We are a nation of animal lovers and I know that my ministerial colleagues are committed to raising our already world-leading animal welfare standards even higher.
I welcome that the Government has considered the evidence regarding the use of electronic aids for the control of dogs. I understand that concerns that e-collars can cause long-term harm to dogs have been raised by a number of trainers, behaviourists, the animal welfare sector, and dog keeping organisations. Following a consultation in 2018, and as set out in the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare in 2021, the Government decided to ban some e-collars in England under new legislation.
Further, the research study commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed that e-collars have a negative impact on the welfare of some dogs. This research also revealed that many e-collars users were not using them properly or in compliance with the manufacturers’ instructions. As well as being misused to inflict unnecessary harm, there is also evidence that e-collars can re-direct aggression or cause anxiety-based behaviour in pets, making underlying behavioural and health problems worse.
After listening closely to the views of pet owners and respondents, the Government does not plan to extend the ban to invisible fencing systems that can keep pets away from roads and potential traffic accidents. These devices are particularly useful for cat owners and animals often respond well to invisible fencing, quickly learning to stay within a boundary without receiving a static pulse. I appreciate that you may disagree with this decision, but I accept the view the consultation brought out that, as a last resort to prevent other serious risks of harm, there is an argument for retaining the ability to use invisible fencing containment systems provided they are set up and used properly.
Pet owners must ensure that any legal training aids are used appropriately. Using them to inflict unnecessary suffering could lead to prosecution under animal welfare laws, including the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Anyone with specific concerns about the welfare of an animal should raise them with the RSPCA or the police.
I also understand that the codes of recommendations and animal welfare guides for cattle, horses, and sheep state that any electrical discharge must be felt only as slight discomfort by the animal. This means that those responsible for the welfare of farmed animals must therefore ensure that any electric fences are designed, constructed, used, and maintained properly, and that systems prevent electricity being conducted anywhere it should not be, for example, gates and water troughs.
While breaching a provision within the codes is not an offence in itself, if proceedings are brought against someone for an offence under the Animal Welfare Act, the Court will look at whether or not they have complied with the relevant code in deciding whether they have committed an offence.