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Miss Widdecombe: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Vaizey: This is an extremely important point to which my right hon. Friend referred, which is whether I would support tail docking where it is not for working dogs or absolutely necessary. Again, that goes back to my point about driving tail docking underground and the unintended consequences of doing that.

Miss Widdecombe: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Vaizey: I just want to develop this point very quickly. As the Kennel Club has pointed out, many breeds are bred specifically as tail-docked dogs, and those breeds would no longer be bred by their owners were a complete ban introduced, and that would have unfortunate consequences for those breeds.

Miss Widdecombe: If tail docking is about to be driven underground, it seems to me to be an
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extraordinary underground. If the purpose of tail docking is to have a particular form for a particular breed, quite clearly the people who sell dogs with docked tails are registered known sellers. If it becomes an illegal act, they will not let it happen because they could be prosecuted. Where is the underground in all this?

Mr. Vaizey: That is precisely my point. They will stop breeding these unfortunate breeds. However, I have no doubt that other people who dock the tails of dogs who are not registered or perhaps use them as working dogs will continue to do so without any veterinary supervision, and that is my major concern.In conclusion on that point, I simply say that if the system is not broken, why try to fix it? A closely regulated system by the veterinary profession seems to me to be the best system to take forward.

I want to examine two other issues. [Interruption.] That takes me back to my days on "Newsnight" with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. As I have said, the regulatory impact assessment points out that anyone who sells an animal over the internet requires a licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951. Without further clarification of "selling an animal", however, there is an enormous loophole, because one could advertise animals without specifically saying that they are for sale. The legislation also misses out internet service providers that carry such advertising or websites that allow people to buy or auction animals.

An enormous variety of animals, some of which are endangered species or should not be kept domestically, are available for sale on the internet, including a gorilla, which is apparently based in London, a giraffe and even a Siberian tiger. [Interruption.] Yes; hon. Members have heard me correctly—a gorilla, a giraffe and a Siberian tiger.

Mark Pritchard : Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning a certain person currently appearing on "Big Brother", who has allegedly boasted about wearing a coat made from the fur of a gorilla, which is an endangered species?

Mr. Vaizey: I certainly will. I visited the "Big Brother" house this morning to discuss the conduct of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway). In my remarks at the "Big Brother" house, I also condemned the wearing of gorilla fur, which is atrocious, by the hon. Gentleman's colleague, Mr. Peter Burns from Dead or Alive. This morning, I told executives at Channel 4 and Endemol UK Productions that they should be ashamed for allowing a coat made from gorilla fur into the house, and I hope that the Minister takes up the issue with them.

Finally, the will of the House is clear on keeping primates as pets. The House would like the opportunity to vote on a complete ban, and I hope that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) introduces his amendment. Primates are extremely sociable animals that live comparatively long lives—20 to 40 years—and which are wholly unsuitable domestic pets. The Scottish Parliament is currently considering a Bill that would allow the Scottish Executive to impose a ban on keeping specific species of animal. Clause 10 of this Bill gives the Government broad powers to introduce regulations, but it does not make it explicit that the Government have
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the power to ban the ownership of specific species. I hope that the Government will revisit that clause and introduce an amendment to give them the power to ban the ownership of specific species of animal.

8.48 pm

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): In the Chinese year of the dog, I should declare that I have some chickens and at least three cows—hopefully, I will have more than three cows in the coming months.

The Secretary of State opened the debate and did very well until she hit the thorny issue of the size of fines and prison sentences—I was tempted to make a joke about the amount of bird that one might end up doing for animal offences.

