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Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. In his helpful intervention, he pointed out that the motion is tabled in the name of none other than the Leader of the House. I have no criticism of the Leader of the House--

It being 10 o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to Committees.


European Security

    That Mr. Paul Truswell be discharged from the Environmental Audit Committee and Christine Russell be added to the Committee.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

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Animals (Government Policy Co-ordination)

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

10 pm

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I am grateful to the House for allowing me this opportunity to debate what is a very important issue. I am pleased that the rules of the House protect a slot such as this from the time-wasting piffle of the past 25 minutes.

In my office, we took side bets about which Minister would respond to this debate. I was successful in anticipating that it would be the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. However, that shows that there is considerable doubt, even among those interested in these matters, about who is co-ordinating animal policy for the Government--assuming that someone is. Had I known which Minister was to reply to the debate I would have given details of the points that I intended to raise. However, I hope that the Minister read my helpful article in the Daily Express today, in which I was particularly kind about him.

I wish to draw to the House's attention the lack of co-ordination between Departments on animal issues. I shall also query the Government's commitment to those issues, especially their use of private Member's Bills rather than Government Bills for legislation. Finally, I shall give credit where it is due for the steps that the Government have taken since they came to office.

I mentioned the lack of co-ordination between Departments. It is not clear whether animal issues are dealt with centrally or departmentally. The Home Office might deal with animal experiments, or hunting; the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions might deal with non-domestic wildlife, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food might deal with farm animals. The Department of Trade and Industry is interested in animal issues in connection with its negotiations with the World Trade Organisation. The Department of Health is interested in xenotransplantation and related matters. The regional Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also take an interest, while the Ministry of Defence has its own slaughterhouse in Aldershot and runs particularly nasty experiments at Porton Down. That list shows that the Government's response to animal issues is not co-ordinated.

The Minister may say that such criticism is all very well but that there is no problem because each Department knows what it is doing. However, last month I tabled a question on zoo licensing. My question was directed to the Home Office, but I received a letter from the parliamentary branch of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which stated:

That demonstrates that questions can rattle around between Departments, with no one certain about who is responsible. I am pleased that I identified the Department most likely to be able to answer my questions when I went to the Table Office, but the problem is not unusual.

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On several occasions, I have drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister the need, because of the departmental spread of responsibility, to co-ordinate Government policy on animal issues. On 2 February, I tabled the following written question:

The response from the Prime Minister was:

    "Ministers with responsibilities for animal welfare are actively considering what new arrangements may be needed for interdepartmental co-ordination on animal welfare policies and their presentation. An announcement will be made as soon as possible."--[Official Report, 2 February 1998; Vol. 305, c. 476W.]

I asked a question pursuant to that on 22 June. The Prime Minister replied that an announcement would be made "as soon as possible". On 31 July 1998, I asked a question in relation to the performance and innovation unit of the Cabinet Office. The reply was that information about animal welfare would be announced "in the autumn".

In July 1999, I asked the Prime Minister why no announcement had yet been made in respect of the co-ordination within the Government of animal welfare policies, when he expected to make such an announcement and if he would make a statement. The right hon. Gentleman replied:

I then asked on 2 November if the group had been established, what its membership was and so on. I was told that work was under way and that an announcement would be made "shortly".

We have had five or six announcements from the Prime Minister--all promising action "as soon as possible" or "shortly". I am not yet aware of any action that has been taken. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has now asked the Prime Minister about the interdepartmental ministerial group. The answer from the Prime Minister was that an announcement will be made "as soon as possible". We do not seem to have made much progress on co-ordination--despite the fact that the Prime Minister apparently recognises the need for it--in the two years since I raised the issue.

Given the wide spread of responsibilities and the commitment that the Labour party made before the election, this matter should be a priority. It stands out like a sore thumb as needing action. This is not joined-up government.

I am not the only one who is raising this issue. The RSPCA wrote to me this morning to say:

I hope that the case has been proven that there is a need for more co-ordination. How can an animal welfare policy run smoothly and effectively if Departments do not know their respective responsibilities and are seen to be not co-ordinating?

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I wish to query the Government's commitment to animal issues in a number of respects. My theory is that legislation on animal issues nearly always--there are exceptions, such as the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill this Session--seems to be relegated to Back-Bench Bills. There have been 12 such Bills over the previous two Sessions, only two of which have become law. Of course those Bills are easily sabotaged by Members such as those who contributed to the previous debates.

In particular, I wish to refer to the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill. On 28 November 1997, Members of this House voted by 411 to 151 in favour of that excellent Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), which was supported not simply by Members of this House but by the public at large. Even a poll in The Daily Telegraph showed that 78 per cent. of the public were opposed to fox hunting. However, the Bill was lost because Ministers insisted that it should be dealt with as a private Member's Bill. Many Bills that have support in this House are stopped and stymied as a consequence of that decision.

