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Grand Committee

Volume 798: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2019

Grand Committee

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill


My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber when we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Clause 1: Prohibition on use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—

““travelling circus” means—(a) a circus—(i) which travels from place to place for the purpose of giving performances, displays or exhibitions, and(ii) as part of which wild animals are kept or introduced (whether for the purpose of performance, display or otherwise), and(b) any place where a wild animal associated with such a circus is kept;”

My Lords, I apologise for the fact these three short amendments are starred, which I know is very unhelpful to the Committee. One of the people assisting me with them was unwell over the weekend, so I tabled them as early as I could. They are not hugely complicated, so I do not think that that will inhibit us too much. I want to record my apologies for that. I am also very sorry that I was unable to speak at Second Reading. I was detained elsewhere, but I heard two or three of the speeches. I hope your Lordships can forgive me on that too.

I do not have a great deal of interest to declare in circuses. I do not think that I have visited one for a very long time. I used to go to Bertram Mills Circus in London when I was a small boy. I secretly admit—and I know that no one will let it be known outside this Room—that I always hoped that a lion would eat the lion tamer, but one never did, obviously, as it never happened. That is my only interest.

If this Bill is to become law, like all Bills it needs to be as clear and unambiguous as possible to ensure that those who will no longer be able to trade in England by virtue of it are under no illusion or misconception that they will not be prosecuted for continuing with their hitherto lawful livelihoods. This is despite the fact that no one has really explained why what is a perfectly lawful business today will suddenly become criminal following the passage of the Bill into law, apart from the rather dubious ethical argument, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who I do not think is in the Committee, told your Lordships at Second Reading,

“leads us on to very contentious ground”.—[Official Report, 19/6/19; col. 796.]

He was right. In my experience, when the Government rely on ethics as the basis for legislation, what they really mean is that they cannot come up with a sound reason that can withstand any close examination. That may be slightly cynical of me, but I think it is true.

As the Bill is specifically targeted at the business of a “travelling circus”, it therefore needs to be clear what is meant by that term. The idea that a common meaning is to be used for the term on the basis that to define what a travelling circus is in law risks the eventual Act reaching further than originally intended or allowing the travelling circuses to modify their businesses to avoid being caught under the law is, frankly, nonsense. It is an argument that my noble friend the Minister advanced at Second Reading. If it had a shred of truth to it, your Lordships would not devote the hours that we do to putting definitions of terms in practically every Bill that passes through this House. It just gives credence to those who might suggest that the Bill has been drafted with expediency, rather than thought.

The definition I seek to include in the Bill is taken from the current regulations. If it was good enough then, surely it is good enough for the Bill. It is a clear and precise definition and there is no evidence that it has not worked for the purposes of the regulations or that the two travelling circuses in England today have sought to remodel themselves in some way to avoid having to comply. It should be noted that the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018 contains a similar, if arguably broader, definition. This provides absolute clarity in life and in law as to what is meant by a “travelling circus”. I beg to move.

My Lords, I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, had to say about why this is a starred manuscript amendment, but given that it is exactly the same as the amendment that was tabled in the Commons by Philip Davies MP, I find it somewhat surprising. I stand here representing the Liberal Democrat Benches. My noble friend Lady Bakewell is undergoing an operation today, so I am afraid noble Lords will have to put up with me for a short while on Defra matters.

We support the reasons why the amendment was turned down in the Commons, where the Minister made it clear that there would be guidance on these matters. We support that guidance, which will allow courts the flexibility to determine these matters in a manner they see fit. On that basis, I wish not to support the amendment and I hope that we can get through these amendments as quickly as possible.

My Lords, I too apologise to the Committee for missing Second Reading, as I was abroad at the time. In that debate my noble friend Lord Gardiner said,

“I think that wild animals in circuses, whether they are trained well or not, are trained for our entertainment and amusement”.—[Official Report, 19/6/19; col. 806.]

