Lords amendments considered.
Docking of dogs’ tails
Lords amendment: No. 1.
I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 and 52.
Let me first take the opportunity to thank those in the other place, particularly Lady Byford, Lady Miller and my colleagues Lord Bach and Lord Rooker, for their hard work on the Bill after it left the House of Commons. I also thank all Members of this House.
It is especially nice to see some doughty animal welfare champions present today, including the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and—in his old place on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). On the Labour Benches, I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove). My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon must have just dashed out; she was here a minute ago. Both my hon. Friends played an important part in Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon can take credit for some of the improvements in relation to circus animals. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who is also present, does sterling work as chairman of the all-party animal welfare group.
It is incumbent on me to thank the public and all the animal welfare organisations that have had such an important—
Such an important input and role, yes. I do not quite recall my right hon. Friend playing such a large part in the Bill’s passage, but it is very nice to see him in his place.
I thank the animal welfare groups and the public, who responded to our consultation in record numbers. Last but not least, I thank my excellent officials from the Department, who have done a terrific job working across the parties to try to secure what I hope will be an important, historic measure that will receive Royal Assent shortly. It might help Members to know in advance that the Government will accept all the Lords amendments.
As my hon. Friend will know, a number of aspects of the Bill, especially the holding of pet fairs, will be subject to the making of regulations. In the light of a recent judgment and my hon. Friend’s statement on it, will he guarantee that there will be extensive consultation on the detail of regulations to ensure that such events are organised only by hobbyist and interest groups? Will he guarantee that the regulations will be cast-iron, and that—within reason—there can be no breaches?
I am happy to give that reassurance. I will say a little more about pet fairs when we discuss the time scale for regulations, but my hon. Friend is right. There are three issues in relation to which matters of substance have shifted somewhat since they were last discussed in this House. As he says, the issue of pet fairs is one of them because of the legal judgment; the other two are circuses and greyhounds. I will say a little about all three later.
This group of amendments deals with tail docking, which, as hon. Members will probably recall, was debated at length in this House. Following a free vote, an offence was created of docking a dog’s tail other than for medical treatment unless the dog is a certified working dog. The amendments made in the other place do not in any way deviate from that policy, but they are necessary to give full and proper effect to it. Several amendments agreed in the other place are technical, to address an oversight in the drafting of the delegated power, which did not completely allow us to achieve the policy that I described in the debate before the free vote.
Will the Minister address amendment No. 2, which mentions dogs “of a type”. What will be the position for dogs that are not pure bred—half breeds or mongrels—but have, for example, a spaniel-like tendency?
I shall come on to the issue of specific types, but I specifically committed, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember, to restricting the types of dogs that can be docked to spaniels, terriers, hunt-point-retrieve breeds and crosses of any of those types. The amendments are necessary to allow us to achieve that very restriction.
A further set of amendments was agreed on Report in the other place.
How far down the pedigree will the authority allow vets to go? Some dogs have spaniels two or three steps down the generational ladder. How is the vet to be satisfied that the dog meets the definition of a working dog? I have some difficulty in understanding that.
That is why we are leaving it up to the discretion of vets. They will generally take their responsibilities seriously and they will require a certification that the dog will be used for shooting in some way. It is better for vets to be able to make a decision about whether a dog belongs to one of those breeds or is a mix, provided the evidence is given to them by the owner. It is not up to us to second-guess how they will arrive at that decision.
My concern is that the amendment could drive a coach and horses through the provisions in the Bill. If my hon. Friend recalls the position, vets should not—ethically speaking—be docking tails, but some are doing so. My fear is that those vets who are prepared to dock tails will accept any dog as falling within the definition.
If they did so, they would be in contravention of the Bill. I do not want to revisit the long debates we had on the issue. My hon. Friend lost the vote when we had a free vote, and those of us who advocated an exemption for working breeds won the vote. We have worked hard to try to make the process as easy as possible. If one looks at the animal welfare provision in countries that have the blanket ban that he advocates, it is apparent that it does not work in many cases, because they do not have the accompanying ban on showing, for example, or they have not tightened the regulations in the way we have. My officials and I are confident that this is probably the best we are going to get, given the will of the House as expressed in that free vote. At this late hour, it is not even possible to revisit that.
A further set of amendments was agreed in the other place, prompted by concerns raised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It was worried that vets could be accountable if they had been misled into docking a dog illegally and that assessing a dog as “likely to work” from evidence provided was not within their professional expertise and training. Instead, the amendments will allow a vet to certify that he has seen the evidence required by regulations to demonstrate that a dog is likely to work.
I echo the thanks from the Minister to those who have worked so hard on the Bill to ensure that it is as good as it is, including those in the other place, officials and the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities and groups. I am also pleased that the Bill has returned from the other place with the working dog exemption, for which this House voted, still in place.
As the Minister said, tail docking and the debates it sparked in Committee and in the Chamber have been the most emotive and controversial parts of the Bill, but we have reached a rational and reasoned position. The amendments, which were originally suggested by Lord Soulsby and then taken on by the Government, offer a sensible way forward. The RCVS has expressed concerns about veterinary surgeons being responsible for determining whether a dog is a working dog and the legal liabilities that would entail. When vets are docking the tail of a working dog they want proof of the need to dock the tail to lie with the dog’s owner or handler; otherwise they will be reluctant to carry out the procedure. The amendment resolves those concerns.
