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1.15 pm

Mr. Mullin: I am pleased to support the motion that the Bill be read the Third time. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on piloting the Bill with such skill, common sense and patience. I thank everyone associated with the Bill. In particular, I acknowledge the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who was here until a moment ago. He has taken a long-term interest in the issue.

Tackling fuel poverty is a priority for this Government. The Bill will help us to carry forward our work in tackling it in England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) asked about Scotland. My Department already co-operates with officials from Scotland, and we shall gladly continue to do so if our help is required. I am sure that the Scots take the issue at least as seriously as we do in England, not least because their weather is somewhat harsher than ours.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) asked whether I stood by what I said in the debate on the money resolution--that the Bill by itself is unlikely to impose an additional charge on public funds. I do stand by that. The Bill will help us to focus attention on what everyone agrees is a very serious problem. It will speed up the way in which we address the problem, and oblige us to set a timetable and a strategy that will make that problem easier to deal with. That is the Bill's strength. Much money is already being spent on combating fuel poverty, but the Bill by itself does not commit us to further funding. We are already spending a great deal on such matters.

Mr. Forth: In that sense, anyone who claims that many extra homes will be heated because of the Bill is obviously not correct.

Mr. Mullin: A good deal of work is already under way, and many extra homes will continue to be heated. My hon. Friends the Members for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) and for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin) referred to some of the work that the Government have already done or have under way. The best known example is the new home energy efficiency scheme, which provides comprehensive packages of heating and insulation improvements to the households most at risk from cold-related ill health--those of the elderly, families on low incomes and the chronically sick. In England, the scheme has cost £260 million in its first two years and is likely to help 460,000 households. Serious money is being spent on a serious problem.

In addition, the Government are spending record sums on tackling the backlog of renovation work needed in social housing. That will provide the opportunity to make a significant impact on tackling fuel poverty. We have increased the winter fuel payments for pensioners by 400 per cent. All these matters--and there are others, too--are relevant to the Government's serious effort to tackle fuel poverty.

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I hope that the Government's stance today confirms again that we are serious about the issue. We have shown that we are willing to compromise on the Bill, which we hope becomes law. It demonstrates the constructive and sensible way in which all parties have approached this issue, and that co-operation, for a worthwhile and valuable cause, is gratifying. The Bill will now pass to another place for further consideration in a clear and concise form. I wish it well, and I look forward to its taking its rightful place on the statute book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Protection of Animals (Amendment) Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Application of Act

1.26 pm

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 1, line 6, leave out from "person" to "(referred".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 28, in page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (3).

No. 10, in page 1, line 18, after "department", insert "or agency".

No. 11, in page 1, line 20, after "person", insert--

'with such experience, training or qualifications as may be prescribed and'.

No. 12, in page 1, line 24, after "person", insert--

'with such experience, training or qualifications as may be prescribed and'.

No. 30, in page 1, line 27, at end insert--

'(g) any person having laid an information in the magistrates' court.'.

No. 2, in page 1, line 27, at end insert--

'(4) The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shall only enter into agreements in accordance with subsection (3)(e) or (f) with individuals whose names for the time being appear on a register, kept by him for the purpose, of qualified veterinary surgeons who have satisfied him that they have the appropriate experience to act as prosecutors in accordance with this Act.'.

No. 29, in clause 5, page 4, leave out line 3.

Maria Eagle: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), the promoter of the Bill, and assure her that I wish her Bill well and am not intending to prevent it from proceeding. However, I have some concerns in respect of prosecutors, what they do and who they will be.

I have a long-standing interest in animal welfare and have promoted Bills on that subject in this place. I congratulate my hon. Friend also on spotting and seeking to put right a long-standing loophole in animal welfare legislation which appears to have existed since 1911 and which the House is at last getting round to putting right. I mean no ill to her Bill.

Amendment No. 27 is consequential upon amendment No. 28, as is amendment No. 29. The House may detect that amendment No. 28 is the significant one in the group. Amendment No. 28 would leave out clause 1(3), which defines prosecutors in relation to the Bill. Given the purposes of the Bill, it is important that prosecutors are defined.

Clause 1(1)(a) states that someone will be able to make use of the provisions only if they are mentioned in subsection (3), referred to as "the prosecutor". In subsection (3), we see those who are allowed to make use of the provisions in the Bill. In paragraphs (a) and (b), we are told that they are the Director of Public Prosecutions or a Crown prosecutor; effectively, that means the state

21 Jul 2000 : Column 711

or the Crown Prosecution Service. In paragraphs (c) and (d), we are dealing with private prosecutors such as Government Departments or local authorities--again, people who normally prosecute in our criminal courts and have statutory powers to do so.

In paragraphs (e) and (f), however, we see some strange provisions which I, as a former private prosector, have not come across before. Perhaps my experience as a private prosecutor was not sufficiently long or extensive for me to have seen such a provision before--or perhaps it did not cover as wide a range of subjects as it might have done. The Minister or the Bill's promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), will no doubt be able to tell me whether I have this completely wrong and whether this is a standard procedure.

Paragraph (e) states that a prosecutor is, in relation to a prosecution in England,

That appears to be almost like licensing private prosecutors. It is a strange concept, and not one that I have come across before. Paragraph (f) makes a similar provision for Wales, and is substantially the same.

The provisions excited my interest because they seemed unprecedented. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I thought that they might have their origin in the Protection of Animals Act 1911, so I looked at that. It seems to me, from my reading of Halsbury statutes, that the 1911 Act enables any person to prosecute. It seems from clause 1(1) that the Bill is intent not on licensing certain organisations by written agreement to prosecute cruelty offences, but on licensing certain people by written agreement to use the provisions that close the loophole.

It seems that any person will still be able to prosecute for cruelty under the 1911 Act, but under this Bill, any person would not be able to prosecute unless they were a state prosecutor, a local authority prosecutor--a private prosecutor, in other words--or had a written agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is strange, when we are attempting to use a piece of legislation to get rid of a loophole, that the people who will be allowed to prosecute and to use the new provisions are different from those who are allowed to prosecute for cruelty in the first place.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): Given my hon. Friend's knowledge of these matters, has she had an opportunity to talk to the Law Society about its views on whether the provisions would compromise the usual role of the legal profession?

Maria Eagle: I am not necessarily against compromising the usual role of the legal profession. I certainly would not ask the Law Society for its views. The Law Society tends to write to me, because I am on its list of lawyers; it sends me unsolicited mail, which is always interesting. However, the Law Society would not be the first body that I would turn to--I normally turn to my own experience and, as it happens, I do have some experience as a private prosecutor. That is why I became alerted to these provisions.

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I thought that the explanatory notes might assist me about why the discrepancy exists. Paragraph 5 on page 2 states:

I call it an interim order; it is an order before a conviction rather than at the end of a case--

There is a clear intention that any person who does not fit into that category is to be excluded from using these provisions but is not to be excluded from being able to prosecute for cruelty.

I then thought that the Committee stage might be a good place to look to establish whether anyone else had thought the provisions somewhat strange. I had a look at the proceedings of Standing Committee C for 21 June. I am not, I am glad to say, the only person to hold this opinion. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who is in his place as always on a Friday, had also tabled amendments that sought to probe what my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was getting at with these provisions. He said of the provision in paragraphs (e) and (f):

My concern is the opposite: I believe that the provision does not allow enough people to act as prosecutors. He wants only certain people to prosecute, but it has always been the case that anyone can, and I shall seek to persuade him that that should remain so.

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