BRIDGWATER and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger is supporting calls for the RSPCA to be stripped of its powers to routinely prosecute animal welfare cases.

The demand has come from the Commons environment committee, which says there is a conflict of interest between the charity's power to prosecute and its role in investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

Under its previous director, Gavin Grant, the RSPCA – which has an annual income of £115 million - spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on prosecutions under anti-hunting legislation, attracting wide criticism for misspending money which had been given to prevent animal cruelty.

Now the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee has called on ministers to change the law to make the Crown Prosecution Service responsible for cruelty cases.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, Conservative member for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said farmers in particular would welcome the committee’s call.

“I know a lot of farmers have felt intimidated by the attentions of RSPCA inspectors at livestock markets in particular.

"I accept that there are a few rogue farmers who have been responsible for some fairly appalling cases of ill-treatment of animals but the RSPCA has so often given the impression that it believes the entire livestock farming industry to be guilty until proven innocent,” he said.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said those who supported the RSPCA through legacies and donations did so in the belief that their money was going to run refuges for domestic animals, or to help rescue oiled seabirds.

“The RSPCA has a justly-deserved reputation for its expertise in both those areas.

"But we cannot have a situation where money which is given with that intent ends up in the pockets of lawyers hired to prosecute cases which in reality have little or no chance of success – and where even if the RSPCA achieves a favourable outcome it will have been done so at inordinate cost,” he said.

“The fact is that if you set yourself up as judge, jury and prosecutor you are likely to find yourself in trouble sooner or later.

“The most obvious course is to hand these cases over to the CPS which will apply the same yardstick as it does other matters: weighing up the likely costs, the chances of succeeding, and to a certain extent the public interest before deciding whether to proceed.”

Jeremy Cooper, RSPCA chief executive said it was right that the charity should prosecute cases.

"We are extremely proud of our near 200 years of experience investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty, and our 92 per cent success rate - which is currently a higher percentage than the CPS," Mr Cooper said.

"Our research shows that 89 per cent of the public back our prosecutions work, and they will be confused why a small number of MPs would suggest stopping stopping the RSCPA carrying our a role which we are very good at, which is paid for by public donations rather than out of taxes."

The government says it will consider the committee's recommendations.