From Jungle to Jumble : Introduction
The National Cage & Aviary Birds Exhibition - dubbed the 'Giant Wild Bird Market' took place on 6th and 7th December 2003 at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.
Organised by IPC Media through its publication Cage & Aviary Birds, the event went ahead despite a high level of controversy regarding its illegal status and public opposition to the sale of wild birds in particular. The event was closely monitored by several animal protection groups.
The 'exhibition' was licensed by councillors of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, on 31 March 2003, to sell up to 100,000 birds. The licensing process itself was subject to severe criticism. Although the decision to license the event was based on an opinion of an independent barrister, this opinion, and even the instructions given to the barrister, were formally hidden from public scrutiny under the 1972 Local Government Act.
Present, and manning a stall at the illegal event, were officials from DEFRA - including a CITES officer (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species), John Hounslow.
Section 2 of the Pet Animals Act 1951 was amended in 1983 to read:
"If any person carries on the business of selling animals as pets in any part of a street or public place, or at a stall or barrow in a market, he shall be guilty of an offence."
This amendment was implemented to prevent the level of suffering associated with selling animals in a makeshift environment.
The Pet Animals Act does not itself define a public place, but other statutes do. For example, the Licensing Act 1902 states:
"Any place to which the public have access whether on payment or otherwise."
The Indecent Displays (Controls) Act 1981 states a public place as:
"Any place to which the public have, or are permitted to have access whether on payment or otherwise."
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 states:
"Any highway and any other place to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access."
Substantial legal and enforcement opinion has concluded that venues such as the NEC are without doubt 'public places' as defined under numerous Acts and legal precedents.
The case of Richard Keith Rogers v. Teignbridge District Council [Appeal against refusal by the local authority to grant a licence] in November 2000, supports this opinion that venues used to hold these events are public places. Furthermore, by granting a licence under the Pet Animals Act the local authority would be committing an offence. In this case, the magistrates dismissed the appeal by Mr Rogers who was questioning a decision made by the local authority. Therefore, the magistrates ruled that if Teignbridge District Council did grant a licence it would be unlawful, so Mr Roger's appeal was dismissed.
The more recent case of Richard Brook v. Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council [Appeal against refusal by the local authority to grant a licence for a reptile market on 26th October 2003] outlines another legal argument against pet markets. The appeal was refused simply on the basis that the event would not have been just one business but an extension of the individual businesses of those attending to whom profits from sales would go. It was believed that the event would not come within the definition of what would constitute a pet shop.
One must also consider the spirit and intention behind the Pet Animals Act as amended in 1983. Whilst it is accepted that such events may not amount to a pet shop in the same sense as a high street pet shop, it is clear that the Pet Animals Act was enacted to prevent the sale of pet animals from makeshift and itinerant venues. Therefore, by allowing such an event to take place, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council is allowing the very mischief that the 1983 Amendment was specifically designed to prevent.
In addition, the event manifestly involved the selling of pets to the public at stalls within a concourse of buyers and sellers and these criteria define the NEC has a marketplace.
In August 2001, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) issued guidance notes to all local authority licensing departments advising them not to licence such events as 'given that they are illegal in concept, the CIEH urges local authorities to take enforcement action against vendors at such events'.
The licensing process
The licence application from IPC contained no independent legal or scientific evidence. Indeed, the content of all of the documentation presented to the Council on behalf of the applicant appeared only to contain contributions from trade-related interests and in-house opinion. Otherwise it was independently and scientifically unsupported.
Substantially greater material, both visual and written, was provided by those opposed to the application. Reports were submitted by Animal Aid, Mr Peter Robinson (Consultant Ornithologist), Birds First in Bird Keeping, the Captive Animals' Protection Society, the RSPCA and the BioVeterinary Group. A film produced by Animal Aid was also provided which incorporated established, specialist consultants and qualified information sources.
The conclusions reached by those who opposed the licence as well as the conclusions reached by all independent, legal and scientific consultants were essentially that animal welfare could not be adequately safeguarded under conditions typical to the NEC event and that the event could not lawfully be licensed by virtue of Section 2 of the 1983 amendment.
In addition, Solihull MBC was forewarned of potential contraventions to the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Protection of Animals Act 1911. As well as this, numerous problems concerning Trading Standards and poor practices were made clear. The organisation, Birdsfirst in Birdkeeping, for example, warned that most traders would not issue receipts for livestock purchased and birds would be sold with no guarantees. On considering the backgrounds of those in favour of the licence being issued and those opposed to it, it would appear that there were financial incentives involved in the 'for licence' sector whereas few or no financial incentives were apparent in the 'against licence' sector.
The BioVeterinary Group - a biological, veterinary and behavioural consultancy - advised the Council that:
"...there are burdens of responsibility on the local authority as regards animal welfare, public health and safety and the administration of the law. These responsibilities also fall to individual Councillors personally. It is our view that should this event proceed then the Licensing Sub-Committee (and all Solihull councillors) and IPC Media would have acted in a manner contraindicated by scientific evidence and opinion, and also prohibited by law."
Each member of the full Council was sent a video produced by Animal Aid that contained interviews with experts in veterinary medicine, public health, ornithology, animal welfare and the law. It also contained graphic images of trapping in third world countries. One member of the licensing committee commented at the hearing on the distressing footage but then pointed out that there was nothing that people in Britain could do about it!
Councillors of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council proceeded to grant a licence, with no legal authority, for the event. We believe not only that the Council did not have the power to grant such a licence but indeed that the granting of the licence should itself be construed as a criminal act.
Click here for part 2 of the report, in which we present the evidence and the contraventions to the Pet Animals Act 1951.