We remain uncertain, nevertheless, about which breeds of dog the Government will permit to be docked, as well as about what evidence will demonstrate that a dog is to be used for working purposes, although the Minister touched on that point in answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I was a little surprised to read the comments of Lord Rooker, who stated that he did
“not specifically know how the animals will be identified”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 2006; Vol. 685, c. 998.]
Although I hope that will be detailed in the forthcoming regulations, it would be helpful if the Minister made things a little clearer. Will he let us know when he plans to publish which breeds will qualify as working dogs, and when he will indicate the form of evidence that will be required to prove that a dog may work?
On Report in the other place, also at column 998, Lord Rooker was asked whether some form of micro-chipping would be used to identify working dogs whose tails had been docked when they were puppies. Is the Minister any closer to deciding whether micro-chipping will have a role to play in identifying working dogs?
I am not against the docking of the tails of working dogs; indeed, in many cases it is wholly appropriate, but I want to say a few words about amendment No. 2. I would prefer to leave the question of identifying types to the discretion of the veterinary surgeon. However, that will not be the impact of the amendment.
As I understand it, the authority will, by regulation, determine whether a dog is capable of falling within the classification “working dog”—that it is of a type. That may not be particularly difficult when one is dealing with pure breeds, but it becomes very difficult when dealing with crosses, especially when somewhere down the track the grandsire or the grandmother is a spaniel.
The proposed procedure is curious, because I do not see how the regulating authority will be able to define a dog, other than a pure-bred animal, as a type capable of falling within the classification “working dog”. That is not leaving things to the discretion of the veterinary surgeon, as the Minister suggested; it gives the definitional function to the authority and it is not easy to perform that function other than in relation to pure breeds.
Like the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I accept that a problem will inevitably occur if exceptions are made. The House has decided to make an exception to allow some tail docking so a definitional problem must automatically follow.
I normally agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his analysis of such matters, but in this case it depends on the regulations. Flexibility for veterinary surgeons could be built into the regulations—indeed, it would be extraordinary if it were not—so we should wait until they are published before making a judgment. However, although I agree that it is important that such matters should be as clear as possible, it is also important that we do not end up with bad law, so that a vet could regard an animal as a working dog but would not be allowed to make that judgment due to the drafting of the regulations. In a sense, this discussion is about what the regulations might say, and the Minister and his officials will no doubt take it into account when they are drafted.
I should like to respond to the Minister’s opening remarks. He has dealt with the Bill in a welcome manner, and the measure is better for the open response that he and his officials showed.
In answer to the questions posed, the list will have to be published alongside the regulations, and that will coincide with the implementation of the Bill in spring 2007. Let me respond to part, if not all, of the question asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about how a vet certifying a dog could be sure of whether it was descended from a dog that had been cross-bred several generations ago. I am advised by my officials that a veterinary surgeon who certifies a dog must see the dam—that is, the mother—which would have to be of a recognisable type. The mother is likely to be a pure breed in most cases. That is the advice that I received from our vets. To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), the regulations will specify that a dog must be identified by micro-chip.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 agreed to.
Administration of poisons etc.
Lords amendment: No. 10.
With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 11.
Lords amendment No. 10 will ensure that there is consistency in the Bill, and addresses an anomaly that resulted from an amendment made to the Bill earlier, in this House. Clause 8 was amended on Report to clarify the defences available for certain elements of the offence of animal fighting. Those defences are “lawful authority” or “reasonable excuse”. Lords amendments Nos. 10 and 11 were proposed to ensure that the defences in clause 7, which is on the administration of poisons and other matters, were consistent with the approach taken in clause 8. On that basis, I commend the amendments to the House.
I was slightly surprised to see that Lords amendments Nos. 10 and 11 had been made to the Bill. If the Minister casts his mind back to Committee in January, he will remember that we debated the issue while considering an amendment that I tabled on liability for incidents of accidental poisoning. During that debate, he assured me that the clause covered accidental poisonings. He said that
“it reflects the original 1911 Act offence, which employed a test of reasonable cause or excuse.”
He went on to state that he believed
“that that is a perfectly reasonable standard to set and that it is adequate”.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 17 January 2006; c. 87.]
Given his previous satisfaction with this clause, will he explain to the House how the addition of the word “reasonable” will make a difference, and can he give some examples?
Order. Technically, the Minister must ask the leave of the House when he responds.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respond to that point. One example would be the case of a journalist who was present at an animal fight. It would not be possible to say that that journalist had “lawful authority” to be present, but he could have a “reasonable excuse”. The amendment allows us to make sure that there is consistency throughout the Bill, by ensuring that the word “reasonable” is included in clause 7, as it is in other parts of the Bill.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendment No. 11 agreed to.
Licensing or registration of activities involving animals
Lords amendment: No. 12.
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 13 to 19 and 53.
