New taskforce to consider increased powers for SSPCA (sound familiar?)

The Scottish Government’s Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, has announced a commitment to establish an independent taskforce to consider an extension of powers for the SSPCA which could lead to them being allowed to investigate a wider remit of wildlife crime than at present, including raptor persecution.

This announcement is a result of yet another strong amendment made by the Scottish Greens on the Animals and Wildlife Bill currently passing through Parliament. Mark Ruskell MSP proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 during an evidence session of the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee on 26 May 2020. Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce. You can read their discussion here: ECCLR 26 May 2020_discussion SSPCA increased powers_Ruskell_Gougeon

Mairi Gougeon has now confirmed her commitment to establishing an ‘independent’ taskforce this summer, with a view to seeing it report in the New Year as long as Covid19 and Brexit shenanigans don’t disrupt. You can read her confirmation letter to the ECCLR (and her correspondence with a seemingly very grateful SSPCA) here: Gougeon correspondence to ECCLR SSPCA on proposed taskforce

[The Scottish Government published this on social media last night]

Sounds good, right? We’re all sick of the raptor killing criminals getting away with it so announcing a taskforce to consider extending the SSPCA’s powers so that its officers can investigate a wider remit of wildlife crime (instead of being restricted to investigating crimes that only include live animals, as at present) must be brilliant news, surely.

But is it, really?

For those of you with long memories, you’ll know that the issue of increased powers for the SSPCA to tackle more wildlife crime has been around for many, many years. Since 2011, in fact. It has been debated and consulted to death and yet has gone absolutely nowhere, despite six (yes, six) Environment Ministers presiding over it (Roseanna Cunningham, Stewart Stevenson, Paul Wheelhouse, Aileen McLeod, Roseanna Cunningham [again, but this time as Cabinet Secretary] and now Mairi Gougeon).

For those new to this, here’s a quick recap of how the Scottish Government has dealt with this issue so far:

February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by former MSP Peter Peacock as an amendment during the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill debates. The then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham rejected it as an amendment but suggested a public consultation was in order.

September 2011: Seven months later Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) lodged a parliamentary motion that further powers for the SSPCA should be considered.

November 2011: Elaine Murray MSP (Scottish Labour) formalised the question in a P&Q session and the next Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, then promised that the consultation would happen ‘in the first half of 2012’.

September 2012: Nine months later and nothing had happened so we asked Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as the new Environment Minister, when the consultation would take place. The response, in October 2012, was:

The consultation has been delayed by resource pressures but will be brought forward in the near future”.

July 2013: Ten months later and still no sign so we asked the Environment Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) again. In August 2013, this was the response:

We regret that resource pressures did further delay the public consultation on the extension of SSPCA powers. However, I can confirm that the consultation document will be published later this year”.

September 2013: At a meeting of the PAW Executive Group, Minister Wheelhouse said this:

The consultation on new powers for the SSPCA will be published in October 2013“.

January 2014: In response to one of our blog readers who wrote to the Minister (still Paul Wheelhouse) to ask why the consultation had not yet been published:

We very much regret that resource pressures have caused further delays to the consultation to gain views on the extension of SSPCA powers. It will be published in the near future“.

31 March 2014: Public consultation launched.

1 September 2014: Consultation closed.

26 October 2014: We published our analysis of the consultation responses here.

22 January 2015: Analysis of consultation responses published by Scottish Government. 233 responses (although 7,256 responses if online petition included – see here).

We were told a decision would come from the new Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, “in due course”.

1 September 2015: One year after the consultation closed and still nothing.

25 February 2016: In response to a question posed by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment Committee, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “I have some further matters to clarify with the SSPCA, however I do hope to be able to report on the Scottish Government’s position on this issue shortly“.

May 2016: Dr Aileen McLeod fails to get re-elected and loses her position as Environment Minister. Roseanna Cunningham is promoted to a newly-created position of Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

12 May 2016: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-00030 – To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

26 May 2016: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

1 September 2016: Two years after the consultation closed and still nothing.

9 January 2017: Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submits the following Parliamentary question:

Question S5W-05982 – To ask the Scottish Government by what date it will publish its response to the consultation on the extension of wildlife crime investigative powers for inspectors in the Scottish SPCA.

17 January 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham responds:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be announced in the first half of 2017.

31 May 2017: Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rejects an extension of powers for the SSPCA ‘based on legal advice’ and instead announces, as an alternative, a pilot scheme of Special Constables for the Cairngorms National Park (here). It later emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was also an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it had now reneged (see here).

November 2019: The pilot scheme of Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park was an absolute failure as a grand total of zero wildlife crimes were recorded by the Special Constables but plenty were reported by others (see here).

So here we are again, nine years on and the latest Environment Minister has announced a taskforce. Given the unimpressive history, it’s really difficult to be excited by this announcement. That’s no reflection on Mairi Gougeon’s commitment to the issue – her integrity is not in doubt – but this Government’s appalling track record of constant can-kicking on SSPCA powers, on tackling wildlife crime and particularly on raptor persecution within the game-shooting industry, is wearing very thin indeed.

