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Mr. Vaizey: I was not aware that the provision of a dog or cat flap was a planning issue. Can my hon. Friend take his argument further and give examples of design features that would help the dog or cat trapped in the home?
I suspect that my hon. Friend is leading me into a trap, but I shall not go there. I agree; such provision is not a planning issue. The Government spend too much time interfering in planning, but I
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commend the Town and Country Planning Association's report on the issue. I know that my hon. Friend will go post haste to the Library to retrieve it after the debate.
I welcome the proposals for longer sentences and higher fines, but as other Members have rightly said, records reveal that few magistrates courts give custodial sentences. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening): Members on both sides of the House would like magistrates to give custodial sentences. I encourage the Minister to consider mandatory custodial sentences for people convicted three times of offences of animal neglect or cruelty, rather than just another fine or a short sentence. Will the Minister reassure us that time served will increase as a result of the Bill? That is a substantive point.
I welcome disqualification orders. I remember a case in Newcastle when a Shetland pony had been locked into its stable and burnt alive. I was visiting the area on business and read about the incident in the newspaper and got involved in trying to find out who was behind it. I discussed the case with some people and it occurred to me that a person convicted of such an offence against their own or another animalprobably the lattercould be disqualified from keeping an animal but could then move away, for example, from Newcastle to London, and buy another animal. Nobody would be any the wiser. Will the Government consider introducing a national register of people convicted of cruelty to animals? Responsible dog breeders or people selling cats or other animals could access a national database to find out whether the buyer is a responsible owner. I hope that the Bill can eventually close that loophole.
Members have rightly spoken of the promotion of animal welfare through education and of the need for intervention and prevention. I endorse those calls and support that element of the Bill. Will the Minister inform the House whether he has held discussions with the Department for Education and Skills about establishing a national animal welfare day? I do not think there is one. Perhaps the Minister could respond. Will the Government find time in the national curriculum for young children for some input on animal welfare?
Mr. Andrew Turner : Has my hon. Friend received a report from the WAVEWorldwide Alternatives to ViolenceTrust, whose chairman is Sir Christopher Ball? It sets out the causes of the massive increase in crimes of violence in this country since the 1950s. Has my hon. Friend associated crimes of violence against the person with crimes of cruelty to animals? There is a close correlation between the perpetration of crimes of violence against peopleespecially domestic violenceand of crimes of cruelty to animals. The report's most telling conclusion was that the wires in the brain that create such attitudes are in place by the age of three, which is something on which the DFES should concentrate.
My hon. Friend raises a helpful and interesting point. It is not a matter of either/or but of both. I am not aware of that report, but I know of reports that link violence against human beings, especially children, to violence against animals. Often,
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people convicted of cruelty to animals sadly go on to be cruel to children as well. It would be worth the Government taking a close look at that.
Justine Greening: I believe that research conducted in America shows that there is a close link between child abuse and animal abuse. I understand that the RSPCA is starting to examine the matter with a bit more rigour and to do its own studies, the results of which will be available later this year.
Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for endorsing my point. I hope that the Government will examine the matter in detail because hon. Members on both sides of the House are worried about cruelty towards, and the neglect and abuse of, children, which has been ably addressed by the campaign of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which I hope that all hon. Members will support and endorse through the relevant early-day motion.
I hope that the Government will consider educating people who have been convicted. Perhaps such people could attend compulsory classes that could be put on by the RSPCA or the Dogs Trust. Offenders could be educated about what their actions had brought about in the life of an animal and how they could be prevented from repeating their offences in the future.
We need to lift the debate so that we speak more about the stewardship of animals and not just about the ownership of them. I do not support the docking of animals' tails for cosmetic reasons, but I am open-minded and flexible about tail docking for working dogs. Several hon. Members have asked how one can prove that tail docking affects animals' welfare, but hunting dogs and gun dogs can be caught up in undergrowth and brambles and I know of circumstances in which dogs have suffered as a result of that. We need a debate on the matter.
It is interesting that the Government say that they want to license pet fairs because that presupposes that the House has given its consent to the re-emergence of pet fairs. I do not support pet fairs. They would lead to even more abandoned and stray dogs. It is interesting that the local authority that destroys more dogs than any other authority in the land is Sedgefield, so I hope that relevant dispatches will be sent off to No. 10. I was also briefed that the authority was perhaps Liverpool, but Liverpool has had its fair share of stick from the Conservative Benches in the pastI do not want to contribute to that today because I think that it is a fantastic city.
I support the Bill. I hope that inspectors will be given the appropriate amount of training and that local authorities will get the appropriate amount of resources. I hope that clause 29 will not lead to more dogs being killed as a result of their owners' cruelty.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab):
I welcome the Bill, especially because I know that in its long gestation periodsomething like twice that of an elephantthere has been considerable consultation with people who work in animal welfare day in, day out. Rather than
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repeat many of the good points that hon. Members have already made, I shall simply make a couple of quick points on the tail docking of dogs.