The Lords amendments deal with the making of regulations, and give right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to raise any concerns about the proposed time scale for the laying of regulations under the Bill. I urge the House to agree with all the Lords amendments, which were made by the Government on Report in the other place, and reflect commitments that my colleague, Lord Rooker, gave both in Grand Committee and in the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. Lords amendments Nos. 12 and 19 introduce a duty to consult before introducing any licensing or registration schemes under clause 13, and before revoking a code of practice under clause 17.
Lords amendments Nos. 13 to 18 are minor drafting amendments to bring the wording of the duty to consult under clauses 15 and 16 into line with the wording of the duty in clauses 12, 13 and 17. Lords amendment No. 53 responds to concerns expressed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that if a code of practice is revoked and not replaced there is no parliamentary procedure governing that decision. In practice, we do not think that that will often happen, if at all, but because it would be an exceptional occurrence, we agree that parliamentary scrutiny of the decision is appropriate. On that basis, I urge the House to accept the Lords amendments.
The subtle changes to the wording of the provisions for making regulations under the legislation are important, as they appear to widen the scope for consultation. The Opposition have pushed for similar measures throughout, especially in Committee, when the Minister reassured us that such technical amendments were not necessary. It is important when drafting regulations and codes that everyone with an interest in those matters should have their say and not be excluded. Members with a keen interest in this Bill will have been lobbied on various provisions by a wide range of people and organisations, and by considering all those views we have managed to produce a better Bill.
I wish to sound a note of caution, however, about the amendments and the question of whom the Minister chooses to consult. The Bill is improved by the requirement that the Secretary of State consult individuals
“appearing to him to represent any interests concerned”,
as opposed to consulting
“such persons about the draft as he thinks fit” .
I would be grateful if the Minister reassured us that he will consult individuals who do not necessarily represent a specific organisation or interest, too, and consider their views. If the Lords amendments shift the emphasis from individuals to delegates and representatives, someone who wants to be heard must be backed by a group. That is fine, unless individuals are prevented from participating in the consultation, because they are not part of a group. I am sure that the Minister can reassure me on that point.
It is important to conduct a thorough consultation on the future codes and regulations on which much of the legislation depends and on which owners, inspectors, prosecutors and the courts will base their decisions. We must wait for the individual animal codes to see how we can ensure that our cats have enough mental stimulation and are not too fat or too thin. We must wait to see the status of animals in circuses and the definition of pet fairs. We must wait, too, for the codes and regulations that govern the welfare of racing greyhounds. There is tremendous pressure on the Minister to produce those codes sooner rather than later, and I am pleased that he has already prioritised greyhounds. There is a need for action now, as the stories in the newspapers over the summer about the killing of tens of thousands of dogs demonstrated. I hope, however, that the extra time will be used wisely for a thorough consultation and scrutiny by Parliament.
It would be helpful if the Minister updated us on the progress of the production of those codes and regulations, and told us which working groups he has established. In Committee, he could not tell us how many codes of practice he intended to introduce. Will he sketch out his ideas for pre-legislative scrutiny of the codes, which are subject to negative resolution? I hope that there will be no need to pray against them. Will he explain how consistency will be maintained across Great Britain in producing regulations and codes, as Scotland has a different Act and Wales can produce its own secondary legislation? With regard to his earlier responses, different definitions could apply to the docking of working dogs in Wales. I hope that we will have an opportunity for helpful pre-legislative scrutiny before the codes are introduced in statutory instruments, and I hope that he can reassure me about the importance of allowing individuals to take part in consultation.
The Animal Welfare Bill is a landmark Bill. It is tremendous; anybody who is involved in animal welfare will applaud it. In the future, when the Minister looks back following a long ministerial career, he will take pride in the fact that he took it through the House.
I wish to say something about the regulations on racing greyhounds. As has been pointed out, earlier this year in The Sunday Times there was an horrendous story about the slaughter of up to 10,000 greyhounds in County Durham. There is obviously an urgent need to address the issue. Can the Minister give us an idea of what the timetable will be for that, and what attention will be given to non-regulated tracks?
I shall concentrate on two issues. First, regulations are usually designed to give effect to a Bill that has been agreed to by the House and the measures contained therein, but in respect of pet fairs, the Government have radically changed their position from that which they set out when they initially brought the Bill before the House, and the banning of pet fairs is not in the Bill. Therefore, in many ways we are completely at the mercy of the Government in respect of what they do with regulations on this matter, because there is nothing in the Bill to guide them.
I have been very concerned about the Government’s attitude towards pet fairs throughout. I share the sentiments of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who said that this is a most important Bill and that people with an interest in animal welfare will welcome it. Those of us with an interest in animal welfare were baffled, however, at the original decision that pet fairs would not be banned. We were further concerned when the current situation was tested to the limit in June of this year when the Parrot Society UK—apparently acting on the advice of somebody in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who it is said has been involved in the drafting of this Bill—organised a one-day public bird sale to test the state of the law and proclaimed that the birds were not pet birds, but were breeding birds.