When I looked at the Bill, I fully understood what he was driving at. But I am concerned about the unintended consequences of this, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, was when he mentioned them at Second Reading, so I decided that I would look up what “circus” meant. My vision of a circus is not necessarily what the definition of it is. A circus is defined as,

“a travelling company of entertainers such as acrobats, clowns, trapeze artistes, and trained animals”,


“a public performance given by such a company”,


“an oval or circular arena, usually tented and surrounded by tiers of seats, in which such a performance is held”.

Given the advice I have received, that definition covers showgrounds. A showground moves from place to place; it has tiers; it is an oval; and wild animals are in it. When my noble friend the Minister deals with his guidance, can he make it clear that falconry, county shows and such things are excluded from this provision? I hope he will be able to confirm this now because I think it was queried at Second Reading, but he never gave the answer. For me, it is a question of the definition. I had not seen it, other than in the advice I was given, but it seems that this point needs to be clarified so that we do not stray into territory that I know my noble friend does not want to get into.

My Lords, I spoke at Second Reading and like the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I have read the full debates in another place. It is clear that this matter was fully debated there, and it was right that it should be. My noble friend Lord Mancroft has raised an issue on which there was much exchange in another place, but it gives us the opportunity today to hear reassurance from my noble friend the Minister about guidance. That is important, so in that respect my noble friend Lord Mancroft has done the Committee a favour.

However, I am concerned about attempts to impose further definitions in the Bill. This is for some of the reasons debated in another place, one of which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Caithness. One does not wish to see definitions used in ways that are so prescriptive that they do not catch the people who should be covered by the Bill—those in travelling circuses who in future should not have wild animals—or so broad as to bring within the remit of the Bill those who use falconry displays for educational services. I declare an interest, in that I have watched at least two of those at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley, near where I live, and they were extremely educative not only for young people but for me. There is also the matter of county shows, which I attended regularly when I was our Front-Bench spokesman on agriculture in opposition.

I can see the benefit of there being a definition in the Bill. I believe the Government have found one which gives effect to the prohibitive provisions we wish to have, without extending them to activities which should not be covered by the Bill. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will affirm his commitment to guidance and reassure the Committee that the current definition properly delivers, as I expect it does, the changes that were received with great agreement around the House at Second Reading.

My Lords, it is a great pity that the noble Lords, Lord Caithness and Lord Mancroft, were not at either Second Reading or our briefing, where these issues were raised. Although many of us had the exact same concerns, we accepted from the Minister that the Bill is important. It has been on the Tory party books since March 2012. I am astonished that noble Lords are trying to slay it again at this point. The amendments are neither useful nor particularly polite and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will withdraw them.

My Lords, I did not speak at Second Reading. I wonder what will happen to these so-called wild animals, some of which have been in circuses for a number of generations and have never been in the wild, so are completely domesticated. Originally, dogs were wolves but, after a long time, they became domesticated. We cannot just let them out into the wild; most of them would starve. What will happen to them?

My Lords, as other noble Lords said, it is a shame that the noble Lords concerned were not there at Second Reading, where Members from different Benches raised a number of these issues. I must say, we were very satisfied with the Minister’s answer. We were persuaded that the definition of “circus” would be better dealt with in guidance, and were pleased at his assurance that the guidance will be available before the Bill comes into effect so that circus owners’ responsibilities are absolutely clear in advance. That precisely addressed the issue raised by several noble Lords this afternoon: that if we broaden the definition too much, it includes falconry and county shows, but if we make it too narrow, it imposes a burden on circus owners when managing their circuses. We were persuaded that the definition that has been spelled out here would not be helpful to circus owners in the longer term, so we agreed on this way forward.

The noble Lord mentioned wild animals, which we will come on to when we consider the other amendments. The Bill’s purpose is to deal with wild, not domesticated, animals; we should recognise the difference. On that basis, and with the assurance that I hope the Minister can give us once again, I hope that we can move forward.

