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Mr. Martlew: The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) just intervened to make a point about the internet, which would not, of course, have been the subject of an intervention 10 years ago. The framing of the Bill means that we will be able to deal with new developments through secondary legislation.
Mr. Ainsworth: That is a fair point. I fully understand the need for flexibility and I am sympathetic to that, as I have just said, but there are issues arising from the Bill's structure, and they are of concern not only here in Parliament but to all those whose lives and livelihoods, duties and responsibilities are likely to be affected by the regulations and codes of practice at a later date.
Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman is talking about those who will be affected by the proposed legislation. Sadly, some animal cruelty will continue and there are likely to be criminal prosecutions. Does he share my surprise that it is difficult to find in the explanatory notes any trace of a legal aid impact assessment, which is supposed to be provided with all Government Bills now?
Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman has sharp eyes; they are sharper than mine. I take his word for it. I have no doubt that it is something that the Secretary of State will have noted in the appropriate way.
I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree with some of the points that I have been making about the unsatisfactory nature of not knowing what the detail of the Bill will involve when it becomes reality for people in the community. For example, in her interview with Sarah Montague on "Today" this morning, she might have felt slightly easier about answering questions to do with circus animals if the Bill had been structured slightly differently and if the draft regulations had been available. My view is that the Bill is less than ideal, but I have no doubt that the Secretary of State would argue that it is the only practical way to proceed without overloading the Bill.
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Among the questions that remain unanswered is the question of what will be exempt by regulation 5(4) from the general ban on mutilation. The timing of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is impeccable. For example, the regulatory impact assessment, as ever the best source of information on the Bill, states, in the context of discussions about the draft Bill:
That suggests to me that the Government are in favour of allowing the cosmetic tail docking of dogs to continue as now. I think that the Secretary of State made that point earlier. I say to my right hon. Friend that if the matter arises in Committee or subsequently on the Floor of the House, my right hon. and hon. Friends will certainly be offered a free vote on the matter and on many of the other issues that are likely to arise in consideration of the Bill.
There are plenty of other ambiguities and loose ends in the Bill that merit further scrutiny. I shall flag up just a few. There is the question of whether wing pinioning of birds should be exempt from the mutilation provision. There is the issue of whether a bird reared for game shooting remains the responsibility of its previous keeper after its release into the wild. I heard what the Secretary of State said earlier about that, and found that welcome. However, there are ambiguities in the text of the Bill.
There is the use of the phrase "good practice" in clause 8, which the RSPCA believes may give rise to lengthy arguments in court. There is the question of whether it should be necessary for authorities to obtain a warrant before entering private premises in the case of an obvious emergency. There is the role of the police, who have questioned whether they should be involved except in cases of serious cruelty. We all know that local authorities are already overstretched. Will they have the funds and expertise to carry out their expanded duties under the Bill? I know that these are details but they are important. It is unfortunate that it appears that many of them will not be resolved by the time that the Bill completes its passage through both Houses of Parliament.
Mr. Martlew: The hon. Gentleman refers to ambiguities. The new leader of the Conservative party has said that he will bring back hare coursing, stag hunting and fox hunting. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his leader?
Mr. Ainsworth: I am not surprised that the issue of fox hunting has been raised. I do not think that you would be particularly pleased, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I went too far down that route. One of the advantages of the proposed legislation is the emphasis that is given to sound scientific evidence prior to introducing measures. One of the problems with the fox hunting legislation is that it was not based on scientific evidence. I do not want to go any further on that subject.
Having spoken about the reservations that we have about the way in which the Bill has been structured, it is a good and, we believe, well-intentioned measure, even if it is a sad reflection on human behaviour that such measures are needed. We look forward to a constructive and open dialogue with the Government as the Bill and a long list of subsequent measures pass into law, in the hope that sentient creatures that can suffer pain but cannot speak for themselves will live in a kinder world as a result of our efforts.
David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): May I join hon. Members who have congratulated the Secretary of State and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on introducing this long-overdue legislation? I, too, support the measures that it includes.
There has been some discussion about what is not in the Bill, and matters that will be the subject of secondary legislation and the regulatory impact assessment. I would like to concentrate on annexe C of the regulatory impact assessment, which deals with pet fairs because the terms of the Bill do not pay sufficient attention to the recommendations on pet fairs in the report by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the draft Bill. I do not, for instance, agree with the statement in the regulatory impact assessment that there
When considering the draft Bill, a major concern of many members of the Select Committee was the wealth of evidence of poor welfare standards at pet fairs. A number of local councils refuse to license pet fairs, and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health believes that they are illegal. The Government are right to seek to clarify their legality, but they are approaching it the wrong way.
Worries about pet fairs have, of course, been exacerbated by recent concerns about avian flu, particularly evidence presented by the Animal Protection Agency, which is based in my constituency, about the probable link between a quarantine centre where a parrot died in October with signs of the H5N1 infection and the Stafford bird fair where some
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birds were previously housed. Concerns, however, predate the avian flu outbreak. As I have said, evidence presented by several organisations to the Select Committee revealed concerns about the health, particularly of birds, as well as of other animals at an event at which, with the best will in the world, five or any number of vets could not properly assess the health of the several thousand animalsas many as 13,000 animals at one pet fairthat are offered for sale.
There are concerns, too, about the ease with which disease can be spread at those events, not only between the animals themselves, but from animals to human beings. In an article published in "Veterinary News" in November last year, Elaine Toland of the Animal Protection Agency, Clifford Warwick and Greg Glendell of Birds First explained how, over a period of time, they had visited pet fairs and purchased six birds, all of which were revealed, within a few days or weeks of purchase, to have a number of diseases from which they died. That is the source of the concern that has been expressed by Animal Aid, the Born Free Foundation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare about the spread of disease, which is a real possibility at such events.
It is right that the Government make it clear in the regulatory impact assessment that although they wish to consider licensing pet fairs, they do not wish to bring within the scope of that licensing regime shows and exhibitions by genuine hobbyists, those concerned primarily with the welfare of the animals or birds that they keep who wish to exhibit those animals and exchange information about their care. But where the Government have gone wrong is in asking whether pet fairs should be regulated by a licensing regime, rather than clarifying the law on whether they are illegal. Should not the question have been whether they should be allowed to exist, rather than whether they should the licensed?
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