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Tony Baldry: The Select Committee made it very clear that the Government should consider whether mental suffering should be specified in the Bill. The position seems simple to me. The Bill will cover physical suffering; the hon. Gentleman's point relates entirely to mental suffering. Why should we not incorporate mental suffering in the definition of suffering in clause 4?
I am a great supporter of circuses, and I realise that they provide the first live entertainment for many children. I do not want them to disappear. I fear that too many children spend too much time in front of the television, and not enough time going out and having real-life experiences. But in the United Kingdom in 2006 there is no place and no need for wild animals in circuses. I think that it is Bobby Roberts's circus that has a lone elephantnot a troupe of elephantswhich travels around the country. I believe that it is 52 years old. That should be stopped. Similarly, the welfare of tigers, lions and zebras, which are wild animals, cannot be catered for in circuses.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has dismissed television, but does he not agree that one of the advantages of modern television and wildlife photography is that children can grow up experiencing what wildlife is really like through television without needing to see it in circuses, which are inherently cruel in their way of presenting it?
Mr. Martlew: I entirely agree. In the 1940s and 1950s there might have been a case for the use of wild animals in circusesthose who wanted to see an elephant might have to go to the circusbut now people can watch the Discovery channel, for instance.
I would have preferred travelling circuses to be regulated, or indeed banned. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said about their incompatibility with the duty of care specified in clause 8. Is that not the key, however? Will it not prove impossible for travelling
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circuses to meet the requirements of clause 8, especially the five freedoms listed in subsection (2), and does that not mean that they will inevitably die out?
Mr. Martlew: That is probably true, but if I asked the Minister, I am sure he would not say that the clause would ban wild animals in circuses. In 1998, the associate parliamentary group on animal welfare went into this issue in great depth and produced a report on it. It concluded that there was no justification at all for such behaviour.
I turn finally to an issue that concerns most of us. I am worried about the Government's commitment to dealing withI am not going to use the easy phrasethe amputation of young dogs' tails. Such amputations are unnecessary, outdated and unethical, and should be stopped. We in this House have been told for many years that this issue presents no problem. In 1993, we voted through legislation banning breeders from docking puppies' tails. The previous year, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had said that it was unethical for vets to dock tails for anything other medical reasons. Last year, however, some 70,000 of these so-called operations were carried out on puppies in this country. If the breeders and the vets are not performing them, who is? We need to ask that question, and the Government need to make it clear that they are against such practices. Apparently, the draft Bill was of that mind, but the Government have backtracked and said that they prefer to leave this issue to the individual and to individual breeders. If we do that, nothing will change; if we leave it to the Kennel Club, nothing will change.
Mr. Vaizey: Is not the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question that if vets are not doing it, it is illegal under current law? What would he do about working dogs, which are in danger of injuring their tails? In countries where tail docking is banned, tail injuries increase substantially.
Mr. Martlew: It is pretty obvious that if a dog has not got a tail, it is not going to injure it. I would ban all amputation of dogs' tails. We could look at the question of working dogs and if there was a large increase in tail injuries, we could perhaps introduce secondary legislation to change the law. However, that is not what we are talking about. I do not know about other Members, but until I received from the Dogs Trust a photograph of a very handsome boxer with a tailI have it in my handI had not seen a boxer with a tail. Boxers are not working dogs. This is what we should be working toward.
I do not wish to say any more. I thanked the Minister when he came to do the APGAW reception for his command of his brief. I said then that it is a good Bill, which it is, but that it will be made better by amendment, and I still believe that.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con):
I join those other Members who have paid much-deserved tribute to Tony Banks. Tony was a tremendous
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worker for animal welfare. He is obviously most closely associated with the Hunting Act 2004, but he was also involved in a vast range of other initiatives, including even almost declaring war on the Chinese Government over the treatment of bears in China. A lot of his work and his agitation over the years is represented here in this Bill; in many ways, it stands as a fitting tribute to his time in Parliament.
I begin with some extremely unusual words, four of them: I congratulate the Government. [Interruption.] Members will never hear it again. That is probably about as friendly as I intend to get during this debate, but to be serious, I do congratulate the Government on introducing the first comprehensive animal welfare measure in a very long time. Many individual pieces of such legislation have been passed by successive Governments, but this is the first comprehensive Bill for a long while. I do not refer to Liberal Governments so I shall not say how long the period has been, but I am delighted that this Bill has been produced.
Very often, people are inclined to be dismissive about the importance of animal welfare and say that we should attend to other priorities. They think that concern for animals is based on a misplaced anthropomorphism or sheer sentimentality, whereas I believe that how we treat our animals is a measure of society. Animals have no voice of their own that they can make heard. Any ill treated human being can speak, but animals cannot: what goes on behind closed doors is determined entirely by human beings. Because animals have to take whatever we dish out, it is right that we should create a proper legislative framework to ensure that any suffering that might be inflicted is both necessary and minimal.
I have never been an extremist when it comes to animal welfare. I am not a vegetarian, nor do I think that it is never justifiable to use animals in medical research, but I do believe that we have a duty to prevent suffering whenever it is unnecessary. However, many of the proposals are grey rather than black or white, and we must clarify them as the Bill passes through the House.
For example, I am very relieved that the Bill deals with the concept of an animal's welfare, and not just with the cruelty that it might suffer. However, most hon. Members will accept that there is a difference between undue negligencethe harm inflicted by people who simply do not care what animals go throughand the sort of neglect that is inflicted through ignorance. I am not sure that the Bill makes that distinction, even though the latter type of neglect is inflicted on animals in this country every day.
Many people approach the ownership of animals with sentimentality, but it is a serious business. My most recent vet's bill came to £590, even though I only have twoadmittedly quite fatdomestic cats. Owning animals incurs costs and calls for responsibility and vigilance, and the fact that many people do not understand that is especially evident at this time of year, when many Christmas presents are left tied to trees.
I am not such a child as to propose that we legislate for that lack of understanding. That would be impossible, but we must examine the amount of education available to people at the point when they acquire an animal. I believe that, at that moment, people
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should be given a considerable degree of education about what is involved in keeping an animal throughout what might be quite a long life.
The number of people who do not know the life spans of the animals that they take on is amazing. For example, some people think that a tortoise will live for only five years or so, when in fact it might live longer than most people. It is crucial that people understand what is involved in owning a pet.
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