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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am in the rare position of agreeing with almost every word of a speech by the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). It was fascinating to hear that Lady Thatcher had been going to the dogs for yearsI wonder whether that started before or after 1979.
As a member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2001, I witnessed the genesis of the Bill at close quarters. When we consider content, flexibility and process, the Government are to be congratulated on the way in which the measure has been introduced. Admittedly, it happened over a long period and examining the Bill in draft form took a great deal of time and energy. However, that was worth while given the improvements to the measure.
I want to refer briefly to four subjects: horse welfare, cephalopods, duty of care and tail docking. Tethering horses is one of the most common equine welfare issues with which RSPCA inspectors deal, affecting more than 3,500 horses in 2004 alone. By the time there is evidence of suffering to provide legal grounds for action, the horses have often sustained significant or even fatal injuries. Current law does not allow for intervention before cruelty can be proved and I am pleased that progress has been made on that. If animals are to be tethered, it should be only a temporary measure and done in such a way that the animal's welfare is protected. Tethering also affects dogs so a code of practice to back up preventive laws and stronger penalties for animal cruelty would be useful in ending the excessive and cruel reliance on tethering animals such as horses and dogs.
North-West Leicestershire is a former mining area that is now at the heart of the national forest and close to several former fox hunting groups. As I expected, equine activity is expanding at a rapid rate in the wake of the ban on fox hunting. There are increasing numbers of
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livery yards in my constituency and throughout England and Wales. It is estimated that there are between 7,000 and 10,000, covering a wide variety of activities, providing from accommodation and full care to simply a paddock and a stable. Livery yards are not regulated and I am pleased that the Government propose to extend licensing arrangements to them.
It appears that the Government will allow livery licences to cover more than 12 months. That runs counter to the Select Committee's conclusions on the Department's proposals. We did not support the proposal to introduce licence periods of more than 12 months because it
"would reduce the frequency with which business or premises would be inspected, and would therefore not promote the highest standards of animal welfare because it would increase the period of time during which breaches of legislation could go undetected."
I therefore regret that provision. However, I welcome the Government's proposal to license livery yards and I would add a provision to make licences renewable every 12 months on the ground of welfare.
Licences for riding establishments should not be extended from a year to 18 months. Again, that increases the risk of animal neglect and cruelty going undetected. The responsibility for inspecting riding establishments should not be passed to local authorities. Although I am a strong supporter of local authorities, I do not detect the necessary knowledge and professionalism that would allow them to carry out that specific regulatory activity satisfactorily.
Clause 1 does not include cephalopods, for example, octopuses, or decapod crustaceans, such as, lobsters and crabs, in the definition of "animal". The Bill therefore gives them no protection. The Select Committee took the issue seriously in our pre-legislative scrutiny. We said that we believed that a strong case had been made for the inclusion of octopuses, crabs and lobsters in the definition of "animal". There is continuing research in the fieldperhaps more than was believed to be the case.
Our report shows that cephalopods and decapod crustaceans have a nervous system and that there is considerable similarity between the nervous systems of vertebrates and those of cephalopods and decapod crustaceans. As I said earlier, cephalopods have complex brain and sense organs that rival those of vertebrates. Indeed, a report to the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety described them as some of the most advanced in the animal kingdom. I was therefore pleased to receive an assurance from the Secretary of State that, as science advances, the flexibility in the Bill may be used to widen the definition of "animal" satisfactorily.
Strong neurochemical and behavioural evidence shows that cephalopods and decapod crustaceans can experience pain and stress. For example, their opioid systems, which are involved in pain relief and response to injury, appear to function in the same way as in vertebrates. Those animals clearly try to avoid painful or aversive situations or objects. That constitutes substantial evidence that they should be treated as animals. Some experiments on those categories of animal, which I shall now call them, are based on the assumption that they can experience pain. Electric shocks are used as an aversive stimulus.
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Octopuses are intelligent animals that display a wide range of complex and flexible behaviour, including problem solving, tool use and play. They are capable of associative and even observational learning and have individual responses and temperaments. Decapod crustaceans have the ability to learn, discriminate about their environment, remember and form stable social hierarchies.
Scientists from Bristol university and the Silsoe institute have developed a humane electric stunner called the "crustastun". [Interruption.] I can understand hon. Members finding that slightly humorous but the scientists would not have done that if they did not believe that crustaceans can experience pain.
Evidence in the "Advocates for Animals" report shows that those animals are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. In the light of that and pursuant to the precautionary principle, I believe that cephalopods and decapod crustaceans should be included in the Bill's definition of "animal".
At the heart of the Bill is the first major leap forward for 95 years. In a sense, that gives the lie to the oft-cited description of Britain as a nation of animal lovers. It has taken that long to make the huge leap forward that constitutes the welfare offence that the measure introduces. As I said earlier, under current law, the animal has to suffer before action can be taken to improve its situation and prosecute its owner. However, the new offencewhich will be supported by the Government's codes of practice to provide animal owners with the information that they need to ensure that they are delivering the right level of carehas the potential to make a real difference to the lives of many thousands of domestic and captive animals in England and Wales.
For the purposes of the new welfare offence, the Bill will oblige the owner of an animal to do what is reasonable to meet its needs, involving the five criteria of environment, diet, behaviour patterns, housing, and protection from pain, injury and disease. It is important that the Government make it clear that the offence does not impose an unqualified or absolute obligation on those responsible for an animal. It requires only that they do what is reasonable to meet the animal's needs. This will help to answer the detractors of this legislation, who, although not large in number, have been very voluble recently.
My final point is on tail docking. The Government intend to introduce an exemption from the ban for the tail docking of dogs that are likely to be working dogs, on the ground that they are particularly prone to injury. I am pleased that the exemption of entire breeds of working dogs is no longer being considered. I regard such an exemption as utterly unjustifiable, as very few dogs within those breeds actually work, in any real sense of the term. The Select Committee concluded that
Many animal welfare campaigning organisations and individuals urge that any exemption on tail docking in dogs should be delayed for at least two years in order to gather evidence of the real extent of the necessity for tail docking in working dogs because of injury, compared
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with the circumstances involving non-working dogs. The issues that should be examined during that research period include whether the incidence of tail injury in working dogs is any greater than in non-working dogs; whether the injuries sustained could be adequately addressed by methods less severe than tail amputation; whether the injuries could be reduced or avoided by other measures such as tail trimming or working the dogs in different terrain; whether, as a DEFRA paper on this topic suggests, careful breeding might result in naturally shorter tails; and whether less vulnerable breeds of dog could be used in terrain particularly likely to cause tail injury.
I warmly welcome the Bill. I have been a lifetime campaigner on animal welfare issues, and I am very pleased to be a member of the Select Committee. There are other issues that we would like to see addressed: shock collars and goads should be restricted to use in the Government Whips Office, for example, and I regret that there are no planned improvements for the conditions of farmed animals. Apart from that, however, I believe that the Bill is a worthwhile and long overdue piece of legislation.
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