My Lords, my noble friend’s amendment seeks to introduce a definition of “travelling circus” into the Bill. As has been said, these matters were discussed at Second Reading. My remarks may therefore repeat what I have already said to your Lordships.

We chose not to provide a definition of “circus” in the Bill because we believe that it is better to use its common meaning. We believe that the same principle applies to “travelling circus”. Let me expand on that. We do not believe that a definition is necessary. “Travelling circus” is a commonly used and well-understood term; we do not think that enforcers or the courts will have problems spotting one. In fact, my noble friend Lady Anelay went to the heart of the matter. I think that my noble friend Lord Mancroft may not have envisaged the problem with providing a definition: that it could result in a definition that is too wide and takes in other activities that we do not wish to see banned. Alternatively, it could be drawn too narrowly and provide operators with parameters by which to circumnavigate the ban. A common-understanding approach means that it will always be relevant.

Also, in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, the EFRA Committee agreed that we do not need to define “circus”. To assist in clarifying what the legislation will cover, we will draw up guidance; the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lady Anelay referred to this. The Scottish Government, who also chose not to define “circus” in their Act, have taken this approach, and we will take a similar one. I can confirm that we will publish guidance to the Bill by 20 November, two months before the ban comes into effect, as I said at Second Reading.

The definition provided in my noble friend’s amendment, which states that a travelling circus is,

“any place where a wild animal associated with such a circus is kept”,

would mean that a circus operator would be prevented from using their wild animals anywhere, extending the Bill to activities outside the circus. The Bill has a specific purpose: to prohibit the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. It is not our intention to prevent circus operators owning wild animals or using them in other types of work, such as in television and film production. My noble friend’s amendment would go too far by preventing circus operators from ever using their wild animals, and would unfairly target circus operators over other owners of wild animals. Is that my noble friend’s intention? I do not think so.

My noble friend made another point in reference to the definition in the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. The licensing regulations did not define “circus” but had to provide a definition of travelling, as in “travelling circus”, because—I emphasise this—for the purposes of licensing and inspection, we needed to include all areas associated with a circus where a wild animal might be kept; for example, winter quarters. There is no such issue here. We propose not to prohibit circus operators owning these animals but to restrict their use in a travelling circus, which is the sole focus of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Swinfen mentioned the welfare of the 19 animals—again, this was raised with some degree of concern across the House. The operators of both services have put on record that their animals will either be rehomed, retired to their winter quarters or used in other work. These are trained animals; it is not uncommon for the circus industry to use its animals for TV and film work, for instance.

My noble friend Lord Caithness raised the issue of falconry. I make it absolutely clear that the legislation will apply only to travelling circuses. Activities involving animals that will not be affected include travelling birds of prey demonstrations, wild animals performing in summer galas, television and film production work, and small zoo animals going to schools for an educational visit. These activities, for instance, and others will be stated specifically in the guidance. I should also declare, as the former president of a county show, that I am well aware of the importance of this from an educational point of view specifically. I must say, all the falconry displays I have been to have never been under canvas; they have always been in a larger area than the one my noble friend describes.

The Government feel that the amendment is neither necessary nor desirable. As I said at Second Reading and earlier to the Committee, we will produce detailed Defra guidance to assist inspectors and circuses and set out the types of activities that we consider will and will not be covered by the ban. For these reasons, I very much hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

I am grateful for what my noble friend said; I am sure that my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will be only too pleased that it is now officially on the record. My noble friend has gone further than he did at Second Reading, and it is much better for it to be on the record than just said in a formerly smoke-filled room.

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. Although I was not at Second Reading, as I said earlier, I read it carefully, of course, so it is not complete news to me. Of course, I accept fully what the Minister says. However, I have always thought that it is better to put things like this in the Bill rather than in guidance. Apart from anything else, courts like clarity, and something is a great deal clearer in the Bill than in guidance.

