The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill includes a range of provisions to improve the welfare of kept animals, including farm animals, companion animals, and kept wild animals. We support the objective of increasing animal welfare standards and eradicating cruel practices both domestically and internationally.
- This legislation comes at a time when, even prior to the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, regulatory services were already facing unprecedented demand. The additional enforcement responsibilities placed on councils by this Bill are just a small number of the many and wide-ranging new duties created by different government departments and expected to be enforced by councils. As a result, councils’ ability to effectively deliver the new duties in the Bill will be significantly constrained by the resources available to local regulatory teams.
- While the LGA agrees with the principle that legislation should protect the welfare of primates kept as pets, it is essential that the new licensing regime is fully funded and authorities are supported to implement it. This should include upfront funding to set up the new scheme, fully funded training for inspectors and guidance on inspections, as well as a pool of qualified vets for councils to draw from. Adequate resourcing and training will also be essential to achieve the Government’s ambitions around companion animals that are detailed in this Bill.
- The teams working on animal welfare within a council’s regulatory services team are often small and have large workloads, which means capacity to undertake proactive inspection and enforcement work in this area has substantially decreased. More broadly, councils are struggling to employ staff with the specialist skills to undertake this important work. Government support to train and develop new regulatory services professionals would be welcome.
- The cross-government regulatory services task and finish group is already considering the challenges facing local regulatory services. These new responsibilities around animal welfare demonstrate the importance of the group’s work to secure sustainable funding for regulatory services and a long-term cross-government view of the demands being placed on them.
The government published Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare in May 2021, which sets out a range of legislative and non-legislative reforms to ensure that the welfare of all animals is set at the highest standards. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill includes provisions to deliver a number of reforms relating to kept animals, including farm animals, companion animals, and kept wild animals.
For farmed animals, the Bill prohibits the export of live cattle, sheep, pigs and goats and equines for slaughter, including for fattening for subsequent slaughter. The Bill repeals and replaces the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 to improve enforcement in response to the most serious incidents of livestock worrying by dogs.
For companion animals, the Bill seeks to address the issue of illegal imports, by introducing an enabling power to apply restrictions to imports of certain pet animals (dogs, cats and ferrets) on welfare grounds through secondary legislation. The Bill also decreases the number of pets that can travel in a single non-commercial movement.
For kept wild animals, the Bill prohibits the keeping, breeding, sale and transfer of primates without a specific primate licence to ensure that they are kept to a high welfare standard that reflects their specific welfare needs. The Bill also amends the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 to increase penalties for non-compliance and provide local authorities with better tools for enforcement to ensure zoo operators comply with the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice. The Bill also amends the above Act to enable the Secretary of State to specify the standards for the conservation requirements that zoos must comply with.
Primates as pets
It is welcome that the Bill makes provision for local authorities to charge fees to cover the costs of applications for primate licenses and subsequent inspections. This should also include upfront funding to set up the new licensing scheme as well as fully funded specialist training for inspectors. Training for local authority inspectors must be provided well in advance of the legislation being introduced. Training for animal licensing inspectors under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations (LAIA) 2018 cost over £1,200 per person, not including travel and accommodation, and was not available until the regulations were already in place.
Councils also need the ability to charge license and registration fees to fully recover any costs associated with instructing vets to inspect facilities. We are aware that finding specialist vets has been a challenge for some councils. Local authorities would need to have access to a pool or register of specialist vets who are sufficiently experienced in dealing with primates, similar to the provisions in the Zoo Licensing Act.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) estimate there are between 1,000 and 5,000 primates kept as pets in England. However, the location of these primates is not currently known. This makes it challenging for local authorities to gauge how many primates are in their area, how many keepers will apply for a license, and therefore the extent of training that will be required for staff. As it is unlikely that all primate keepers will self-identify and apply for licenses, it is crucial that Government works with councils to identify keepers. A centralised register of keepers could be established to support this. This register should also record the details of individuals banned from keeping livestock or animals, including the details of any offences and duration of the ban. This would assist licensing authorities when determining the fitness of an applicant when granting or refusing licenses, and with any subsequent enforcement activity.