When there are such ways of getting around the law—or of attempting to do so—I am somewhat dubious about the whole of this business being left to regulations, although I accept that I am now faced with a fait accompli. As I understand it, the Minister is proposing that new measures will be laid in regulations permitting occasional private and non-commercial sales between hobbyists. I think that most of us could say, “Yes, that is perfectly reasonable.”, but we should look at the way that the law was circumvented—or the way that an attempt was made to do so—with that parrot fair. Thousands were in attendance; it was not a hobby fair at all. Therefore, we need to be assured that these regulations will be extremely tight, and that there will be a good opportunity for this House to examine them before they just get relegated to being statutory instruments, when it will all become a fait accompli.
The second thing that I am particularly concerned about is the codes. I have looked at the draft code: I have looked at it, I have blinked in disbelief and I have read it again. Apparently, I, as a cat owner, who has had cats that have lived to be 23 before now—
I thank the hon. Lady. I, as a cat owner, who has had cats that have lived to be 23 before now and who regularly takes them to the vet and deeply attends to their welfare, am now being told that I commit an offence if I cannot say—which I cannot—how much my cat should weigh in order to keep me within the law, relevant to its bone structure, its size and its breed. I do not have a clue about that.
Furthermore, I am informed that I commit an offence—if this code of practice informs the law—if I do not provide for due privacy for my cats when they visit the litter box. The code actually says that we must take cognisance of an animal’s preference for privacy. Do the people who wrote this code have any experience of animals’ preference for privacy? They do not have any preference for privacy when they are discharging their natural functions. They will walk out during a barbecue and do it there and then, in the middle of the lawn. However, I commit an offence in law if I do not have regard for the animal’s “preference for privacy”.
That may sound entirely humorous, but it genuinely is in the code of practice. The more serious point is that we all know what happens when codes and regulations get too detailed and the implementers get too zealous: ordinary citizens who cannot get the police round when they have been burgled find that they are on the wrong end of the law for what most people would consider entirely silly nonsense. We have to know that this code of practice, with all its silly detail, will be applied only with an exceptionally light hand and only in the spirit of the legislation, which talks about neglect, cruelty and indifference to welfare, and that it will not penalise some poor owner who cannot say how much her cat should weigh. I will of course make a point of asking the vet about that when my cats go for their annual boosters, and I will write the information down and carry it round in my pocket, so that I can pull it out if I am ever asked for it. I say that only slightly sarcastically, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that law has a habit of growing its own legs.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) rightly said that this is a good Bill which is welcomed in all parts of the House, but ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have taken on trust promises from the Government to introduce codes on a range of matters that are of great concern to Members in all parts of the House, and we have not disbelieved the Minister’s integrity or his intention to introduce them. We were told, cliché notwithstanding, that this was not going to be a “Christmas tree Bill”—a phrase used regularly in Committee and even on Second Reading. However, we must ensure that these codes are introduced quickly and as a matter of priority, as people would wish—I agree that the issue of greyhounds also needs to be dealt with speedily—and, to pick up on the point just made by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), that they are well written. I have no idea how much my cats weigh, either, and I have no intention of finding out.
We must press the Minister this afternoon for some indication of what he is doing about these outstanding matters. He was good enough to say in his introductory remarks that he would give such an indication, and I assume that, as we are discussing codes, he feels that this is the appropriate time to do so. Although we have made welcome significant progress in a number of areas, even at this very late stage in the Bill’s consideration—at five minutes to midnight—there remain unresolved issues on which it is not quite clear where the Government are going. For example, the situation regarding circuses has, if anything, become less rather than more clear as a consequence of the Bill’s passage through the Lords. Lord Rooker said that
“we have given a commitment to ban the use of certain non-domesticated species in travelling circuses”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 2006; Vol. 685, c. 1002.]
But between Report and Third Reading, he wrote to peers saying,
“It is not correct to say the remit of the group”—
the group being set up by the Government—
“is to examine which species should be banned from performing”.
Those two statements could be read as being slightly contradictory, and it would be helpful if the Minister clarified the position this afternoon.
Can the Minister also say whether, ultimately, the codes will consider issues such as training and performance, which the circus working group appears not to have taken on board? It is a question not simply of the winter conditions in which animals are kept, but how they are performed—or otherwise—and trained. The Minister will know that there are significant concerns about the training methods used in circuses; indeed, that is one reason why many of us feel uncomfortable about animals being in circuses in the first place. I hope that the Minister can offer some clarification.
The Minister will also be aware that minimum display pen sizes are an issue. I hope that they will feature in the regulations, notwithstanding the light touch that, in theory, I endorse. Those of us who advocate a light touch also want some detail on issues such as pen sizes, given the current significant variation between the average circus pen size and—if we are comparing zoo licensing conditions with circuses, as the Minister has considered doing—the average zoo outdoor pen size.
The Minister has still some way to go to achieve the conditions that I would like to see, which, with the possible exception of dogs and horses, is an end to performing animals in circuses. There is even more need to provide clarification of the Government’s intentions, which are still not entirely clear even at this late stage of the Bill.
In common with the Minister and the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), I should like to mention greyhounds. I hope that the Minister will confirm that their welfare is a priority for his codes and that the matter will be dealt with sooner rather than later, particularly given, as the hon. Member for Leominster said, some of the terrible stories that appeared in the national press over the summer. I do not know whether I should declare an interest, but my brother breeds greyhounds—[Interruption]. He does; one cannot be judged by one’s family. My brother tells me that he is concerned by the existing loopholes and he wants them closed. I know from someone I know in the industry that there is concern about those matters. Those who act responsibly in the industry, as much as those outside it, want the provisions tightened up.
