Despite their national party policies, Labour and Liberal Democrat MP’s are divided over their attitude to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
Prospective Parliamentary Candidates were questioned in the run up to the 1997 General Election, to ascertain the three main parties views on the Convention.
Labour is officially opposed to docking and in favour in principle of signing the Convention. However only 34% of the candidates who responded supported this view. Of the remainder, 13% said they supported the retention of docking and would not sign the Convention, while 53% expressed no view on the matter.
Of the Liberal Democrats who replied, 30% supported the party’s clear commitment to sign the Convention and ban docking. However, an almost equal number, 28%, opposed this view, while 34% expressed no view at all.
Conservative opposition to the Convention was strong. Of those candidates who replied, 84% were opposed to the Convention and supported the retention of docking, while only 1% would sign the Convention and see docking banned. The remaining 15% expressed no view.
While the clear support for the Convention from Labour and the Liberal Democrats must remain a matter of great concern to all breeders of pedigree dogs, it is encouraging to see the divergence of opinion which is now apparent.
Lobbying clearly set candidates thinking about this issue, and it is particularly interesting to see the views of Labour candidates. During the 1997 election run up, it was pointed out to Labour that even their own mascot, Fitz the bulldog, would be banned under the Convention, it seems that the party’s enthusiasm for the Convention has markedly cooled.
In May 2000 however, the Home Office stated the following:
“I can inform you that the Government is publicly committed to start a review of the question of whether or not the UK should ratify the Convention. We shall shortly be conducting a consultation exercise with interested parties about the Convention. It is not known at this stage when the review will be complete”
It was never completed in the first Labour administration, but in August 2001, Elliott Morley (the Minister for animal health and welfare) announced that a review would commence.
Nothing more was heard until DEFRA announced a full review of Animal legislation in January 2002 with NO MENTION of a review of the Convention being involved. Details can be found here.
On the very day that submissions to the consultation paper had closed, DEFRA issued a Press Release quoting Elliot Morley as follows: “DEFRA is also reviewing the UK’s position in relation to the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. Many of the issues covered by the Convention have been raised in DEFRA’s public consultation on animal welfare legislation.
Mr Morley said:
“Now would be a good time to look again at the Convention. It is too early to speculate on where we go from here – but a review, tying in with our own consultation would seem logical.”
The Convention was one of four matters which was expressly excluded from the Animal Welfare consultation. If Ministers were minded to consider signing up to this well-meaning but woolly piece of European legislation, would it not have been reasonable to invite comment on it at the same time as other welfare issue?
It seems likely that some of those 1,600 letter writers might have wished to have given DEFRA the benefit of their advice on the European Convention. Perhaps Ministers knew that the advice they would have received would not have been to their liking!