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national health service bill [ lords]

Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Consolidation Bills),

Question agreed to.

Read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

national health service (consequential provisions) bill [ lords]

Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Consolidation Bills) and Order [26 October],

Question agreed to.

Read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

national health service (Wales) bill [ lords]

Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Consolidation Bills),

Question agreed to.

Read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6)(Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

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Animal Welfare Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Clause 6

Docking of dogs’ tails

Lords amendment: No. 1.

4.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 and 52.

Mr. Bradshaw: Let me first take the opportunity to thank those in the other place, particularly Lady Byford, Lady Miller and my colleagues Lord Bach and Lord Rooker, for their hard work on the Bill after it left the House of Commons. I also thank all Members of this House.

It is especially nice to see some doughty animal welfare champions present today, including the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and—in his old place on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). On the Labour Benches, I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove). My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon must have just dashed out; she was here a minute ago. Both my hon. Friends played an important part in Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon can take credit for some of the improvements in relation to circus animals. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who is also present, does sterling work as chairman of the all-party animal welfare group.

It is incumbent on me to thank the public and all the animal welfare organisations that have had such an important—

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Role?

Mr. Bradshaw: Such an important input and role, yes. I do not quite recall my right hon. Friend playing such a large part in the Bill’s passage, but it is very nice to see him in his place.

I thank the animal welfare groups and the public, who responded to our consultation in record numbers. Last but not least, I thank my excellent officials from the Department, who have done a terrific job working across the parties to try to secure what I hope will be an important, historic measure that will receive Royal Assent shortly. It might help Members to know in advance that the Government will accept all the Lords amendments.

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend will know, a number of aspects of the Bill, especially the holding of pet fairs, will be subject to the making of regulations. In the light of a recent judgment and my hon. Friend’s statement on it, will he guarantee that there will be extensive consultation on the detail of regulations to ensure that such events are
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organised only by hobbyist and interest groups? Will he guarantee that the regulations will be cast-iron, and that—within reason—there can be no breaches?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am happy to give that reassurance. I will say a little more about pet fairs when we discuss the time scale for regulations, but my hon. Friend is right. There are three issues in relation to which matters of substance have shifted somewhat since they were last discussed in this House. As he says, the issue of pet fairs is one of them because of the legal judgment; the other two are circuses and greyhounds. I will say a little about all three later.

This group of amendments deals with tail docking, which, as hon. Members will probably recall, was debated at length in this House. Following a free vote, an offence was created of docking a dog’s tail other than for medical treatment unless the dog is a certified working dog. The amendments made in the other place do not in any way deviate from that policy, but they are necessary to give full and proper effect to it. Several amendments agreed in the other place are technical, to address an oversight in the drafting of the delegated power, which did not completely allow us to achieve the policy that I described in the debate before the free vote.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the Minister address amendment No. 2, which mentions dogs “of a type”. What will be the position for dogs that are not pure bred—half breeds or mongrels—but have, for example, a spaniel-like tendency?

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall come on to the issue of specific types, but I specifically committed, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember, to restricting the types of dogs that can be docked to spaniels, terriers, hunt-point-retrieve breeds and crosses of any of those types. The amendments are necessary to allow us to achieve that very restriction.

A further set of amendments was agreed on Report in the other place.

Mr. Hogg: How far down the pedigree will the authority allow vets to go? Some dogs have spaniels two or three steps down the generational ladder. How is the vet to be satisfied that the dog meets the definition of a working dog? I have some difficulty in understanding that.

Mr. Bradshaw: That is why we are leaving it up to the discretion of vets. They will generally take their responsibilities seriously and they will require a certification that the dog will be used for shooting in some way. It is better for vets to be able to make a decision about whether a dog belongs to one of those breeds or is a mix, provided the evidence is given to them by the owner. It is not up to us to second-guess how they will arrive at that decision.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): My concern is that the amendment could drive a coach and horses through the provisions in the Bill. If my hon. Friend recalls the position, vets should not—ethically speaking—be docking tails, but some are doing so. My fear is that those vets who are prepared to dock tails will accept any dog as falling within the definition.

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Mr. Bradshaw: If they did so, they would be in contravention of the Bill. I do not want to revisit the long debates we had on the issue. My hon. Friend lost the vote when we had a free vote, and those of us who advocated an exemption for working breeds won the vote. We have worked hard to try to make the process as easy as possible. If one looks at the animal welfare provision in countries that have the blanket ban that he advocates, it is apparent that it does not work in many cases, because they do not have the accompanying ban on showing, for example, or they have not tightened the regulations in the way we have. My officials and I are confident that this is probably the best we are going to get, given the will of the House as expressed in that free vote. At this late hour, it is not even possible to revisit that.

