Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
Before we get on to the proceedings, I want to remind Members of the difference between Report and Third Reading. The scope of the debate on Report is determined by the amendments that Mr Speaker has selected. The scope of the Third Reading debate to follow will be the whole Bill as it stands after Report. Members may wish to consider these points and then decide at which stage they want to try to catch my eye.
Offences relating to glue traps in England
I beg to move amendment 1, line 3, after “rodent” insert
“or any other vertebrate animal”.
This amendment, and Amendments 2 and 3, would create an offence of setting of a glue trap capable of catching any vertebrate animal, removing a potential defence of a user claiming that a trap had been set to catch a non-rodent vertebrate.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 2, line 6, after “rodent” insert
“or any other vertebrate animal”.
This amendment, and Amendments 1 and 3, would create an offence of setting of a glue trap capable of catching any vertebrate animal, removing a potential defence of a user claiming that a trap had been set to catch a non-rodent vertebrate.
Amendment 3, line 11, after “rodent” insert
“or any other vertebrate animal”.
This amendment, and Amendments 1 and 2, would create an offence of setting of a glue trap capable of catching any vertebrate animal, removing a potential defence of a user claiming that a trap had been set to catch a non-rodent vertebrate.
Amendment 4, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out paragraph (a).
This amendment would require that licences for glue traps be issued at a class or individual level only, in order to minimise their use only to exceptional and specific circumstance.
Amendment 5, page 2, line 25, leave out “all pest controllers”.
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 4.
Amendment 6, page 3, line 29, leave out from “provides a” to end of paragraph (a) and insert “pest control service, or”.
This amendment would clarify that individuals whose businesses may “involve” pest control, but who are not pest controllers by training and trade, cannot be licensed to use glue traps.
First, I would like to put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) for bringing in this Bill. Particularly as she is a new Member, I hope she will get the Bill through. That would be more than I have done in 20 years in this House, so she will have done incredibly well.
Following other Members, I feel I must very quickly, before I upset you, Madam Deputy Speaker, mention Muffin, Bobby and Mrs Skittles, who are my cats. I would advise Members to look at the House calendar, because Mrs Skittles features in this month’s photograph. That was organised by the late David Amess, who organised the competition for many years. We certainly miss him in this place.
My amendments cover two key areas. The first area looks at where a trap is laid and an animal other than a rodent is caught. At present, the wording in the Bill is:
“A person who sets a glue trap in England for the purpose of catching a rodent commits an offence.”
I am sure Members of the House are well aware that it is not just rodents that are caught in glue traps—even though that practice, to me, is barbaric in itself. Birds are caught too. They are also probably aware of the tragic situation in which a pet cat was trapped for some time on a glue trap or a number of glue traps and had to be put down. I hope this provision is not a loophole; I am looking at the Minister. I am sure, as we have heard previously, that that is covered in other legislation and that there is not a problem with any loophole in this Bill. Clearly, if people look to get around the legislation by claiming that they are laying traps for a different purpose, that defeats what we are trying to achieve.
The second area looks at dealing with regulation. Pest control is not a very well regulated industry, and the concern I and a number of others have is that we cannot have a situation in which anybody can designate themselves as a pest controller. I would certainly want some assurances that that is not the case, so that a porter in a hotel or a restaurant—or the owner, or anybody else—could not suddenly describe themselves as a pest controller and have access to glue traps. It is important that the industry is regulated, or at the very least that there are some assurances that this is a person’s profession rather than something they have just decided to do for a period of time.
I would like those assurances, and if I receive them I will wish the Bill swift progress and will not push the amendments to a vote.
I want to speak briefly to the amendments, as it gives me a chance to thank the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) for all his work on glue traps. He has tabled an early-day motion on these barbaric traps and we share the aim of stopping the cruelty and suffering that, sadly, they cause. I want to reassure him: I have also been contacted by animal welfare charities and believe that clause 1(2) closes the loophole:
“A person who sets a glue trap in England in a manner which gives rise to a risk that a rodent will become caught in the glue trap commits an offence.”
I cannot think of a location where a trap could be set even if someone said they were setting it for parrots or for cats; I cannot think of an occasion when another animal could be in a place that could be guaranteed to be free of rodent access. For that reason I did not think that the amendments were necessary, but I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s efforts.
The other points the right hon. Gentleman raises in the amendments give me the chance again to plead with the Minister to make the licensing enforcement regime watertight. I share the concern that people given licences should have to prove a very high level of competence in the ability to dispatch quickly and humanely any animal stuck on a glue trap. I thank the right hon. Gentleman again for his contributions.
I hope I will be able to reassure the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), and indeed Muffin, Bobby and Mrs Skittles along the way.
I understand the concern expressed through the amendments on glue traps, as we do want to prevent other small vertebrate animals and indeed birds from falling victim to the traps. The Bill already addresses that in its current wording, however, so the amendments are unnecessary.
