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Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I welcome the Bill for the reasons outlined: because it updates and consolidates animal welfare law, provides a framework for more effective regulation of animal ownership and welfare, and increases the range of sentencing powers. The debate has principally been about what is not in the Bill. I shall say no more about that except that I support entirely any legislation that would prevent the mutilation of dogs and the use of animals in circuses.
I principally want to refer to the new duty of care, which has not received a great deal of attention in the Chamber. It has the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of many thousands of animals because it gives animals a right to the five freedoms referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). Let us not underestimate the importance of the rights that the Bill gives to animals: the right to the provision of adequate food and water; the right to health care, appropriate protection from pain, injury and disease, and to diagnosis and treatment of those afflictions when they occur; and the right to a suitable environment for everyday existence and the capacity to exhibit their normal behaviour.
It is a sad reflection of society that we need to introduce that duty of care and to put it on the statute book. It is necessary for two sad reasons. First, there is a wide range of reasons why people go for domestic pet ownership. It is not always because pets are loved by their owners. Many are acquired for other reasons, such as personal security or as protection against burglary. I am not suggesting that we cannot have a range of legitimate reasons for acquiring pets, but there is a frequent risk that the interests of the animals are compromised because they were not adequately considered at the time of acquisition.
We have all seen the more extreme consequences of careless pet ownership. Every time we witness a stray dog in the street or the sorry sight of animals being rescued from cruel treatment, we witness the failure of society adequately to protect animals from cruel treatment. I welcome the provisions to establish a code of practice for the duty of care which will make the responsibilities of pet owners explicit. I urge the Minister to assure us that he will find ways of ensuring that the code of practice is, in one way or another, made readily available to all current and future pet owners,
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whether it is through pet shops or pet breeders. I support what was said by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about educating pet owners. The introduction in the national curriculumvia citizenship classes perhapsof the care of pets would be welcome.
My second reason for supporting the new duty of care relates to the greater protection that it offers to those animals that are bought by parents for their children. We all know which animals are popular with children. Cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs are among the most popular choices. There is no doubt that when the animals are purchased, the children concerned have every intention of caring for them and giving them all the attention they need. What happens, however, when a child loses interest and when the desire to care for the animal disappears and turns out to be a mere whim, rather than a genuine commitment? Neglect is often the consequence. It is not cruelty as we commonly understand it, but a form of treatment that could be viewed as cruelty because it exposes the animal to a limited and miserable existence. Of course, it is often the very small animals that suffer that treatmentthe guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbitsbecause they are easy to overlook and forget. The duty of care will make it clear to parents that they must take responsibility for ensuring that animals in the care of the family are not merely protected from the worst consequences of neglect, but properly cared for to a standard agreed by society as the minimum acceptable. The new responsibility is inescapably laid at the door of the parents because of the measure to raise the age of acquisition of pets from 12 to 16. I welcome that because it makes it crystal clear where the responsibility lies for the welfare of an animal within the family home.
I support the Bill because I believe strongly that one of the key measures of a civilised society is how well it looks after its animals. I am not what people would call an animal lover in the traditional sense of the term. I know it is not easy for a British person to say that. My husband and I do not have pets, and neither do we have any intention of acquiring any. However, I detest cruelty to animals and feel passionately that they deserve the fullest rigour and protection of the law. In that respect, I would have preferred to see stronger measures in the Bill, such as the creation of a new offence to outlaw the possession of fighting equipment.
Nevertheless, the Bill has much to commend it, and I finish my remarks by paying tribute to all those organisations in the voluntary sector that have contributed so much to getting us to where we are today. We owe them our gratitude for all that they do and for their dedication to creatures that are so often vulnerable to the activities of a cruel minority in our society.
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con):
I am absolutely delighted that all the animal welfare issues that I and other hon. Members have campaigned on over the years come together in this Bill. I simply say to the Minister that I much regret that Tony Banks is not here with us. I have always enjoyed people who have a sense of humour. He certainly had a sense of humourhow else can one describe someone who represented West Ham, where I was born, and supported Chelsea
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football team? He will be greatly missed by all hon. Members, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that the Bill serves as an epitaph to him.
Unlike the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), I have kept all sorts of animals over the years. At the moment I specialise in Siamese fighting fish; I breed them. The House will be glad to know that I do not allow the males to fight. Those of us who are keen on animals are labelled as cranks. I do not know whether it is such a bad thing to be labelled a crank. I simply observe that there appear to be an awful lot of cranks around at the moment.
The hon. Members for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) referred to tethering. I was a little disappointed in their remarks because in 1987, via the ten-minute rule, I successfully piloted through the House the Protection against Cruel Tethering Bill. The noble Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who is dead now, took it through the House of Lords. It caused a stir at the time, not so much because of the legislation but because I arrived at the Commons on a horse, and the horse was not particularly impressed with what was on his back. The Act protects horses, ponies and donkeys from being cruelly tethered; they have to be properly watered and fed. I am surprised that the Act was not called on, and I say to the Minister that it is another example of legislation of which we take no notice.