I understand too that the object of the Bill is narrowly focused on travelling circuses. I still wrestle with why it is so appalling to be in a travelling circus, but it is perfectly all right to own something or use it for films or TV. Presumably, these animals will have to travel to the TV or film set, just as they do when they are travelling with a circus. I wonder if the zebus or zebras will know whether they are in a circus or part of an educational visit—I wonder whether I would know that.

Nevertheless, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out from “means” to end of line 5 and insert “any animal or bird which is or (before it was taken) was living wild.”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 2 I will speak to Amendment 3, if it is convenient for the Committee.

The current definition of “wild animal” is unnecessary and unclear. The Bill seeks to replace a licensing regime that affords safeguards for and the protection of animals in travelling circuses with an outright ban on the use of certain species. This is not a proportionate response to interfering with a business’s right to trade.

The current definition fails to recognise that animals in travelling circuses cannot genuinely be considered “wild” on the basis of generations of captive breeding and close, intimate contact with humans. Some of these animals can be said to be no more wild than a captive-bred working dog, yet because the current definition stipulates that a wild animal is one not commonly domesticated in Britain, they are caught by it. That goes against current wildlife law, which makes it clear that as soon as an animal, however wild in reality, becomes captive in some way, it immediately benefits from the welfare provisions accorded to domestic animals, rather than those reserved for wild animals, which are very different. This confusion is clearly undesirable.

Indeed, it also fails to recognise the domestication of some animals in countries outside the UK, some of which are clearly utilised in other entertainment and educational industries. For example, camels are considered domesticated outside the UK and yet are still offered for camel rides, polo-playing, trekking and racing in the UK—and not by travelling circuses. Llamas and alpacas would be in a similar position.

A better definition to recognise these issues and enable legitimate businesses to continue to trade using their existing animal stock is to modify and include the definition in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which principally provides for offences concerning damage to wildlife. It is a tried and tested definition; I have advanced a modified version of it in the amendment. For clarification, the modification removes any reference to “dead” animals, making it concerned only with protecting live animals.

Turning to Amendment 3, given that some existing travelling circuses may and do display exotic bird species, some of which are non-native to the UK, there is a clear need to comply with existing legislation, both domestic and European, to ensure the protection of wild birds, which is not currently the case in this rather shoddily drafted little measure. The current definition of “animal” in the Bill refers back to the Animal Welfare Act 2006. However, given the need to make sure that a balance is struck between ensuring the protection of animals and allowing travelling circuses to continue trading, my amendment is aimed at ensuring that captive-bred birds are afforded the same protection as that given to them under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—protection afforded to them while they are still in the egg. The aim of this is to ensure that any birds hatched from eggs taken from the wild are not exempted from the prohibition in the Bill. Travelling circuses will need to ensure that any birds they display, as with any other areas of the captive wild bird trade, are born and bred in captivity. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am concerned that the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, are dangerous and seek to drive a coach and horses—or a zebra and a transport box—through very welcome proposed legislation.

Both amendments would change the definition of “wild animals” from a list of species that are not domesticated to solely animals born in the wild. The current list is drawn from the Zoo Licensing Act, which has worked very well for the past 30 years. I would contend that that is the tried and tested legislation we should look to, not that proposed by the noble Lord.

So far as I know, none of the 19 remaining wild animals in circuses covered by this legislation were born in the wild but, of course, they are still wild as they are not domesticated. The zebra or the snake does not suddenly become a domesticated animal just because it was born in captivity. Again, this ploy is very similar to the one proposed by Philip Davies MP in the other place. I hope that the Committee will reject it again in the same manner.

My Lords, yet again, I find myself agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler —a habit that I must try to break, but not just yet.