The Bill refers specifically to rodents as they are the primary target of glue traps, which are marketed with catching rodents in mind; however, it would not be a defence for a user to claim that a trap had been set to catch a vertebrate that was not a rodent. If a trap is set in a manner which gives rise to a risk that a rodent will become caught, that is an offence regardless of the intent. It does not matter what was the target or intended target of the trap; if a trap is set outdoors to catch another vertebrate animal, that in itself is an offence, so other vertebrate animals at risk from a glue trap would still be protected by this Bill. It is also important to note that it is already an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to set a glue trap in any place where a wild bird could be caught.
Again, I understand the reasoning behind amendments 4 and 5, but the Bill already covers what they seek to address. They might also create difficulties for a future licensing regime. The Bill is drafted to allow a range of licences to be granted in order to ensure that the Secretary of State has the flexibility to grant the most suitable type of licence for the intended use or pest controller. The precise details of the licensing regime will only be worked out following extensive discussions with stakeholders, who will include pest controllers, animal welfare organisations and the licensing body. We do not want to prejudge the outcome of these discussions; however, whatever the form of licence granted, the Bill makes it explicit that licences can only be issued to pest controllers on an exceptional basis.
The Bill sets out clear limits on the Secretary of State’s power to grant licences to ensure that any licence can only be granted once the Secretary of State is satisfied that the licence is necessary to preserve public health or safety and there is no other satisfactory solution available to meet this purpose. It would not be appropriate further to restrict the type of licence that could be granted, as that might need to reflect a number of variables such as their intended use, the pest controller to whom the licence is to be granted, and the measures that can be taken to safeguard the welfare of any rodents or other animals that might be caught in a licensed glue trap.
Finally, I turn to amendment 6. Again, I fully understand what the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is trying to get at in the amendment, but I think it is unnecessary, as it would not change the effect of clause 2 and his concerns will be addressed through the licensing regime. The amendment seeks to ensure that the definition of pest controller is worded to apply to a business that provides a pest control service. The current wording—
“a person…who, in the course of a business, provides a service which consists of, or involves, pest control”—
amounts to the same thing. I know that he is concerned that a restaurant owner could class themselves as a pest controller. However, we cannot see that a court would agree with that interpretation; indeed, no one would like to think of a restaurant business providing its customers with a service that included pest control.
Concerns have been raised about the training of those who are granted pest control licences. The Bill will allow licences to be granted only to those pest controllers who can demonstrate the relevant training or competence. We plan for the licensing regime to require that, and we plan to engage with stakeholders in the pest control industry and in animal welfare organisations on how to implement that effectively. I believe these amendments to be unnecessary.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am delighted to present the Bill for its Third Reading. I thank all hon. Members who have supported it to this stage, as well as animal welfare groups and members of the public who have contacted me in support of it. The Bill has broad support. I should also like to take a moment to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). Unfortunately, at the time of the Bill’s Second Reading, I was struck down by covid-19 and propped up on a sofa, so my hon. Friend very capably presented the Bill. Sadly, she cannot be here today for me to thank her in person, but it is good to put that on the record.
The Bill would ban the use of glue traps for catching rodents in all but the most exceptional circumstances. The important thing is that members of the public will no longer be able to use these traps. We heard distressing evidence while the Bill was being drawn up from people who had no idea that they would come down after setting a trap the night before to find a screaming, live, distressed rodent attached to a board in their kitchen in a small flat. They had no idea how to dispatch the animal humanely. They had no idea that they would have to deal with such a distressing situation. I received correspondence from people who urged others not even to consider using these traps because of the significant distress it had caused them to feel that they had to dispatch a suffering animal.
Glue traps cause immense suffering. The British Veterinary Association reports that trapped animals can suffer from
“torn skin, broken limbs and hair removal and die a slow and painful death from suffocation, starvation, exhaustion and even self-mutilation.”
Many other animals are caught on the traps, with over 200 incidents reported to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals over five years, involving cats, garden birds, hedgehogs, squirrels and even a parrot. The right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) mentioned Miles the cat, who was stuck to four glue traps. He had a large infected wound where he had tried to free himself from the traps, and his back legs had been stuck together. The RSPCA took him to a hospital to try to save him, but sadly his injuries were too severe and he had to be euthanised.
It is therefore not surprising that a 2015 survey found that 68% of the public support banning glue traps. While the Bill applies only to England, I note that since I introduced it in June last year, the Welsh and Scottish Governments have announced their intention to ban glue traps. I send my thanks to Members of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament for the work they are doing to move in step with this Bill in the name of animal welfare.
I would like to give some reassurance about the concerns raised on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope)—he is not in his place today—that this is a rat protection Bill. It is not. There is no evidence to suggest issues in dealing with rodent infestations in Ireland and New Zealand, where such traps have been banned. There are so many other, better methods available. Effective rodent-proofing is the best solution and, when used with live capture and release traps, is the method that I would recommend. I used that method when I had a mouse visitor to my house in the past. There is no distress and no need to deal with a dead animal, which most members of the public do not have the stomach for at the best of times. Break-back traps are also available and, while they seem cruel, they do kill instantly in most cases, so they are much more humane than glue traps.
