CDB Annual General Meeting 2005

 President’s Address

When I addressed this meeting last year, the prospect of our being able to retain the right for dog breeders to continue having their litters legally docked by their veterinary surgeon were not good. In July 2004 the Government had published its draft Animal Welfare Bill which envisaged a ban on what they termed ‘cosmetic docking’, although Defra had accepted that there could be exemptions to the ban for certain working dogs. Last November, we were awaiting the Queen’s Speech which would herald the introduction of a full blown Bill and with it the likelihood of fairly rapid legislation. The CDB does not give up easily, and we were prepared to fight until the end, but I am the first to admit that the omens last year were very worrying to say the least.

However, surprises sometimes occur in politics, and I am pleased to say that, for once, things have gone our way.

Naturally, our response to last year’s Draft Bill was tough and direct. We pointed out the difficulty in framing a partial ban, and in particular the huge problem which would exist for veterinary surgeons in being able to verify that particular litters – much less particular pups within a litter – were indeed destined for work. And with this in mind we naturally pointed out that if docking some pups within a litter was acceptable in animal welfare terms, then what on earth was the problem in docking the remainder?

We took our case direct to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs and gave oral evidence to them, and we also mounted a substantial programme of advertising in the Parliamentary publications that are sent direct to MPs and their researchers, in order to deliver our message more widely. We opened a new dialogue with the Kennel Club, which I am pleased to say, has been very supportive of our actions. In the end, the early calling of a General Election resulted in the dissolution of Parliament and the Animal Welfare Bill was once more postponed. This gave Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw and his civil servants time to think again.

Early last month, the Government finally published its Bill. As expected, it is essentially a framework of enabling legislation which paves the way for a variety of Regulations which would subsequently be introduced by Ministers. Clause 5 of the Bill, which refers to ‘mutilations’, makes it an offence to carry out a prohibited procedure on a protected animal, to cause such a procedure to be carried out or to permit another person to carry out such a procedure. Clause 5(4) allows exemptions to be made, thus allowing specified procedures to be carried out without an offence being committed.

Significantly, docking was not mentioned in the Bill. Neither was it mentioned in the explanatory notes which accompany the Bill. However, in the Regulatory Impact Assessment, the Government addressed the issue of docking with the following crucial sentence: “Sincere views were held by those who both support and oppose a ban on cosmetic docking and our preference is that there should continue to be freedom of choice.”

In other words, the Government no longer supports a ban. Indeed, it has accepted the principle upon which the CDB was founded, namely that freedom to choose should rest with the breeder and his or her vet. I am sure I do not have to say how delighted we in the CDB were that our hard lobbying appears to have paid off.

But there is a catch. While the Government does not wish to change the status quo, it has said that this is a matter which Parliament must properly decide. In other words, there is the probability that Parliament will be asked to vote on whether docking of dogs’ tails may continue.

The matter will therefore rest with the individual decisions of MPs and Peers. I do not pretend that winning the vote, if and when it comes, will be easy. Remember that the last time MPs had a free vote on an animal welfare issue was over whether or not to ban hunting. They voted overwhelmingly for a ban.

But hunting and tail docking are two very different matters, and I am relieved that docking does not carry all the party political baggage that hunting did over so many years. Indeed, there is every prospect that if MPs can be addressed in the right way, then they can be convinced that freedom of choice is the right and sensible approach. After all, we convinced the Minister, Ben Bradshaw.

The need is now for a superhuman lobbying effort from you, the grass roots members, and indeed from all those who want to see this important freedom retained. Write to your MP if you have not already done so, and even if you have already done so, then write again. I would urge local breed clubs and societies to organise lobbying visits to their MP’s surgery, so that a small delegation can talk to their MP face to face. Remember that last time we organised such an effort in 2002, we prompted hundreds of letters. This time let it be thousands.

All we are asking our members to do is to urge their MP to support freedom of choice. Hopefully Conservative MPs should not find this concept too difficult to accept, and now that the Government itself has endorsed the principle, even Labour MPs are only being asked to support the standpoint that has been accepted by their own Minister.

This vote is winnable. There is every prospect that we can come out of this Animal Welfare Bill with docking intact and the principle of freedom of choice established. But success will depend on the efforts of every single CDB member, and that is why I am appealing to you now. Remember that the RSPCA is furious that the Government has backed away from a docking ban. They, together with all the other anti-docking groups, will be lobbying with immense effort, and it is down to us to match and exceed that effort.

Turning now to Scotland , I am very concerned at the prospects for docking within the Animal Health and Welfare Bill presently before the Scottish Parliament. Regrettably the Scottish Executive have not followed the route of their colleagues south of the border, and they are still proposing a ban, albeit with exemptions for what they call ‘working (gun and sniffer) dogs’. We are not letting the matter rest. Already we have arranged to give oral evidence to the Scottish Executive in support of freedom of choice over docking, and we have worked closely with the Scottish Kennel Club.

We will continue to take our case to MSPs. Again, I hope that our members in Scotland will support us.

After so many years of effort, it seems that the political end game may at last be in sight. I can assure you that those of us involved in running this organisation have not worked hard for so long to maintain docking only to see it fall at the final hurdle. But what is needed now, once again, is the individual support of our members and friends. I know that I can count on you.

Peter Squires


Council of Docked Breeds