The RSPCA is not an arm of the law and should leave prosecuting to the Crown Prosecution Service, a parliamentary debate heard today.
Simon Hart, Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, told a Westminster Hall debate on the role of the RSPCA as a prosecutor that the charity was the most prolific private prosecutor in the UK.
Hart secured the debate after a judge questioned what he called the "staggering" decision of the RSPCA to spend £326,000 on a successful private prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire for killing a fox.
Hart told the debate that the RSPCA was a "huge force for good" at a local level but its regional officers were under-funded while it spent £8.7m a year on private prosecutions.
He said the charity should remain involved in prosecutions, but it should do so while more closely involved with the police and the CPS. Other charities relied on the police and the CPS to carry out prosecutions, he said, and the SSPCA, the equivalent organisation in Scotland, did not carry out private prosecutions.
He said that the RSPCA’s prosecutions of the "old, sick, infirm and young" had sometimes appeared heavy-handed. "I think its animal rights agenda is compromising the animal welfare agenda," he said.
But Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said that if legislation to protect animals was to be effective it must be adequately enforced, and this was what the RSPCA was doing.
Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, told the debate that the right to bring private prosecutions remained "fundamental and important" and that it was "an ancient right".
He said "it might well be correct" that if the RSPCA did not bring private prosecutions, the burden on the police would be "very considerable".