one hand, we have heard a few people refer to the fact that a great number of the cases of livestock worrying occur when dogs escape their owners or when owners are not aware that their dog has escaped their garden, or wherever it is being kept. Do you have any proposals or ideas as to how the Bill could try to address that set of circumstances? We heard evidence from Mr Rob Taylor, suggesting that the vast majority of dog attacks occur when dogs escape their owners’ control.

Dr Wright: According to the National Police Chiefs Council’s data, that is about 80% of attacks. Obviously, keeping dogs on leads would combat many of those issues.

First, the powers in the Bill for DNA sampling and evidence gathering are essentially crucial for that. Even when dogs are with dog walkers, the attack might not be witnessed and the dog might not be in the field when the farmer approaches it. We need to have a situation where police can gather evidence. Quite often, the police are aware of the dogs in the area that are the likely culprits of an attack because they tend to be repeat offenders.

The other thing we need to look at is mandatory reporting of those attacks, which allows you to look at regional approaches that might be different in different areas. For example, if you have data that says it is dogs escaping from dog walkers in one area, but it is dogs that have escaped from home in another, you can tailor your mitigation measures based on that data. Without data, you waste resources because you use them ineffectively.

The FUW ran a Your Dog, Your Responsibility campaign last year, which asked members of the public if they knew where their dog was when they were not at home. We talked about appropriate boundaries in fencing for those animals because we know, from the data, that 80% of dog attacks occur when the owner is not around. We would not have run that campaign without those data, so we have to start making sure that we record such information in order to adopt regional approaches and, as I say, to have the mitigation measures match where the problems are.

Q I know that the matter of compensation has already been touched on, and you have made it very clear that the financial cost, let alone the emotional trauma that a dog attack can have on a farming business, is significant. Do you have any comments about how we may go about trying to offer some sort of compensation regime? Perhaps you could also comment on the situation regarding the financial cost for a farmer who loses livestock. Is there any way at the moment for them to recoup some of that financial cost?

Dr Wright: You could do it through the civil courts, but that is very onerous and difficult for the farmer. In the past, it has been very difficult to prove which dog was responsible for an attack. I am hoping that the new powers offered to police under the Bill—as opposed to the 1953 Act, which basically left them powerless—will give people more confidence in forces dealing with the attacks, which will bring more farmers forward in order to start proceedings against individuals. I would like to see that it is easy, simple and straightforward, and not expensive, for a farmer to do that. At the moment, farmers are victims of a crime, but they are not being recompensed for that in the way that maybe another victim of a crime would have support.

We need a support network for farmers who have gone through this ordeal. We have 12 regional county officers who provide support to our members. Official and proper support is also needed to deal with the emotional and financial impact, and to signpost farmers to how they go about launching legal proceedings. We should not expect them to take the burden upon themselves, especially at a time when it could be very difficult financially for them.

Q We discussed earlier today the propensity of dogs to potentially commit repeat attacks. Is it your opinion that once a dog has become a sheep killer, it is highly likely to attack and/or kill sheep again?

Dr Wright: Yes, I do think that. I also think that that is part and parcel of poor ownership. We talk about dog attacks, but a lot of this is actually to do with the irresponsible ownership of a dog and how a dog has been allowed to behave in the past. I am certainly not an advocate for saying that every dog that attacks sheep should be destroyed—of course not. Every case has to go on its merits, but given the data that I have seen and the conversations that I have had, it tends to be repeat offenders in many cases.

Q Dr Wright, thank you very much for your evidence, which has been very helpful indeed. One issue is that if the vast majority of attacks on livestock come from animals that are in somebody’s back garden or that escape from some form of premises, there are obviously some legal difficulties in respect of that, because no Bill will ever be able to say that someone must have a fence that is 6 foot tall, 7 foot tall or whatever. What is your feeling about that? I think you would probably accept, Dr Wright, that we cannot ever produce legislation that will be specific enough to cover every possible eventuality. One of the things that we are talking about is criminalising the behaviour of people who do not know that their animals are potentially attacking sheep. You can commit a criminal offence, even though you did not know that you were doing so. Then the definition of “irresponsibility” becomes very difficult when a dog is in somebody’s back yard. Do you have any views on that?