As any dog owner will know, dogs use their tails to communicate. Any frustration that I might have felt when my late dog, George, flapped his mighty tail across the coffee table and caused absolute chaos was quickly subdued by the immense friendship, enthusiasm and excitement that he communicated with that tail. Most importantly, dogs use their tails to communicate with other dogs. Some behaviourists believe that if a dog cannot use its tail to communicate, it can feel insecure and vulnerable. The result of that can be that dogs show unwarranted aggression towards other dogs and humans. The tail is also important as a means of counterbalancing, especially if a dog wants to do something such as leap across a gap or walk along the edge of a canal.
The initial process of tail docking is painful, and I have heard gruesome tales from experienced vets who have had to clear up the mess when tail docking has gone terribly wrong. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) said, studies that were conducted as far back as 1985 have shown that there is no link between tail injuries and undocked tails. Many of us know of working dogs with tails that have come to no harm. I would ask that the Bill's mutilation clause does not make an exception for the tail docking of dogs. In the event that the decision is left to Parliament, I would urge all hon. Members to support a ban on the tail docking of dogs.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) on her speech. I shall speak about the welfare of racing greyhounds, following on from the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington).
My contention is that although greyhound racing is a fine sport, when one considers it in the context of animal welfare, it is essentially the use of vulnerable animals by the gambling industry for profit. The Government are not taking greyhound welfare seriously enough. They are too influenced by the British Greyhound Racing Board in their approach to the issue. As animal welfare Bills come round only once every 100 years, we have a wonderful opportunity to make a real effort to save greyhounds from unnecessary suffering andultimately and sadlydeath.
I wish to expand on the brief remarks that have been made about the greyhound industry. There are 30,000 active racing greyhounds on tracks that are owned by members of the National Greyhound Racing Club. There are also about 20 independent tracks that are not controlled by the NGRC. I know that the Minister has taken a close interest in greyhound welfare and that he responded to an Adjournment debate on the matter on 7 June 2004. However, it might be for the benefit of other hon. Members if I point out that the typical racing life of a greyhound is just two to three
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years. Some 10,000 of the 30,000 active greyhounds retire each year, but only about 2,500 are re-homed. No one really knows where the other 7,500 go. Some 5,500 greyhounds are bred for racing each year, but 2,000 of those greyhounds never make it to a racing track, and no one really knows where they go, either.
The greyhound racing industry makes huge amounts of money. It is mainly the bookmaking part of the industry that is reaping the rewards. Some £2 billion is bet on greyhound racing each year, which represents almost a quarter of the total amount of off-course betting in this country. The Government receive a staggering £350 million in betting duty from greyhound racing. The British greyhound racing fund receives 0.6 per cent. of the turnover on greyhound betting. That voluntary contribution goes towards improving the infrastructure of greyhound racing tracks. Only a fraction of the money raised, which is somewhere between £7 million and £16 million, goes towards the welfare of the greyhounds themselves. Sadly, none of the money goes to independent tracks, which do not have the same standards as NGRC tracks.
Many of the greyhounds that disappear suffer an unfortunate demise. It is suspected that most are put down inhumanely. Some are injected with antifreeze. Some are dumped on the side of motorways and left to wander off, or to be run over. Those with registration marks on their ears often have their ears cut off and others are shot. In an especially cruel case in 1994, 19 greyhounds were left in an empty quarry to starve.
This is a wonderful opportunity for the Government to impose statutory requirements on an industry which, although it has said that it will introduce voluntary improvements, is, sadly, not doing nearly enough or acting quickly enough. There needs to be a compulsory levy on all bookmakers because 20 per cent. of them do not take part in the voluntary scheme. We need strict statutory standards of welfare, not just a voluntary code; a mandatory provision of vets at all track meets; and a proper registration system and microchipping of greyhounds. All retired greyhounds need to be re-homed, and those bred for racing but which do not make it to the racing tracks also need to be sent to proper homes. All track and trainer kennelling needs to be to a minimum statutory standard. It is not just me saying this. The EFRA Committee said:
The Secretary of State started the debate by saying that many of the Select Committee's recommendations are included in the Bill. Sadly, for Britain's 30,000 greyhounds, that particular recommendation is not included.
The Government need to ensure that independent scrutineersvets who are independent of the promoters of eventsare at all greyhound racing tracks. The greyhounds cannot blow the whistle if their welfare is not being safeguarded, so we need an independent inspection agency that does.
The Government have set up a greyhound welfare working group, which has already set about its business. The problem is that there are eight industry representatives on the group and only three representatives from animal welfare charities. I suggest
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that that balance is wrong. I also suggest that the industry could all too easily stand of being accused of trying to bully animal welfare charities that are legitimately challenging the standards of care set by the industry.
In the gambling legislation that the Government have put through the House, they have emphasised the strength and the importance of an independent regulator for the casino industry. Yet greyhound racing is in effect the use of vulnerable animals by an arm of the gambling industry. Therefore, there should be strong, independent statutory regulation. I very much hope that with this welcome Animal Welfare Bill, which has come along for the first time in the best part of 100 years, the opportunity to look after Britain's greyhounds is not lost.
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