Animal welfare - Scottish Government activity: Scottish Animal Welfare Commission review

Review of Scottish Government activity affecting the welfare of animals, as sentient beings, by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC).

2. Scottish Government – Programme for Government

The Scottish Government issued its Programme for Government 2021-2022 ("the Programme") in September 2021, setting out commitments for the coming parliamentary session. This section covers the main proposals relevant to animal welfare in Scotland, summarises progress to date and comments on issues that have arisen in the process.

Natural environment

Chapter 3 of the Programme, A Net Zero Nation, included a commitment to publish a new biodiversity strategy by October 2022 (one year after the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 26) followed by a five-year delivery plan, covering the use and management of land and the protection of habitats and ecosystems.

A Natural Environment Bill was scheduled for Year 3 of the Parliament, putting in place targets for nature restoration, aiming to prevent further extinctions of wildlife and halt declines by 2030. Progress is to be made towards restoring Scotland's natural environment by 2045, with targets for species abundance, distribution and extinction risk, and habitat quality and extent. Legislation was also planned to end the supply and manufacture of some single use plastic items, which can cause injury to wild animals.

In furtherance of the latter aim, the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 came into force on 1 June 2022 (although subject to pending UK parliamentary procedures to exclude the issue from the Internal Market Act 2020). The Regulations make it an offence for businesses in Scotland to provide items plastic cutlery, plates and stirrers, of which it was estimated that around 700 million such items were used in Scotland every year.


Chapter 4 of the Programme, An Economy that works for all of Scotland's People and Places, included specific commitments on animal welfare issues under the heading A strong and sustainable future for Scottish farming, fishing and aquaculture.

Noting the economic benefits associated with aquaculture, the Scottish Government also recognised the environmental concerns associated with the industry. Its vision was for sustainable aquaculture with an enhanced emphasis on environmental protection and community benefits, with greater contributions from producers to support inspection services, reduce their environmental impact, provide real community benefit, and support innovation.

A programme of work to better protect wildlife and the environment was proposed. This was in response to the 2020 report of the Salmon Interactions Working Group (SIWG) established following concerns raised by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee and the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee of the Scottish Parliament over the environmental impacts of salmon and trout farms on wild salmonids. The SIWG report, issued in 2020, acknowledged "the potential hazard that farmed salmonid aquaculture presents to wild salmonids (Atlantic salmon and sea trout) and agreed to examine measures to minimise the potential risk."

The Programme included a commitment to consult on a spatially adaptive sea lice risk assessment framework for fish farms by the end of the year, and strengthening controls on sea lice, wrasse and fish escapes in the course of 2021‑22.

A consultation on proposed wild Atlantic salmon protection zones and a sea lice exposure threshold was launched by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) on behalf of the Scottish Government in December 2021 and closed in March 2022.

SAWC notes from published reactions to the consultation that there were strongly opposing views regarding the impact of sea lice on wild salmon populations. The Scottish Government may wish to request a view from SAWC as to the animal welfare implications of sea lice infestations on affected individuals, as these should not be overlooked. A SAWC working group is already considering the animal welfare impacts of acoustic deterrent devices used to discourage seals from the vicinity of fish farms.

Scottish Veterinary Service

The Programme contained a commitment to ensuring 'the highest standards of animal health and welfare, including the creation of a new dedicated Scottish Veterinary Service within this Parliament, to ensure there are highly trained staff to provide Scotland with good animal health and food safety to meet all our needs across the public and private sector for animal health issues".

In February 2022, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs confirmed that the field animal health and welfare functions currently delivered by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in Scotland would be replaced by a new Scottish Veterinary Service (SVS) within the lifetime of the current Parliament. This followed an independent review of field animal health and welfare services by Professor Charles Milne, published in February 2020, which recommended the creation of a stand-alone Scottish animal health and welfare delivery body.

A Programme Board representing organisations involved in the delivery and enforcement of animal health and welfare and food safety has been given responsibility for assessing the proposed functions of the SVS, and what format these may take.

SAWC supports the Scottish Government's aim of introducing efficiencies, better resilience, and strengthened delivery and enforcement across a range of animal health and welfare tasks.

Animal welfare legislation

The Programme contained commitments specifically aimed at improving the welfare of wild and domesticated animals in Scotland over the course of the current session. In addition to a general review of animal welfare legislation (a requirement placed on the Scottish Government by s.16 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020), a number of legislative measures were proposed.

Commitments included:

  • Introducing a Bill in 2021 to strengthen the law relating to the use of dogs to hunt and flush foxes and other wild mammals, implementing the majority of the recommendations of the independent report on the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 (the Bonomy report), and introducing further measures such as preventing trail hunting.

At the time of writing, the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill, which meets these commitments, was nearing completion of Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament. (See Section 3 for more detail.) SAWC provided written and oral evidence to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) Committee in support of the Bill.

  • Working with other UK administrations on legislation to control exports of livestock and imports of dogs, modernise zoo licensing, and control import and sale of products that raise ethical concerns such as fur.

This commitment referred to two pieces of potential Westminster legislation proposed as part of the UK government's action plan for animal welfare, published in May 2021.

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, introduced on 8 June 2021, contains provisions that extend to Scotland, including prohibition of export of livestock for slaughter or fattening, powers to more tightly control the importation of dogs , cats and ferrets and improvements to zoo licensing, as well as other changes. A legislative consent motion (LCM) was lodged by the Scottish Government on the basis that "the changes proposed in the Bill address matters of significant public concern for animal welfare which are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and require primary legislation to effect. These are areas where consistent changes to legislation in all GB administrations at the same time will be particularly important and beneficial."

