Welsh Parliament debate highlights need to give RSPCA officers ‘tools to do the job’

Members of the Senedd have voiced support for providing RSPCA officers with formal powers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, in a “landmark” debate at the Welsh Parliament.

Rural Affairs spokesperson for the Welsh Conservatives Samuel Kurtz MS led the debate on Wednesday (22 November), entitled: ‘Safeguarding mistreated animals – providing the RSPCA with statutory powers’.

Carolyn Thomas MS (North Wales) and Huw Irranca-Davies MS (Ogmore) also voiced their support for the proposals, with the timely debate taking place just ahead of the charity’s 200th anniversary in 2024.

Presently, RSPCA officers have no formal powers – but achieving statutory powers for inspectors across Wales and England is one of the charity’s eight bold ambitions in its strategy to 2030.

The provision of statutory powers would bring the RSPCA in line with our sister organisations across the British Isles such as in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere.

Presently, frontline RSPCA rescuers must contact the police or relevant local authority if they wish to take a distressed animal into their possession, or apply for a warrant to investigate animal welfare offences. This often creates a situation where police time is used to support RSPCA officers’ work, while delaying the speed in which the charity can act to help an animal in distress.

Despite this, the RSPCA say many people already assume the charity currently has formal powers – often creating a disparity between public expectations and the charity’s current legal remit.

RSPCA Cymru senior public affairs manager, Billie-Jade Thomas said: “We very much welcome this landmark debate tabled by Samuel Kurtz MS which has come at a critical juncture for animal welfare in Wales.

“With financial pressures and budgetary constraints impacting both animal owners and public services, the RSPCA is keen to improve our frontline efficiency and effectiveness in these challenging times and beyond.

“Our inspectors undertake hugely important work – and we know our work helps relieve the strain on public services who would otherwise have to deal with more cases of animal cruelty. But statutory powers would mean we would have the tools to do this job more efficiently, effectively and in line with public expectations.

“We continue to encourage the Welsh Government to consider a new approach that enables our inspectors to carry out their duties more efficiently, while providing them with the powers and authority needed to reach the animals that need us most – and it was great to see support from across the Senedd for this to happen.

“We now look forward to continuing our work with the Welsh Government on this and hope this can be made a reality in the near future.”

Stephen Wooler CB previously led an independent review into the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, which supported the “appointment of suitably experienced RSPCA inspectors as inspectors for the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act 2006”.

The RSPCA produced a report for the Welsh Government in 2019, which engaged extensively with external stakeholders about how appointing RSPCA officers could work in principle.

In response to the debate, Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd confirmed she would “leave the door open for future discussion” on empowering RSPCA officers.

Member of the Senedd for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Samuel Kurtz MS said: ‘“Our pets and animals are treasured family members, and we all want to see the best possible welfare conditions in place for them.

“With local authorities stretched and under huge pressure, there could be a good opportunity to explore increasing the RSPCA’s powers in protecting our animals and their safety.

“Enabling the RSPCA to work with increased powers alongside our local authorities and police could maximise resources while crucially, improving animal welfare across Wales”.

More information on the RSPCA’s frontline officers can be found online.