It is important that the Bill—it was not drafted shoddily, as my noble friend Lord Mancroft mischievously proposed—reflects previous discussions here and in another place to reconcile the definition of the animals to be covered with the fact that they are not domesticated. By any stretch of the imagination, being born to a wild animal that has been trained and tamed in a circus does not mean that an animal will be domesticated. It is something that happens genetically over not just generations but thousands of years. My noble friend’s sudden view that the Bill is poorly drafted neglects the fact that it has been on the books for a long time. My hair has changed colour during that period. I know that the Bill has benefited from contributions from around the House over a period of about 15 years, during not just this Administration or the coalition Government before but the Labour Government before that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, the definition is consistent with the Zoo Licensing Act 1981; I hope that the Minister can reconfirm that and give us further assurance.

My Lords, I wonder what the position would have been for my mother. When I was a small boy, she had a pet jackdaw, which she rescued because both its parents had been killed. The parents were not in lawful captivity when the egg was laid; they were wild. The egg hatched, they were killed and my mother rescued the young jackdaw. According to this Bill, she may have broken the law.

My Lords, I apologise for not being present when the Bill first came before the House. I will add only a few words because there is one aspect of the Bill on which the Minister deserves the utmost congratulations; it argues rather strongly against the Bill being shoddy. Will your Lordships kindly notice that this is just about the first Bill that we have seen in the past five years in which no regulation-making power is invested in the Minister? The Government should be congratulated on that alone.

I agree with a number of noble Lords that the Bill is not shoddy. Indeed, it went through detailed and proper scrutiny both in the Commons and here. I have absolute confidence in the way the Bill is worded.

I very much agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Anelay. The amendments suggest that wild animals somehow become tame if they are bred in captivity, but we know and all the scientific evidence shows that this is not the case. It takes hundreds of years of breeding to domesticate an animal; it cannot be done over just a few generations. In the meantime, wild animals retain their instinctive natural behaviours and needs. Those behaviours do not include doing tricks for our entertainment in a circus. We must be wary of what the amendments propose. The British Veterinary Association states:

“The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus—in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour”.

I reject the emphasis of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in the amendments; I do not agree with him. There is a difference between “tame” and “wild”; in fact, I think that he recognises that. His own aside that he wanted the lion to eat the lion tamer is the truth: people sense that these animals are wild. They were indeed wild and there was always that danger. He would not have that sense with a dog doing tricks, but lions are very different. Their natural behaviour is just under the surface. Although we are pleased that the lion-tamer did not get eaten, the lion could very much have done that, so it is right that they are not put in those artificial situations in future. We therefore agree with the original wording.

My Lords, may I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who I have misnamed? It is obviously the shock of agreeing with a Liberal Democrat on the record twice in an afternoon. I apologise to her.

My Lords, it is wonderful to be able to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his very kind remarks. I cannot promise it will be the beginning of a new order, but it is rather good to celebrate those moments. I say to my noble friend Lord Swinfen that this legislation is to make provision to prohibit use of wild animals in travelling circuses. I do not see a connection with my noble friend’s mother’s kindness in looking after an orphaned bird. I do not think we can extrapolate that from this legislation, which is specifically about travelling circuses. I imagine that my noble friend’s mother did not have a travelling circus.

Returning to my noble friend Lord Mancroft’s amendments to alter the meaning of “wild animal” proposed in the Bill, rather than an animal that,

“is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain”,

the Bill would only prohibit the use of animals, including birds, which had been living wild before being used in a travelling circus. The term “wild animal” is already well established in English legislation and the Government are content that it will cover those wild animals that we believe should no longer be used in a travelling circus.

The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lady Anelay were right in saying that the definition of “wild animal” used in the Bill is based on the definitions in the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, which has served us well, and the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. Both pieces of legislation require wild animals to be licensed. I should also say that zebras and camels will be subject to an annual licensing inspection under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. It is worth reminding the Committee that thinking these animals, wherever they have been bred, are somehow like domesticated pets is erroneous.

Consistency between the Bill and the circus licensing regulations is particularly important. We have been clear that the licensing regulations were an interim measure to monitor the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses while a Bill prohibiting their use was introduced. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, might have said “about time”, but we are now attending to the matter. The licensing regulations are due to expire on 19 January 2020. It is therefore vital that the prohibition in the Bill is enacted by then to ensure those same animals that currently require a licence from Defra can no longer be used in travelling circuses.

