Yesterday, the Scottish Government made the following announcement on Twitter:
As a quick recap, the SSPCA’s current powers (under animal welfare legislation) limits their investigations to cases that involve a live animal in distress (including some wildlife crimes). The proposed new powers would allow them to also investigate wildlife crimes under the Wildlife & Countryside Act legislation, e.g. where the victim is already dead, and also incidents where a victim may not be present (e.g. if an illegally-set pole trap was discovered). See here for further detail.
So the latest announcement from the Scottish Government that a review is underway sounds good, yes? Who wouldn’t want increased powers for the SSPCA to allow them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes, including raptor persecution? Quite a few actually, mostly those connected to the game-shooting industry – quelle surprise (see here).
However, this announcement is just the latest move in a long and tedious 11-year saga, and whilst the news is welcome, it should be considered within the context of those 11 years of excruciating can-kicking by the Scottish Government on this issue.
For new blog readers, here’s the embarrassing timeline of events to date:
February 2011: Increased powers for the SSPCA was first suggested by 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 I 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 I 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 this blog’s 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: I published my 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).
I was 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“ (see here).
September 2021: In the 2021 to 2022 Programme for Government it was announced that the ‘independent taskforce [Ed: still to be appointed] will report before the end of 2022’ (see here).
May 3 2022: In an interview with Max Wiszniewski of the REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform, new Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “It’s imminent and I wish I could tell you today but we are just finalising the last few points for the membership but I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement about that in the next few weeks“ (see here).
1 July 2022: Scottish Government announces Susan Davies has been appointed to lead the taskforce review and will ‘publish a report later this year’.
Mairi McAllan is the 8th Environment Minister to preside over this issue. It’s not her fault that it’s taken this long already and now yet another review has been commissioned; she was only 18 years old when this pantomime began and didn’t even become an MSP until 2021. Nevertheless, her party, the SNP, is responsible and it shouldn’t be surprised that this latest announcement will be met with an eye-roll and an accompanying yawn from those of us who have been waiting 11 years for any sort of progress.
If we can put that aside for a minute though, then we can probably appreciate the appointment of Susan Davies. She has masses of experience from the nature conservation sector (JNCC, SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and currently CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre) and acted as a special advisor to the Werritty Review on grouse moor licensing, so she’ll be very familiar with the extent of wildlife crime in Scotland. Most importantly, she doesn’t appear to have any links to the landowning/game-shooting sector so we may expect to see an unbiased and uncompromised review, unlike the Werritty Review.
The tweet from the Scottish Government indicates that her fellow taskforce members will be the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Crown Office. That’ll be interesting. When the Government consulted on increased powers for the SSPCA back in 2014, COPFS said it would be inappropriate to respond but Police Scotland’s response was not in favour of increased powers for the SSPCA and this was discussed at length in a previous blog (here).
That was 8 years ago. Things have moved on, officers have moved on, relationships have improved and the SSPCA has been at the forefront of some impressive multi-agency investigations partnering with Police Scotland and others, leading to successful prosecutions (e.g. the conviction of shameless gamekeeper Alan Wilson in 2019 was notable and most recently, the conviction this year of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies of Millden Estate – here).
And the taskforce doesn’t appear to be infiltrated by anyone whose sole motivation is to disrupt or delay proceedings or dilute the review’s recommendations in favour of no progress at all. That’s promising.
Let’s see what it’s able to produce by December.