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Mr. Vaizey: I do not want to pre-empt any of my right hon. Friend's remarks, but does she think that there are some animals that are wholly unsuitable for keeping as domestic pets?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend's timing is immaculate, as was the case earlier with an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. In fact I was going to speak about primates in a few seconds.

With some animals, ownership can be justified only very rarely. In the case of primates, it may very occasionally happen that a scientist rescues one that is not suitable for release into the wild and which cannot be placed in a zoo because it is not au fait with others of its species. Such circumstances may come about on very rare occasions, but most people will cleave to the proposition that a human being does not need to own a primate as that would not be in the animal's interest.

The Bill does not deal with the matter of keeping primates as pets, and another large grey area in the proposals has to do with circus animals. Children of my generation used to love going to the circus, where the animals' performance gave us much innocent pleasure. I remember, of course, the chimps' tea party. I did not see anything like it again until I saw Prime Minister's questions. I also remember seeing elephants balancing on an amazingly small space. I have seen balancing acts in this place, but nothing in between that was as spectacular. Now, of course, I understand, as I suspect we all do, that much of the conduct used to persuade animals to act in that fashion is not benign—and that is a deep understatement.

It appears that under present legislation it is legal to beat an animal in a circus in order to produce the required performance, although it is not legal to beat the animal once the performance has been produced. In other words, one may use physical punishment to train an animal in a particular method. That has to be wrong, because there is no gain for humanity in a successful circus performance. I am therefore concerned—and that concern is shared by animal welfare organisations—about some of the changes that have been made to clause 4. We are told that it has been tidied up, but the provision in clause 4(3)(d) seems to be a get-out clause, because it provides that an assessment of suffering may include whether it was

For performing animals, the purpose of the conduct is a perfect act, and a fair amount of physical ill-treatment could be justified as technically in proportion to the conduct.

Tony Baldry: My right hon. Friend may be surprised to learn that that line comes from case law—
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Ford v. Wiley—from the 1880s. The Government have lifted decent case law and put it into that clause at the behest of parliamentary counsel, which is one reason why this part of the Bill has become so confused.

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend has just enlightened me and probably a large section of the House with his learned discourse. I did not know that, but it is undeniable that that part of the Bill is confused or, at least, a grey area with insufficient clarity.

Mr. Gray: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Miss Widdecombe: Yes, for the last time, although I may regret doing so.

Mr. Gray: My right hon. Friend will not regret giving way, because I entirely endorse much of what she has said about circuses. However, what is her attitude towards the use of performing horses in circuses?

Miss Widdecombe: Wherever cruelty or unnatural treatment is involved in the maintenance of an animal for no good reason, it is wrong.

I would like to see a proper debate on electric shock collars. I speak with caution, because I was deeply involved in prisons for some time and I am aware of the role played by electric shock collars in training. Nevertheless, I have come to the view that other methods are just as effective and we should have a full debate and a free vote on the issue in this House. I would also prefer it if it were on the Floor of the House and not in Committee.

The question of tail docking has already been covered fairly extensively. It is an important issue. Tails are docked for one of two reasons. First, it is done for cosmetic reasons, which can never be justified and should be outlawed, with no vet allowed to do it. The second is applied to working dogs, especially gun dogs, and others whose tails may become damaged in the course of their rather regrettable duties. However, other parts of the animals may be damaged in the course of those regrettable duties, such as paws, ears and noses. We are talking about preventive mutilation. That is not justifiable.

The farce is that whereas the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) rightly said that he had not seen a boxer with a tail, I have seen many working gun dogs with tails. Their tails were not docked and they did not appear to have come to grief. Once again, I hope that there will be a full debate on anti-docking on the Floor of the House, rather than merely in Committee, with a free vote. Docking includes the cutting through of muscles, tendons and up to seven pairs of nerves. It also means severing bone and cartilage connections; it is not a small, cosmetic operation, but something that causes a great deal of pain.

We should also consider the purpose of tails. I shall not say that if a dog loses its tail it loses its smile, but the tail is a means of communication. We even use the word metaphorically. I might say that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) had his tail between his legs—[Laughter.] That would of course mean that he was somewhat dispirited after the hunting result. I might say that I was feeling waggy-tailed today,
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which would mean that I was happy. The tail is not just a point of communication for humans. We have to understand that the tail is a genuine means of communication between dogs, and aggression can result if dogs cannot communicate with each other. In case anyone says that bans are unworkable, I point out that there has been a ban in Norway since 1987, and in Sweden and Switzerland since 1988. Those bans have worked and none of those countries has seen fit to repeal them.

Finally, whatever laws we pass after our debates on the Bill must be observed. It demeans democracy when the House passes law, sometimes by a large majority, yet some people out there decide that because they do not like the law, they will not obey it. If, for example, following a ban on docking, we do not see boxers with tails, we will know that the law is being disobeyed. This law, like the hunting law or any other law, must be observed when it is passed.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and hope that the final resolutions will mean a much better world for our dumb friends.

5.32 pm

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) who, with my old and dear friend, Tony Banks, formed a remarkable and dynamic duo across the Chamber on these issues.

I am pleased to speak strongly in support of the Bill, which has been long awaited and is much needed. It revises out-of-date laws—the 20 pieces of legislation dependent on the Protection of Animals Act 1911, whose cruelty provisions have never been changed.