If Labour is committed to banning hunting--as it said in its pre-election literature--why is it insisting on using private Members' Bills? Why is animal legislation--unlike almost everything else in this House--dealt with predominately by private Members' Bills? Why is it not dealt with by Government legislation? I hope that the Bill on fur farming in this Session means that that trend has been broken.

I want to ask the Minister which of the pledges in Labour's pre-election document on the matter have been unmet. The document has a fox on the front, implying that we will have a ban on hunting this Parliament. If we do not, I should perhaps take up that matter wearing my consumer affairs hat.

The document says that Labour will ensure that animals are used only when it is essential for medical and other scientific requirements. Yet Home Office statistics indicate that although almost 2.7 million experiments were carried out on living creatures, only 468,000 were required to be carried out to comply with legislation. The others were not necessary. Can that be justified?

The Labour party also said:

I admit that some progress has been made on animal experiments, and I will come to that, but some very unpleasant experiments are still being conducted. I refer in particular to those undertaken by the Ministry of Defence. I do not know how far it follows the same procedures as the Home Office.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society booklet dated May to August 1999 contains a description of a particularly nasty experiment with goats under water--undertaken with the consent, no doubt, of the Ministry of Defence or the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. The booklet says:

This is an approved experiment which is still being carried out, for reasons which are at best dubious.

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I accept that the Government have increased the number of inspectors in this area--but only from 18 to 21, which is not a particularly large increase. The Labour leaflet also said:

to look at animal experiments. Yet within two or three months of coming to office, the then Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) said:

    "We do not consider that a royal commission on the use of animals in experiments is necessary at this time."--[Official Report, 30 June 1997; Vol. 297, c. 259.]

It did not take long for that pledge to disappear.

In an answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled, Ministry of Defence figures indicated that over-breeding of animals destined for experiments is running at about 80 to 85 per cent. Much more needs to be done about animal experimentation.

We know about the appalling cruelty inflicted on captive animals in the Mary Chipperfield case. We know from the parliamentary all-party animal welfare group of the loopholes in the law that allow circuses to be effectively exempt from the zoo licensing legislation, and the problems that occur as a consequence. We know that winter quarters are exempt. Yet there has been no Government action to deal with these problems.

The Labour document says:

That is perfectly true, but it implies that the Labour party would ban them. The Government criticise other parties, but although they may have tightened up conditions on export, the trade continues. I am not saying that live exports can be banned, but that the pre-election leaflet contains a misleading statement.

Consumers should be given more information to enable them to make proper choices. I recently tabled a question on labelling, which was answered by the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I asked if the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would prohibit the description "farm fresh eggs" from being used to describe those originally from battery systems. The answer, briefly, was no. Yet last Sunday the Sunday Express published a poll which showed that a quarter of those polled thought, wrongly, that farm fresh eggs meant free range, when normally it means eggs from battery hens--the very opposite of free range. Only 45 per cent. of those polled correctly said that the term meant nothing in particular. So the labelling is not effective in allowing people to make proper choices on grounds of animal welfare. The Government can and should sort that out; I cannot understand why they have not.

There are proven cases of abuse in animal sanctuaries. They are a legal loophole, effectively exempt from proper controls. No one who runs a sanctuary requires inspection or a licence. After I wrote to the Home Office to ask whether the Government would require operators of animal sanctuaries to be licensed, a Minister replied, to put it briefly, no. The RSPCA has highlighted the example of an animal sanctuary in Crewe where 140 dead or decomposing animals were found this year. Yet no crime had been committed, except under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which provides a fall-back position.

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Pet shops are also inadequately controlled by the Government. The RSPCA noted a record 68 cruelty convictions over the past year against pet shops. There were only 26 in the previous year. The RSPCA has called for tighter action. An article in The Times two weeks ago--my cuttings are all recent--was headlined "Pet chain staff brutally killed sick animals", and the Minister will be as horrified as I was by that. Tighter regulation is required.

I do not want to be entirely negative. The Government have taken steps, and they have tried hard on farm animals by pushing through controls on battery hens. The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 was a private Member's Bill that received their support. They have rightly maintained a hard line on whaling. They have acted correctly over animal experiments, and have pushed the sentient beings aspect of the treaty of Rome. They are also reducing fur farming, moving towards the end of lethal dose 50 testing and outlawing cosmetic testing and the use of certain species.

It would be wrong to say that the Government have done nothing. However, they have not lived up to the promises made in their own leaflet, which was well received before the election and which was written by the Minister himself. The action taken has been too little, too infrequent, too unimportant and too disjointed. If the Government would co-ordinate animal welfare policy better, we might have better and quicker legislation which would be to their credit.

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