Ten years ago the Scottish Government was asked to consider extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA, to allow them to investigate a much wider remit of wildlife crime than at present, including raptor persecution.
Since then this issue has been kicked in to the long grass more times than is credible by a long line of seven (yes, seven!) Environment Ministers. For new blog readers please see the extraordinary timeline of events at the end of this blog.
[Buzzard caught inside a crow cage trap. It’s not illegal to trap buzzards in these traps but it becomes illegal if the trap isn’t checked by the operator at least once every 24hrs and the buzzard released immediately upon discovery. Under current legislation, if the buzzard is injured but still alive then the SSPCA can investigate. If the buzzard is dead (as a result of being caught and held illegally) the SSPCA do not currently have the power to investigate and would have to call the police. It’s simply bonkers. Photo by RSPB]
In June 2020, Environment Minister #6, Mairi Gougeon, committed to establishing a new ‘independent’ taskforce to consider, again, increased powers for the SSPCA (see here). This was in response to Mark Ruskell MSP withdrawing an amendment for increased SSPCA powers from the Animals & Wildlife Bill.
Mairi Gougeon stated that she expected the taskforce to convene in the summer (of 2020) and to ‘be in a position to conclude their review and submit a report of their recommendations before the end of the current Parliamentary session‘, as long as Covid and Brexit didn’t impact on this plan. [The dissolution of Parliament is scheduled for the 5th May 2021].
Since that announcement in June, nothing else has been heard on this issue.
Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens) submitted two Parliamentary questions in December 2020 to find out the status of this taskforce, if it even exists. Newly appointed Environment Minister Ben Macpherson has now responded – and it looks like he’s going to fit right in to his new role:
I wonder how Mark Ruskell MSP feels about this continued procrastination. He only withdrew his proposed amendment to the Animals & Wildlife Bill on the basis of Mairi Gougeon’s commitment to appoint an independent taskforce in the summer of 2020.
The Covid pandemic and Brexit drama can legitimately be held responsible for a lot of delayed Parliamentary and Government business, of course, and nobody would dispute that. But seriously, in this situation, it looks simply to be being used as an excuse.
All the Scottish Government has to do is to appoint a taskforce Chair and committee. That’s it. Scottish Ministers don’t have to undertake the work of the taskforce, just simply proffer instruction and let the taskforce get on with it. It doesn’t take seven months to do that, unless you’re the Scottish Government that has consistently procrastinated on this particular issue, for ten years and now under seven Environment Ministers.
Here’s the timeline for those new to this blog:
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).
June 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) proposed further powers for the SSPCA at Stage 2 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The latest Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon persuaded him to withdraw the proposed amendment on the basis that she’d consider establishing a taskforce to convene ‘this summer’ to consider increased powers (see here).
December 2020: Mark Ruskell (Scottish Greens) submits two Parliamentary questions asking about the status of the taskforce and who is serving on it (see here).
January 2021: New Environment Minister Ben Macpherson says the taskforce has not yet been appointed but that it is “expected to be established later this year“.
UPDATE 23rd January 2021: This blog article was picked up by Brinkwire here