Does he give you any tips?
He has not given me any tips, but if he does, I shall communicate them in due course.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald referred to pet fairs. We should be grateful that the Government have moved on this issue as their position was unsustainable in the early stages. They have listened, but there are still problems with the types of events that are referred to and there are gaping loopholes. It is all very well to say that the commercial sale of animals will be prohibited—we can all agree with that—but what is and is not a commercial sale? Who is going to police the provision and who will determine what is such a sale? We need a law not only that we agree with philosophically, but that can be understood and enforced by the enforcement agencies and can be interpreted by the courts. I am not sure that we have got that for pet fairs.
We have the unsatisfactory position by which the Pet Animals Act 1951 is subject to varying interpretation by local authorities. This is the opportunity to sort that out once and for all and arrive at a position with which people agree. I fear that we will not do that.
We could, indeed, end up with that, but I suspect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I went on about devolution in too much detail. We will have problems, but it is an inevitable part of devolution. It is not a reason not to have different rules by which the Scots and the Welsh are entitled to express their opinions and form their own legislation. For England at least, I hope that we have a clear answer from the Minister that gives us confidence not only that the will of the House is being met but that codes will be drawn to be enforceable.
Although I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, like the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I was one of those who spent many happy and sometimes fraught hours a couple of years ago on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee considering the draft Bill and making proposals about the legislation. I am therefore pleased to be here today to consider the last stage of the Bill’s passage through the House.
Like others, I welcome the Bill as landmark legislation of which the Government and all those involved in its framing can be proud. Although I welcome the Minister’s comments about the scrutiny of regulations and the written announcement on the Government’s attitude to pet fairs that he made on, I believe, 10 October, following the Stafford pet fair judgment, I wish briefly to echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker).
I assure the Minister that there will be many Members of the House, and many organisations and individuals outside it, who will look carefully at the regulations in relation to pet fairs. I am one of those who wish that the Government had taken the opportunity to interpret what many of us felt was the existing law in the way in which some local authorities have been interpreting it for years: that is, to say that pet fairs are against the law and should not be licensed. Unfortunately, there was inconsistency. Now we have a kind of consistency in the Government’s proposals in that commercial pet fairs and markets are not to be licensed, but those organised by groups of hobbyists and specialist societies concerned with a particular breed or species of animal might well be able to find themselves with a licence.
I am afraid that the sad history of pet fairs leads me to believe that there will be many people who will do their utmost to circumvent those regulations. Many people with informed views on the subject believe that not only would that bring the law into disrepute, but it may have sad consequences for animal welfare itself, because of the conditions at many pet fairs that have taken place in the past. I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their position during the course of the consideration of the Bill.
Like my hon. Friend, I spent many an hour on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. It is interesting that the Government basically stopped all shows during the time when there was a big threat of avian influenza. In these days when animal diseases are much more prevalent, the issue is not just animal welfare, but its interconnectedness with the fact that there is a threat if there are large numbers of birds or animals together. Does he agree that the Government ought to bear that in mind?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. At an earlier stage in the consideration of the Bill, I drew the Minister’s attention to many people’s concerns about the potential for the spread of avian flu as a result of the conditions in some bird fairs.
I emphasise again that, although I welcome what the Minister has said and will listen with interest to what he has to say in answer to the hon. Member for Leominster about the consultation on and scrutiny of the regulations, I assure him that many of us here, and outside Parliament, will look carefully at the detail to ensure that the more unscrupulous elements involved in the so-called care—more often the trading—of birds and animals do not get their way.
I rise simply to support the determination of the Government to consult, as reflected in Lords amendment No. 12. I have two comments that I hope may reinforce the Government’s commitment to consult effectively. First, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) said. [Interruption.] I am sorry if I mispronounced his constituency. The phrase “to represent any interests” is a narrowing phrase, because it confines itself, on the face of it, to those who represent interest groups established by association or institution or whatever.
It would be a great pity if the consultation were limited to such persons, especially when one sees the scope of the activities to which the regulations extend, as set out in subsections (5) and (8) of clause 13. They are activities in which many members of the public have a wide interest, even if they do not belong to one of the recognised interest groups. For example, I possess a dog, I ride, shoot, fish and all the rest of it, but I belong to no association other than the Countryside Alliance. However, I undoubtedly have a range of interests—loosely defined—and I would like to be one of the people to be consulted. I thus hope that the consultation powers will be widely interpreted.
Although we do not often agree on such matters, I think that I will echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on the nature of the consultation. In this instance, as in so many, the Government will rely on statutory instruments. We all know that statutory instruments are an imperfect way of legislating because they are either approved or rejected in whole. I would like the Government to be willing to lay before the House the regulations and the code—in so far as it is different from a regulation—in true draft for comment, before they are laid before the House for approval. That would enable the Government to take account of the views of right hon. and hon. Members on the draft, as opposed to the measure for approval, and allow members of the public to comment on the original draft. The Government would thus be able to test the acceptability of their proposal and amend it in time so that the House would not approve an imperfect draft.