Perhaps a more optimistic perspective would be to say that even after all these years of debate, delays, parliamentary questions, delays, reviews, delays, consultation, delays, alternative schemes, delays, this issue simply refuses to go away, as do those of us determined to hold this Government to account and insist that everything possible is done to bring the raptor killing criminals to justice.

Kudos to the Scottish Greens and especially to Mark Ruskell MSP who has maintained the pressure on this particular issue for all these years.

22 thoughts on “New taskforce to consider increased powers for SSPCA (sound familiar?)”

    1. “Sounds like a good idea” What does? Obfuscation and delay and referral and anything to allow raptor persecution to continue unmolested?

  1. Why did we spend all that money on Werrity, only to have yet another enquiry soon after it reported and before its recommendations were implemented? Looks like another case of dodging their responsibility to me.

  2. Reviews, hand wringing, procrastination, inaction.
    In Holyrood and in Westminster. It doesn’t matter whether the issue is SSPCA powers, or raptor persecution, climate change or racism. More time and public funds wasted.
    These people are voted in and paid to make decisions. They need to just grow a pair and get on with it.

  3. Eleven years, and we’re getting a task force. What are they going to discover that the last consultation didn’t. Nothing.

    Everyone but those illegally killing wildlife and their ‘professional’ bodies want greater powers for SSPCA.

    This is the longest of long grass, and we’ve been kicked into by successive governments for years.

    What do the SNP have to fear? I was at first encouraged by their interest, but they’ve gone seriously ‘timorous beastie’

    Big disappointment.

  4. The SG is not indulging in any shilly-shallying with this matter although they will not not be too unhappy if that is the worst accusation they have to endure.

    It is evident that the SG has a clear strategy not to strengthen SSPCA powers. However, to openly admit that could have a negative electoral impact that they cannot risk.

    The SG is not having any difficulty in taking a decision over increasing SSPCA powers. They have taken that decision and it is NO to increased powers. The problem that the SG has is that it dare not make that decision public and have opted to hide behind a smoke screen of deferment, committees, working parties, task forces and endless shuffling.

    The question that remains unanswered is why the SG will not strengthen SSPCA powers and decisively deal with all aspects of wildlife crime.

    There has to be a reason for their policy. Who are ALL THE BENEFACTORS ? Certainly not wildlife and certainly not the law abiding generality of the public. Think about it !

      1. I think, perhaps, you misunderstand the thrust of my post. Th SG are not truly shilly-shallying. They are using a pretence at being indecisive in order to conceal their decided aim of not properly dealing with wildlife criminals.

  5. The Scottish National Party are pro-gouse shooting, are pro-stalking, are pro-gamebird shooting in general, and always have been. If that means trashing the environment, then the Scottish National Party are happy with that.

    In that respect they are the true descendants of the Scottish Tory Party.

    What Mairi Gougeon is really saying is that she needs time to find a way to prevent an effective force against wildlife crime from being created any time soon…

  6. The SSPCA spent £1M of charitable donations doing the job of Government agencies during the last foot and mouth outbreak. They asked Scot Gov to cover it and were given the bums rush. Last year they spent £650,000 of charitable donations on the upkeep of animals involved in criminal court cases. If Scot Gov will not give them the extra powers they want then they should stop doing the job of the police and Government animal welfare enforcement agencies and instead campaign to force the Government to properly resource Police Scotland and the other enforcement agencies to allow them to do their jobs properly.

  7. Yet another fudge… I had a response from her office yesterday saying she would ‘carefully consider’ all the amendments on the Animals and Wildlife Bill and presumably do sweet FA.

  8. What are the SNP getting in return for this policy of allowing the wildlife crimes to continue?..some imagined support from the large landowners and shooting industry? is inconceivable that with the mass of publicity for decades now on the issue of raptor persecution, that the SNP hierarchy remain unaware of who is doing this and also of the breadth of public anger…its no longer ignorance of the issue or even disagreement on what are they getting in return?!

  9. Marie Gougeon, huh? :) The Hen Harrier Species Champion? lol :) I’d thought that she had chosen trained for this job, Government Environment Minister, some time ago. She was really high profile in regards to these issues until she landed the position some time ago .. and then disappeared below the parapet once it was landed. Not a peep out of her since, except to kick this into the long grass again. An exercise in grooming possibly? I’ve looked at the pedigree and think it well within the range of possibility.

  10. Just out of interest, does anyone know, during the current parliamentary term how many legislation proposals and changes relating to the uplands and their wildlife that were opposed by landowning & gamekeeping interests were supported by the Scottish Government?

  11. So, it would seem that the SNP are not in favour of environmental protection. Are they in favour of wildlife tourism? Which is worth more to the economy? Having said that, for any party to acquire power they need to be voted in so …. & some of the potential wildlife tourists go elsewhere :(

  12. Clearly there is a history of political “reluctance” to move on this issue. So the question then is Why (Cost to tax payer? Votes? Loss of SNP revenue? Responsibility? Control? )? Then, How could it be changed in a way that will pass into law? and, What needs to be done to make that happen? “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world”

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