I have brought the Bill before the House because where we need to prevent rodent infestations, we have a duty kill animals in the most humane way possible, and that is at its core. It is right that glue traps will not be available for use by the general public.
I thank the hon. Member for his contribution, and I hope that we will have that education around their sale. Most hardware shops, where they used to be available, have already stopped selling them, but they are still available online. Hon. Members have asked why the Bill does not propose an outright ban on their sale. With devolved Administrations travelling at different speeds, that was not possible. However, he raises a valuable point. It is crucial to educate members of the public that these traps will no longer be legal, and I would like people who sell them—well, they should not be selling them—to advise that they should be used only by licensed pest controllers with a licence to use them.
I hope we can agree that the Bill will provide significant improvements to animal welfare standards. The Government have made real progress in animal welfare over the years, including on puppy smuggling and live animal exports, and I am proud to join the large number of MPs pushing for better animal welfare. At this point, I want to pay tribute to Sir David Amess. The last time I saw him, we discussed the Bill at an event for the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation at our party conference where he was promoting Beatrice’s Bill: an end to hen caging. I hope that, at some point, we will fulfil his legacy by passing a Bill to that effect.
It has been a great honour to describe the Bill and I look forward to hearing hon. Members’ contributions. It is crucial that we end the use of these traps as quickly as possible. There will be a two-year period during which a licensing regime will be put in place, and I hope that that will ensure that licences are given only in exceptional circumstances. In New Zealand, fewer than a dozen are granted each year, and I hope that our use of them will reflect that figure.
It is a real pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), who has done a terrific job in moving the Bill forward. I know the unfortunate circumstances around Second Reading, so I am delighted to see her in her place today and to support her.
There are a couple of particular points I would like to make. First and foremost, as a Welsh Member of Parliament, I thank her for paying attention to devolution, and for going further and working with parliamentarians from the other Parliaments to ensure we can move at the same speed. I ask the Minister, in pulling together the next steps, about the possibility of using legislative consent motions and the powers afforded to us by the UK Parliament, to ensure that, in terms of timing, we help the other places to move together, so we can get to the education points. It is worth reflecting, as the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said, on the availability of glue traps in some DIY shops and, in particular, online. The BVA gave evidence that they were available for about 99 pence, so they are clearly still both cheap and available. We need to do much more to ensure that my Welsh constituency sees the benefits of the Bill.
I was quite taken by the evidence, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East and the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, not just about Miles the cat, but the other 200 pieces of evidence from the RSPCA about hedgehogs, wild birds and the unintended consequences of traps. I am heartened that the Government, in their usual way, are looking at licensing as a way to allow their use where all other options have been exhausted. From the evidence, we can see that the aviation sector has a particular problem. While we remove glue traps from as much of the United Kingdom as possible and as quickly as possible, I very much welcome that there will be a licensing regime for the removal of pests where absolutely necessary.
From the licensing regime and the authorised inspector, I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion by returning to where I started: pulling the measures together at the same pace. On most Bills I speak to, especially when they say, “England only”, I look over my border constituency and think how great and wonderful it is to be supporting my English colleagues in progressing them. However, we must do more as the United Kingdom. I reinforce the point about legislative consent motions in the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments to bring these measures together at pace and at the same time, especially bearing in mind the complete consensus on this issue across the Government and Opposition Benches, and, I should imagine, all Parliaments of the United Kingdom.
I wish my hon. Friend well—I am entirely jealous that she is managing to effect legislation at a far quicker pace than I seem to have to date—and I wish the Minister well in pulling together the devolved Parliaments.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) on bringing forward this important private Member’s Bill.
We often talk about the love we have for our pets and for animals more generally. I found it concerning that somebody had called the Bill a “rats protection Bill”. I grew up at a time when I was told by people who lived in the countryside and in the city, that we are never more than 10 feet away from a rat. That is quite horrifying. However, we must remember that rodents are one of the most successful mammals on the globe because they take advantage of human beings: the way we work and the disgraceful mess we sometimes create.Although there are important issues such as Weil’s disease—a terrible curse to anyone who contracts it—we should remember that as human beings we must respect animals and euthanise them, if need be to protect our own safety, in the quickest and most humane way that we can.
It never ceases to amaze me how barbaric human beings can be, and glue traps, I am afraid, are not selective. Someone may wish to catch a rat or a mouse, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East eloquently described the distressing situation that follows. Rats and mice are highly intelligent creatures, and it must be the most horrendous death for them. Moreover, the UK, in particular the area around my Great Grimsby constituency, is vital for migrating birds; 90 million birds leave the Arctic every year, and the UK is an important area for them to live in. It would be terrible to think that the ongoing use of glue traps might cause the demise of even more of our important wildlife.