As many hon. Members have said, the Bill is a major step forward for animal welfare, because it updates 100-year-old legislation. We should be proud of that, but as others have said, we will be relying on regulations, which causes me some worry. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, if there is concern about a regulation that has been tabled, there is little that we can do about it. I was thus also going to suggest that drafts of such regulations should be produced before they are finally tabled, to allow comment and consultation. That would allow the organisations involved in discussions to point out possible flaws and problems with the regulations.
I am worried about circuses, although I will not make a lengthy speech on the subject. Contradictory comments have been made about the pathway of the discussions that are under way. I know that there is worry about the discussions on drawing up the regulations, so it would be useful to see regulations in draft before we finally approve them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the working party that has been set up to discuss the arrangements for circuses should be called to account? It should give a clear definition of what it is doing and explain the way in which it carries out its discussions before bringing forward recommendations, because that is not clear to me, at least at the moment.
I certainly agree that it would be useful to know the terms of reference of the working group, which will influence the regulations that are finally approved.
I am trying to reflect the mood of the House on Second Reading. At that time, we did not wish to go down the road of banning certain species, but that appears to be the direction in which the discussion group is moving. If anything, there should be a prohibition on performing animals. Any circus that wished to have performing animals—dogs, or perhaps a horse—could then apply for an exemption from the prohibition. Such a scheme would be a better way forward and would reflect the mood of the House on Second Reading.
To echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) said, there will be people who will try their very best to circumvent any regulation that we put in place. That is a serious concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and I know a man in our area who will do anything he can to circumvent any regulations that we impose in respect of tail docking. I do not believe that he will stick to any such regulations. He will say that a cross-breed dog’s grandparent was a spaniel, for example, and use any way he can to get around the law.
Enforcement is also a serious concern. I have recently been dealing with a case in Cleethorpes of a small zoo. The vets who inspected the conditions in which animals in the zoo were kept issued a damning report, but the local authority went ahead and gave the zoo a licence to keep the animals. We have to be careful about how we enforce the regulations that we impose, so that we can take on those who will do all they can to circumvent the law. Sadly, not everyone in Britain is an animal lover, despite the excellent work that the Bill represents.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will respond to the points that have been made in the debate.
Let me begin by trying to reassure the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about consultation. Throughout the passage of the Bill I have been prepared to hear representations from all interested individuals, and I am sure that my successors, whoever they are, will do the same. There is no intention to restrict consultation to people who have a particular interest in the subject of the regulation.
As a rule, we try to lay regulations in draft so that anyone can comment, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested. However, there is a trade-off between the number of consultations one has in hand and their different stages and speed. Ministers are always under pressure from some quarters to get regulations made as quickly as possible, but it is important that consultation takes place properly. The draft cat code is a case in point: it was published as a draft in an attempt to help hon. Members following a request made in Standing Committee, but we made it clear at the time that it was merely a prototype. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said, it was far too long and too detailed.
If a consultation document is published on the web, for example, those who are interested will no doubt find it and be able to comment. However, some parish councillors in my patch complain to me that they are consulted on matters that have nothing to do with them. There is a balance to be struck: matters must be made available for consultation without swamping people who have no interest in the subject.
I agree completely.
The hon. Member for Leominster asked which working groups are already up and running. There are groups on the primates code, the cat code, the dog code, circuses, and greyhounds. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations in an effort to achieve as great a degree of consistency as possible, but as one or two hon. Members pointed out, we might end up in different places on certain aspects of the Bill. I hope that we do not, but it is possible.
As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald pointed out, our original intention was to regulate the commercial selling of pet animals at pet fairs through a licensing scheme to be enforced by local authorities, but the High Court judgment of 14 June 2006 in relation to a judicial review in the case of Haynes v. Stafford borough council, which was about the issuing of a licence to the organisers of a pet fair under the Pet Animals Act 1951, led us to review our position. One of the findings of that review was that local authorities could not issue licences under the 1951 Act to organisers of pet fairs where those events fell within the activity described in section 2 of the Act and involved the sale of pet animals as part of a business to members of the public.
In the light of that judgment, the Government propose to prohibit the sale of pet animals to members of the public where this is part of a business at pet fairs. However, we also propose to make exceptions to this prohibition in the case of koi carp shows, racing pigeon sales and poultry sales. Such events will be licensed by local authorities under regulations to be made under the Bill. Events where there is no selling of animals to members of the public, or where there is selling of animals but not in the course of a business, such as hobbyists selling excess stock, will continue to take place.
All events where animals are present will be subject to the welfare offence, whether or not they are specifically regulated by a local authority. We believe, and we have received a large amount of support from animal welfare organisations and some of the hobbyist organisations, that the revised proposals on pet fairs, combined with our proposals to raise the standards of pet vending generally, as well as the introduction of the welfare offence for companion animals, provide the best protection yet for animals at pet fairs.
There will be an exemption from the requirement for a licence for those events, because there is no evidence of which I am aware that there are any welfare problems with them. We do not want inadvertently to prevent an important and legitimate economic activity about which no concerns have been raised by animal welfare organisations.
