The five Programmes for Government covering session 5 of the Scottish Parliament contain a level of specific commitment to animal welfare measures that has not previously been seen in Scotland. The associated programme of delivery by the Scottish Government encompasses these measures and many more, including research projects, communications campaigns and engagement with stakeholders.
Note needs to be taken of the considerable amount of secondary legislation required pursuant on the UK withdrawal from the European Union, and the amount of officials' time that had to be devoted to this, across all fields including animal welfare. In addition, public resources and priorities have been subject to unprecedented pressure in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated measures.
The Commission recognises that the Scottish Government has been consistent in following through its declared intentions for animals, despite these additional constraints, and strongly welcomes legislative developments including the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Scotland) Regulations 2021. These are both substantial pieces of legislation with the potential to improve the welfare of many thousands of animals in Scotland, as long as they are properly implemented and enforced, which may require additional central and local government resources.
While more limited in scope, the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018 is also to be welcomed. The legislation – the first of its kind to be passed in the UK – focused on ethical issues surrounding: the use of animals where breeding for circus use has not resulted in any significant genetic, physiological or behavioural change from the wild state; the value of artificial tricks performed for entertainment; the inability of temporary or mobile accommodation to provide the sizeable and complex living conditions that many wild animals required; the amount of time circus animals spent confined whilst travelling, unable to undertake their natural and instinctive activities, and the lack of education or conservation value offered by this type of entertainment.
On a more critical note – and again recognising the demands in responding to the Covid pandemic – the Commission notes that certain commitments in the Programmes for Government were repeated from year to year and still remain outstanding. A Bill to implement the Bonomy recommendations, which concerns wild animals and is relevant to the welfare needs of these sentient beings, was paused temporarily. The Commission recognises that a commitment to implement the Werritty recommendations has been included in the 2021 Programme for Government.
The Commission also notes the many representations made, with supporting evidence, during the passage of the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017 to the effect that permitting the shortening of dogs' tails, even in a limited number of working breeds, may have a negative impact on animal welfare. In view of the controversy generated by this measure, the Commission recommends that follow-up monitoring be undertaken to assess the net benefits or disadvantages for animals as a result of these measures.
The Commission also considers that the Good Food Nation agenda would benefit from explicit recognition that good animal welfare is a part of sustainable food production and food quality. The proposed Good Food Nation Bill for 2021-2022 announced in the most recent Programme for Government will place responsibilities on 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. We see no reason why such statements and policies should not include the promotion of animal welfare.
To conclude on an entirely positive note, the Commission applauds the Scottish Government for taking the views of stakeholders into account in a number of its initiatives for animal welfare, not least the creation of the Commission itself. The Commission has been accorded a welcome degree of independence with regard to setting its agenda and has already been able to consider issues other than those referred to it by the Scottish Ministers. This report is an example of that autonomy, and the Commission hopes to build on this in future to provide further recommendations as to how animal sentience could and should be considered in policymaking by the Scottish Government.