CDB Annual General Meeting 2006

President’s Address

When I addressed this meeting last year, the prospect of our being able to retain the right for all dog breeders to continue having their litters legally docked by their veterinary surgeon appeared to be a possibility

A month before our last AGM, the Government finally published the Animal Welfare Bill. 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 appeared to support a ban. Indeed, it accepted the principle upon which the CDB was founded, namely that freedom to choose should rest with the breeder and his or her vet.

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

Twelve months ago, we embarked on our final effort to raise support from our grass roots members with our last chance lobbying exercise. We urged members, clubs and vets to write to their MP again or for the first time. We urged local breed clubs and societies to organise lobbying visits to their MP’s surgery, so that small delegations could talk to their MP face to face.

All we are asked our members to do was to urge their MP to support freedom of choice which we backed up with many full page colour advertisements in the Parliamentary media and submissions to MPs and the EFRA Select Committee.

By January 2006, it became obvious that our efforts were falling on deaf ears. MPs debating the tail docking issue during the Committee stage of the Bill, displayed a total lack of impartiality and ignorance to the DEFRA conclusions after over three years of consulting on the subject. After that debate, we also slammed the rapid about-turn on the subject by Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw. Mr Bradshaw didn’t even so much as set out the case for freedom of choice, let alone argue in favour of it. He simply capitulated to ignorance and prejudice. The omens did not look good.

At the same time, the Countryside Alliance and BASC publicly split with the CDB by advocating its support for a working dog only exemption. 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?

Our efforts were in vain as when the Commons third reading of the Animal Welfare Bill took place on Tuesday14th March, MPs voted in favour of a ban on tail docking with an exemption for certain working dogs. A better result than a total ban you might say, but failure to retain our preference, the status quo.

The Animal Welfare Bill and our lobbying efforts then moved to the House of Lords. The CDB rapidly produced a dossier to be sent to each of the Lords and encouraged all of our supporters to lobby the Lords as well. Tail Docking was "debated" in the Grand Committee 23rd May for just 30 minutes. The outcome was that there should be no changes to the Bill as proposed by the Commons so far as tail docking is concerned.

The Animal Welfare Bill has now completed all of its Parliamentary stages and received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006 - it is now the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

A ban on the mutilations of animals (including tail docking) is included, with certain specified exemptions.

The Act does not become law until 6 April 2007 and tail docking will be subject to regulations which have yet to be drafted and consulted on, before the section on docking is enacted.

Turning now to Scotland , a majority of MSPs voted for a blanket ban on 31st May, but were told that an exemption could be introduced for working dogs after consultation. MSPs including Deputy Environment Minister Rhona Brankin remain opposed to the practice, however she said exemptions could still be included in the relevant section of the bill and these will be brought before the Scottish parliament. No final decision will be taken on the tail docking of dogs until the regulations are completed.

After so many years of effort, it seems that the political efforts of the RSPCA and their like, are near to reaching a conclusion. That conclusion is not what we or our supporters would have wished for and frankly, the future looks bleak. 

Peter Squires

President

Council of Docked Breeds