The RSPCA should be stripped of its power to routinely prosecute animal welfare cases, a Commons select committee has said.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said there was a "conflict of interest" in the charity's role in bringing forward private prosecutions as well as investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

The charity defended its work and said the recommendation by the "small group of MPs" was not supported by the Government, animal welfare groups or vets.

The committee called on ministers to change the law so that the RSPCA would continue to investigate animal welfare cases but then pass their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or another body with the power to carry out this role.

If there were no statutory alternatives and where a prosecution would further its charitable objectives, the RSPCA could still bring a prosecution in England and Wales, the committee said.

But the key sections of the report calling for a transfer of power were opposed by the three Labour MPs and one SDLP MP, and carried by the five Conservatives and one SNP MP, on the cross-party committee.

The opponents stressed that anyone has a right to bring forward a private prosecution and "to single out the RSPCA as not being able to do this would be invidious, as it has the experience and skills and it furthers its charitable objectives".

However, Tory MP and committee chair Neil Parish said: "The RSPCA does important working investigating animal welfare cases. And I would like to see its dedicated and professional staff continue that vital work.

"The committee is not convinced, however, that the RSPCA is in a better position than the Crown Prosecution Service when it comes to prosecuting animal welfare cases.

"It should step back from making prosecutions itself, continuing instead to work closely with the police and prosecution service to protect the welfare of animals."

The committee highlighted evidence from the Self-Help Group for farmers, pet owners and others experiencing problems with the RSPCA, which said the animal-keeping public felt alienated by the charity's "targeting of vulnerable, ill or elderly people" and the removal of their animals.

The MPs also heard that there had been occasions when RSPCA inspectors allowed vets to sign for the removal of animals without seeing the animal in question, although the charity recently issued guidance to stop this happening in future.

The RSPCA infamously prosecuted the Heythrop, former prime minister David Cameron's local hunt, with success only coming after huge sums were spent, and attracted negative publicity for its failed prosecution of a family for alleged cruelty to its cat.

RSPCA chief executive Jeremy Cooper rejected the MPs' criticism.

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

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

"This recommendation is not supported by the Government, vets, other major animal welfare charities, and local authorities, and flies in the face of the majority of evidence put before the committee.

"We will consider this report carefully while we will continue to prosecute those who starve, beat, stab, burn and abuse animals. For us the key test will be if the recommendation improves animal welfare and we suspect the answer in this case would probably be no."

In a joint statement, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, the Dogs Trust, and the PDSA said: "We would strongly question whether any other body currently exists that would have the resources to provide a service similar to the RSPCA's considerable expertise, experience and credibility in this area. We would further fear that without the RSPCA carrying out this vital work, many cases of unacceptable animal abuse would go unprosecuted."

British Veterinary Association president Gudrun Ravetz said the RSPCA move was a "disappointing distraction" from the report's other recommendations.

The committee also recommended that the maximum penalty for animal welfare crimes should be increased to five years.

It also called for a ban on the third party sale of dogs, so that they are only available from licensed, regulated breeders or approved rehoming organisations.