Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bradshaw: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but there are all sorts of difficulties and complications associated with burden of proof when it comes to videoing fights. However, we can flesh out these issues and explore them in more detail in Committee.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg    Mulholland) spoke at some length about abandonment, but his argument is probably based on a misunderstanding. Abandoning an animal in a manner that is likely to cause suffering will continue to be illegal under this Bill. We have dropped specific reference to abandonment because it leads to all sorts of difficulties associated with definition. Other Members have raised the issue of keeping game—

Greg Mulholland: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw: In a second; let me first explain that our removing from the Bill specific reference to abandonment does not fundamentally change the law. Releasing game birds into the wild, or releasing fish into ornamental ponds, gives rise to great difficulties with the definition of abandonment. We have a much better way of dealing with abandonment—through the welfare and cruelty offences.

Greg Mulholland: I do not doubt that the definition gives rise to certain issues, but does the Minister not agree that the abandonment of domestic pets is by nature a bad thing that automatically causes suffering? We are talking about a tautology—abandonment should be an offence in itself.

Mr. Bradshaw: It is and it will be prosecuted as such under the Bill, but it does not need to be referred to specifically because it is covered by the welfare offence.

Those who sell pets over the internet as a business have to have a licence, just as pet shops do. Those who sell them privately do not, just as those who advertise in a local newspaper do not. We accept that there are particular issues connected with the internet, which is why we are proposing introducing a code of conduct. As with other internet issues, there are particular problems with enforcement, but again, we can examine this matter in more detail in Committee.

A number of Members expressed concern about the extent of the delegated powers. As I have said, the Bill tries to strike a balance between being flexible and allowing future Governments to change the law in the light of changing scientific evidence, mores and public attitudes, and not giving Governments so much power that they can ride roughshod over public, or even parliamentary, opinion. I remind Members that we have had similar secondary legislative powers in respect of farmed animals for 30 years and they have worked extremely well. They have enabled us to keep up to date with the latest advice, public attitudes and what we learn about how animals feel, without needing to come back to Parliament every time to seek primary legislation.
 
10 Jan 2006 : Column 245
 

The general mood of this House was to support the Bill in that respect, while seeking assurances that we intend to come back to the House and deal with such matters through secondary legislation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave that assurance in her opening remarks, and I repeat that a number of safeguards will be in place to ensure that new orders, regulations and codes will be subject to the appropriate level of scrutiny. We are committed to public consultation on any regulations or codes that we wish to introduce, before final approval by Parliament. The vast majority of them will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

I said that this was not a Christmas tree Bill on which hon. Members should try to hang baubles, but I shall deal with some of the baubles brought forward in the debate. I assure the House that all the matters to be dealt with in secondary legislation will be considered in full, both in Committee and when the regulations arising from them are debated. However, it may help hon. Members if I outline the Government's approach to some of the most contentious issues.

I turn first to the use of wild animals in circuses. Very few circuses in this country still use wild animals in acts. To our knowledge, only seven circuses in total use animals at all, while only three use wild ones. By the way, Ellie the Elephant has been retired: she is no longer used in an act, and is only photographed.

Mr. Martlew: That means not only that she is not with others of her species, but that she is carted around the country all the time. Does my hon. Friend find that acceptable?

Mr. Bradshaw: I was about to explain that, although Ellie is no longer used in acts, she has been in captivity all her life. Given the level of public interest in the case, we have looked at the matter very carefully, as I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge. The expert veterinary advice that we have received is that, at her age, and given that she is used to her present environment, it would be more distressing for her if she were put into a different one. That will hold true as long as her welfare needs are met, and I assure my hon. Friend that she has been inspected.

Although the Bill does not set out to ban activities, the welfare offence that it introduces, and the requirement that the welfare needs of animals must be met, will in effect mean that many wild animal acts in circuses will no longer be possible. Again, that is a matter to which we will return in Committee.

Mark Pritchard: Does the Minister agree that the Government are in danger of causing the greatest harm to animals through clause 29? If an animal's owner, or the person who is responsible for an animal, is convicted under the Bill, the court will be able to dispose of that animal. That might lead to its death: if, like Dr. Dolittle, we could ask the animal involved whether it would rather live with some abuse or die, I think that it might choose the former.