These amendments would mean that only animals that had been living in the wild could no longer be used in travelling circuses. Of the 19 wild animals currently under licence to be used in travelling circuses, only one has ever lived in the wild—the fox, which was rescued as a cub. These amendments would therefore allow the other 18 wild animals to continue to be used in travelling circuses, following the expiration of Defra’s current licensing regime, meaning that the monitoring of their welfare alone would be significantly reduced.

Further, these amendments could well see many other wild animals reintroduced into travelling circuses. The majority of wild animals used in circuses around the world are not born in the wild. Many have been bred by circuses themselves over many generations. Training a wild animal needs to begin early in that animal’s life.

These amendments could—again, I do not think that this is my noble friend’s intention—see tigers, lions and elephants return to English circuses, without needing a licence from Defra. We cannot accept that. They would also ensure that animal species we regard as domesticated could be caught by the prohibition. I am not being facetious but I will use a stray dog as an example; where one had been living wild, it would be caught by the definition of “wild animal” in these amendments. It is not the Government’s intention to prohibit the use of dogs in travelling circuses.

It may be helpful if I use this opportunity to clarify what is understood by the term “wild” or “non-domesticated” animal. Even wild animals that have been bred and reared in captivity are still wild animals. When providing evidence to the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the Scottish wild animals in circuses Bill, Dr Dorothy McKeegan, a senior lecturer in animal welfare and ethics at the University of Glasgow, was clear that wild animals in circuses are still wild animals. She said:

“The domestication of animals is not just about captive breeding and sometimes hand rearing but about the behavioural and genetic modification of the animal away from its wild progenitor. That is not going to happen with rearing generation after generation of animals in captivity. These are still wild animals”.

Again, my noble friend Lady Anelay went to the heart of that.

I hope this makes it clear that even when wild animals, including birds, are bred in captivity over several generations they should still be considered “wild”. On that basis, I am not in a position to accept my noble friend’s amendments and I very much hope that he will not press them.

My Lords, I have listened carefully to what my noble friend has had to say. The idea that the world outside is waiting for the Bill to fail so that it can reintroduce lions, tigers and elephants to travelling circuses is stretching things a little far. It is perfectly clear that whatever the Committee does today, the world of travelling circuses is fading away at its own rate and will be encouraged to fade a bit faster with the Bill.

For the sake of the record, I understand that among the considerable number of travelling circuses there are only two which use wild animals. This is not the end of travelling circuses and it is important that I should clarify that, so that no other circus operator should see this as an attack on them and their use of other animals, beyond wild animals.

I hear what my noble friend says and would not contradict him for a moment. He knows much more about this than me but I suspect that what has happened with wild animals today will undoubtedly move on to domestic animals in future, because that is the way the world is moving. I suspect, too, that my noble friend Lord Swinfen’s jackdaw can presume that it will not have a circus career when it gets old—it is probably past it by now anyway.

One noble Lord, I forget who, talked about the welfare issues. My noble friend made it perfectly clear at Second Reading was that there were no welfare issues with the 19 wild animals mentioned. Of course, if we take away the fox there are not 19 wild animals but 18 because one of them has not become wild over generations; it is in fact a domestic animal. Zebus are domesticated animals everywhere in the world. I do not know whether they are commonly domesticated in Britain. I suspect that it is a lonely and sole zebu; nevertheless, it is a domestic animal and not a wild animal.

My father used to say that one thing you should always do is to sniff the mood of the House. My sniffing today tells me that my arguments have not attracted overwhelming support in your Lordships’ Committee, so it is probably time that I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendment 3 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Clauses 2 to 4 agreed.

Schedule agreed.

Title agreed.

Bill reported without amendment.

Committee adjourned at 4.24 pm.