Andy Wightman MSP tables parliamentary motion for increased powers for SSPCA

andyw2Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the Scottish Government to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA.

Regular blog readers will know that a succession of Environment Ministers (five!) in the Scottish Government have dragged out this fiasco for an embarrassingly long number of years (six years today, in fact).

For new blog readers, here’s a summary timeline.

In January this year, in response to a parliamentary question from Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell, the Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she would announce a decision “in the first half of 2017“. That gives her until the end of June.

She was also asked about this decision during her visit last weekend to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s conference. She responded with caution and told the audience it was a “complex issue” and much more complex than people thought.

It isn’t complex at all. It’s quite straightforward. Here is a brief overview of the issue:

Currently, the SSPCA has the statutory power to investigate wildlife crimes that involve an animal in distress. So for example, if they are called out to an incident of a golden eagle that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap and the eagle was still alive, the SSPCA has the power to collect evidence as part of a criminal investigation. This is because they have powers under the animal welfare legislation and this incident would certainly fall into a welfare category where the animal was ‘under the control of man’.

However, if they are called out to an incident where a golden eagle had eaten a poisoned bait and had died two minutes before the SSPCA arrived on scene, the SSPCA does not currently have the power to investigate because the welfare legislation doesn’t apply (the bird is already dead) and the dead bird is not ‘under the control of man’. In this scenario, all the SSPCA can do is to call the police and hope that the police attend the scene in a timely manner. How stupid is that?

Another example – if the SSPCA was called out to an incident of an illegally-snared badger, and that badger was already dead, and the SSPCA found 100 illegally-set snares at the same location, the SSPCA would not be able to investigate; they would have to rely upon the police to attend. If the badger was still alive (suffering), the SSPCA could investigate.

The proposal laid out in the consultation is to widen the investigatory powers of the SSPCA so that they’re not just limited to operating under welfare legislation; the increased powers, if granted, would also allow them to operate under certain parts of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in addition to the welfare legislation.

Importantly, the increased powers would  allow them to continue their investigations into animal welfare incidents where an animal is in distress, but also to investigate wildlife crimes where the animal is already dead, and even wildlife crimes that haven’t yet involved an animal – for example an illegally-set trap.

Here is MSP Andy Wightman’s parliamentary motion:


If you live in Scotland, please contact your MSP and encourage them to support this parliamentary motion. Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham needs to see the strength of feeling on this before she makes her decision in June. If you’re not sure who your MSP is, you can find them here.

12 Responses to “Andy Wightman MSP tables parliamentary motion for increased powers for SSPCA”

  1. March 2, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    About time they had more power and they should be given this as soon as possible.

  2. 2 lizzybusy
    March 2, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    They need powers to enter land without permission to do spot checks. So many bird traps, spring traps, rabbit drop traps and snares are set illegally that it might make estate owners pause for thought – what with the risk of vicarious liability.

  3. 3 Iain Gibson
    March 2, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Despite sharing grave concern over the crime of raptor persecution, I do also share some of Roseanna Cunningham’s caution about extending these powers to the SSPCA. I know some people who are heavily involved in rescuing and rehabilitating injured wildlife, and doubts about the ability of the SSPCA to do certain aspects of their job properly are not particularly uncommon. It’s very difficult to criticise them, partly because I find myself subjected to some verbal abuse when expressing such an opinion, but mainly because I have great respect for the vast majority of their ground troops, who are perfectly sincere and dedicated individuals. Serious specialist crime investigation is another matter though.

    One question which is often asked but rarely answered realistically, is why does no-one suggest that the RSPB should have these investigatory powers, afforded to members of a greatly expanded Investigations Unit? Knowing the work and expertise currently put in by what amounts to a handful of individuals, I feel far more confident that they could do a more thorough and competent job than the SSPCA. The RSPB usually gets around the argument by stating that they are not a welfare organisation but a conservation body. In the case of raptor persecution I find this distinction insignificant, and can’t help but feel there must be another explanation. Maybe someone can explain this.

    • March 2, 2017 at 7:52 pm


      Hope you’ll be contacting your MSP and asking him/her to support this motion?