The proposals on pet fairs will be subject to wide consultation in due course.
I find the Minister’s comments odd. Clearly, there are potential welfare implications in relation to any live creature. The Government have legislation in place to deal with poultry kept as farm animals, for example, so why does the Minister believe there are no considerations regarding poultry sold at pet fairs?
That is not what I said. I have tried to emphasise throughout our discussions on the Bill, when we have argued about whether events should or should not be included, that every event will be subject to the welfare offence. We took the view that it was not sensible to include the widespread and common sales of koi carp, poultry and racing pigeons in the ban on pet fairs, which would have been the effect of not granting the exemption that I mentioned. We are not aware and nobody has made us aware of particular welfare problems at such sales which require them to be banned, and that is consistent with all our veterinary advice. Also, a ban would have a disproportionate effect on those businesses.
I accept entirely what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said about the cat code. It is not the Government’s intention to punish the owners of fat cats, although overfeeding an animal can be problematic—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) says from a sedentary position, it can be very cruel. When I first took on the portfolio from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I remember discussing overfeeding. I have known a number of pets which I think have suffered through overfeeding, but I am sure the right hon. Lady’s cats are not among them.
I take the right hon. Lady’s point. I agree that in the debate on obesity, whether human or animal, we often ignore the role of physical exercise and concentrate too much on diet. I hope I have reassured her that we published draft codes in good faith in response to requests, and we probably went into far too much detail. She is right about that. The codes will be consulted on, and she and every cat lover in the country will be able to comment on them.
The Minister said that we will have an opportunity to be consulted on the codes but he did not clarify whether Parliament will have a pre-legislative opportunity. It might be helpful if the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, or some other august body, were given a chance to become involved with the codes. Perhaps the cat code could have been slimmed down.
The Committee has many other burdens and demands on its time, but if it decides that it would like to do so, it is not my place to prevent it.
On greyhounds, my noble Fried Lord Rooker gave a firm commitment on Report in another place that we will draft a regulation by 2008. The matter has rightly been given higher priority following concerns expressed in the press about abuse—although we must be careful what we say because it is currently sub judice. I look forward to the report from the all-party group on animal welfare, which is conducting an inquiry into the welfare of greyhounds. We are still keen on self-regulation if possible, but only if all concerned can be satisfied that open and auditable self-regulation is possible. When I meet representatives of the greyhound industry tomorrow, I will ask them to deliver, as a minimum, four key points. We believe that the National Greyhound Racing Club should have a new name, should appoint more stipendiary stewards, and should have in place, or expect to have in the near future, UK service accreditation; and that the British Greyhound Racing Board should announce a significant increase in welfare funding. Should those requirements not be achieved, we will look to appoint an outside regulator.
On circuses, I reiterate what has been said here and in another place. The Government are committed to a ban on certain non-domesticated species currently used in circuses, with regulation coming into force—again earlier than originally envisioned—in 2008. I gave that commitment in the House on 8 March, and my noble Friend Lord Rooker repeated it in debate and in letters to peers. That decision will be based on scientific evidence. The circus working group, which has brought together the industry, welfare organisations and scientists involved with animal welfare, is up and running and giving advice. It will consider the scientific evidence and make recommendations to inform Ministers and to inform the debate. However, its role is to inform, not to prepare a binding list, and it is premature to draw conclusions as to the evidence that it will provide.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 13 to 19 agreed to.
Powers in relation to animals in distress
Lords amendment: No. 20.
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 21 to 23, 27 to 29, 33, 44 to 46, 51 and 68.
I think that it might be helpful to the House if Members do not pronounce the “o” in “Leominster”. For the purposes of this Bill, I will forgive them if they make it rhyme with “hamster”.
I welcome the inclusion of measures to deal with appeals through the Crown Court. They provide an extra legal procedure to check on the actions of inspectors and constables who will save an owner time and expense when they wish to appeal. An inspector or constable will have the power to take a protected animal in distress into his possession, and a magistrates court can then proceed to make arrangements for the animal. The original drafting contained no provisions for the owner to appeal. In that respect, the principle behind amendment No. 27 is admirable. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify a point about subsection (2), which states:
“Nothing may be done under an order under section 20(1) unless—
(a) the period for giving notice of appeal against the order has expired, and
(b) if the order is the subject of an appeal, the appeal has been determined or withdrawn.”
Could not that be interpreted to mean the withholding of specified and important treatment that may be needed?
I am afraid that I cannot provide that clarification at this stage, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 21 to 23 agreed to.
Orders in relation to animals taken under section 18(5)
Lords amendment: No. 24.
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 25 and 26, 30 to 32, 36 to 43 and 47 to 50.
I am pleased with the inclusion of the provision whereby a person may appeal an order of a magistrates court and be reimbursed for expenses incurred, but I have a few questions for the Minister. Why are the Government using amendments Nos. 26 and 47 to change the term “costs” to “expenses”? What is the difference between the two? Why does amendment No. 48 change the word “sum” in clause 40 to the word “expenses”? On amendment No. 31, what is the reasoning behind changing the term “pay a sum representing” in clause 32 to the term “reimburse”? Why do amendments Nos. 32 and 40 remove the enforcement of the reimbursement away from one imposed on conviction?