I say also to the Minister that in the time that I have been a Member there have been many animal welfare Bills that have not entirely turned out as we would have wanted. I remember speaking on the Third Reading of the Protection of Badgers Bill, being piloted through the House by the now Lord Waldegrave. The Minister will understand when I refer to a number of homes in a tiny urban area in my constituency where it seems that the badgers got together one night and decided to nip through the front door and take up ownership of the gardens. In two weeks I am having a meeting with the Minister, one or two of his officials and others to discuss that great problem. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is another example of legislation that did not turn out entirely as we would have wished.
I welcome the Animal Welfare Bill, however, because it goes much further than the Protection of Animals Act 1911. However, I say to the Minister, as other Members have, that some of the clauses should be more carefully defined so that the Bill will be workable and its provisions enforced. We do not want to waste our time celebrating the introduction of the Bill after 100 years only to find out that much of it is difficult to enforce. Some practices that have not been included in the Bill should be regulated through secondary legislation to ensure the protection of animals.
For example, both the Kennel Club and the RSPCA are, as the Minister knows, disappointed that the Bill fails to prohibit the use of electric dog collars. They have not been proven an effective means of dog training. I do not know whether they could be used to train Members of Parliament, but they are no good for dogs. They scare the animal so that it conforms through fear rather than addressing more deep-seated behavioural problems.
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Furthermore, these instruments are available through mail order. I ask the Minister to look very carefully at that matter in Committee.
I certainly welcome clauses 4 to 7, which deal with prevention of harm. I welcome the fact that they make it an offence to cause mental as well as physical suffering to animals through a direct act, through negligence or by failing to prevent suffering inflicted by a person on an animal for which he is responsible. That redefinition of animal cruelty is long overdue; it recognises the psychological impact of mistreatment and neglect which can affect animals long after their physical rehabilitation.
I welcome clauses 8 to 10, which deal with the promotion of welfare. It is excellent that welfare legislation for domestic animals is being brought into line with provisions for farmed animals in the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000. Also in this part, the restriction of the sale of animals and the awarding of animals as prizes to persons over the age of 16 will, to a certain extent, ensure that the person to whom the animal is being transferred will be responsible. I made two or three attempts to introduce legislation on that in the House, and I am going to take a tiny bit of credit for the fact that the matter has been included in the Bill. I agree with everything that hon. Members have said about that. The duty of care that people are given in their ownership of animals has to be dealt with very carefully.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) made a point about pet fairs which I know will slightly annoy the Minister. We do not have the time to go into the minutiae of what has gone on behind the scenes, but I ask the Minister to look at the issue carefully. Pet fairs are currently banned under the 1983 amendment to the Pet Animals Act 1951 which outlaws the business of selling animals
I can remember my father, who is now dead, so I can say this, taking me to the animal market in Club lane, Petticoat row. I thought that it was marvellous, but I now realise that it was a very wrong way to sell animals. I am not happy with the two or three pet fairs that exist. The Minister has all the documentation on them and I ask him to look carefully at the issue. I know that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion will tonight present a petition of 15,000 signatures. The RSPCA, Animal Aid, the Dogs Trust and the Animal Protection Agency have been campaigning tirelessly against the practices of animal traders.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald, in yet another magnificent speech, touched on the issue of tail docking. I do not know whether she made an intentional faux pas, but I tell the House that she presented our youngest child with a black Labrador puppy called Michael. Michael has not stopped wagging his tail since he entered our household, and there are occasions when my wife says, "I wish he would stop wagging his tailthere goes another bit of china." I am very content that he continues to wag his tail. I do not know that any of us would like to have our tails docked. Of course we do not have tails, but I should not think that we would be terribly pleased. This is a very difficult issue, and I know that one or two hon. Members have
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said that the Minister has sat on the fence. The Kennel Club welcomes the Bill's stance on the issue; indeed I see that it has placed an information advertisement in "The House Magazine" this week maintaining that tail docking should remain a matter of choice for the owner. That view is supported by the Essex and Eastern Counties Boxer Club, which insists that the breed of the dog and the purpose of its breeding should be considered if regulations were to be introduced on tail docking. It is a difficult issue and I hope that the House will be given the opportunity to come to a conclusion on it.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) referred to the qualifications of inspectors. Concerns have been raised about changes to the way in which animal welfare regulations are enforced through the introduction of inspection officers with new powers to transfer the custody of animals away from abusive owners. Currently, the RSPCA is the largest private prosecutor for animal welfare offences. It has been investigating abuses and enforcing laws relating to animals for more than 100 years in conjunction with the police, the state veterinary service and Customs and Excise. The Bill will not alter this process despite suggestions that the Crown Prosecution Service should be the sole instigator of prosecutions. The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee considered the draft of the Bill in 2004 and concluded that, even though concerns have been raised about links between prosecution and the campaigning arms of the RSPCA,
The training of inspectors is essential. There are not enough inspectors and the street-wise attitude which I suppose has developed only in terms of length of service somehow has to be shared with as many inspectors as possible.
I welcome the Bill, as do many other right hon. and hon. Members. It effectively amalgamates previous legislation. It updates our approach to animal welfare, recognising psychological as well as physical needs, and includes clauses on the prevention of cruelty. I am concerned that the codes of conduct, regulations and licensing codes that will be drafted under secondary legislation should be subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny. To have the legalisation of itinerant pet fairs or a ban on tail docking put into statute without wider public consultation that takes in the most recent scientific evidence would be a great mistake. However, I think that all animals can celebrate tonight.
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