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Under the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, and it is a specific offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal by causing, procuring, assisting or spectating at the baiting of badgers or any animal. Any person found guilty of those offences is liable, on summary conviction, to up to three months’ imprisonment, a fine of £5,000 or both. I understand that the Minister of the Environment intends to include in the Wildlife Order 1985 a custodial sentence for those engaged in that so-called sport. Until then, the penalties — which include imprisonment — in the Welfare of Animals Act can be applied.
The penalties that are available to the courts will form a significant part of my deliberations on new animal-welfare legislation. I intend to ensure that the penalties, whether fines or custodial sentences, are a sufficient deterrent. That will include offences that relate to badger baiting. Although the PSNI is responsible for enforcing animal-welfare legislation that relates to non-farmed animals such as badgers, my officials form part of a multi-agency body known as the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), whose partners include representatives of organisations that are involved in the enforcement of wildlife law. PAW liaises closely with the PSNI wildlife officer and other key enforcement agencies. It aims to facilitate an exchange of information and to ensure public awareness of the key issues, including animal-welfare issues arising from badger persecution and the illegal hunting of wild deer.
It is already illegal. The PSNI is responsible for enforcing animal-welfare legislation that relates to non-farmed animals such as badgers. My officials continue to liaise closely with the PSNI on the enforcement of animal-welfare legislation. If the legislation is not strong enough, the Department will keep an eye on it and review it as necessary.
I am well aware of the Member’s interest. In addition to the powers in the Welfare of Animals Act, badgers receive full protection under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985, which falls within the remit of the Department of the Environment. I understand that the Order makes it an offence to damage or disturb a badger’s sett or to disturb a badger in its sett. I hope that Mr Brady will look after the badgers in his backyard.
That supplementary question does not relate directly to the main question. However, as the Member will know, my Department is working through a three-strand approach to dealing with the problem of bovine TB that also addresses the wildlife factor. We are working with the Environment Minister and his officials to move that forward, but farmers have responsibilities also, as the Member will know. We want to be absolutely sure that wildlife is a contributory factor to TB, as that information can help us to eradicate the disease.