Last year, SAWC was able to welcome a number of specific animal welfare legislative commitments in the 2021-2022 Programme. While the same is not true of the 2022-2023 Programme, that does not imply that government work on animal welfare has slowed in Scotland. Quite the contrary: 2023 has seen the introduction of two major Bills affecting wildlife – the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill (now the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023) and the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, which at the time of writing is still at Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament. Both of these offer significant changes and improved protection for wild animals.
While the Scottish Government’s Animal Health and Welfare Division, Wildlife Management Team and Marine Scotland all have direct or implied responsibility for animal welfare, much also derives from other work areas, such as food policy.
As noted in section 4, the inclusion of animal welfare in the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 as one of the principles to be integrated in the national and public authority plans was a welcome development. Public policy and approaches to matters such as procurement have the potential to make a significant impact on the welfare of animals produced for food and on public attitudes to welfare. SAWC is keen to see animal welfare accorded due priority in the national and regional plans that will flow from the Act, with due consultation of animal welfare experts and advocates. We understand that the Scottish Government has asked relevant bodies to create and adopt these plans by 2025 and look forward to seeing further details.
As another example, June 2023 saw the commencement of important sections of the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022, allowing local authorities to designate Firework Control Zones where fireworks may not be used, prohibiting the sale of fireworks to under-18s and restricting the possession of fireworks in public places. Again, this is not animal welfare legislation per se, but it has far-reaching implications, as was recognised by inclusion of the Scottish SPCA on the Firework Review Group prior to the Bill. SAWC believes that the new licensing system for purchases, allied with restrictions on times and places of use, will significantly reduce the negative impacts of firework noise on pets, farmed animals, zoo animals and wildlife. During the passage of the Bill, SAWC asked the Minister for Community Safety to reconsider proposed exemptions for organised public firework displays and professional displays. While this recommendation was not taken up, we hope the issue of noise will be kept under review.
One constraint on progress is the need to rely on UK government to legislate on reserved matters, or on devolved matters with legislative consent where consistent legislation across the UK is particularly desirable. Scottish Government animal welfare team officials are regularly involved in discussions, research and preparations for UK legislation and Scottish animal welfare organisations join their English and Welsh counterparts in effective advocacy to support its development. When relevant Bills are abandoned by the UK government, Scottish animal welfare is disadvantaged. SAWC has no wider political or constitutional point to make on this issue, simply to observe that progress for animals in Scotland can be significantly affected – whether positively or negatively – by decisions that are not made by the Scottish Government.
Bills and statutory instruments are of course only one route for the Scottish Government to improve animal welfare. Programmes for Government also include strategies to set out and implement policy in practical detail, and these need to be scrutinised along with legislation.
For example, the period of this review saw publication of the Vision for Scottish Aquaculture. Many millions of Atlantic salmon live in fish farm cages around the Scottish coast – all of them sentient individuals and all dependent on human keepers for their welfare. Currently, the Vision appears to prioritise sea lice as more of an environmental than an animal welfare problem: We think there could be benefit in addressing the latter aspect with some urgency.
Within the Vision, Good Food Nation policy is identified as one of the current and forthcoming policies and programmes that will contribute to the Vision outcomes, but animal welfare is not one of the themes listed as relevant to this policy. This might be an area where cross-disciplinary thinking could be harnessed to progress animal welfare.
As we have previously stated, SAWC welcomes the independence it has been accorded with regard to setting its agenda and to consider issues it considers important, in addition to those referred to it by the Scottish Ministers. We continue to welcome our freedom to prioritise and we submit the comments in this report in a constructive and positive spirit.
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