Since the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876, legislation on the subject of animal welfare has been piecemeal. Liberals recognize that the world’s creatures have rights too and that the human race should act as trustees of the natural world rather than its master. Priority should be given to the welfare of wildlife and to the elimination of cruelty to all species. We believe this can best be achieved through a new Standing Committee on Creature Protection, independent of all government departments and whose membership would represent a proper balance of all interested groups, invested with powers that would enable it to act as an enforcement agency.
Surplus capacity in the farming industry and a move from ‘intensive’ to ‘extensive’ farming provides a unique opportunity to phase out battery farming and the institutionalised cruelty and poor hygiene that goes hand in hand with such practices. Liberals wish to see the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Brambell Report which stated that any animal reared in an intensive regime should enjoy the ‘five freedoms’ – sufficient room to turn round, groom itself, get up, lie down, and stretch its limbs.
Radical legislation is needed to ensure that all UK abattoirs operate hygienic and humane slaughter of farm animals. While Liberals envisage that the slaughter of livestock for food will continue for the foreseeable future, we see no justification for slaughtering animals for pelts and believe that the import of all pelts and furs, and all homebased breeding and farming for such purposes, should be banned. Liberals also support a complete and permanent ban on the export of live animals for slaughter.
Legislative changes were introduced in 1986 – opposed only by the Liberal Party – that were supposed to protect animals used in experiments from unnecessary pain and put this country at the forefront of animal protection. Unfortunately, reports detailing non-observance of regulations by reputable establishments, such as the National Institute of Medical Research, calls into question the ability to introduce and police effective legislation. Liberals believe that it is time to phase out and outlaw research and experiments on live animals altogether.
The Liberal Party notes research which indicates that toxicity tests, for example, can be just as effectively undertaken using cultures of postmortem cells and skin tissue. Liberals believe that many would respond to the postmortem tissue donor scheme for such research. In the meantime, we would abolish the LD50 test (the test which aims to establish the dose at which 50% of test animals die) and would support a common European acceptance of national testing, so that testing will only have to be done once.
Liberals favour legislation against the taking or killing of all wildlife, with certain strictly controlled exceptions. Such legislation would include a ban on the hunting, entrapment, or shooting of any creature for sport, and would embody measures to protect existing, and provide new, wildlife habitats by using surplus farm land and cultivating hedgerows and copses.
There is also an urgent need for new regulations to afford badgers, their setts and other temporary quarters maximum protection. Existing legislation needs to be amended to make it an offence to tamper with, dig, or destroy any sett or other quarters. It should also be an offence to annoy, put in distress, injure, capture or attempt to capture, kill or attempt to kill any badger by any means whatsoever, including the use of dogs, gas or the setting of any type of trap.
Liberals find merit in the concept of a ‘ Rare Species Recovery Programme’, as described in a report commissioned by the Nature Conservancy Council, in which a programme of rare species population recovery is advocated at the modest cost of £12 million over a period of 15 years.
Animals in captivity
Liberals support developments in conservation work whereby endangered species are reared in captivity and then reintroduced to their natural environment. Liberals call for the introduction of measures to ensure that the conditions of existing livestock are improved so that their environment allows them to express as much of their natural behaviour as possible.
Liberals are appalled at the unacceptably high number of stray dogs on our streets and the growing costs as a result road accidents, savaged livestock and hospital admissions. Liberals are also concerned that children in particular are at risk of blindness as a result of uncontrolled dog fouling.
Liberals recognise the need to balance the legitimate rights of dog owners and the remainder of the public. We believe that there must be adequate space for dogs to exercise freely but that strictly enforced controls should apply elsewhere. Therefore Liberals call for:
- the restitution of a self-financing national dog licence system including a test on the welfare and control of dogs;
- a law whereby it would be an offence, carrying a minimum mandatory sentence, to allow a dog access to a public place (including public rights of way or access across private land) without a muzzle or a leash or both;
- new powers for local Councils to deal with cases of fouling by dogs without having to rely on bye-laws. Councils would have the power to designate open land to which there is public access, on which it would be an offence for any person (excluding the blind) to fail to remove fouling by a dog in their charge;
- a statute banning for life any person convicted of causing or committing cruelty, mistreatment, neglect or unnecessary suffering to dogs from owning a dog (or any other animal);
- an increase in the number of dog wardens and their responsibilities extended to cover other companion animals and a modest educational role in schools.
As to the current concern over the ownership and breeding of large aggressive dogs, Liberals see merit in their being classified under an amendment to the Dangerous Animals Act of 1976, requiring the payment of a fee, a licence, secure and suitable premises, and the use of a muzzle in public. Liberals further believe that the courts should be given greater discretion as to whether to order the destruction of prohibited fighting dogs seized in a public place.