Previous SectionIndexHome Page

28 Jan 2000 : Column 752

Protection of Animals (Amendment)

Order for Second Reading read.

2.24 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to present my Bill, but saddened that I will not have more time in which to do so. My aim is to plug the very clear gap in the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the measure that protects animals from cruelty or neglect. As matters stand, animals which are the subject of cruelty or neglect proceedings can be left to suffer while the law takes its course. That cannot be right. My Bill would put right that anomaly and ensure that it is possible to act quickly where necessary in the interest of the animals. It would allow those prosecuting cases of cruelty under the 1911 Act to apply to court for a care order to protect the animals concerned. The magistrates would thus be able to grant an order to those prosecutors, allowing for the temporary care, or for the disposal, sale or slaughter of the animals.

Time does not permit me to explain the detail of the measure. The key points are that the Bill would apply only once proceedings under the 1911 Act were brought, and then only to animals kept commercially. The powers will be strictly limited and will be available only when a court takes the view that it is in the interests or welfare of the animals concerned, and that the reasonable costs incurred by those caring for the animals will be recoverable from the owners.

The measure is straightforward and has been wanted for some time by those closely involved in enforcing animal welfare legislation, including animal welfare organisations and members of the State Veterinary Service. I do not have time to outline practical examples of the way in which the Bill can be helpful, but I hope to have an opportunity to do so in Committee. The measure is sensible and provides a much needed addition to the protection of animals. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.25 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) on her decision to try to amend the 1911 Act. Nothing in the measure causes me or the Opposition grave concern. It is right that animals should be properly cared for, or disposed of, while a prosecution takes place. We know that such cases can take some time.

I have one slight anxiety as to the impact of the measure on defendants who are found not guilty. Would their interests be considered? However, that matter can easily be dealt with in Committee. I wish the Bill a fair wind.

2.26 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): On behalf of the Government, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas). We welcome the Bill and the Opposition's support for it. I can reassure the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). As he knows, the courts will decide on these matters and will protect the rights of the

28 Jan 2000 : Column 753

individuals concerned. Furthermore, the Bill includes provisions relating to the legitimate interests of individuals--for example, subsidies on animals, or any surplus from the sale of the animals being returned to the individuals concerned.

Individual rights will be protected. The measure is welcomed by the Government, by the State Veterinary Service, by local government agencies and by people who would be approved to take action in appropriate cases to protect the interests of the animals.

2.27 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): It is a great misfortune for the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), the promoter of the Bill, that, for reasons completely beyond her control, the debate did not begin until 2.24 pm. That means that the Bill cannot possibly receive proper consideration on Second Reading today.

Although the Bill is relatively straightforward, as the hon. Lady pointed out, and would update and make more effective the provisions of the 1911 Act, even at a cursory glance, it is quite substantial. There are several clauses and some important provisions--each of which is complicated, and some of which are difficult to understand. I suspect that they may be fairly difficult to implement.

I am aware that the Bill has been welcomed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and that the National Farmers Union believes that it is appropriate. However, that is not necessarily enough. Simply to say that groups who have an involvement, or are interested, in the subject of a measure have given it support does not justify it. That is especially true when a Bill includes complicated and difficult provisions that bear on judicial process and on disputes as to ownership--whether of animals, property or anything else--

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth: Certainly.

Mr. McNamara: Will the right hon. Gentleman allow those matters to be worked out in Committee?

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His interventions are always helpful in elucidating matters.

28 Jan 2000 : Column 754

Any Bill--large or small--must surely be given proper consideration on Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman has enormous experience of the House and great respect for it; he must surely agree that six minutes is hardly adequate to get a sense of the views of the House.

The promoter of the Bill showed in her introductory speech that she had been admirably briefed, but unfortunately on this occasion we could not get the full sense of the response of the Minister and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. The Minister, for reasons that I can understand, was not able to give us the Government's fully developed view of the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) did not have time to give the Opposition's fully developed view. That arose quite simply from the fact that the previous business took so long--

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 19 May.

Remaining Private Members' Bill


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 14 April.