Rats in particular are very dangerous, so I welcome the clauses of the Bill that permit the Secretary of State to award licences for glue traps to those professionals who know what they are doing. There are, as we know, some instances where rats and mice, particularly rats, cause serious health protection problems. Environment officers and agencies are a vital part of our local authorities and local councils and ensure that we are protected.
I wholeheartedly thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill; it is an important and balanced Bill that ensures not only that we can protect ourselves and our health, but that we are not causing undue stress to other sentient beings. Anybody who has ever caught a rat or seen a rat when it is alive will know what intelligent animals they are. That is why we must ensure that we are not being unduly cruel.
I also stress to people that the best way to reduce rodent infestations is to ensure things are packed away correctly and foodstuffs are not left out—certainly not to throw their takeaway down the road out of the car, as I have seen on many occasions. Rodents are clever creatures and as soon as that food is out there, they will take advantage. If human beings would take a little more care in how we look after our world, we would not need to introduce Bills in this place to prevent people from doing barbaric things to rodents, even though we do need to control them at times.
I am delighted to support my colleague and constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson). As her neighbour, I share the same passion, although she is a great champion of animal rights and animal welfare across Wolverhampton and in many areas that she speaks in. In Wolverhampton, we want to see the right thing done for the whole community, so I welcome this Bill and the Government’s support for it.
When people find out I am an MP, family, friends and many constituents will tell me great ideas for Bills that I could introduce. Normally they are very well-meaning; I get everything from jumping on a trampoline to cure covid to other things—
That is a genuine one I have had. However, when I think of it, it is very hard to bring forward something meaningful that will get the support of the House and change legislation. We have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and now my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East introduce two great Bills.
As we have heard, the point of this Bill is to ban the use of glue traps to catch rodents in all but the most exceptional circumstances. That is a fair and proportionate policy, which is in line with the Government’s own world-leading action plan for animal welfare. The action plan has already introduced a series of reforms providing further protection for the welfare of animals, whether they are on the farm, at home or in the wild. It is also committed to restricting the use of glue traps as a means of pest control; as has already been mentioned today, there are more humane ways of removing rodents from our buildings.
The manifesto on which I was proudly elected states
“High standards of animal welfare are one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. We have a long tradition of protecting animals in this country, often many years before others follow.”
Glue traps are inhumane tools which go against that theme. They cause great suffering and painful deaths to animals. Their use is cruel. Animals can remain alive for 24 hours after capture, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East gave some examples of the unintended consequences involving pets and wildlife.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we have a responsibility to use the most humane methods in order to prevent unnecessary suffering. Levelling up animal welfare standards ought to be a top priority for all levels of Government, and also—as we heard from one of my Welsh colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams)—for the devolved Administrations. I hope that news about the great progress that is being achieved through this Bill will travel far and wide, and will feature prominently in Ministers’ conversations with devolved Administrations.
As we know, however, glue traps are not the only things that animals can find themselves caught up in. Since the introduction of the plastic bag charge, the Government have successfully prevented billions of plastic bags from being sold and ending up in oceans and the environment where they have the potential to harm animals. I am a keen advocate for a safer, cleaner Wolverhampton, and, as my hon. Friend will know, I regularly run “Stuart’s street clean”. In the centre of a huge, built-up area is a beautiful place called Smestow Valley. If you walk down there from Cupcake Lane, you could be in any nature reserve in a country area rather than in the middle of a built-up urban area, and you would absolutely love it. I recently went on a litter pick there, and Members will be pleased to hear that the number of plastic bags has been reduced as a result. The wildlife in the valley is amazing, and it is a great pleasure to walk or run along it, perhaps with the family. Many dog walkers enjoy doing that.
I thank my hon. Friend for his regular litter picks, which have become somewhat legendary in my home city. Does he agree that in an urban, industrial centre such as Wolverhampton we need to enjoy what nature we do have? Given that Smestow Valley and the canal network that spreads into my constituency—the canals around Wednesfield—are such a haven for wildlife, should we not do all that we can to protect them?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is such a beautiful area, and we must indeed do everything possible to ensure that it is preserved. We have many beautiful parks as well. I know that this is not meant to be a Wolverhamptonfest, but it would be remiss of me not to mention, for instance, West Park and Bantock Park.
As I have said, I was proud to be elected on a manifesto which pledged to raise standards in areas such as animal welfare and the environment, and that is why I am delighted to support my neighbour’s Bill.
I believe it was my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) who, in an earlier debate on the Bill, described it as a rat protection Bill. Were it to be one, I would certainly not be supporting it. I grew up in an old farmhouse; some of my most profound memories of childhood involve rodents, and not in a particularly positive way. I remember lying in bed as a small child in that seemingly interminable period between being put down and actually falling asleep and hearing the scurrying of the mice—I hope they were mice, but we were never sure whether the mice or the rats had the upper hand at any one time. They would go up the wall and I would hear them pitter patter across the ceiling. I was used to it from an early age, so it became rather soothing after a while, which seems odd in retrospect.
