Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12 Feb 2003 : Column 867—continued

Points of Order

12.30 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during the urgent question, the Minister of State for the armed forces imputed to me opinions that I do not hold and actions that I have not executed. He used the word "Friends" to imply that I had opposed military action in Afghanistan whereas, in fact, I had supported it. He then impertinently reminded me that I supported the Government and had stood on that manifesto. Neither I nor any Labour candidate stood on a manifesto that committed this country to a pre-emptive strike against Iraq with or without a mandate from the United Nations.

I raise those issues out of respect for you, Mr. Speaker, and the House and, indeed, as a duty to my constituents to set the record straight. Equally, the Official Report implies that from a sedentary position I said that I was not proud of my party. I am very proud of my party; it is my Government of whom I am ashamed—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not a matter for the Chair, but the hon. Lady has been able to put the record straight.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is making a point of order. Hon. Members should be quiet when they leave the Chamber.

Mr. Letwin: In the light of the remarks made in the past hour by the chairman of the Labour party that the current terrorist threat is the most serious to have affected this country, will you, Mr. Speaker, consider granting some form of parliamentary occasion to enable us to receive a statement from the Government on the assessment that they make, on a considered basis, of that very serious threat? We wholly agree that it is a

12 Feb 2003 : Column 868

serious threat. The House of Commons must surely be the place in which such statements should be made, rather than on the airwaves.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be appropriate for an hon. Member to move a Standing Order No. 24? The matter is urgent and specific, and it requires parliamentary debate. If you would be kind enough, I would be glad to move that exceptionally briefly so that you could grant it.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully support the request made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). May we have an opportunity to debate that national issue separate from the international issues in an extensive half-day or whole-day debate, ideally in Government time, within the next week in the context of security in the United Kingdom at the moment?

Mr. Speaker: What I would say to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is that a Standing Order No. 24 cannot be moved. It must go before the Speaker prior to the House sitting and therefore cannot be done today. I say to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that I understand that a briefing on security was recently given on a very private basis. Both are privy to information—

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): What about the rest of us?

Mr. Speaker: I merely state the fact that briefings have been given just in case someone does not know about them. I am concerned to ensure that the rest of the House is informed of that.

I do not have the necessary powers for today, but the usual channels are available to hon. Members. It should be possible to pursue the matter to see whether a statement can be made to the House. It is for Ministers to make that statement and to approach me on the matter.

12 Feb 2003 : Column 867

12 Feb 2003 : Column 869

Animals (Electric Shock Collars)

12.35 pm

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): I beg to move,

In 1996, I presented a Bill to the House with the aim of banning the manufacture, sale and use of electric shock dog collars. It was identical to the present Bill save for the fact that it referred only to dogs, whereas the new Bill refers to collars used on any animal. The reason for the change is simply that there was a loophole in my original Bill. Banning the manufacture or sale of equipment for use on dogs alone is pointless, because it would be virtually impossible to prove that the equipment had not been intended for use on, say, cats or animals of a similar size. That may be why, sadly, my original Bill was never passed. Having removed the loophole, however, I hope that the House will now see fit to give me leave to introduce the new Bill.

Electric shock collars were first drawn to my attention by one of my constituents, who was horrified to see them advertised in a local magazine. There are two basic types, both of which depend on the animal wearing a collar to which a battery is attached. When the battery is switched on, the animal is given an electric shock. In one type, the battery is switched on by remote control, and is intended to be used when the animal is being trained. When it does something that the user of the equipment wishes to discourage, the user activates the remote control and the pain experienced by the animal is expected to persuade it not to repeat the unwanted behaviour—in other words, it is a basic form of aversion therapy.In the other type, a wire is laid in the ground around an area within which the animal is to be restrained, such as the owner's garden. A current in the wire activates the shock collar whenever the animal goes too close to the edge of the area. The idea is that the animal learns, again by a basic form of aversion therapy, to stay well within the constraining area without the need for erecting tall fences around the property.

The equipment should be banned because there is obviously inherent cruelty in using pain to discourage unwanted behaviour when one could and should be using rewards to encourage good behaviour. All the animal agencies agree that all dogs can be trained by using positive encouragement if training is correctly carried out from the beginning. Moreover, even if a dog has been poorly trained, and has learnt bad habits that prove difficult to eradicate, alternative equipment is on the market, for example citronella spray collars, which can be used to break bad habits without causing the animal physical pain. Such collars work by emitting a lemon-flavoured spray instead of an electric shock when the unwanted behaviour is exhibited.