(i) put the Questions on any Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Straw relating to Police Grant Reports (England and Wales) not later than Four o'clock; and
(ii) put the Questions on any Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Prescott relating to Local Government (Finance) not later than Seven o'clock.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

28 Jan 2000 : Column 753

28 Jan 2000 : Column 755

Local Deprivation Index

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

2.30 pm

Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham): I am most grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the index of local deprivation in this Adjournment debate. Many hon. Members will be well acquainted with the index, but some Members may be unfamiliar with the detail. Although the niceties of the subject are immensely complicated and enmeshed in highly technical detail, the workings of the index are crucial to local authorities. It has far-reaching implications for local authority finance, and in particular the allocation by central Government and Europe of regeneration and structural funding to local councils.

I shall briefly set out the background to the current position. The index is a statistical means of assessing levels and degrees of social and economic deprivation by local authority area. Its purpose is to identify areas suffering from multiple deprivation while also recognising pockets of intense deprivation in areas of relative affluence.

Several criteria referred to as indicators are assessed, which can be statistically combined to produce an overall figure for each local authority area. Those are then used to rank authorities in order of their overall level of deprivation. The rankings provided by the index are used as the crucial basis for allocating regional and structural funds to local authorities and regeneration partnerships.

Central Government funds such as the single regeneration budget and the new deal for local communities are focused on those areas identified by the index as the most deprived and the same is true of the allocation of European funds, such as objective 2. The designation of health and education action zones also uses ILD rankings.

In the allocation of the 1999 round of SRB funding, more than 80 per cent. of the available resources was allocated to those authorities ranked in the first 65 in the index. In practice, therefore, should a local authority fail to be included in that first batch of 65 councils, its potential for receiving regeneration resources through the key central Government mechanism is strictly limited.

In early 1999, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions commissioned a study by social scientists and academics based at the university of Oxford into how robust a calculation of deprivation the index was, and whether it was possible to revise and improve it to ensure that it reflected the true levels of deprivation. The possible implications of that study are the basis of the grave concern felt by many local authorities throughout the country and by Members of the House, especially those representing urban areas.

The calculations used before the current review were based on 12 indicators, including levels of employment, levels of benefit receipt, mortality information, GCSE pass rates and the quality of housing. The Oxford study has concluded that the new index should be based on 32 indicators, forming six domains. There are several new criteria, in particular centring around geographical access to services, while others, including GCSE results and the cost of living in an area, have now--regrettably,

28 Jan 2000 : Column 756

in my judgment--been removed. There is also a very significant switch in the methodology used to calculate the index.

This is obviously a highly technical and complex matter, but the new methods of calculation would have, among other things, the effect of masking highly deprived areas that already sit uneasily alongside areas of considerable affluence. Although many London authorities would be especially harshly treated by the new proposals, many other regions would also suffer. The special interest group of metropolitan authorities outside London--SIGOMA--has made it clear in its detailed submission that it is very disappointed about the effect of the proposal and has raised concerns about the methodology and the consultation process. In particular, it has called for the complete removal of the geographical access to services domain.

Bradford, Birmingham, Leicester and a number of other metropolitan authorities have also made clear their hostility to the proposals. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will understand it if I concentrate principally on the effect that the proposals would have should they be inflicted on the capital city.

Most alarmingly, six London local authorities--Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster--would be dramatically disadvantaged by being pushed under the key threshold for SRB funding to which I referred earlier, while Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Camden, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth and Waltham Forest would all drop markedly within the proposed index and that would certainly affect their priority for future funds.

The average fall in the index would be 51 places. There were previously 13 London boroughs in the top 20 most deprived authorities in the United Kingdom; now there would only be six. My borough would be especially harshly treated. It would fall from 18th to 68th in the table. Every single ward in my borough would fall in ranking using the new criteria. There were 14 wards in the most deprived 10 per cent. of local government wards and now there would only be two. There were three wards in my borough in the most deprived 1 per cent; under the new proposal there would be none in the top 350.