SAWC gave evidence on animal welfare issues to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee of the Scottish Parliament in November 2021 and supported the provisions of the Bill that affect Scotland. The LCM was passed in January 2022, but the Bill was delayed in the UK parliament. It has been carried over into the current session but, at the time of this review, it is not known when it will resume its progress.

A joint consultation on proposed new zoo standards: Standards of Modern Zoo Practice for Great Britain did however run from March to June 2022

A second relevant piece of Westminster legislation was foreseen in the form of an Animals Abroad Bill. This was expected to introduce prohibitions on imports from trophy hunting, the sale and import of fur and foie gras, and the advertisement and sale of certain animal experiences overseas such as elephant rides, that are considered cruel.

This Bill has now been taken off the UK government's legislative agenda. A Private Member's Bill covering trophy hunting has been introduced by Henry Smith MP, with UK government backing, but its scope is more limited than the original proposal.

SAWC agrees with the Scottish Government that the changes proposed under the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill are desirable for the benefit of animal welfare, as was the potential Animals Abroad Bill. It is hoped that progress on these matters will resume in the UK Parliament as soon as possible.

  • Consultations on proposals to improve animal transport legislation, and phase out cages for gamebirds and laying hens, and farrowing crates for pigs; and on legislation to extend the framework for licensing of activities involving animals, to new areas such as performing animals and animal care services.

The Scottish Government is currently participating with other GB administrations in a series of stakeholder workshops on possible changes to animal transport legislation. Initial evidence gathering and discussions with stakeholders on extending the licensing of activities involving animals are also taking place. SAWC looks forward to publication of consultations and expects to submit full responses in due course.

  • Implementing recent livestock worrying legislation which will come into force in November 2021.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force on 14 November 2021.

This increases the maximum available penalty for allowing dogs to chase or attack livestock to 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £40,000, and gives new powers to Police Scotland to seize dogs for examination by a veterinary surgeon.

The Scottish Government has published guidance for veterinary surgeons on the collection of evidence from dogs which might be presented to them by the police following a livestock attack.

  • Through an independent taskforce, considering whether the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) should be given extra legislative powers to investigate wildlife crime.

The Cabinet Secretary announced in June 2022 that Susan Davies FRSB, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre had been appointed to lead a taskforce including representatives from Police Scotland, the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Government policy officials.

Given that the taskforce is still deliberating, SAWC is not in a position to comment on its work but stands ready to offer views on wild animal welfare if these should be requested. There can be no doubt that wildlife crime impacts negatively on the welfare of sentient individual animals, and SAWC sees it as desirable to ensure that the maximum enforcement capacity is available for prompt investigation and enforcement whenever required.

  • Reviewing the wider species licensing system with a view to ensuring that the law is being applied correctly and that lethal control is only licensed where the conditions required for such a licence are demonstrably being met. The review will also assess the potential to apply the principle of full cost recovery to species licensing and the introduction of a public register of licences to improve transparency.

SAWC understands that this work is under way and looks forward to further developments.

Grouse moor licensing and deer management

The Programme noted the need for "urgent action" to tackle wildlife crime and to address the environmental impacts of grouse moor management. Commitments included supporting the transition to "more economically and environmentally productive uses of land where appropriate" and delivering the recommendations of the Grouse Moor Management Review Group (the Werritty review) as a matter of urgency, including the licensing of grouse moors. Licensing will be supported by clear penalties to encourage compliance, as well as additional effort to detect wildlife crime.

SAWC looks forward to legislation in the near future, which we understand is likely to include other measures relevant to wild animal welfare.

The Scottish Government also proposed to modernise deer management, implementing the recommendations of the Deer Management Working Group and introducing a new cull return system, to ensure proportionate deer management plans, modernising legislation, including deer close seasons and use of specialist equipment when managing deer, and designing future agricultural support schemes to encourage a reduction in grazing pressure in the uplands.

SAWC has previously supported the recommendations of the Deer Management Working Group and notes the importance of proposed legislation including measures to protect the welfare of deer when they are subject to management measures.

Good Food Nation Bill

The Programme for Government 2021-2022 reiterated a previous commitment to introduce a Good Food Nation Bill, providing a legislative framework to place responsibilities on the Scottish Ministers and specified public bodies to publish and adhere to statements of policy on food setting out the main outcomes to be achieved in relation to food‑related issues, the policies needed to do this, and the indicators or other measures required to assess progress.

The Bill was introduced in October 2021, passed in June 2022, and enacted on 26 July 2022.

In its previous review of Scottish Government activity, SAWC recommended that the Good Food Nation Bill should include measures recognising that good animal welfare is a part of sustainable food production and food quality. The original Bill did not contain any such reference, but the matter was the subject of robust stakeholder lobbying and amendments were agreed during Stage 2 to incorporate a set of principles, including the improvement of animal welfare, to which the Scottish Ministers and relevant public authorities must have regard when preparing their Good Food Nation plans.

The Bill was also amended at Stage 3 to provide for the creation of an independent food commission to provide oversight of the progress of the Good Food Nation measures. SAWC welcomes both the addition of principles that include animal welfare and the creation of the new Commission and will be pleased to collaborate with the Commission as required on animal welfare issues and policy.



Back to top