We had a mouse in our kitchen for a period that became very bold. They are normally nocturnal, but one lived behind the gap where there should have been a dishwasher. It took to coming out into the kitchen while we were having our breakfast and would wander across the floor. It was rather sweet so we did not take effective action for a week or two, but I am sorry to say that my mother eventually decided that hygiene was the better part of that relationship. I am sure that she did not use a glue trap but an effective means was found to say goodbye.
I mentioned the contest between the ascendancy of the mice and the ascendency of the rats. It may be an urban myth but I have always assumed that there is only ever one kind in the house—mice or rats. I stand to be corrected on that. I remember that, when my brother was on a rat hunt in the larder with a baseball bat, he effected a clean hit on a moving target, which gave him enormous status, certainly in my eyes—I have looked up to him ever since.
My hon. Friend is telling us a beautiful story of growing up in the countryside, about which I would like to read more in his future memoirs. I may have a sleepless night tonight though because “The Ascendency of the Rats” sounds like a new horror film. I am concerned that perhaps we should look at banning baseball bats with regard to rodents as well.
I thank, I think, my hon. Friend for her intervention. One thing to be said for baseball bats as a method of controlling rodents is that, although they may not be very effective, and people rarely make contact, when they do, they are decisive.
I reminisce because we need to control rats and rodents, but we share this world. Growing up with the kind of childhood that I had, I instinctively understood how much we share this world with wildlife and I benefited enormously from that. When we need to control animals, therefore, particularly sophisticated animals such as mice and rats, we need to do that quickly and humanely, so I support the Bill almost in its entirety.
I run the risk of sounding a bit like a lawyer this morning, because I made a rather tedious intervention on the previous Bill and I am afraid I will do so again. I made the point on Second Reading, and was punished by being put on the Committee as well, where I took the opportunity to make the same point, for which I received cross-party support and agreement, that there is an issue in clause 1(5) that needs to be addressed.
The Bill has the effect of outlawing the laying of glue traps, but not entirely. It is still perfectly legal for licensed operators to lay glue traps in certain circumstances. Clause 1(4) says:
“A person who knowingly causes or permits an offence to be committed under subsection (1) or (2) commits an offence.”
That has in mind people who perhaps pay someone else to lay a glue trap on their behalf. Clause 1(5) says,
“A person commits an offence if the person—
(a) finds a glue trap in England that has been set in a manner which gives rise to a risk that a rodent will become caught in the glue trap, and
(b) without reasonable excuse, fails to ensure that the glue trap no longer gives rise to such a risk.”
This subsection relates to the passer-by. It is in that context that I have significant concerns about the current drafting, because a bystander will need to know the legal requirements for the setting of a glue trap.
A perfectly innocent bystander or passer-by who sees a glue trap in any situation will have to identify, first, that it is illegal, and then whether it is a licensed glue trap. Either it will put the passer-by at risk of committing an offence or it will be a terrible nuisance to licensed operators who legally lay glue traps for which there is a specific need, as passers-by will throw themselves upon the glue traps to disable them. I am concerned that the drafting still does not take account of this genuine concern.
I thank my hon. Friend for enduring the ordeal of serving on the Public Bill Committee, to which he made a valuable contribution. I understand his concern about these measures, but it is crucial that we close the loopholes. I do not think a member of the public could be expected to know, and it would be a reasonable excuse, because a glue trap is essentially a piece of cardboard that is not recognisable as being very harmful, but a pub landlord might ask a pest controller to put them down, and he would be liable. He could not claim, “It wasn’t me, so I cannot be prosecuted.”
Actually, my hon. Friend’s example would be caught be clause 1(4).
I am also concerned about clause 1(5)(b), because it has the seeming effect of reversing the burden of proof. The defendant, the innocent passer-by, has to prove that they had a reasonable excuse. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that point to reassure me and other hon. Members that we will not inadvertently create unintended consequences while continuing to support what is, without doubt, a very useful and much-needed amendment to our legislation.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) for introducing the Bill. I congratulate her on the constructive and positive discourse and cross-party dialogue she has engaged in and facilitated on this Bill.
As has already been much laboured today, glue traps are a barbaric and gruesome form of pest control that have the potential to cause immense, unnecessary and sustained suffering to the animals they catch.
I can only imagine. We heard the story of a cat that lost its life to these glue traps, so they are a huge danger and a huge hazard.
This Bill will be a fantastic addition to the Government’s efforts to ensure that we maintain the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Although I am a fan of Roland Rat, Remy and Mickey Mouse, I fully appreciate that rodents are a real and significant health issue for businesses, restaurants and homes across the country. I was stunned to learn how many babies the common brown rat can produce in a year. Without proper action, rodents can and do pose a dangerous threat to humans, damaging property and spreading very serious disease.
Although few would argue with the need for pest control, I am sure that nobody would accept that it should be less humane than necessary. We are all aware that the end result of many traps aimed at dealing with pests will often involve death, but we should strive to ensure that that is as quick and painless as possible. Few people, if any, would accept that a slower and more painful death for whichever animal gets stuck to a trap justifies any sort of cost or convenience benefit.
I draw the House’s attention to a British Veterinary Association report that pointed out that trapped animals can suffer from torn skin and broken limbs and die a brutal, slow and painful death, often from suffocation, starvation, exhaustion and even self-mutilation. I find that barbarity hard to reconcile, and on researching the traps I was disgusted to see their impact on rodents and other unintended victims. Apart from the fact that glue traps cause unnecessary harm to the rodents that we actually want to deal with, as others have said they also represent a real danger to other animals, creatures and birds. The RSPCA has noted that over five years it has had 200 reports of incidents involving cats, birds, hedgehogs and squirrels that have all suffered horrific and unnecessary injuries.
I do not believe that restricting the use of glue traps will harm our ability to deal with rodents, and I note, as others have, that both the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand have restricted the use of the traps with no significant detriment to pest control. I recognise that this is a devolved issue and ask that we continue to liaise with the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom to try to secure some parity and co-operation in tackling the traps. I congratulate my animal-loving hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East on the progress of the Bill and look forward to seeing an end to the use of these barbaric devices, which cause so much unnecessary harm and suffering.
Order. May I gently point out that if Members want to catch my eye to speak, it is quite useful to stand and indicate it from the beginning? I recognise that people might be suddenly inspired to speak at the last moment, but even if colleagues have put in to speak it does not mean that they necessarily want to, so it is quite useful if people indicate that wish. I almost went straight to the shadow Minister, so those who have started bobbing now might have been missed out.
I was relatively inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), Madam Deputy Speaker, and would like to share my brief experience with rats.
As has been mentioned, rodents are not necessarily the most popular thing. There is the worry of disease, and of course in this very House, in many of the corridors leading towards our offices, we see many and various traps lying around. One job I am given where I live is to put various bits of poison down, as we had a little bit of a problem once upon a time. One morning, I opened the front door and we had been left a surprise gift at the front of the house of a particularly large rat. It did not appear to have any life signs and I was subsequently tasked with removing it with a bag and sending it away. My son ran behind me to see what was happening and I had to use my diplomacy skills to say that the mouse, as I called it, was just sleeping, at which he informed me, “No, Daddy, it’s dead.” Thanks to his greater knowledge, I disposed of the rat and of course we used poison.
I must say that I was incredibly ignorant of the concept of glue traps. I had never heard of them before, so my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) introduced me to the concept. When I googled them and clicked on the images, I was genuinely shocked to see these traps that can be purchased for as little as 99p. The images were not of rodents, but of hedgehogs and birds. We saw some quite nasty things.
Although we want to tackle the problem of rodents, there are better ways of doing it. The Bill is a sensible and humane way forward, so I commend it to the House and thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to follow the inspiring speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South.
This is another Bill that will make it through the House this morning and on to the other place. It appears that Friday is the new Wednesday in this House when it comes to productivity and excitement.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak from the Labour Benches in support of this Bill on Third Reading. I should say that it is good to see the Minister in her place. I feel as if I have seen more this week of her, her fellow Minister the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) than I have of my husband, my children and my cat. I suspect the same goes for the Minister, too.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) on raising this important issue and on the constructive way in which she has worked with colleagues on the Opposition Benches. I gently say to the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) and for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) that devolution is alive and well and working throughout the UK. The Senedd and the Scottish Parliament will work to achieve the same aims in their own way in their respective countries. I gently ask them to remember that when they talk about UK-wide legislation.
I am sure that the hon. Lady will have noted that I talked about legislative consent motions. I not only understand devolution and welcome devolution, but pay due reference and respect to devolution by asking for the Administrations’ consent. I gently push back and say to her that I was being quite pro-devolution.
Sorry, I thank the hon. Member. I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As the Bill now prepares to move to the other place, it is important to note that the banning of glue traps is supported by a range of campaigners, stakeholders and organisations. That support stands today and extends, as it has previous, to those on the Opposition Benches. I feel sure that my friend Baroness Jones of Whitchurch is raring to pick up this Bill and the points around enforcement, scope and language as their lordships consider the Bill. The Opposition did not table any amendments and will not seek to push to a vote, but I do want to acknowledge the comments and campaigning prowess of my fellow countryman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami). He is right to have raised his important points, and I thank him for his care and interest in these issues.
We wish the Bill well as it travels out of this House, and look forward to the devolved Governments working together to deliver real action, not just hot air. As the shadow Minister for air quality, may I say that all measures to tackle hot air are to be welcomed.
I wish to acknowledge all those involved in the Bill and in ensuring its safe passage. I should say to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East that this shows what a Member of this House can do with the support of the Leader of the House and the Government. I asked her for tips on success when the Bill Committee was in session. I think the simple answer for those on the Labour Benches is to ensure that a Labour Government is elected, although I do not expect the Minister to welcome that, but we can always live in hope.
I thank the hon. Members for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer), for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards), for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), Stockton South (Matt Vickers) and for North Devon, my very experienced and knowledgeable hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside. I give a special thanks to all their staff for their assistance, hard work and commitment. The same, of course, applies to the staff of this House, including the Clerks and the Library staff.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East knows that we on the Labour Benches think that she has done many animals a great service by bringing this Bill to the House. Like her, I also acknowledge the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who so ably stepped in previously, and I thank her for doing so.
I look forward to seeing the Bill’s progress in the other place and wish it, on behalf of these Benches, very well indeed.
Before I call the Minister, may I just mention that the word “you” has been used quite a lot to address Members directly? Let me remind everybody that, when they say “you”, they mean me. Fortunately, this morning, it means that I have had an awful lot of praise—inadvertently. This is just a reminder, because I know that it is sometimes tempting in these Friday sittings to address each other directly, so please beware.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) for her tremendous work in introducing this Bill and for navigating it to this stage. It has been a real pleasure to work with her.
We have heard some excellent speeches this morning. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) made the valid point that there are still some sectors in which it may be necessary to continue to use glue traps. One he suggested is the aviation sector, and if there is an area where a mouse or a rat is causing trouble—particularly in gnawing through wiring, for example—and the layout of the area means it is impossible to get in another type of trap to catch the animal, a glue trap might be appropriate. That is why we have left the licensing provisions in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), who normally talks to me a great deal about fish processing, reminded us—I am not sure that we were grateful—how close we are to a rat, probably at this very moment. She also talked about how intelligent they are.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) made valid points about how people are working together in Wolverhampton to make animal welfare better across the sphere. He also made the valid point that litter picking is definitely part of the answer to troublesome rodents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), who was soothed to sleep by rodents as a child, discussed the truly horrific event—I am not surprised it is seared on his memory—of his brother killing a rat. However, he also made some serious points, which I will address. The offence in clause 1(5) covers a situation in which a person fails to remove a trap set by somebody else. It is really aimed at people, for example, in house purchasing, such as the new owner of a property. The concept of reasonable excuse, as he knows very well, is widely used in criminal legislation. It does not seek to impose the burden of proof on the defendant. If the defence of reasonable excuse were raised, it would be for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have a reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuses would certainly include trespass and the tort of interfering with somebody’s property. I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but occasionally I cannot help behaving like a lawyer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) talked seriously about the effects of slow death on animals. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) was also keen to share his experiences of rats, and he was right to draw attention to the large variety of traps available in this very building.
I agree with the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) that I have seen considerably more of her this week than I have of my family. It is, as ever, good to have her support on this Bill.
If I may, I would like to say a little about the rodents for which glue traps are currently marketed. I think it has been accepted across the House that we do need to control rodents, but in our nation of animal lovers, it is important that we do so as humanely as possible. We think the house mouse arrived in Britain in the iron age. Archaeological evidence indicates that they were present in large numbers by Roman times. The Mammal Society suggests that the availability of food and habitat for mice, and in turn their population, will have reduced—and I, for one, think that is good news—since the 1960s owing to changes in housing construction, the way we keep food, such as in sealed containers, and indeed developments in agriculture, including more secure grain storage. It is true to say that mice can breed prodigiously. In man-made environments where there is a good supply of food, litters of between five and eight baby mice can be born at roughly monthly intervals. Although house mice can be found out in the countryside, they are poor competitors with other rodents, particularly wood mice. The house mouse is very happy to live side by side with humans, and its movement patterns and current widespread distribution are really because of its ability to adapt to us.
The brown rat is a very adaptable species. They are mainly nocturnal animals, and being able to climb and swim allows them to exploit a wide range of resources. They prefer habitats with dense cover and, of course, an abundance of food: they will eat just about anything. They are prevalent in rural farm buildings, but also occur in other rural habitats, most notably the river environment as we all know from children’s literature. Densities vary dramatically before and after harvest. Substantial populations, such as the ones we have largely heard about today, also exist in urban areas, where they frequent sewers and other areas where food waste is available. They also live in buildings, and in many coastal habitats, especially salt marshes and grasslands.
It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that brown rats have only been in this country for around 300 years. They seem to have been introduced to the British Isles as a species in around 1720. Their forerunner, the black rat, has a longer history and, rightly or wrongly, is associated with outbreaks of plague. It is not a native mammal to these islands either. The brown rat has subsequently spread throughout the British Isles and indeed much of the world, often carried in ships. Reproduction is observed all year round, females can begin to breed at three to four months old, and they typically have five litters of between six and 11 baby rats a year.
