Chairman’s speech at AGM 2001

It is always satisfying when somebody else takes on board your suggestions or recommendations, or positively acknowledges a comment which you have made. It is all the more satisfying when you read a piece of new legislation or official guidance and see that the words which you originally suggested to Government officials have been incorporated in their final text.  For any body which purports to be a lobbying group, seeing its own advice enshrined in legislation is perhaps the highest compliment which can be paid to it. 

That is what happened to the CDB last April, when the Government finally published its guidance on the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 2000. To remind you, this was the legislation which allowed certain prosecuting bodies such as the RSPCA to enter onto private premises and remove animals in cases where a prosecution was being taken out under Section 1 of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Great concern was expressed over this legislation throughout the dog world, but very few organisations seemed prepared to do anything about it except the CDB.

We expressed our strong concerns to the Home Office over certain aspects of the legislation, principally that there was insufficient clarification over whether or not sporting or show dogs came within the Act, and that there was inadequate definition over what constitutes a ‘commercial’ kennels.

It was particularly pleasing when the CDB’s own wording later appeared in the Guidance which was published to accompany the new Act. This confirmed that the Act does not cover “…animals kept for recreation, sport and competition (e.g. gundogs, working terriers and show animals kept for personal use).”  Furthermore, it was also confirmed that, in cases where the question of whether or not animals are ‘commercial’ has to be decided by the Courts, other legal definitions such as that in the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act (Welfare) Act may be used. This should exclude breeding establishments producing less than five litters in any 12 month period, including most hobby breeders.

Both counts were significant successes for CDB lobbying, and they did not go unnoticed by some other organisations, such as the British Falconers Club, which was very concerned about the implications for its own members’ activities which are, to say the least, severely frowned upon by the RSPCA. The BFC wrote to us in order to express their thanks.

It was a good start to the year. But in other ways, 2001 has been a year which we do not wish to see repeated. In February the countryside was struck down with Foot and Mouth Disease, and within a few days it became clear that the restrictions which followed would close down most of Britain’s animal-related activities, including dog shows, game and country sports fairs and all the other events which our members enjoy going to.

Crufts was an early casualty, and all our plans to follow-up last year’s successes at the NEC had to be put on ice. Foot and Mouth had a devastating impact, not just on the farming industry, but on the UK as a whole and it hurt particularly hard in those sectors of the economy related to animals.

Foot and Mouth even halted the General Election, but not for long. The Government eventually staged its election and won the second term which it longed for. CDB meanwhile asked voters to ‘think dog’ on election day and to quiz their candidates over the European Convention, over breed specific legislation and over the Government’s threat to abolish hunting. We got good publicity for our campaign in the dog press and our website was extensively used. At Crufts, which was re-organised for the last weekend in May, the CDB stand had an election theme about it, but by common consent, the postponed Crufts was not the bonanza it was in 2000.

The RSPCA continues to be active in seeking prosecutions against anybody whom they can demonstrate has docked their own litters, and not only will they take action under the Veterinary Surgeons Act, but they will also not hesitate to lay charges of cruelty. In July, the RSPCA was responsible for bringing a case in Hartlepool Magistrates Court where a man pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to seven springer spaniel puppies after docking them himself. This prompted the CDB to issue yet another warning to the working gundog fraternity, that they must ensure that their puppies are docked legally. We continue to drum home this message in articles in the country sports press and through our presence at events such as the Midland Game Fair at Weston Park, Staffordshire in September.

Our eyes, however, have constantly been on the Government. Although its attention may presently be diverted by events in Afghanistan and the middle east, its backbench supporters will not allow it to forget the many commitments it has made in the general direction of animal welfare. Although some cabinet Ministers may wish that they were able to kick the hunting issue into the long grass and leave it there, hard line Labour MPs are unlikely to let them off the hook that easily. Already Lord Watson’s anti-hunting Bill in the Scottish Parliament is at a dangerous stage, and it can only be a matter of time before the debate is re-ignited south of the border 

Look also at the speed with which DEFRA Minister Elliot Morley has proposed new legislation to prevent farmers from challenging official Foot and Mouth culls of their livestock before the Government’s own inquiry into the disease has even finished sitting, let alone published its report.

From our perspective, however, the issue which concerns us most is the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. In September Elliot Morley indicated that he will be conducting a formal review of Britain ’s position regarding the Convention, and deciding whether or not we shall go ahead and sign it. The news sparked a flurry of activity, and it was particularly pleasing to see a prompt response from the Kennel Club in the form of an open letter to Mr Morley expressing the concerns of dog breeders and owners over the grave implications which ratification of the Convention has for some 100 dog breeds. As a member of FACE UK, the United Kingdom branch of the federation of European field sports organisations, the CDB has ensured that the Convention is placed firmly on the FACE agenda and that the support of other organisations is enlisted. Already the CDB has proposed a submission by FACE to the UK Government, and sought an alignment between FACE and mainstream canine organisations in order to build a coalition to head off the Convention.

Acting alone, a small body like the CDB cannot hope to wield sufficient influence to halt the Convention in its tracks, especially bearing in mind the inbuilt attitudes which exist within the present Government. But we can shout loudly in the right quarters, and do our best to convince our natural friends and allies that they too must vociferously oppose accession to this unnecessary European treaty. Ministers have seen the furore which erupted over German anti-dog legislation not long ago. If they can be convinced that a similarly difficult time awaits them if they move forward with the Convention, then perhaps it might be possible to convince them that signing it is not such a good idea after all.

Graham Downing    5th November 2001