      This is such an important opportunity to improve on current wildlife crime enforcement measures and if it’s not taken, those who haven’t supported it will have no room to complain the next time Police Scotland screw up an investigation.

      • 5 Iain Gibson
        March 2, 2017 at 9:34 pm

        I signed the petition and will be contacting my MSP (which has not proved very fruitful with other issues), as SSPCA acquiring the powers is better than not. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that SSPCA don’t screw up any investigations. I’d still be very interested to know why RSPB couldn’t take on the responsibility. I have asked a senior Scottish officer directly, but the response was not exactly enlightening, consisting largely of “errrm, well…”. They seem to me to be over-focused on recruiting new members, which is obviously very important but may cause them to “forget the birds” just a little bit!

    • 6 Dave Dick
      March 3, 2017 at 12:38 am

      Ian, the SSPCA already have a Special Investigations Unit with experience in following up wildlife crimes, it includes a couple of ex policeman who would ensure there were no evidential/procedural problems with working under increased powers. These are the people who would investigate raptor killing, not the ordinary inspectorate…

  4. 7 Graeme Hall
    March 2, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Rosanna Cunningham has conceeded that vicarious liability is not the silver bullet that some thought it would be.

    Police Scotland’s track record in dealing with wildlife crime is very poor and this week we learn there are going to be cuts of up to 400 officers. They need help.

    No one believes the SSPCA are the answer to ending wildlife crime completely however granting them increased powers will definitely improve the current situation.

    SSPCA already has a proven track record in investigating crimes against animals and routinely enter , search and remove evidence from persons homes. And yes, dogfighting,badger baiting, puppy farming are all very serious CRIMES. It’s not only the police that investigate crime.

    They also have displayed they are able to successfully investigate wildlife crimes where animal welfare is involved eg bird in a trap or badger in a snare as well as poisonings and shootings of raptors.

    How can granting extra powers be anything other that a great opportunity to help reduce wildlife crime.

    60 trained Inspectors covering the whole of Scotland including its most isolated islands and at no cost to the tax payer.

    Questions must be asked if extra powers are not granted.

    Well done Andy Wightman and all the other MSPs that supported this motion.

    This is a golden oppertunity to change a very depressing situation. Write to your local MSP in support.

    And those that don’t support it……… Ask why?

  5. 8 Colin McP
    March 2, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I expect the complexity is partly due to vested interests who exert influence over and have powerful friends within the Scottish Government.

    It’s not uncommmon to see certain MSPs at events promoting The Gift of Grouse, Scottish Country Sports and even parliamentary receptions at tail end of last year.

    Some SNP constituencies are home to huge Grouse moors; the owners will be trying their utmost to influence their MSPs to stop anything which might impact their business, and it’s unfortunate that also in these areas a estates hold sway over businesses / jobs for local beaters / local opinion.

    Roseanna is up against Fergus Ewing here. She asked for a report of missing satellite tracked eagles in the Monadhliath – within his constituency. That was 7 months ago – that’s a long time to review evidence…. I wonder why.

    SNP is split on this issue, same as split on land reform.

    • 9 dave angel
      March 3, 2017 at 11:20 am

      The reason given for the delay is the difficulty in making any extension of powers (or the actions flowing from such an extension) compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. It doesn’t take six years to either resolve any such difficulties or decide that they are insurmountable and refuse to extend the powers.

      As I’ve said previously I think the problem is political. The SNP don’t want to see any more of their support drifting back to the Tories (Roseanna Cunningham’s own seat was once true blue territory), and they’ll be concerned that any extension of powers will cause that to happen.

      • 10 Adam
        March 4, 2017 at 12:30 pm

        Investigating agencies are already expected to act in compatibility with ECHR (even if not statutory bodies), because procurators fiscal must act in compliance with the Convention: “Procurators Fiscal must ascertain whether any evidence has been obtained in breach of any Convention Rights and whether, by seeking to rely on that evidence in taking proceedings, the Procurator Fiscal might breach the accused’s Convention Rights. Specialist reporting agencies should take steps to make and keep staff aware of the implications of the incorporation of Convention Rights for the practice of each individual agency.” (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, ‘Reports to the Procurator Fiscal – A Guide for Specialist Reporting Agencies’ p 9.)

