Billie-Jade Thomas from RSPCA Cymru explains how the upcoming Members Ballot can pave the way for Wales to be a leader on animal welfare.
On the 10th of September, the long-awaited ban on the third party selling of puppies and kittens will finally come into effect in Wales.
‘Lucy’s Law’ will make it illegal to buy a puppy or kitten from anyone but the original breeder or rescue centre, and will require anyone who wants to sell pets to meet minimum animal welfare standards for the first time.
The regulations aim to further tackle Wales’ unfortunate reputation as the puppy farming capital of the UK and improve the welfare of many young companion animals. Ferrets and rabbits will also be specifically covered by the new regulations, as they will now need to be at least eight weeks of age before they can be sold.
While this is undoubtedly a welcome move from the Welsh Government, a weaker version of ‘Lucy’s Law’ has been in force in England since April 2020.
The incoming regulations, which are stronger than those in England, have long had strong support amongst the Welsh public and were unanimously and enthusiastically backed by Members of the Senedd (MS) which has led to many criticisms over the delay in their introduction.
As Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic continue to impact the Welsh Government’s legislative timetable, it is important Wales keeps pace with neighbouring nations in animal welfare.
‘The Welsh Government has previously flexed its muscle and shown the benefit to animals when innovating and being a vanguard for the welfare of pets, farm animals and wildlife.
The Queen’s Speech in May proved an unexpected victory for animal welfare campaigners and organisations alike at a Westminster level. Recognising animal sentience in law, enforcing the mandatory microchipping of cats and tackling livestock worrying were among the various commitments made by the UK Government, much to the delight of the sector.
There have also been plans to stop the live export of farm animals, and halt the illegal importation of puppies by raising the minimum age from 15 weeks to 24 weeks – which the Welsh Government have aligned with.
Innovative. Informed. Independent.
Your support can help us make Wales better.
So while there is potential for such policies to apply to Wales via legislative consent memorandum or through follow-up regulations, with animal welfare being a devolved competence Wales also has the opportunity to trailblaze over the Senedd’s sixth term.
By outwardly forbidding the culling of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle in its latest programme, or in previously banning the use of electric shock collars on cats and dogs, the Welsh Government has previously flexed its muscle and shown the benefit to animals when innovating and being a vanguard for the welfare of pets, farm animals and wildlife.
This particular area of policy is one that affects millions of people, as well as animals, in Wales.
Almost half of Welsh households own a pet, while the farming and agriculture industry employs more than 50,000 people. Our rich and diverse wildlife attracts visitors from around the world, contributing millions of pounds to our economy every year.
‘An Animal Welfare Investigations (Wales) Bill could empower frontline officers so that they can help animals more quickly and reduce reliance on existing statutory bodies.
On the 18th of September, MS will submit proposals for backbench legislation for the first time this term. This will provide all 46 backbenchers with an opportunity to put forward proposals for animal welfare-related laws where Wales either risks slipping behind neighbouring nations; or has the potential to be an animal welfare pioneer again.
Members have a multitude of options at their disposal – and our new ‘Laws for Paws’ campaign has already seen thousands of emails sent by constituents to their representatives urging them to pick one of ten ready-to-go animal welfare Bills and try their luck in the ballot.
While the incoming UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill will ensure that UK Government policy that applies to Wales will be scrutinised for its impact on sentience, this will not apply to devolved equivalents. To avoid a scrutiny deficit, minimise any adverse effects on animal welfare and send a strong message that the welfare and status of animals is respected in Wales, the Welsh Government should pay legal regards to the needs of sentient animals and report on how sentience is considered across governmental departments by introducing an Animal Sentience (Wales) Bill.
RSPCA officers investigate thousands of cases of animal cruelty and neglect in Wales every year, taking significant pressure off public services. Despite this, at present our officers have no more formal or legal powers than a member of the public.
An Animal Welfare Investigations (Wales) Bill could empower frontline officers so that they can help animals more quickly and reduce reliance on existing statutory bodies.
As it stands, anyone in Wales can set up an animal sanctuary without being subject to regulation, unlike riding schools, cat boarders and pet sellers. Being the first UK country to regulate sanctuaries would give the animals within Wales’ estimated 90 sanctuaries legal protection while also safeguarding those who do invaluable work to rescue and rehome them.
‘We can work together to make Wales a better place for all animals and give them the legal protection they need and deserve.
Banning glue traps, an inhumane form of pest control, has already gained traction in England through a Private Members Bill submitted earlier this year, with the upcoming ballot giving MS a chance to do the same.
The ballot also paves the way for us to finally ban the giving of pets as prizes as Scotland did in 2006, to introduce legal standards concerning the breeding of cats or phase out the use of cages for farmed animals – as is happening across Europe to much fanfare and acclaim.
Legislating to enable sheltered, social and private tenants to keep their pets responsibly by making allowing them a legal default, unless there is a justifiable reason not to do so, would ensure we are no longer behind England in this area.
Discussions and debates that drive Wales forward.
Join Wales’ leading independent think tank.
Wales also has some catching up to do when it comes to making CCTV in abattoirs mandatory as England did in 2018, although this is featured in the Welsh Government’s newest programme. Reforming planning law to allow a clear legal path to challenging developments that negatively impact animal welfare could also help improve the lives of thousands, if not millions, of animals in Wales.
Animal welfare is an issue that is close to the hearts of residents in all 40 of Wales’ constituencies, with many wanting a better future for them as we learn more about what ‘good welfare’ entails.
By focusing on not only bringing our animal welfare policies in line with other UK nations, but showing the ambition needed for us to be a world leader in this field, we can work together to make Wales a better place for all animals and give them the legal protection they need and deserve.
As the Welsh Government battles a crowded, post-Covid and post-Brexit policy landscape, this Member Ballot offers a unique opportunity for those legislative solutions for our fellow living creatures to instead come directly from the backbenches; and is an opportunity we hope Members will seize during this, and future ballots, with both hands.
All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.