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I know that there is much public support, including from many animal welfare organisations, for an immediate ban on electric training aids and shock collars, but some argue strongly that electric shock collars can be useful training mechanisms in the last resort. They also argue that the alternative is euthanasia for the animal which, I hope, most hon. Members would not support. We are keen to conduct more research on the issue, because there is an absence of good research on electric shock collars. We are trying to get that research underway as quickly as possible and we have the power to address the issue through regulation-making powers.
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Mr. Gray: Does the Minister acknowledge that there is a difference between electric shock collars and electric fences, which define the limits in which a dog may travel? They are quite different; electric shock collars surprise the dog, the fence is something that they can get used to and expect.
Several Members raised the issue of tethering. Under the Bill, there is no intention to ban tethering, which can be an acceptable short-term method of animal control, but we expect to introduce a code on tethering, outlining best practice to ensure good welfare, in the first tranche of regulations in 2006 or 2007.
The Bill has been the result of long gestationof two elephants, as my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) pointed outand careful deliberation. The Government have listened carefully to all those with an interest in animal welfare and we believe that the Bill we have produced is in tune with the views of the public. I am pleased that it appears to enjoy strong cross-party support in the House. It places a new responsibility on animal keepers and owners, without intruding too much into the lives of the vast majority who already provide good care for their pets.
Mr. Bradshaw: There is nothing to prevent the issuing of written warnings. We are simply keen not to dictate to the RSPCA and others that they should take that course. In a serious case, they may want to move straight to prosecution, but nothing in the Bill prevents the issuing of a written warning. In fact, the whole ethos of the Bill is to try in the long run to avoid so many prosecutions, to prevent cruelty in the first place and to reduce costs to the courts, the RSPCA and the taxpayer, as well as improving animal welfare.
The Bill provides greater protection for animals while ensuring that enforcement authorities are better able to enforce welfare standards. It is ambitious but proportionate, and I commend it to the House.
David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op):
I present a petition initiated by the Animal Protection Agency, based in my constituency. The petition contains more than 15,000 signatures.
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The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons emulate other Commonwealth countries by passing legislation which makes provision for the Petitioners to seek compensation in the civil courts from the installers and maintainers of unsafe domestic warm ducted air heating. The Petitioners further request that the House of Commons urge the Government to establish a not-for-profit, independent services commission with responsibility for the testing of domestic heating, ventilation, sanitation, electrical, gas and sewage services; and examination and licensing of all housing construction practitioners to ensure health and safety in the home.
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