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Mr. Maclean: The points that the Minister made are entirely reasonable. When the debate is over and the Bill progresses, and representatives of the Pet Care Trust--or any other organisation that has anxieties--visit the Minister, and he has the opportunity to explain matters to them, they will probably be satisfied. As the Minister has satisfied me today, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
'and "keeper" means the person against whom the proceedings were brought with care and control of the animal'.
Mr. Dismore: I shall speak briefly because the amendments make the same point. I am worried about the absentee landlord. What happens if it is difficult to track down the owners of the animals when they are being looked after by someone else? It is easy to envisage circumstances in which someone might say, "Well, they're not mine; they belong X or Y." Similar problems can occur with motoring legislation; measures sometimes refer to the "owner or keeper" of a vehicle. Such problems have also arisen with licensing legislation, and some measures consider who looks after a shop rather than who owns it. People can use all sorts of devices to avoid responsibility if legislation refers simply to "the owner". I have tabled the amendment to probe the Government's views and ascertain the way in which the lacuna can be tackled.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point, and the Government have no objection to the main thrust of his argument. There is a slight drafting problem with the definition of "keeper" in amendment No. 25. It could be confusing and is therefore unacceptable. There is nothing wrong with the principle, which is a matter for the promoter. However, parliamentary time is limited and the amendment would not add a great deal to the Bill, although there is nothing wrong with my hon. Friend's suggestion.
The Bill places an obligation on registered keepers to produce the relevant documents. If they do not, they are committing an offence. If someone was trying to be obstructive, the court would take action against that person. If we had more time, we could consider amendment No. 21 favourably. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas)
Mr. Dismore: I am grateful for that assurance. As my hon. Friend the Minister accepts the principle but questions the wording of the amendment, it might be picked up in another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I am delighted and relieved that hon. Members from all parties have decided to support the Bill. I thank all hon. Members who have been actively involved in all stages and have engaged, through discussion and in writing, with officers and servants of the House, the general public and animal welfare organisations. They have also been kind enough to provide advice and extensive support to me.
My Bill is a sensible development of existing animal welfare legislation. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) said that the purpose of a private Member's Bill was to fill loopholes in existing law. That is precisely what I am seeking to do.
My Bill will fill a loophole in the Protection of Animals Act 1911. It will allow those prosecuting cases of cruelty under the Act to apply to a court for a care order to protect the animals concerned. That is important. At the moment, animals that are the subject of cruelty or neglect proceedings can be left to suffer while the law takes its course.
I recognise that there are limited powers in the 1911 Act to allow police constables to intervene in such cases, but, as hon. Members recognised during earlier stages of our discussions, such an arrangement is hardly suitable for the 21st century. So my Bill will put right that anomaly and ensure that, where necessary, it is possible to act much more quickly in the interests of animals.
My Bill will provide proper, much needed protection for animals. In promoting it, I am conscious of the fact that for some 200 years the House has concerned itself with providing legislative protection for animals. It is right that we maintain that responsibility by continuing to improve and update the legislation.
Of course hon. Members have, properly, been concerned about the rights of individuals. I am very much aware of the need to ensure that the rights of the owners of animals are protected, and my Bill is carefully crafted to reflect that. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, the Bill balances the need to improve the protection afforded to animals in the 1911 Act with our obligation to respect the rights of individuals, particularly in the context of the European convention on human rights.
I do not want to detain the House unduly, but I wish to make one final point. I have received representations--indeed, we have heard this point during the discussions on amendments--that we need new law to cover not just animals kept for a commercial purpose, but pets kept in people's homes.
I recognise that there are huge numbers of pet animals in this country, and I am sure that although the vast majority are properly looked after by caring owners, welfare problems may arise. My Bill, however, is not the vehicle to address that issue.
I am well aware of the need to ensure that my Bill remains closely targeted. To amend it to cover the keeping of pets would vastly extend its scope, and would raise serious questions about the impact that that would have on the individual rights of owners.
I am therefore clear that the wider issue needs to be addressed another day. The very specific amendment that I wish to make to the 1911 Act is the limit of my ambition, and will address the significant concerns of animal welfare organisations and the millions of people in this country, and the thousands of people in my constituency, who care passionately about the welfare and well-being of animals.
Mr. Maclean: I congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) on getting the Bill to this stage. I hope that it will receive a Third Reading and proceed to another place. I caution Labour Members against asking for amendments in another place. That would not be wise if the hon. Lady's Bill is to be successful.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) sends his apologies. He will be back in the Chamber in a few minutes. He has been in his place for almost exactly five hours, and I think that at this moment he is giving commercial business to Mr. Heinz and his beans--on toast. My right hon. Friend is a modest eater.
My right hon. Friend was right to say that this is a perfect measure for a private Member's Bill. It is modest in scope, but it makes an important change. The hon. Lady is to be congratulated on the way in which she has piloted it through the House. I also congratulate the Minister on the style that he has adopted at the Dispatch Box today. We did not have much time, but we dealt with the important issues. I am grateful to him for having a word with me beforehand on the amendments that I passed to him for consideration.
When a Bill has almost reached Report stage, there is always some organisation that suddenly discovers something about it that it wants to change, but by then it is often too late. My appeal to organisations such as the RSPCA and other single-issue pressure groups is, for goodness' sake, consult the other organisations. I am not sure whether the RSPCA consulted the Pet Care Trust or the International League for the Protection of Horses, which wrote to me, but it is my experience that it has
Sometimes the other organisations have legitimate points, and I am glad that the Minister promised that he would meet them and try to reassure them. If we took on board their concerns today, we would wreck the Bill. Perhaps the Bill needs some improvement, but it does not deserve to be wrecked, because it will do good. I appeal to those who may be involved in private Members' Bills in future: please, please consult all the other organisations and try to get them on board. It makes life easier and avoids the position whereby we cannot take a valid point on board because, by the nature of our procedures, we would end up destroying the Bill.