        I think one of the (non-political) reasons for the delay might be that it’s not straightforward to give law enforcement powers to private entities.

        When it comes to the extension of wildlife crime investigation powers for the inspectors of the SSPCA it seems obvious that any additional powers should come with additional levels of scrutiny and accountability, but the trick is to achieve this without jeopardising the independence of the organisation. SSPCA is a charity and as such Scottish Ministers or a Minister of the Crown cannot direct or otherwise control its activities (section 7(4)(b) of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005) which I suspect might present some challenges as to how to devise an oversight / accountability regime. But I agree with you that it really shouldn’t take six years to make a decision.

        Note that (despite what the blog post and Andy Wightman’s motion suggests) it is not the SSPCA which has statutory power to investigate wildlife crimes, but its inspectors, i.e. individuals employed by SSPCA who are authorised under section 49(2)(a) of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 to enforce Part 2 of the 2006 Act. This is an important distinction as it could solve the problems relating to accountability regimes. (Scottish Ministers using the same provision to appoint Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) inspectors to enforce Part 2 of the 2006 Act.)

  6. 11 Greer Hart, senior
    March 3, 2017 at 1:05 am

    I commend the quality of the comments already made on this issue; they get to the dark heart of the matter, and that is an area of despondency and lack of faith in the present political regime wanting to really do anything about animal welfare and the conservation of species. A petition, To Introduce Animal Health and Welfare into the School Curriculum (UK), has been launched on the Government Petition site.

    The situation in Scotland is dire as far as protecting the natural environment and wildlife, despite all the publicity that has been given to some local successes. The RSPB has to reorganise the minds of its senior staff into accepting that conservation of bird species involves their welfare and freedom from cruel methods of extermination. Who operates to protect wildlife and the natural environment? The RSPB, John Muir Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, Plantlife and various trusts and individual landowners. On the animal welfare side we have the SSPCA, Animal Concern, Scotland for Animals, OneKind, Scottish Badgers, Bat Conservation along with dedicated small groups and individuals. Arraigned against this fragmented concern for a more humane Scotland with regard to animals and their habitats, is a powerful host of landowners, shooting estates, gamekeeper organisations, blood sports groups, politicians and sympathisers among our law enforcement and prosecution services, as mentioned by some commentators above.

    From Australia’s WWF, I learn that there is a flap going one about the Black Cockatoo being endangered by landowners who shoot them for sport. This species has become much reduced due to habitat clearance and this flagrant killing. Why is the Scottish WWF not shouting out more about our endangered Birds of Prey? Is our SNH still dangling its bonnet and plume on this persecution of our wildlife? What we have is an emasculated system that should have the will and resources to deal with the criminals perpetrating horrible deaths to innocent creatures. The death squads who even operate in our national parks, massacre the Mountain Hares and other bird species, with impunity and risibility. When one emails one’s MP, MSP or whomever one is recommended to do, one gets the standard reply about there being so many emails received on many subjects that a reply cannot be sent to everyone that will give satisfaction. Just look up the interests of these people and you will find little mentioned about supporting anything to do with animals and the welfare and conservation thereof. One finds the usual good boy or girl to be a member of, the various charities or whatever one should support to gain admiration. What that bunch forgets is that people such as we are who campaign on the behalf of the welfare of wildlife and domestic animals, also can suffer from cancer and have a much restricted way of life through bad health or poor financial situation, yet we find the energy and time to fight the good fight against cruelty to children and old people, and send donations to alleviate famine and thirst where found. One sometimes finds a person at the end of a phone who acts as censor for his or her politician master or mistress, and that can mean an abysmal ignorance of what one stands for. The merry and bloody playgrounds of our blood sports enemy are far away from the show-off concerns of our politicians. Thank God for the Green Party and Andy Wightman, and those politicians who are of humane mind and action, and who have the courage to act outwith their party policy.

  7. 12 Brain Bull
    March 3, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    This is a golden opportunity if you don’t engage and seize it, don’t complain later how bad things are when you see photos of dead raptors, mountain hares and pine martens if you are not prepared to do anything to help.

    Write to your MSP.

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