As I said earlier, the technical detail of the statistical analysis of the data is staggeringly complicated, but it is quite obvious that there are serious flaws in the way that the calculations have been arrived at. Perhaps the most devastating effect on London would be caused by the new weighting given to the geographical access to services domain. It would be devastating--and I would respectfully suggest to the Minister inappropriate--because in urban areas its effect in practice would be to identify the most prosperous, and not the most deprived, areas.

If we were to apply that indicator, which we believe has proved to be especially heavily weighted, to my constituency, it would produce a bizarre and perverse effect. Easily the most affluent ward in my constituency is Palace ward. It is well known to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) because it is where Fulham palace and Fulham football club are located. In that ward, an average four-bedroomed house with a moderate-sized garden will cost a purchaser anything between £500,000 and £1 million; only 9 per cent. of households are in social housing; and only

28 Jan 2000 : Column 757

2 per cent, of the economically active are affected by unemployment. It is not an area that one could really describe as deprived.

Yet Palace ward, which is the least deprived ward in my constituency on every other possible indicator that we might use, would, under the new indicator of geographical access to services, be ranked as the most deprived. In fact, it would be ranked as more deprived even than Broadway ward in central Hammersmith, where unemployment is more than twice the national average and more than 50 per cent. of households live in social housing. In Broadway, crime rates are high and the physical environment is blighted by chronic traffic congestion on major arterial routes. Indeed, it is on every other indicator the most deprived ward in my constituency.

The geographical access domain also appears to be in complete contravention of the criteria set out in the Government's strategy to combat deprivation. SRB round 6 guidance clearly states that more than 80 per cent. of the resources available will go to the 65 top-ranked ILD authorities. The guidance then sets out the following key objectives: first, improving employment prospects, education and skills of local people; secondly, addressing social exclusion and improving opportunities for the disadvantaged; thirdly, promoting sustainable regeneration, improving and protecting environmental infrastructures; fourthly, supporting and promoting growth of local economies; and, fifthly, reducing crime and drug abuse. There is no mention at any point of geographical access as an objective, so how can it possibly be right to use it as the key determinant of who receives more than 80 per cent. of the funding?

It is impossible to calculate why London has lost out so badly. That is why it is imperative that the full underlying data be released now, so that the Association of London Government and other interested parties can commission a full academic analysis of the study. It must surely be contrary to the Government's stated policy of open government any longer to keep those data secret from those who are seriously affected by their use. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance today that the new data will be released without further delay and procrastination on the part of the Government.

If the new index is to be the pivotal element in the allocation of billions of pounds of public money, it is essential that it can be shown to be robust, thorough and fair. Until such time as that can be demonstrated--it clearly cannot be at present--it is also essential that it is not used to allocate regeneration resources. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that there can be no question of using the new index to distribute funds this financial year.

I am bound to say that employing consultants--even ones as eminent as those who were engaged--to produce a piece of work and then to employ them to be the people responsible for the consultation exercise is, at best, a dubious practice. Surely officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should be responsible for that exercise. Will the Minister assure the House that the consultation exercise will be genuine, thorough and independent?

The process and the outcome of the review lack transparency for the following reasons. First, the time scales to respond were absurdly short: for example, the final technical document, which was immensely

28 Jan 2000 : Column 758

complicated, was released without prior notification two days before Christmas, giving local authorities only three weeks to respond--an impossible timetable. Secondly, as I have said, the full underlying data have still not been released, despite repeated requests from the Association of London Government, SIGOMA and others. Thirdly, the outcome is absurdly complex: only vastly experienced trained experts could possibly begin to fathom the detail of the new index. That would appear to represent a total reversal of the policy of simplifying the process of local government funding announced by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions under the standard spending assessment review.

There was much rejoicing in my constituency when the Secretary of State announced last year that Hammersmith and Fulham's bid for the new deal for communities had been successful. I am pleased to report that work has already begun. I look forward to chairing an enthusiastic and imaginative partnership to deliver regeneration to a deeply deprived area of Fulham. However, it would appear that our bid could not have been successful under the new index. I urge and plead with Ministers to take a step back before introducing the new index proposals.

Next Section

IndexHome Page