Secretary: Ginette Elliott
Marsburg, Whitehall Lane
Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex . CO16 0AE
14 March, 2005
The Rt. Hon Margaret Beckett
Secretary of State for the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Nobel House 17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
Draft Animal Welfare Bill
Secretary of State,
We in combination, representing the interests of the organisations we serve, wish to make known to you our opposition to certain aspects of the above proposed Bill. Having given due attention to its provisions and considered carefully the representations to and the deliberations of the EFRA committee, we are drawn to the conclusion that the provisions for secondary legislation, contained within the draft, relating to:
a) Tail docking. b) Codes of practice. c) Consultation. d) Enforcement are unacceptable.
We would ask you, before allowing the Bill to proceed, to consider the following points along with the attached detail:
a) Tail docking.
For the last 30 years, we have been unable to define the anti-docking case. We could never get a dialogue with the RCVS and the RSPCA, as each merely stated “its unethical” and “it causes pain” respectively. The recent EFRA committee asked both organisations to present the case for a ban. Having now received that evidence, we believe that it remains, as we had maintained, a weak, inaccurate and opinionated distortion of the facts.
The anti-docking case is contained in Ev: page 280 Q299-702. The management committees of the RCVS/ BVA assert that docking is “unethical“, yet the RCVS has been unable to prove a single case of any docking vet having acted “unethically”, despite a concerted legal attempt to do so. It has been advised by legal counsel that it is impossible, under current legislation, to act against any vet who docks. Now, in desperation and to give “teeth” to its unsubstantiated opinion that docking is unethical, it has turned to your Government to rubber-stamp RCVS opinion into law. We submit that this is little more than a particular lobby attempting to hijack the national legislative process for its own narrow and biased ends.
The RCVS/BVA has called for scientific evidence to justify the ban, but have rejected all but their own and supportive scientific opinion. Please note that scientific “opinion” can never and must never be paraded as scientific evidence. This “supportive scientific opinion” has actually settled on the contradictory position that docking is a “mutilation” in dogs, but not other animal species.
Whilst the act of docking is itself a surgical procedure, breeders of considerable experience world wide consider it an essential act of good animal husbandry, in accordance with, but much less traumatic than, many current farming procedures that will remain legal under the proposed new Animal Welfare Bill.
b) Codes of practice
We are concerned to see that, should this Bill become law, DEFRA is on record as stating that it intends to review dog breeding in the light of possible adverse welfare implications, leading ultimately to a ban on breeding certain established breeds of dog. To this end, DEFRA has stated in writing:
“Under the Animal Welfare Bill there is a possibility of outlawing breeding procedures that have adverse welfare implications for the dam or offspring. You will be aware of the Kennel Club's Breeders Scheme which is looking to improve the overall genetic health of dogs, which will hopefully include breed standards relating to conformation. We will be watching the progress of this scheme to judge whether it is necessary to take any further action under the Bill. The Bill allows us to introduce secondary legislation which would cover the breeding of dogs”
We accept that DEFRA occupies an important advisory role to the Government, but it should be no more than that. We would submit that the statement above clearly indicates that DEFRA anticipates becoming a quasi-legislative authority at the behest of both the RSPCA and the RCVS. This is little short of a Government Department attempting undue legislative influence on behalf of a particular lobby. You are a National Government and we submit that you should resist this undemocratic presumption by DEFRA or any other advisory entity. As a previous Prime Minister has famously stated “Advisers advise - Ministers decide”.
The Animal Welfare Bill, if enacted in its current form, will delegate authority to the executive to introduce whatever regulation it may, in its wisdom, deem necessary. While this may be an increasing trend in other national legislatures, it must not find favour in the UK .
The “consultative” phase of this Bill was a sham. We would draw your attention to the following aberrations as they pertained to the subject of docking:
The previous Minister made his anti-docking view plain before the consultation process began.
As a result of public consultation, more than half of the 33 vets who responded on docking said it should not be banned.
All 113 dog breed clubs which responded, representing 12,744 members, said docking should not be banned.
Of the 1590 members of the public who responded on docking, 82% opposed a ban on docking.
DEFRA chose to issue their appraisal of the docking issue to “inform the process”. This consisted of material mainly derived from three sources, much of it being either inaccurate or biased against docking. It is clear that both DEFRA and the Minister deemed this appraisal as an authoritative and conclusive statement of fact, rather than what it was - a statement of DEFRA’s particular opinion. With all due respect to DEFRA veterinary surgeons, their role is essentially administrative and advisory. In other words, no vets in DEFRA actually perform operations any more and a large percentage may never have docked a single puppy. DEFRA vets are entitled to advise the Government in their areas of responsibility, such as the national control of Notifiable Diseases, but should have lesser influence in the surgical decisions made by vets in practice. They may well have personal opinions against docking, (to which they are entitled), but this should not represent a basis for generating a legislative ban.