Dr Wright: We have had a lot of conversations with members about how things happen with livestock worrying after the horse bolted, because, in effect, you are trying to find the culprit of an attack that has already happened. I do not think that we will ever get to a situation whereby we can prevent every single attack—that is absolutely correct. I am hoping that the Bill will increase the seriousness of the offence, so that people understand that even if they are not present at the time and there are no witnesses, a police officer could knock at the door with a warrant, take a DNA sample from the dog and compare it with DNA collected at a crime scene. You do not have to have been around at the time of the offence.

I am hoping that intelligence within communities will help as well. When you do not legitimise something and say that it is just one of those things, when legislation comes in and says, “Actually, we’re taking this seriously, because this is a very important issue,” the fines, the powers for police, the enforcement and the investigation display our strength with this and how important we feel it is, and that will feed back to communities where there have been problems and help the police in their ability to do something about it. In some respects, I know it is after the horses have bolted, but I am hoping we can close the door to stop any more horses escaping. That is the analogy I give to farmers, because as you say, you would never solve it 100% of the time. What we need to get to is that when dog owners are thinking about their dogs, they understand that there are serious consequences to this.

There is a responsibility on industry to communicate that as well. I happen to sit on the Animal Welfare Network Wales, which has a lot of animal charities on it as well, and I have been using their groups to disseminate to their members—the people who would not necessarily speak to the union but would speak to, say, other animal charities about how to look after their dogs. So there are ways and means to get the intelligence out there to those people who maybe would not have known about it before. As you say, we are not going to get everyone, but I am hoping that by committing what we have done so far to it we can potentially stop future attacks.

Q Thank you, Dr Wright. Nice to see you. I just want to play devil’s advocate on a quick question. We have heard a lot about animals that escape and they tend to carry out the vast majority of the attacks. Is there any leverage—again, this is me definitely playing devil’s advocate—in farmers and landowners constantly updating the signage on their gates and fences? If you live in the same area and there is always a livestock grazing sign on the same field and you know that three quarters of the year there is not anything in there at all, people become complacent about walking their dogs and will let them off, not necessarily knowing that the livestock might be over the brow of the hill. Would your members be open to doing something like that if you think it might help? Is that something you think we should be writing into the Bill, or that just gets out because it is good practice?

Dr Wright: It is interesting, because we provide signs for members but we have been constrained by what we can and cannot say legally, because we cannot say that dogs must be kept on a lead near livestock. What we say is, “Please keep your dog on a lead” near livestock at the moment. I am hoping, with the Bill, assuming that I get the change that I would like to see, which is that they must be on a lead and not just with this arbitrary “proper control” definition, that members can put more enforcing signs up that are a bit more important than the ones they put up before. When a dog walker sees a sign that says, “Please keep your dog on a lead”, it is quite gentle, is it not? If the sign says, “It is a legal requirement for your dog to be on a lead in this field”, it is a different conversation. I would like a farmer to be able to do that. Without the Bill allowing them to do that, you put them in a position where they are still having to just be polite, and I would like them to be backed up by legislation to do that.

Q So you think your members would do that? The reason I ask is that if somebody sees a sign that says there is a bull in the field, they will avoid that field because they know they could potentially get hurt, but at the moment, the same conversation is not being had about the animal being hurt or an animal getting into trouble for hurting another animal. We need to change the conversation slightly and I think that is potentially something we could cover in this Bill—maybe. However, it is no good if landowners and farmers are not receptive to keeping the signage updated and changing it as and when it is necessary—and taking it down when there are no livestock in the field.

Dr Wright: That is a really important point and I am 100% certain that members are receptive to that. It is just that they have felt at the moment that they have not had the power to say the things they have wanted to say. Of course, members who have approached members of the public in a field with a dog off a lead have sometimes been victims of verbal abuse, and many of my members have said they are just not prepared to engage with dog walkers under those circumstances, because they have not been able to say, “You must do this.” I feel that is what we have been missing before.

If there are no further questions, on behalf of us all, I thank Dr Hazel Wright, senior policy officer at the Farmers Union of Wales.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till Tuesday 16 November at twenty-five minutes past Nine o'clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

AWB01 Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

AWB02 Dogs Trust

AWB03 Blue Cross

AWB04 British Veterinary Association

AWB04a British Veterinary Association Annex A: Keeping Primates (England)—BVA, British Veterinary Zoological Society and British Small Animal Veterinary Association briefing on proposed amendments

AWB05 Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre