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Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007

Volume 690: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.

The noble Lord said: I am pleased to speak on three sets of regulations—the first relates to animal welfare—in one speech. Obviously, I will be happy to reply to separate points. The regulations are a key part of the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the bulk of which will come into force on 6 April 2007. The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations consolidate existing legislation relating to the mutilation of animals, by which I mean the carrying out of a procedure that involves interference with sensitive tissues or the bone structure of the animal.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006—

Forgive me for seeking clarity. Will the Minister speak to all three regulations together? We assumed that they would be spoken to in the order in which they appear on the Order Paper.

No. I will make one speech covering all three regulations. I will obviously be happy to reply to them separately.

I will give way. I arrive here as a humble servant of the House. I am here only because the Committee wishes it and I will do whatever is required. But my speech groups the regulations together. We can discuss them and I will be more than happy to answer questions on each separately.

It might help the Committee if I say that I am going to object to the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations, and it might be better if we took that one separately.

I am happy to answer them separately, but this speech is one speech. I cannot tear out a page, although I can find the relevant paragraph, which might be in the middle of a page.

Perhaps we can have an assurance that they will be called separately at the end rather than en bloc.

Yes, without a doubt. All I am moving is that the Committee report that it has considered the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations, so we should consider that. It is one piece of legislation, but naturally I have one speech to cover all three sets of regulations, which will then be moved separately at the end when the Committee has considered them—or has not considered them, as the case may be. It so happens that my first page refers to the second set of regulations on the list, but I have moved the first one that we are considering.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 prohibits all mutilations of animals other than for medical treatment, subject to exceptions that may be specified in the regulations. It is the latter permission that the Government are exercising here. It is commonly agreed that certain mutilations are necessary for an animal’s long-term welfare or management benefit, whether for reproduction control and identification or better management, leading to improved welfare. In addition, some forms of mutilation, for example the ear tagging of certain animals for identification purposes, are required by law—not just UK law, but European law.

The procedures that are permitted are set out in Schedule 1, with conditions attached to their use, such as the use of an anaesthetic or the maximum or minimum age at which the procedure can be performed, as set out in Schedules 2 to 9. In addition, Regulation 3 provides that the procedure must be carried out,

“in such a way as to minimise the pain and suffering … in hygienic conditions; and … in accordance with good practice”.

Those safeguards provide more generally for all kinds of cases that may arise. Regulation 4 exempts any procedure that is carried out in an emergency, to relieve pain or to save life. However, the person carrying out that procedure is still obliged to comply with the requirements in Regulation 3 as far as is reasonably possible.

In deciding which mutilation should be permitted, we have largely repeated those permitted under existing legislation. As I said, this is largely a consolidation measure. We have also consulted widely on any other procedures that should or should not be allowed. We believe that the status quo has been replicated in most cases. However, unlike present legislation in which certain procedures are banned, the new regulations also ban outdated and unacceptable practices not specifically outlawed at present. Indeed, we identified 20 practices that are not currently subject to legislation, but which are no longer generally considered justifiable on animal welfare grounds. They will no longer be permitted. They include procedures such as applying corrosive acids to the skin, de-voicing cockerels, ear-cropping dogs and drilling tortoises’ shells.

The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations are accompanied by the Welfare of Animals (Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007, which revoke current legislative provision relating to certain mutilations of farmed animals, which are now replaced by the mutilations regulations.

The Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations supply the necessary mechanisms by which the principle of the limited tail docking of dogs agreed by the House of Commons last March may have effect. I am sure that Members of the Committee will remember that that issue was particularly contentious during the passage of the Bill—of course, before I joined Defra—and that the Government’s view was that it was right to let Parliament decide the issue. There was a thorough debate, and all the main parties allowed MPs a free vote in which a ban on tail docking, with exemptions for working dogs, was the preferred outcome. The docking of dogs’ tails for cosmetic purposes is therefore banned.

That exemption for working dogs agreed by Parliament allows a dog that is likely to be used for certain specified types of work to have its tail docked by a veterinary surgeon. The dog will have to be no more than five days old at the time of docking, and the veterinary surgeon will have to certify that he or she has seen evidence, specified in the regulations, that the dog is likely to work in one of the few permitted areas—law enforcement, activities of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, emergency rescue, lawful pest control or the lawful shooting of animals. The vet’s decision whether or not to dock is discretionary. This legislation does not require a vet to dock an eligible dog’s tail. Veterinary surgeons will continue to be permitted to dock the tail of a dog at any age for the purposes of its medical treatment. To ensure that only dogs are docked that are genuinely likely to work undocked, the regulations detail how those dogs will be identified and certificated.

Regulation 3 outlines the evidence that the vet must see to certify the dog as a working dog. He must reasonably believe that the dog is no more than five days old and he must see the dam of the dog. Another piece of evidence required relates to the work that the dog is intended for, such as Armed Forces identification, emergency rescue identification, police identification, Prison Service identification or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs identification. Evidence that the dog will be used for pest control would be provided by a shotgun or firearm certification, or by a letter from a person involved in sport shooting—this is outlined in the detail of the regulations—that the dog is likely to be used for that purpose.

In addition, Regulation 3 in Schedule 1 provides that the dog can only be of a certain type, such as a spaniel, a terrier or a hunt-point-retrieve breed. Regulation 4 outlines how a docked dog must subsequently be identified. That must be done by microchip before the dog is three months old. We expect that in most cases the docking and microchipping will be done at the same time. However, vets were concerned during the consultation that the size of the puppy at less than five days old could mean that it is not always suitable to microchip at that time. Therefore, it was felt best to leave that to the discretion of the vet and provide him or her with the ability to microchip the dog later when it was more appropriate to do so. Microchipping is a known and effective identification tool and is already compulsory for dogs with pet passports.

Schedule 2 details the form of the certificate which the owner of the dog, or the owner’s representative and the veterinary surgeon, will both sign. We are working closely with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to produce the certificate before the regulations come into force.

I am pleased to speak to the regulations in Committee. As I said, they are a crucial part of the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act of last year, and are a significant part of animal welfare legislation overall. I shall be more than happy to respond to the points made, and will move each statutory instrument separately in accordance with normal procedure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007. 9th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

I declare my interest as an honorary associate of both the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association. I have been, but am not currently, an owner of working dogs. I am speaking only to the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.

The Minister cannot but be aware of the enormous reservations held by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the RSPCA, the Kennel Club and many others to the continued permitting of tail docking for specified types of dogs, generally called working dogs. It is of passing interest to recall why working dogs’ tails were docked in the first place. It was not on welfare grounds, as is so frequently cited; it was because one of the 17th or 18th century kings—I cannot recall who—finding himself a little short of cash to pursue his wars or his pleasures, decided to impose a tax on pet dogs. To distinguish taxpaying pet dogs from non-taxpaying working dogs, the tails of the latter were docked.

Most of the objections to this statutory instrument are on grounds of policy, but a possible drafting defect has been brought to my attention by the royal college. Regulation 3(1) is not in accordance with Section 6 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Section 6(5) provides for the veterinary surgeon to certify that certain evidence has been produced to show that the dog is likely to work, and Section 6(6) requires the vet to certify that the dog is a prescribed type. By contrast, Regulation 3(l) calls on the veterinary surgeon to certify that evidence has been produced not only of the dog’s future employment, but of its type. This is a question of drafting.

On matters that relate rather more to policy than to drafting, relevant identification must be produced for dogs that are meant to be used for work by the Armed Forces, the emergency rescue service, the police, the Prison Service or HMRC. Regulation 2 says that such identification must show that the person producing it belongs to a relevant organisation. There is, however, nothing in the regulations to connect that person with the dog or its owner. Therefore, a person who wants a dog’s tail docked needs only to persuade a friendly soldier, police officer, or whomever to go with him to see the veterinary surgeon and produce identification.

The regulations omit to say that the person producing the identification must also be the person asking for the dog’s tail to be docked. Neither the veterinary surgeon nor the client has to specify what kind of work the dog is expected to do, or what kind of evidence must be produced. This will create an unnecessary obstacle to enforcement. Although the evidence produced would show that it would be for work, it would do nothing to substantiate in what capacity. Evidence might link it to relevant organisations, but not show its role within them. There is no specification as to what evidence a dog destined for pest control would need. The certificate which the veterinary surgeon and the client are required to sign should make it clear what the story is in order to make it possible for the police, or the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in its disciplinary capacity, to make a clear-cut decision as to whether there is evidence of bad faith. This lacuna is easily remedied by requiring the veterinary surgeon to indicate what evidence has been produced and the client to specify the activity for which the dog is expected to be used.

The definition of specified types of dog in Schedule 1 is drawn far too widely. For example, Labradors are retrievers. So far as I know, they have never been candidates for tail docking. Sadie, recently awarded the Dicken medal for her services to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in Afghanistan, is a Labrador retriever. How would she look without her tail? Should not the distinction be drawn between animals that have been docked traditionally and those that have not within these categories? These regulations are in direct conflict with those in Scotland, where there is a total ban on tail docking. This may well create some cross-border conflicts—my ancestors knew all about those—between veterinary surgeons and their one-off potential clients, as well as with the Scottish authorities. It seems that there might also be conflict with the Welsh when they finally decide what they want to do.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to dock the tail of any dog. Anyone who has seen a pointer—one of the specified types of dog—working and pointing with its tail, or a spaniel that has found what it has been sent to find, cannot help but wonder at the efficiency and the aesthetic beauty of their signalling systems. The police or Armed Forces might say that removing the tail reduces the sites on an animal’s body where an offender can obtain a purchase. In my youth in Kenya during the Mau Mau troubles, the police and soldiers had Dobermans as working dogs. As well as being docked very short, these dogs had their ears amputated and, when working, were smothered in lard. I suspect that these extremely fierce creatures were no more effective than they would have been if they had all their bits and pieces intact.

For any law to be effective, it must be clear, reasonable and enforceable. There have been many debates on the reasonableness of the proposals for docking dogs’ tails, and I do not intend to go any further on that point. I have indicated a few of the areas where I believe these regulations are either defectively drafted or unclear. Their lack of clarity will mean that this part of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 will be very much like another one, whose title I hardly dare mention but which is held in contempt by some horse riders and many in our rural community and which is proving nearly impossible to enforce. I ask the Minister to withdraw the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007 and to try again.

May I assist the Committee? I understand that the noble Countess wants to object formally to the regulations when we decide whether to report to the House that we have considered them. That situation has never occurred before in this form in a Committee. This means that, because it is impossible to have a Division in here, we will not be able, in the light of an objection, to report to the House that we have considered them. There needs to be a discussion outside the Committee on the way forward, because we have not had this difficulty before. It would be superfluous to have the debate today knowing that we are not going anywhere until we have sorted out the procedure.

Having heard what I said, if the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, wishes to withdraw his draft instrument, perhaps he could let us know. If not, we can go on with the debate and decide what do to then.

The last thing I am in favour of is wasting Parliament’s time. I am in favour of doing everything that needs doing once, and I am not in favour of doing it twice. It is clear to me and my officials that we will have to do the job twice by going back to the House. Noble Lords are busy people. Grand Committee only works by consensus. That is their point, otherwise we would be on the Floor of the House in the first place. It makes a mockery of Grand Committee to carry on for a couple of hours to consider this issue when the usual channels have made quite clear to me that we would be wasting our time. Therefore, I shall seek leave to pull all three sets of regulations. I am not going to mess about with one because they are a package. Having considered the matter, we will come back at a later date, obviously not in Grand Committee. This will have to go to the Floor of the House.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, read out quite a number of examples of where she thought there was faulty drafting. I am not sure that I can follow her worry about people getting a friendly policeman to certify a dog, because the regulations state,

“where the dog is presented for certification on behalf of a police authority, police identification”.

All these clauses refer directly to the official body that has to present the animal. There may be other points that she was not happy with.

The Minister’s speech raised a number of issues and some of us have some brief questions to put to him. I am all for not wasting parliamentary time, but if he is able to briefly answer the questions while we are here, it might speed up the process next time.

I advise Members of the Committee that if we allowed certain noble Lords to raise issues it would then be grossly unfair not to allow the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Fookes, the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, and other noble Lords to do so. Knowing how tense and emotional people on all sides of this argument feel, I ask the noble Viscount not to press the matter now. I am sure my noble friend is willing to answer factual and technical questions between now and when the regulations go into the Chamber—I assume there is a procedure for them to go into the Chamber, and I am getting a nod from the Clerk. It would be better if we were to allow the Minister to withdraw the Motion now. It is either that or at least two hours of discussion that will end with him withdrawing it.

I accept that suggestion, and I wonder whether the Minister and his team will arrange a day for us to get together and sort out the nitty-gritty. That would help the Committee enormously. I do not think there are any objections to the other two sets of regulations, and I do not know whether it is possible to take them to save time, but it is for the Minister to decide.

That is the point. I do not want to pull one of the sets of regulations. It would be unfair for me to assume that there is unanimity on the other two sets of regulations because they are part of a package, and no one has had the opportunity to debate the package. This is going to cause difficulty with the timescale, but that is the Government’s problem, not the Committee’s.

Let us be clear about this. There will have to be a speedy consultation and discussion through the usual channels about the use of the Floor of the House anyway. If we do not meet the implementation time, we do not meet it. That is the reality. It is the Government who are in the dock, if I can put it that way. The fact is that I have usually turned up in Grand Committee when I have been told that there is consensus and to answer all the questions. I go to the Floor. Occasionally we have a vote; in my experience of the past few years, we have had one vote. Therefore, the Committee will not report that it has considered the regulations, and I formally move that we withdraw them.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.