The Minister responsible for the introduction of the Bill received a request from the CDB, (the Council of Docked Breeds, the principle national organisation representing the docked breeds), to meet it to discuss the issue, but was unable to find time to do so. He did however offer discussions, if it wished, with officials whose anti-docking views were already established.
The Minister did, at its invitation, visit the CDB stand at Crufts dog show.
In spite of representations made by veterinary surgeons in favour of docking, the Minister concluded disparagingly, the reason some vets continued to dock was that, (Q1029), “I suspect some make a good living out of it”, a strange conclusion given that the explanatory notes with the draft had considered this point in relation to the cost to the profession, ignoring consideration of the cost to the dog world. The answer hardly suggests he had given the breeders’ representations due consideration.
At question Q1034 Mr Hoppe noticeably and understandably omits, (in his summary of ‘wide’ consultation), any mention of those most concerned with the detail of the debate, the breeders themselves, with whom there had been no significant consultation whatsoever.
Finally, in recent correspondence between the Minister, Ben Bradshaw MP and Austin Mitchell MP, (the latter having been a member of the EFRA Committee), the Minister stated that “….there is sufficient evidence to show that puppies do feel pain when docked and I am satisfied that there is a strong case for banning the docking of dogs’ tails for cosmetic reasons,….”. When Mr. Mitchell forwarded a letter from his constituent, (a practising vet who has been docking for 30 years), explaining that a little local anaesthetic immediately prior to docking renders the operation pain-free, Mr. Bradshaw ignored this obvious rebuff to his “pain” objection and merely reiterated that he was still satisfied that tail docking for cosmetic reasons should be banned. He gave no reason for this conclusion.
None of the above accords with the convention that consultations should be conducted without prejudice and with an open receptive mind. We note that the EFRA committee itself is far from satisfied with the consultative procedure.
We are totally opposed to any extension of powers or jurisdiction for the RSPCA, a self-promoting, self-appointed independent charity. We believe that this organisation, as a charity, already exceeds its remit. We are not alone in this belief, given other recorded representations to the same effect. Any regulation must be under the strict control of Government or Local Authorities and not sub-contracted to any particular lobby, charitable or otherwise. This must be clearly understood and established, without cause for doubt, in the body of the Bill.
Dog breeders are well aware of “the duty of care“ and do not require an Act of Parliament or the RSPCA to define that duty. They are caring, compassionate and knowledgeable dog owners, whose business depends on selling top stock in peak health. This can only be achieved by adopting the best animal husbandry procedures, of which docking is one. They would never condone cruelty to their dogs. Their many years of experience with docking and then raising perfectly developed and emotionally healthy dogs prove that there are no issues of cruelty and physical damage related to properly conducted tail docking
We cannot see that the RSPCA has a stake in the proposed Animal Welfare anti-docking legislation, other than it would be able to prosecute for future non-compliance with a regulation. This has nothing to do with its charitable remit - the prevention of cruelty to animals. We would suggest that the Bill’s true stakeholders are the breeders and owners of traditionally docked breeds. They are assisted, as required, by veterinary surgeons who are both willing and competent to carry out the operation with minimum distress to the puppies. This Bill, if enacted in its current form, will simply disrupt the status quo to appease the biased clamour of an ill-informed and opinionated anti-docking lobby.
Docking is a long established part of animal husbandry. It would seem to us therefore that natural justice would dictate that it was for those wishing to end the practice to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt and without emotional hyperbole.
There is no evidence that docking has ever been harmful to any individual dog, past or present, physically or emotionally.
Docking prevents tail-tip damage to those breeds that work under thick cover and to those breeds burdened with a very long, heavy tail prone to trauma through constant wagging in confined living quarters.
In adulthood, there is no effective treatment for an infected, traumatised tail tip, other than complete tail amputation. This is a much greater trauma, (operative and post-operative), for the patient and exposes him/her to the risk of a general anaesthetic.
When properly performed, pain and bleeding are minimal. Indeed, a little local anaesthetic renders docking painless.
There is no majority anti-docking opinion in the general public. On the contrary, prospective purchasers of traditionally docked breeds reject tailed puppies and actively seek out docked alternatives. If the UK public had a majority against docking, breeders who tried to sell docked puppies would have a minority and a dwindling market would soon drive them out of business.
The overwhelming majority of consultation submissions to EFRA were pro-docking.
The docking decision should remain a personal freedom of choice. Those who do not wish to dock may refrain from doing so and vice versa. Thereafter, market demand will determine the outcome of the debate.
With these points in mind and the others to which we have drawn your attention, we would ask that you instruct your Minister to reconsider his draft Bill impartially and setting aside his own personal view, judge this matter and determine it on the facts alone.
President, Council of Docked Breeds
Chairman, Kennel Club
Joseph Lennox Holmes BVetMed MRCVS
Veterinary Consultant Vets4Docking