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 35, 54, 55 and 58.
Can the Minister clarify whether someone who has been cruel and is disqualified from keeping one species can be disqualified from keeping others? It would be absurd if someone who had been barred from keeping dogs still had other animals in their possession and care. I was particularly worried by the case highlighted in the media over the summer involving a farmer who was put in prison, leaving his herd of cattle to die slowly of starvation. Obviously, cattle are farm animals, but the principle is the same.
With leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks and also tell him that he is right in his implication that the motivation for these amendments was indeed the case that arose in the summer, which many people found extremely distressing. They were also frustrated that the Government could take no action, and we want to ensure that we can take action even if someone could have been disqualified under the old legislation and not just under the new provisions.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 35 to 55 agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 56.
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 57, 67, 69 and 70.
This seems to clarify the issues of devolution. Will the Minister tell us what effort the devolved Administrations are putting into drawing up their own welfare codes, and whether their codes will simply be improved versions of our own? Of course they might run things differently—that is the nature of devolution—but on issues such as circus animals, for example, it would be strange if an animal could be kept and allowed to perform in one part of the UK but not in another. Obviously, we hope that the codes will be based on science rather than on local sentiment. If the Welsh Assembly draws up a better welfare code than ours in England, I hope that we will be nimble enough to ensure that we reap the benefits, just as the Assembly will have done from the initial work that DEFRA is putting in.
Unfortunately, I have been given the wrong advice.
As this is a devolved issue, I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) will forgive me for not being up to speed with the devolved Administrations on the matter. However, I take his point. Consistency within the devolutionary settlement would seem to make sense. We will try hard to ensure that the various codes and regulations are consistent—[Interruption.] Ah! I have just been advised that the devolved Administrations are involved in our working groups, so I should be surprised if they did not come up with provisions that were pretty similar to ours. However, on tail docking, for example, they still seem intent on coming up with something quite different, which I think will probably cause them all sorts of problems—but there we go.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 57 and 58 agreed to.
Powers of entry, inspection and search: supplementary
Lords amendment: No. 59
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 60 to 66.
Under Lords amendment No. 64, a warrant may authorise persons to accompany an inspector. Will the Minister clarify whether the warrant will have to specify the names of such people? Will he also clarify whether a person accompanying an inspector will need to identify himself, as the inspector will have to do under sub-paragraph 6(a)? As I understand it, inspectors will have to go through certain processes to get a warrant, and that is right and welcome. However, they will be able to take people with them. I am probing to find out whether those people will be subject to the same rigours as the inspectors, or whether there is the potential for them simply to be there without having gone through that process? Some people are frightened about the implications of these measures. They are frightened that people who are not authorised might turn up at their house accompanying an inspector. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify whether the same rigours that will apply to inspectors will also apply to the people who accompany them.
Lords amendment No. 66 deals with:
“Functions in connection with entry under section 19”.
It sets out powers including the power to
“inspect an animal found on the premises”,
the power to
“remove a carcass”
and the power to
“take a photograph of anything on the premises.”
However, I do not see a power for anyone executing a warrant to remove an animal thought to be in need of urgent treatment. I assume that that is not covered by the power to inspect an animal found on the premises. There should be a facility to remove an animal for further treatment. Perhaps that is covered elsewhere in the Bill and I have missed it, but it is certainly not included in this amendment. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comment on this question.
In Lords amendment No. 64, sub-paragraph (3) states:
“An application for a warrant shall be made without notice”.
Perhaps that is just traditional drafting, but I would have thought that the words “may be made without notice” would be more appropriate. Otherwise, if notice were given by accident, the warrant might not be granted. That would be rather peculiar. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to that point as well.
With leave of the House, I should like to respond first to the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin). I am afraid that I cannot confirm whether a person will need to be named in the circumstances that he outlined. However, under paragraph 3, the warrant holder will have to be named. If I can clarify the matter further by writing to the hon. Gentleman after the debate, I will endeavour to do so.
In response to the question by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about Lords amendment No. 66, I think that the provision looks more significant than it actually is. The measure is purely to ensure consistent drafting. It will give inspectors who enter premises in an emergency the powers of search and seizure, but it does not make substantive changes. It will serve two purposes. The first is to ensure that, when an inspector enters premises to search for an animal in distress, he has the power to inspect the animal when he finds it. This is a necessary prerequisite to exercising all the other emergency powers in clause 18, including the power of removal to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The second purpose is to give inspectors limited powers to gather evidence. As drafted, the powers to remove carcases and to take photographs are limited to occasions on which the inspector has entered either under warrant under clause 22, which is now clause 23, or to conduct a routine inspection under clauses 25 to 28, which are now clauses 26 to 29. We recognise that, if an inspector has already entered premises using his clause 19 powers, to have to leave and obtain a warrant under clause 22 and return would be impractical and a waste of resources as well as giving rise to the risk of evidence being destroyed. The Lords amendments are intended to ensure that the inspector can exercise limited evidence-gathering powers, even though he has entered the premises primarily for the purpose of alleviating an animal’s suffering.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.