Earlier this week, backbench MHKs threw out the gov’s Animal Welfare Bill with only nine members voting for it, but why was that?
To understand why MHKs voted it down, Gef has taken a look at the Bill to understand why it wasn’t supported.
Under existing legislation, the island can prosecute people for cruelty to any animal, with further legislation providing protections for livestock and some limited legislation that protects welfare animals in specific situations. But there is no specific legislation that protects companion animals, a fact which was highlighted by a petition to Tynwald in 2014.
That petition was presented by Roseleen Harrison. It sought to address deficiencies in Manx law for the protection of animals. By 2017, a Bill was planned to replace the limited legislation, but until now it had not come forward.
Speaking in Keys, Environment Minister Geoffrey Boot said: ‘Since that time, new animal welfare issues have come to the attention of the department and the public such as the need to provide greater legal protections to service animals and the rise of puppy farming.’
These issues have led to further changes in the UK’s legislation. The most recent of those is a Bill which is seeking to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years, an unlimited fine or both. It is also expected new Bills will be introduced in the near future.
Mr Boot added: ‘Such UK animal welfare legislation, which is comprehensive and regularly updated, would form a starting point for the island’s animal welfare legislation. Unfortunately, the legislative challenges posed by Brexit have meant that my department has not been able to draft the detailed Animal Welfare Bill that was anticipated at that time. Instead, to enable progress to be made quickly in that area I have directed the drafting of the Animal Welfare Bill before the court today.’
The Minister warned members that if he hadn’t, it could have resulted in a delay of up to two years. He said the small five clause Bill was designed to ‘serve as a means of enabling the application of the latest UK animal welfare legislation to the island with appropriate modifications and adaptations’.
One of the more controversial parts of the original Bill was the status of the mountain hares. Manx Wildlife Trust criticised the lack of protection afforded to the animals under the proposed new Bill. Currently classified as vermin, they would’ve been redesignated as game meaning they would be subject to a hunting season, instead of the free for all which currently exists.
However when it came before the Keys, Mr Boot had removed that clause, saying it threatened to derail the Bill as more work was needed to be done on legislation regarding the hares and their status.
In closing, the Minister told members that the Bill ‘is not intended to be a complete solution’. And added: ‘Further primary legislation will be required all of the island definicines in animal welfare legislation for companion animals, particularly with a proposed register of persons who have committed animal welfare and cruelty to animal offences.’
However when it came to the debate, members were far from pleased. Liberall Vannin leader Lawrie Hooper was first in and said: ‘I’m glad the minister acknowledges this Bill won’t solve all our problems because it won’t solve any of our problems.’
He added: ‘The select committee delivered a report several years ago on what needed to be done and the department has spent the best part of five years not doing any of them, very successfully.’
Mr Hooper continued by criticising the department for failing to publish the responses to its consultation and asked why the Bill was necessary since the EU Trade Act already allowed his department to transfer over the laws from the UK that Mr Boot was seeking to do with this Bill ‘we already have all these powers this Bill is asking for,’ Mr Hooper added.
Douglas Central MHK Chris Thomas said he agreed with Mr Hooper and asked Mr Boot whether DEFA supported the introduction of UK and EU legislation for companion animals on the island, to be done by the next administration and when primary legislation would be coming forward to resolve deficiencies.
And it didn’t get much better for Mr Boot as Middle MHK Bill Shimmins criticised DEFA for not publishing responses when members of the public have taken time to respond to the consultation and asked for a commitment not to continue with the Bill until they were.
While Douglas East MHK Chris Robertshaw went all Shakespearan and suggested it was in reality ‘Much ado about nothing’. He asked Mr Boot to expand on his comments on mountain hares, which Mr Robertshaw said are ‘beautiful animals which I have the privilege of seeing often’ and asked for how DEFA will be protecting the animals.
And with members in the mood for setting the hares running, Garff MHK Daphne Caine rose to speak about the animals and the consultation and said the Bill seemed like it was a ‘half hearted attempt’ to pass animal welfare legislation. She asked: ‘Why don’t we go for a proper Bill which includes a register of offenders, which includes protections for mountain hares, to reflect what the public say they want doing about mountain hares and any other things that we are unaware of, because we haven;t seen the consultation.’
Douglas East MHK Clare Barber also criticised DEFA and asked how long it would take to know how it applied to the island and when we would know if it was satisfactory for animal protection.
Onchan MHK Julie Edge asked Mr Boot if he had ‘really taken into consideration’ the views of the public given that the consultation closed a little over three weeks before he sought to move it through the Keys.
In responding to members Mr Boot said the Bill was necessary as the island doesn’t have the legislation and place and suggested that some of the opposition to it was that members ‘don’t like adopting UK legislation’.
He added: ‘But sometimes there is a need to act in a way that is pragmatic.’ Mr Boot said the gov was advised the EU Act was to be used for trade and not for other purposes and that is how they have been treated and said that while he would’ve liked to bring in other legislation, Brexit had got in the way and dominated much of DEFA’s time since the start of this administration.
The Minister also sought to bat off some of the members’ concerns and allay fears that his department wouldn’t be bringing forward better legislation for the protection of animals in due course.
However his attempts were ultimately unsuccessful as members defeated the Bill 12-9.