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Maria Eagle: I have a long-standing interest in animal welfare and have braved the storms that can fly around when a Bill is high enough in the ballot to get time in the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), my Merseyside neighbour, on the way in which she has stuck to her task. She did not have an especially propitious place on the list, being about 20th, so it is even more remarkable, and perhaps lucky, that she has managed to have the Bill considered fully, if succinctly, by the House.
I have followed the proceedings carefully, and I know that my hon. Friend has fully taken on board issues raised by right hon. and hon. Members of all parties and by outside organisations. I offer my good wishes to the Minister, too. I had some contact with him in relation to the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill, and I know how carefully he and his officials consider these matters, trying to help in every way possible.
It is certainly an achievement for my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, having been so low on the ballot, to be the promoter of what may be the last Bill to be considered this Session under the private Member's Bill procedure, as we are running out of time. Anyone who manages to close a loophole that has existed since 1911 has something to be proud of.
I hope and trust that the other place will take note of the consensus here that this is a worthy Bill that will enable those who deal with the animals owned by commercial organisations that are prosecuted for cruelty to ensure either that they are safe and sound or that they are disposed of and their suffering is ended before the court case is over.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) on her luck in the ballot, on rising to this position and on coming through in the final minutes. The Bill closes a loophole in the 1911 Act in a very useful manner. I am thinking in particular, given the other pressures in the countryside, of people looking after ponies and horses who find that they are not profitable, and mistreat them not through malice but through sheer ignorance, because they lack the skills to look after them. I hope that the Bill will work as intended.
Mr. Morley: I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) on her hard work on the Bill. I have been involved in many private Members' Bills since being elected in 1987, and few reach Third Reading. The Bill is a tribute to all those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have worked hard and supported my hon. Friend. We have had the opportunity to deal with the Bill in detail, and interested organisations have been reassured. As with many matters, some organisations and individuals think that such measures should go further, and others are concerned about the provisions as they stand. That is the balance that we always seek to achieve.
I have looked forward to such a measure ever since I became a Minister in 1997. Its importance has been brought home to me, because for the past three years I have had an annual opportunity to attend some of the training courses for the dedicated people in the state veterinary service. Vets have made it clear that some cases involve difficult problems. I am glad that cases of animals being abandoned, abused or not cared for are not that common.
There are many reasons why such abuse takes place. It is sometimes deliberate, sometimes accidental. Sometimes the reasons are to do with health and sometimes they are commercial. Nevertheless, the common factor in every case is that animals are not being cared for and are suffering. In some cases, organisations such as the RSPCA, local authorities, our own vets and, indeed, adjacent farmers--concerned people--have stepped in to feed and care for the animals concerned, but no finances or other resources have been available to assist them. Technically, there was never any right to step in and care for animals.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby rightly said, the Bill will plug the loophole in the Protection of Animals Act 1911. I am sure that all those concerned with animals will warmly welcome the Bill. Some groups said
The Bill has received the support of both sides of the House and has had proper scrutiny. I have tried to explain the mechanics and details of how the measure will be applied, how the value of animals will be taken into account and how people's rights will be recognised under human rights legislation. We have increasingly to take account of how such legislation is applied, to ensure that people are not disadvantaged and that their individual rights are protected, but the welfare of the animal must take precedence.
I am delighted that the Bill has been supported by so many hon. Members with a long-standing interest in animal welfare who have been involved in other animal welfare Bills, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle). They have tried to ensure that the Bill will achieve the results that are so important to them. For all those reasons, I thank all those who have contributed.