The Scottish Government is committed to the highest possible welfare standards for all animals. As part of this, we are committed to upholding and seeking improvements in our legislation and enforcement framework to benefit animals. Animals which are cared for appropriately and in accordance with existing biosecurity and welfare standards are more likely to be healthy and less likely to spread disease.
Our policy on disease control is that prevention is better than cure. We encourage good animal health and ensure appropriate contingency plans are in place to deal with disease outbreaks. This approach works by reducing the chance of animal disease entering the animal population, and if it does then it can be quickly spotted and dealt with through preventative measures. This is beneficial for animals' treatment and recovery, while also supporting the economic and social wellbeing of people working in the livestock sector through the avoidance of expensive, stressful and restrictive disruptions caused by large scale disease outbreaks.
An appropriate statutory framework is needed to underpin our approach. As part of the Scottish Government's 2019-2020 Programme for Government we announced that:
"we will begin a review of animal health legislation for livestock to ensure it remains fit for purpose".
The Animal Health Act 1981 (the Act) was introduced to protect public health and the health of animals through reducing the risks of disease entering the animal population. It is the primary legislation that provides Scottish Ministers with the powers to make secondary legislation for the prevention, control and eradication of animal diseases. The Act, which is the cornerstone legislation that protects the health of livestock from diseases, is now almost 40 years old. It is therefore time to review this legislation to ensure it continues to be fit for purpose and is able to maintain Scotland's proud strong track record and commitment to the highest animal health and welfare standards.
This consultation therefore begins the process of that review and seeks views on the effectiveness of the existing provisions within the Act and whether there are any gaps that would help improve animal health standards both to help prevent an incursion of animal disease and to control and eradicate disease.
It is also appropriate to consider the need to update enforcement provisions, to ensure that all tools to deter but also punish maltreatment of animals are available. Organisations responsible for enforcement of the Act have raised concerns around some technical aspects. Enforcement bodies have suggested that there is a need for a level of enforcement that could be delivered without the intervention of the Scottish courts, whilst still providing a meaningful penalty for those breaching animal health rules made under the Act.
This consultation seeks views on providing such measures through the forthcoming Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill. We are proposing to give Scottish Ministers a power to make regulations allowing fixed penalty notices to be used in relation to animal health offences.