A further set of amendments was agreed in the other place, prompted by concerns raised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It was worried that vets could be accountable if they had been misled into docking a dog illegally and that assessing a dog as “likely to work” from evidence provided was not within their professional expertise and training. Instead, the amendments will allow a vet to certify that he has seen the evidence required by regulations to demonstrate that a dog is likely to work.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I echo the thanks from the Minister to those who have worked so hard on the Bill to ensure that it is as good as it is, including those in the other place, officials and the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities and groups. I am also pleased that the Bill has returned from the other place with the working dog exemption, for which this House voted, still in place.

5 pm

As the Minister said, tail docking and the debates it sparked in Committee and in the Chamber have been the most emotive and controversial parts of the Bill, but we have reached a rational and reasoned position. The amendments, which were originally suggested by Lord Soulsby and then taken on by the Government, offer a sensible way forward. The RCVS has expressed concerns about veterinary surgeons being responsible for determining whether a dog is a working dog and the legal liabilities that would entail. When vets are docking the tail of a working dog they want proof of the need to dock the tail to lie with the dog’s owner or handler; otherwise they will be reluctant to carry out the procedure. The amendment resolves those concerns.

We remain uncertain, nevertheless, about which breeds of dog the Government will permit to be docked, as well as about what evidence will demonstrate that a dog is to be used for working purposes, although the Minister touched on that point in answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I was a little surprised to read the comments of Lord Rooker, who stated that he did

Although I hope that will be detailed in the forthcoming regulations, it would be helpful if the Minister made things a little clearer. Will he let us know when he plans to publish which breeds will
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qualify as working dogs, and when he will indicate the form of evidence that will be required to prove that a dog may work?

On Report in the other place, also at column 998, Lord Rooker was asked whether some form of micro-chipping would be used to identify working dogs whose tails had been docked when they were puppies. Is the Minister any closer to deciding whether micro-chipping will have a role to play in identifying working dogs?

Mr. Hogg: I am not against the docking of the tails of working dogs; indeed, in many cases it is wholly appropriate, but I want to say a few words about amendment No. 2. I would prefer to leave the question of identifying types to the discretion of the veterinary surgeon. However, that will not be the impact of the amendment.

As I understand it, the authority will, by regulation, determine whether a dog is capable of falling within the classification “working dog”—that it is of a type. That may not be particularly difficult when one is dealing with pure breeds, but it becomes very difficult when dealing with crosses, especially when somewhere down the track the grandsire or the grandmother is a spaniel.

The proposed procedure is curious, because I do not see how the regulating authority will be able to define a dog, other than a pure-bred animal, as a type capable of falling within the classification “working dog”. That is not leaving things to the discretion of the veterinary surgeon, as the Minister suggested; it gives the definitional function to the authority and it is not easy to perform that function other than in relation to pure breeds.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Like the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I accept that a problem will inevitably occur if exceptions are made. The House has decided to make an exception to allow some tail docking so a definitional problem must automatically follow.

I normally agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his analysis of such matters, but in this case it depends on the regulations. Flexibility for veterinary surgeons could be built into the regulations—indeed, it would be extraordinary if it were not—so we should wait until they are published before making a judgment. However, although I agree that it is important that such matters should be as clear as possible, it is also important that we do not end up with bad law, so that a vet could regard an animal as a working dog but would not be allowed to make that judgment due to the drafting of the regulations. In a sense, this discussion is about what the regulations might say, and the Minister and his officials will no doubt take it into account when they are drafted.

I should like to respond to the Minister’s opening remarks. He has dealt with the Bill in a welcome manner, and the measure is better for the open response that he and his officials showed.

Mr. Bradshaw: In answer to the questions posed, the list will have to be published alongside the regulations, and that will coincide with the implementation of the Bill in spring 2007. Let me respond to part, if not all, of the question asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about how a vet certifying a dog could be sure of
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whether it was descended from a dog that had been cross-bred several generations ago. I am advised by my officials that a veterinary surgeon who certifies a dog must see the dam—that is, the mother—which would have to be of a recognisable type. The mother is likely to be a pure breed in most cases. That is the advice that I received from our vets. To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), the regulations will specify that a dog must be identified by micro-chip.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 7

Administration of poisons etc.

Lords amendment: No. 10.

Mr. Bradshaw: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 11.

Mr. Bradshaw: Lords amendment No. 10 will ensure that there is consistency in the Bill, and addresses an anomaly that resulted from an amendment made to the Bill earlier, in this House. Clause 8 was amended on Report to clarify the defences available for certain elements of the offence of animal fighting. Those defences are “lawful authority” or “reasonable excuse”. Lords amendments Nos. 10 and 11 were proposed to ensure that the defences in clause 7, which is on the administration of poisons and other matters, were consistent with the approach taken in clause 8. On that basis, I commend the amendments to the House.

Bill Wiggin: I was slightly surprised to see that Lords amendments Nos. 10 and 11 had been made to the Bill. If the Minister casts his mind back to Committee in January, he will remember that we debated the issue while considering an amendment that I tabled on liability for incidents of accidental poisoning. During that debate, he assured me that the clause covered accidental poisonings. He said that

He went on to state that he believed

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