If I may, I will suggest a few alternatives to the use of a baseball bat, which is not recommended by the Government, as a means for trapping house mice and brown rats. They can certainly both be viewed as pests. That has led to humans persecuting rather than conserving them, often through the use of traps. It is likely that people have trapped mice for as long as people have had houses. The word “mousetrap” dates from at least 1475, and reference to “a mousetrap” is made in “Hamlet”. The world’s first produced mousetraps seem to have appeared in the late 19th century. While arguments rage as to who invented it, candidates include a British ironmonger, Mr Atkinson, who in 1897 designed the “little nipper”, which is still the basis of one of the widely used break-back traps today. A wide selection of foodstuffs can be used to catch mice. My husband favours peanut butter, and I am surprised we have not heard more from hon. Members about their preferences for use in break-back traps.
There is a live and wide debate about who was the first to develop the first lethal mousetrap with a spring-loaded cast iron jaw. Various American lay claim to doing so. It is notable that many patents are filed for new mousetraps every year. The Government fully support innovation in this field and the development of more humane means of trapping rodents, which can only be welcomed by us all in this House.
I, too, would like to express my gratitude to animal welfare organisation who have helped with the Bill. Although the scope of the Bill is narrow, it is a vital addition to our animal welfare legislation. We have heard about the suffering the traps can cause and it is therefore right to ban their use in all but the most exceptional circumstances. We look forward to working closely with animal welfare groups and pest control organisations to ensure that the licensing regime is appropriate and effective. I also warmly welcome the positive news that, since the Bill was introduced last year, the Governments in Scotland and Wales have both made announcements of plans to introduce similar legislation. We will wait to see how those develop, but aligning legislation to ensure an effective ban across Britain would seem desirable.
I offer my thanks again to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East for introducing the Bill and to all hon. Members who have contributed today and in previous stages. I am pleased to reiterate the Government’s support for the Bill and wish it well in its progress.
With the leave of the House, I would like to take a few moments to thank everyone for their interesting and sometimes disturbing contributions to today’s debate, including my hon. Friends the Members for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson), for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) and for Stockton South (Matt Vickers). I would also like to thank Members who supported the Bill in Committee and its earlier stages.
I could not close without thanking all the animal charities. We had several online roundtables throughout this process. There are too many to mention, but the Humane Society, the RSPCA, the UK Centre for Animal Law, Cats Protection, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation are among them. I again thank the Minister for her reassurance that they will be involved in the licensing regime to make sure that humane options that they have suggested, such as pressure pads or maximum time limits, are looked at.
We had a discussion about this issue, and it is something I am concerned about with animal welfare. There has been lots of discussion about what happens when a rodent or any animal is caught on a glue trap. Often, that animal will be in distress and probably take at least 24 hours to die. I notice in the Bill that it does not stipulate anywhere for a professional pest control organisation or person to act. Could they just lay a glue trap and it be there for a very long time and we would still be in the same situation with inhumane death, or is there something else that we would expect to see?
I reassure my hon. Friend that very strong representations have been made to the Minister, and I do not think her arm needs twisting too hard on this issue. I would like to see pressure pads used with glue traps, because it will be rare that they are used, and the placement of a pressure pad underneath a glue trap could alert a licensed pest controller almost immediately to an animal. I hope that any licences granted would have a responsibility to attend that animal in a very short timeframe. It is an important point, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it.
I also thank the team at DEFRA, who have been fantastic in helping to draft the Bill. I thank the people in my office, who are all sitting in Wolverhampton, cheering the Bill on today. I also thank the dynamic duo on the Opposition Benches, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) and the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami). Both are such heroes for animal welfare, and it is a great pleasure to see their commitment to getting animal welfare legislation through and working so co-operatively and sensibly on this Bill.
Finally, I thank the Ministers, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who I thank for her rat reproduction and history lesson today. I had absolutely no idea that the first mousetrap was invented in 1475, which is absolutely fascinating.
Briefly, when I look back into my family history I see that one of the great industries of Wolverhampton in the 18th and 19th century was making animal traps, and that my Mattox ancestors were vermin trap makers in Wednesfield in Wolverhampton, so perhaps my bringing this Bill before the House is a sort of atonement on a descendants’ basis. I had not thought of it until the Minister raised the historical context of our trapping rodents. I am a lifelong animal lover, and I had pet gerbils as a child—we have heard about a lot of pets today—but I was not disturbed by rodents in my bedroom running around and keeping me awake. I greatly enjoyed keeping gerbils, and I have great fondness for rodents, who are very intelligent animals.
With all my thank yous wound up, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for indulging me in with a few moments at the end of the debate. I look forward to seeing the Bill progress. Another thank you goes to Baroness Foulkes, who will hopefully introduce the Bill in the House of Lords next week.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.