I shall move quickly on to the excellent contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), although it says in my notes that I    should not mention "the Kevin Keegan hair". [Laughter.] I hope that he will forgive me—he has not kicked me yet, anyway. His excellent speech was concerned, sincere and questioning on issues such as longer sentences for severe abuse. He discussed his concerns about Statutory Instrument Committees, and as he is a former Government Whip we should take his points seriously. He promised a free vote on tail docking and, importantly for the Government, a constructive and open dialogue.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper), who is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, discussed pet and bird fairs.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) talked about the lack of deadlines for introducing the code of conduct, which is an important point. He also took a hard line on bird fairs and animal sanctuaries.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) said that he would be boring, but then told a rather good story about the sanctuary of which he was a patron, saying that pit ponies deserved a fair crack of the whip. After that, sadly, he must have wrestled with his conscience, and he stuck to his word.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) observed that undue negligence and ignorance are the two reasons why acts of cruelty take place. She said that it is a very serious business and talked about the costs and responsibilities. She made a good case for the better education of people who own pets. Having described this place as a chimpanzee's tea party, she spoke with passion about animal training, circuses and the ownership of primates. Perhaps I misunderstood her when she said she had come across electric shock collars while she was Prisons Minister, as I did not think that we had that as a punishment. I guess that she must have been talking about dog training for warders. She is a clear and powerful voice for what she described as her dumb friends, and I pay tribute to her for that.

The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who also served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, pointed to the provisions on duty of care as an improvement. He expressed concern about the cost to local authorities, which is another important point for the Government to consider. He spoke in a positive way about shooting.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) talked about the history of animal welfare legislation, the £27 million raised for cats, and the fact that people who treat animals badly often go on to treat people badly, which is a mark of our society. He spoke eloquently about sanctuaries, particularly odd ones, and the problems of people who tend to collect cats. He handled the issue extremely sensitively and with enormous common sense. Apparently, love may conquer all except large numbers of cats, sometimes hundreds. He talked about welcome improvements in this area and pointed out that most of the work of the RSPCA—which is, like most of an iceberg, unseen—is not political and very much benefits the animals that it seeks to protect. He referred to mutilation. He also made an important point about the time allowed for the Report stage of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) talked about custody plus and the stretch that people will spend inside if convicted. She mentioned performing animals and lions in Grimsby, which surprised me. She referred to natural behaviour being constrained and spoke up for her Whip, which was good of her.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) noted that the Bill should not make the lot of animals worse. He talked about the missing codes of conduct and the risk of kicking important issues into the long grass, thereby avoiding the transparency that the Government say that they want when having to tackle such difficult decisions. He made some interesting observations about the ownership of baby animals and live trapping, and went on to make a crucial point about abandonment, especially of horses. He spoke in his usual clear, concise and concerned way.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who also served on the Committee, is a very caring man, and he talked about cruelty being a growing problem. He also raised a crucial matter that the Government would do well to bear in mind—the need to modernise laws relating to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. He volunteered to test the wording, which probably means that he can be confident that he will not serve on the Bill Committee. If the Whips missed him saying that, I am sorry for dishing him, as they will not have missed it a second time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) clearly has a tremendous fondness for Buster, his bull terrier. He recited a horrible list of acts of abhorrent cruelty and inhumane offences and stressed the importance of increasing penalties. He also made a crucial point about removing dog fighting paraphernalia, which would help considerably in stamping out that revolting activity. He mentioned greyhounds, spoke passionately and was, as always, an excellent advocate for man's best friend.

The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) spoke about tethering animals. He, too, served on the Select Committee.

I fear that I missed the contribution of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) but I believe that he took a little stick because the Bill applies
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to vertebrates and therefore not to the Liberal Democrat leadership. However, I did not hear that so I am sorry.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) made a caring speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) spoke on a wide range of issues clearly and with great authority. He ranged from greyhounds to goldfish and I think that I heard him say that he did not approve of giving children as prizes, with which I agree.

The hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) presented a compelling argument about pets as prizes. It was an excellent contribution but it was a shame that it was so short.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who has the RSPCA animal hospital in her constituency, welcomed the Bill. She talked about three important issues: the secondary legislation, the breadth of the measure and the punishments for the guilty. The Government have described the Bill as a Christmas tree and my hon. Friend said that we want to welcome the decorations to hang on it but that we want to know what they are. She put her finger on the nub of the problem with the Bill, which is that the meat is not on the face of it.

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