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Margaret Beckett: Obviously, the existence of devolution means that a slightly different approach is taken on one or two of these issues, but it is our understanding that there is common ground with the devolved Administrations on the approach that they intend to take. The different ways in which procedures are followed in the various jurisdictions have given rise to the nuances that my hon. Friend has identified.
The Bill applies to all animals under the control of human beings except those used in scientific procedures, which will continue to be subject to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. For the purposes of the
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Bill, the definition of "animal" is restricted to non-human vertebrates, but there is a power to extend this definition to cover invertebrates, should sufficient scientific evidence emerge to demonstrate that they are capable of feeling pain. The classic example, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) a moment ago, is cephalopodsanimals such as octopus and squidwhich could be included if the scientific evidence becomes available to show that they do indeed experience pain. He may know that there is an ongoing European Union review of this matter, as part of a review of the protection given to animals in scientific research. We anticipate that further evidence will be available, and that an assessment will be made, in the near future.
Fish, as vertebrates, are protected by the Bill, which is important not only for the millions of fish kept in ornamental ponds and tanks, but for those farmed under regulated conditions. However, further to the concerns discussed by the Select Committee and to our 2005 rural manifesto commitment on fishing, clause 53 exempts the activity of fishing from cruelty and welfare offences. Anything done by anglers and fishermen in the normal course of fishing is outside the scope of the Bill. Similarlyand again in line with our rural manifestothe Bill will not affect the traditional sport of shooting. Animals shot in the wild, such as pheasants, do not fall within the definition of "protected animal"; nor, when free to roam, do they have a relationship with human beings such that a person could be held responsible for a specific bird. At the time of shooting, these animals are outside the Bill's scope, but it will cover similar animals during any period spent in captivity before their release into the wild.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend seen evidence from Animal Aid, for example, of what appear to be very cruel practices in the rearing of birds for game shooting? They certainly lack the protection given to battery hens, for instance, and there is a strong feeling among many animal charities that something has to be done to give them at least the protection enjoyed by other birds.
Margaret Beckett: We are very aware of the concerns to which my hon. Friend draws attention. We take them very seriously and we are studying this issue to see whether there are steps that we should take.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD):
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Bill clearly defines the point at which the status of birds being reared for game shooting changes, and is she satisfied that there is a clear understanding of the issues related to game rearing, such as the use of cages in certain circumstances? Given that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and other organisations share her concern about the issues raised by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), can she assure us that there will be an opportunity to create an accord, using a code of conduct, that satisfies everybody?
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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and BASC has been extremely helpful. That is exactly the sort of issue that we are considering. I believe that the Bill contains a sufficiently clear definition of the time periods involved, but I have no doubt that that can be explored in Committee. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), is much concerned about the issue, and I know that he will be willing to listen to representations.
The Bill carries over from the Protection of Animals Act 1911 the cruelty offence of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal under the control of humans. In so doing, it retains the substance of the provisions, but simplifies and updates them. For the first time, the Bill imposes a specific statutory ban on mutilations. It then provides for exemptions in secondary legislation to that general ban, so as to permit procedures that are considered necessary for the overall welfare or good management of an animal, such as neutering or ear clipping. The ban and the exemptions will be brought into force together.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): A number of my constituents have expressed to me the view that to take away a dog's tail is to mutilate that animal, as that is like taking away its smile. That view was impressed on me particularly by the owner of a Great Dane-mastiff cross, which I was summoned to see. Many people feel strongly about the matter and I urge my right hon. Friend to consider it again.
Margaret Beckett: I am very conscious indeed that the docking of dogs' tails is a controversial practice. At present, the law permits veterinary surgeons to undertake the operation, and the Government are inclined to support the status quo. However, we appreciate that there are genuine and strongly held views on both sides of the argument. It is our hope and intention that Parliament will decide the issue, and that hon. Members will have the opportunity to express their views during the passage of the Bill.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): I think that hon. Members of all parties very much welcome what the Secretary of State is saying, but I seek clarification about the question of mutilation and neutering. She will know that charities such as the Cats Protection League carry out extensive neutering programmes across the UK in an attempt to control the cat population in a humane way. The Bill does not make the matter clear, but am I right to believe that such operations will still be permitted in the future?
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I very much welcome this Bill, which is long overdue. However, I wish to return to the question of the docking of dogs' tails. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the House will have the opportunity to debate this very controversial issue in detail, as well as the use of collars that give dogs electric shocks? We need to put an end to such barbaric practices.
I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that I fully anticipate that the matter will be
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aired extensively in Committee. As a result, it may be that a general common ground will emerge as a result. If not, the normal course of scrutiny of the Bill will give the House an opportunity to express its view.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and her team for bringing forward this Bill, which is welcomed by hon. Members of all parties, and by animal lovers throughout the country. Does she agree that it would be appropriate for all parties to allow a free vote on the issue of the docking of dogs' tails, so that the will of Parliament can be made clear?
Margaret Beckett: Obviously, that will be a matter for the parliamentary authorities as the Bill goes through the House. However, I doubt that any group will take the view that the issue has a party-political edge, given the genuine and strongly held views on both sides of the argument. No doubt those views will become clear as the Bill is discussed.
Mr. Pelling: I thank the Secretary of State and hope that she will forgive me for mentioning tail-docking for a final time. Does she think that it might benefit the debate to distinguish between the docking of tails for cosmetic effect and the use of docking for working dogs?
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, which goes to the heart of many of the concerns that have been aired. I have no doubt that that issue will be considered in depth during the Bill's passage.
The new provisions on welfare in clauses 8 to 10 are at the heart of the legislation. The House will be aware of, and regret, the fact that between 750 and 1,000 people are prosecuted every year for causing unnecessary suffering to captive or domestic animals. However, there are cases where, although animals are perhaps not yet suffering, their welfare needs are not being met. Action in such circumstances can currently be taken only against owners of farm livestock. For other captive and domestic animals, the owner can only be invited to take action. The Bill addresses that anomaly by laying a general duty on a person to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he or she is responsible are met, to the extent required by good practice. To comply with that duty, owners and keepers will need to understand their responsibilities and take all reasonable steps to provide for the needs of their animals.
There are already many sources of information available to help owners and keepers understand how to look after their animals. The Government will try to help further by producing codes of practice under clause 12, similar to those already widely used for farm animals. In line with undertakings I gave earlier, all such codes will be subject to public consultation and appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.
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It is a principle of the Bill that responsibility for animals must lie with adults. For that reason, the Bill makes it clear that parents or guardians are responsible in law for the treatment of their children's animals. The Bill also raises the minimum age at which children can buy pets from 12 to 16 years. Consistent with that approach, clause 9 prevents anyone from giving an animal as a prize to a child under 16 years, unless the child is accompanied by an adult. These provisions will not prevent children from keeping or looking after pets, or from actively learning about the husbandry of animals. Indeed, responsible care and stewardship of animals can be an important aspect of the education of children, but the Bill will ensure that a responsible adult makes the decision about the keeping of a pet.
Under clause 10, we have provided powers to make regulations to promote the welfare of animals. These powers will enable us to flesh out, where necessary, the general duty contained in clause 8. Again, they mirror and extend existing provisions for farm livestock. The Bill also gives powers to make licensing or registration schemes.
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