Guidance should be published to support local authorities, including around welfare standards, inspection and fee setting as well as template applications and inspection forms to support a consistent approach. These should be developed with input from local authorities and published well in advance of any new regulations coming into force. It is welcome that officials at DEFRA have committed to this.
The LGA welcomes regulations to limit the number of pet animals an individual or vehicle can bring into the UK, along with proposals to increase the age of imported puppies and banning the import of pregnant dogs. These practices are real welfare issues and can cause significant distress to dogs and puppies and put them at increased risk of disease and future behavioural problems, so it is welcome the Government has taken steps to clamp down on these long-standing welfare issues.
We also welcome the proposals to introduce powers to restrict imports of dogs with cropped ears. Ear-cropping in the UK is illegal; however, the practice is legal or unregulated in many countries. It is a painful procedure carried out for cosmetic purposes and according to the RSPCA, has surged by more than 600 per cent in the past six years. Due to the significant challenges in catching those who import dogs with cropped ears or docked tails, some councils’ have queried if it may be more effective target resource at those who are purchasing these dogs and driving demand. The government may wish to consider if more could be done to penalize those who purchase illegal dogs, in a similar way to how it is an offence to handle stolen goods.
It is crucial that Border Force and local authorities are given the resources required to enforce the new rules. For example, they will need access to veterinary surgeons and additional resources to recruit new members of staff. Adequate training of nonveterinary border personnel will also be important, for example, to ensure staff have the knowledge to recognise the age of puppies. Officers at points of entry should be supported and given the time to undertake thorough checks on vehicles. This is crucial as puppy smugglers will not declare young puppies or pregnant dogs on a movement document, therefore they will only be identified through vehicle searches. To aid effective border inspections, significant fixed penalty notices could be introduced for the non-declaration of companion animals.
There is also a concern that the changes brought in by this Bill will not apply to movements from Northern Ireland. Given that there is a significant problem of puppy smuggling from the Republic of Ireland, councils are concerned that this is a loophole that smugglers can exploit.
More broadly, the Government should launch a national project looking at unlicensed or illegal puppy breeding and other activities in this area. Many councils have reported a significant increase in unlicensed breeders, driven by increased demand for puppies during the pandemic, and in some instances there has been links between this activity and organised crime. This type of criminal activity often extends beyond a council’s borders and can therefore be difficult for an individual local authority to tackle by itself. To effectively tackle crime of this nature, councils would benefit from a national scheme, which was empowered to collect data from local authorities on illegal activity and coordinate joint enforcement action across local authority borders.
Councils are also reporting worrying increases in instances of abuse and intimidation of officers when conducting animal welfare inspections. Abuse and intimidation of officers is completely unacceptable and local authorities and the police should be encouraged to work together, to provide a robust response and ensure officers can do their job without fear or risk of abuse.
The LGA welcomes that the Bill will provide local authorities with better tools for enforcement, for example by increasing the penalties councils are able to issue in the event of breaches of licensing conditions.
It would be helpful to receive some clarity on what will replace section 1A of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, (which makes provision for conservation, education and research measures) when it is repealed, as this is a source of uncertainty for councils.
Some councils involved in the licensing of zoos have reported that legislation and duties under the Zoo Licensing Act and the Animal Welfare Act are overly complex. Licensing authorities would benefit from greater alignment across legislation, which would support those local authorities with limited resource and capacity to carry out their work more effectively. There is scope for the Zoo Licensing and Animal Welfare Act to be more closely aligned with other licensing regimes. For example, by incorporating ‘fit and proper person’ test, as with the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2005 and Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle legislation, or introducing a license renewal period of 3 years, as with scrap metal licenses. We hope that the Government will consider this as the Kept Animals Bill progresses through Parliament.
Councils would also benefit from funded specialist training on zoo licensing to help officers understand the complex legislation and duties under the Zoo Licensing Act and Animal Welfare Act. We would also like to see a central fund established to assist local authorities in the event of a zoo becoming bankrupt or ceasing to trade.
Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Advisor