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Friday, 20 October, 2000, 14:31 GMT
'Care orders' for suffering animals
Neglected animals could get
Animals suffering neglect are offered new hope
A Bill to allow commercial animals suffering neglect or cruelty to be "taken into care" pending legal proceedings has been backed by peers in the Lords.

The Protection of Animals (Amendment) Bill would apply to farm and circus animals, guard dogs, sniffer dogs, and animals kept in pet shops in England and Wales.


The Bill redresses an immense amount of cruelty

Lord Beaumont
But pets and animals used in experiments would not be covered.

The measure was introduced by a Conservative peer, Lady Fookes, vice president of the RSPCA, with the aim of updating the 1911 Protection of Animals Act which allows the police to take animals away for safekeeping.

"This is, in many cases, not a practical proposition for the police to undertake," she said.

Under her bill, given a second reading by peers, authorised bodies or individuals would be able to apply to a magistrates' court for "care orders" to deal with animals.

This would happen if a current prosecution for cruelty under the 1911 Act was under way and the animals were being kept for commercial purposes.

Vets to give evidence

Evidence from a veterinary surgeon would need to be produced to prevent people making "malicious, vexatious and frivolous" claims.

Animals could be cared for on the premises where they were found, moved to another place, sold for a fair price with the proceeds going to the owner, or slaughtered.

Under the bill, the director of public prosecutions, the Crown prosecutor, local authorities, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or any other suitable government organisation could apply for the care orders.

MAFF or the Welsh Assembly could authorise additional people or bodies to prosecute.

Power to enter premises

The bill includes powers of entry to premises, but not to a person's home.

"Entry would be carried out by the prosecutor," said Lady Fookes.

Vets will give evidence
Vets will give evidence
"They may remove the animal, they may wish to use equipment at the premises where the animals are existing."

The backbench bill, supported by organisations including the NFU, the Farm and Animal Welfare Council, the British Veterinary Association, the RSPCA and MAAF, stands a good chance of becoming law.

Labour's Viscount Simon said he supported the principle behind the bill but was concerned that there was no definition of "commercial animals".

It was not clear, he said whether there was provision for individuals to be compensated if their livestock was removed or property destroyed.

"Innocent parties at risk"

"What happens in the circumstances where it transpires that an entirely innocent party suffers serious financial loss by the exercise of these powers?" he asked.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the only Green Party member of the Lords, said the bill "redresses the immense amount of cruelty" towards animals which had occurred in the past, and "goes on to a lesser extent now".

A Tory, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, a vet, said the UK had a long history of animal welfare with animal welfare concerns "predating those of children".

Speedy passage

He said the RSPCA was established in 1824, 60 years ahead of the NSPCC and welcomed the bill, urging a speedy passage through Parliament.

Another Tory, Lord Skelmersdale, said the bill filled an "important gap" in animal protection legislation.

But he called for the bill's powers to be extended to "private dwelling houses" so protection could be extended to animals in private kennels or catteries.

A Tory frontbencher, Lord Luke said the definition of "commercial" animals needed to be clarified.

For the government, Lord Carter said the term commercial was "well understood".

Loopholes

"To make a tighter definition could lead to loopholes or omissions," he said.

Lord Carter said the Government was "acutely aware of the plight of animals... often through neglect when owners cannot cope.

"Animals cannot be left to suffer while the law runs its course."

The bill plugged an important part of the act but it did not provide "carte blanche for prosecutors" or make it any easier for anyone to bring a prosecution under the Protection of Animals Act, he added.

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07 Jul 00 | Scotland
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09 May 00 | UK
Animal abusers investigated
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