I congratulate the Government on the way that they put the Bill together. There have been suggestions in the debate that the Government are not prepared to listen, but their record belies that. When the Bill was put out for consultation between 2 January and 13 April 2002, 2,351 responses were received. A number of working groups and stakeholders involved in animal welfare have added substance to the Bill.

Reference has been made to the Select Committee, on which I was delighted to serve, even though it took longer than I had anticipated. The Committee received 220 written memorandums and took oral evidence from 51 organisations. It produced 101 recommendations, and I am delighted that the Government have shaped and changed the Bill in the light of those comments. I am confident that given that approach and model of good practice, the House will have further opportunities to change the Bill.

I was also impressed as I served on the Select Committee by how warmly the Bill was welcomed in general terms, although there were deep and strong differences on matters such as wild animals performing in circuses, tail docking, shock collars and pet farms, and we have heard several concerns about them today. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) made his position clear. People will table amendments in Committee to try to change the Bill, but the structure of
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the Bill is essentially right. It is an enabling Bill that will bring about remarkable and much-needed changes in animal welfare, so we should support and stick with it.

The key provision in the Bill is clause 8, which provides for the duty of care of pet owners to look after their pets properly and sets out the so-called five freedoms. The significant aspect of the Bill is the fact that it takes the focus away from prosecution for cruelty and puts it on the prevention of suffering, which is a new and important change. I was extremely impressed by the evidence that the RSPCA gave on numbers and the individual detailed case studies that showed that suffering could have been prevented by early intervention.

I hope that the Minister will argue strongly in Committee against the kind of amendments that have been talked about this evening. The important thing is to get the structure, values and framework of the Bill right—after all, we have waited 100 years for it. If we get that right, the rest will follow. I was interested that the Secretary of State said that she would consult widely on regulations and codes of practice and give adequate time to examine them. That is the trade-off. Let us get the structure of the Bill and a commitment from the Government that when they bring forward important regulations and codes of practices, there will be real consultation both inside and outside Parliament so that important individual issues, such as wild animals in circuses and shock collars, can be properly debated. I am against such activities, but I am confident that the values of the Bill will ultimately—we might have to wait some time—lead to their demise.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to examine clause 4 in detail in Committee. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has already pointed out that we need to consider mental, as well as physical, suffering. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald talked about clause 4(3)(d), which offers the defence of

That has real relevance to performing animals in circuses, so I hope that we will be able to test the principles in the clause and push them to their limits in Committee.

I want to make three further points. First, the RSPCA has briefed hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber extremely well. It has asked for no further powers under the Bill and has been granted no further powers. There is confusion about the term "inspector" in clause 45. I understand that such an inspector will be appointed by the Secretary of State at a national level, or by local authorities. I think that the Government have in mind people such as state veterinary inspectors, or environmental health officers who work for a local authority. There is confusion between the person referred to in clause 45 and the traditional hard-working, uniformed RSPCA inspector. The RSPCA has many friends, but it has detractors as well, and we heard the voices of some of them in correspondence quoted in the Chamber. There will be no new powers of entry. The RSPCA will continue to be reliant on the powers of entry of the police.

Secondly, the regulatory impact assessment, mentioned by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr.   Ainsworth), argues that because of earlier
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intervention and the licensing system, there will be no extra cost to local authorities. I am sceptical about that. This is a major and important piece of legislation, for which many of us have pressed for many years, and it will be a tragedy if its success were denied because of a lack of resources.

Thirdly, the Bill's strength—we will see this throughout our discussions—is that it provides a vehicle for debate and change. I have been very interested in the recent discussions on shooting, which has been mentioned. Unlike hunting with hounds, people—even implacable opponents, such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the League Against Cruel Sports—are prepared to talk about shooting in a sensible way. Over recent months, I have noticed a growing awareness that shooting will have to change to survive. Our Labour party manifesto makes it clear that we will support shooting and not restrict its practice, and I have three examples from the shooting sector. First, what I found so exciting was that the BASC came out strongly against breeding cages and intensive methods of rearing poultry. It was also exciting to hear the League Against Cruel Sports recognise and accept that.

Secondly, snaring is also important. It is legal, but has many deficiencies. Through the good offices of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a new snaring code has been put together. The Bill will encompass that code of practice. There is more work to be done on it, but I am impressed by the willingness of supporters and opponents of shooting to get into a dialogue.

My third example is what has become known as industrial shooting—large shoots that often pay remarkable fees for big bags of birds that are not used for food or retail. There are stories that many of them are buried in pits. That is wrong. Shooters who want the sport to survive know that there needs to be change. Again, it is interesting that there is an overlap of views between the BASC, which is pro-shooting, and the league, which is against it.

I hope that the Bill proves a vehicle for sensible discussions about animal welfare. What struck me—perhaps I should not get into this—about the debate on hunting was how entrenched people were in their positions. Change will be necessary if shooting is to survive. I hope that the Bill provides us with a framework and set of values so that we can all have sensible and rational discussions about animal welfare activities. I am against wild animals in circuses, tail docking and pet farms, but I strongly believe that the Bill's structure, although we may have to wait for it, will ultimately lead to a sensible discussion and the demise of those activities.

5.44 pm

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