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall come to some of the sanctions in a moment, but I do not agree at all with that analysis.
 
10 Jan 2006 : Column 246
 

I listened extremely carefully to the views about tail docking expressed in the debate from hon. Members of all parties. I note that there was very little support for the status quo, but the Government are not persuaded about what is a very contentious issue. There is still a dispute about the science involved, and many people think that this is a matter of ethics. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her opening remarks, we will continue to listen very carefully to the views of the House, and we will take soundings about the issue in Committee.

I visited Crufts the year before last—I think that I was the first Minister to do so—and a number of owners of docked breeds told me that they felt that the time when tail docking was acceptable had passed. As I say, we will listen very carefully to what hon. Members have to say, and act accordingly.

On pet fairs, I am not sure that all hon. Members appreciate that the term can cover a wide range of gatherings. Some of them involve the sale of animals or birds, whereas others merely involve the exchange of expertise by enthusiasts who come together to share good practice. Therefore, there are some arguments—although they were not offered in the Chamber today—for the retention of pet fairs in some form. That is one reason why the Government are considering licensing rather than banning them. We have not seen any convincing evidence that it is impossible to meet the welfare needs of animals at pet fairs.

David Lepper: I believe that the Minister is wrong in that, and in my contribution I made it clear that I wanted to make a distinction between pet fairs and   markets where birds and other animals are sold, and gatherings of enthusiasts who want to exhibit, and exchange information about, the birds or other creatures that they rear. I think that he will find that most of the animal welfare organisations that believe that there is evidence to justify banning pet fairs distinguish between them and gatherings of enthusiasts for the purposes of exhibition and the exchange of information.

Mr. Bradshaw: Some may, but others would like a ban on all such gatherings. The Government are not convinced that that is justified, but we think that strict licensing requirements are the best way forward.

My hon. Friend made a point about the repeal or otherwise of the Pet Animals Act 1951. It is our intention to repeal section 2 of the Act, as amended, and to clarify its provisions with respect to pet fairs. I apologise that the final version of the Bill includes a power to repeal section 1 but has inadvertently omitted the repeal of section 2. We intend to address that through Government amendment at the appropriate stage.

We also want to ensure good provision of welfare for all racing greyhounds, whether they race under the National Greyhound Club racing rules or at independent tracks. We believe that that can be achieved through good regulation and, as several hon. Members have said, considerable progress has been made. However, we do not rule out regulation if we become convinced that self-regulation will not be effective. We should not forget that greyhounds, and all the other
 
10 Jan 2006 : Column 247
 
animals about which Members have expressed concern, will be immediately subject to the welfare provisions when the Bill is passed. The welfare of animals will not have to wait until the secondary legislation is made: animals will benefit immediately from the introduction of the welfare offence.

Several hon. Members raised concerns about snares, and I have to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who called for a complete ban. The Government are not convinced that that is justified at this stage. Gamekeepers and wildlife managers have a legitimate use for snares and if we were to ban them, other methods that are more cruel, more dangerous and less easy to control would be used. That is not a sensible way forward. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), recently published a new code of conduct on snares which is a big step forward. The Bill will, of course, introduce a duty of care for animals trapped in a snare. It will be a requirement that animals trapped in snares will be despatched quickly and humanely or released. I hope that that goes some way to reassure my hon. Friend.

The issue of primates as pets is not dealt with directly in the Bill, although the remarks I made about circuses apply equally to primates. The courts, the RSPCA and others could well make the argument that it is not possible to meet the welfare needs of a primate in certain conditions. In fact, primates are really only suitable for imports by zoos, scientific institutions or specialist keepers. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is responsible for wildlife imports, has recently gone out to public consultation on proposals to prohibit the keeping of certain CITES-listed species. That is essentially a conservation measure, but the Government are considering whether it would be appropriate to use those powers to restrict the keeping of primates as pets.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of pheasants, game rearing in general and the use of battery cages for pheasants. We share people's concern. It does seem anomalous that battery cages for chickens have been banned and are being phased out in the European Union but we still have similar devices for the rearing of pheasants. It is certainly an issue that we will address through codes of conduct and regulation in due course.


Next Section IndexHome Page