The fact of the matter is that electric shock equipment is used mainly by those who simply cannot be bothered, or do not have the patience, to train a dog properly with the use of rewards, and are prepared to inflict pain in the hope that it will prove a short cut to good behaviour. Let me make it clear that I have no doubt that the equipment can be at least superficially effective. There is, however, considerable evidence that the electric shock collars,

12 Feb 2003 : Column 870

even when used as intended, can have unfortunate side effects. In the magazine PetDogs, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors said:

There is a recorded example of one dog, which, when its collar was first activated, panicked and ran for home across a number of dangerous roads. After a further visit to the same spot on Wimbledon common, the dog again bolted and was missing for a week. A Dutch study by Dr. Joanna Van Der Borg compared dogs trained using electric shock collars with dogs trained using more conventional methods. The shocked dogs showed persistent and long-term behaviour differences that indicated that they were under stress and in fear.

It is not just a case of those collars being unnecessarily cruel and potentially damaging when used as intended. The case for a ban is far stronger, because the greatest danger for the animals arises when the equipment is either misused or malfunctions in some way. Misuse can be unintentional or the result of a fit of anger at a dog's refusal to comply with the owner's attempt to train it, or it can even happen, perish the thought, at the hands of sadists. In one case, for example, a dog developed an irrational fear of returning home after dark. It was eventually found that the dog had been shut up overnight in a room, half of which was sufficiently close to the electric wire surrounding the property to activate its electric collar. Perhaps, come to think of it, that is not such an irrational fear.

Other cases include those of dogs that have been brought to vets with severe neck burns. Of course, it is always claimed that such injuries are the result of a malfunction of the collar rather than deliberate mistreatment. One inevitable cause of malfunction is that the electrical properties of an animal's neck are affected by how wet it is. An animal that suddenly runs off through long grass that is wet, or is simply out on a rainy day, may experience from its collar a level of pain different from that which would be felt by a dry animal.

Those who support the use of shock collars often challenge opponents to feel a collar when it is activated so that they can experience how slight the shock is, but a study by Ewan Ferguson, a specialist in veterinary dermatology on behalf of the National Canine Defence League, has shown that an animal's coat of fur provides a significant degree of physical protection. As a result, the epidermis of normal canine skin is significantly thinner than that of human skin—a fact that I certainly would not have known until I did some research on the matter. Indeed, I do not suppose that most hon. Members were aware of it. Moreover, an animal's sweat glands work in an entirely different way, so that the level of humidity of its skin, even when it has not been near an external source of water, is very unpredictable. For all those reasons, there is considerable danger that an animal may suffer a great deal more pain from its collar than the owner intends or even realises because of circumstances over which the owner may have little or no control.

So what can we do about the problem? When the matter was first brought to my attention, it was immediately clear that no Government would be

12 Feb 2003 : Column 871

prepared to ban such equipment if they were using it themselves. I therefore asked some parliamentary questions about the use of shock collars in the public services. To my horror, I discovered that, although most public services were not using such equipment and had no intention of ever doing so, the Prison Service owned such a collar and had used it, as had several of our police forces.

Happily, my investigations rapidly led the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the then Home Office Minister with responsibility for such matters—I am happy to see her in her place today; if I may say so, she is well known for her support for animal welfare—to ensure that the equipment was never used again by the Prison Service. Moreover, after the Labour Government took office, to their credit, they ensured that prison regulations were changed to ban the use of electric collars. Meanwhile, further pressure from me and a number of animal charities and welfare organisations soon led the Association of Chief Police Officers to decide to end the use of the collars by the police.

I therefore believe that no public bodies still make any use of that horrible equipment. Perhaps as a result, a Bill to ban the manufacture, sale and use of electric collars now has very widespread support. For example, as hon. Members will see if the House gives me leave to bring in the Bill, it already has supporters from five political parties represented in the House, including the three major national parties. It is also supported by the all-party group on animal welfare and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which both alerted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to their views in their submissions to the recent consultation on a potential new animal welfare Bill. The dog legislation advisory group, which includes representatives not only from the RSPCA, but from the Kennel Club, the National Canine Defence League and the Blue Cross, is also very supportive, as are a number of animal welfare charities, such as the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals and a large number of specialist pet care magazines.

I do not pretend that the Bill is of earth-shattering proportions or that it will change the fate of nations, but it is simple and straightforward and has the potential to improve animal welfare and prevent much suffering. Given the level of support that it has received from all those who know and care about animals, I trust and hope that I can count on the support of all hon. Members this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Rendel, Mr. Roger Williams, Bob Russell, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Dr. Nick Palmer, Mr. Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Lady Hermon, Mr. Nigel Jones, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Keith Bradley and Miss Ann Widdecombe.

Next Section

IndexHome Page