Charities challenge calls for RSPCA to drop prosecutions

A coalition of animal welfare charities have challenged MPs over calls to strip the RSPCA of its power to prosecute.

MPs are calling for stricter licensing on dog breeders and sellers

In a report published today, members of Parliament’s rural affairs committee suggest the organisation should no longer pursue private cases.

The MPs claim there is a potential “conflict of interest” between this work and the charity’s wider fundraising and campaign aims.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But at least seven welfare charities have condemned the suggestion, arguing that without the RSPCA the “vast majority” of cases would go uninvestigated.

The group, which includes the Dogs Trust, PDSA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, said the RSPCA “does a very good job investigating and securing convictions” for a “large number of animal welfare cases”.

They claim they have “serious concerns” about who would take prosecutions forward in the organisation’s absence, and say they “would not support any move to reduce [its] role.”

“We fully recognise the positive work the RSPCA undertakes to secure prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act,” they state. “Without the RSPCA, it is likely that the vast majority of these cases would never be investigated.”

The RSPCA has faced accusations in the past for pursuing “politically motivated” cases again fox hunters. The new Efra report appears to pick up on these criticisms, stating that the charity lack “the necessary separation” between its legal and campaign work “to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

It says it is “not convinced” the organisation is better placed than the Crown Prosecution Service to bring animal welfare cases, andconcludes that the organisation should “withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort”.

Further recommendations in the report include the introduction of tougher penalties for animal cruelty offences, and a ban on third party sale of dogs.

It also calls for licensing regimes to be updated, and recommends the creation of a new licensing body to help local authorities enforce these rules.

Commenting on the report, committee chairman Neil Parish said: “It is all too easy for an unknowing member of the public to buy a puppy from the plethora of unlicensed or illegal sellers.

“We need up to date laws and an enforcement regime that ensure that the welfare of animals is not an afterthought.”

RSPCA chief executive, Jeremy Cooper, said: “Overall this is a very sensible report with lots of progressive measures to improve animal welfare. We do not agree with the recommendation that the RSPCA should no longer prosecute.

“We will consider this report carefully while we will continue prosecute those who starve, beat, stab, burn and abuse animals.

“For us the key test will be if the recommendation improves animal welfare and we suspect the answer in this case would probably be no.”