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Given his previous satisfaction with this clause, will he explain to the House how the addition of the word “reasonable” will make a difference, and can he give some examples?

Mr. Bradshaw: Well—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Technically, the Minister must ask the leave of the House when he responds.

Mr. Bradshaw: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respond to that point. One example would be the case of a journalist who was present at an animal fight. It would not be possible to say that that journalist had “lawful authority” to be
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present, but he could have a “reasonable excuse”. The amendment allows us to make sure that there is consistency throughout the Bill, by ensuring that the word “reasonable” is included in clause 7, as it is in other parts of the Bill.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 11 agreed to.

Clause 13

Licensing or registration of activities involving animals

Lords amendment: No. 12.

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 amendments Nos. 13 to 19 and 53.

Mr. Bradshaw: The Lords amendments deal with the making of regulations, and give right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to raise any concerns about the proposed time scale for the laying of regulations under the Bill. I urge the House to agree with all the Lords amendments, which were made by the Government on Report in the other place, and reflect commitments that my colleague, Lord Rooker, gave both in Grand Committee and in the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. Lords amendments Nos. 12 and 19 introduce a duty to consult before introducing any licensing or registration schemes under clause 13, and before revoking a code of practice under clause 17.

Lords amendments Nos. 13 to 18 are minor drafting amendments to bring the wording of the duty to consult under clauses 15 and 16 into line with the wording of the duty in clauses 12, 13 and 17. Lords amendment No. 53 responds to concerns expressed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that if a code of practice is revoked and not replaced there is no parliamentary procedure governing that decision. In practice, we do not think that that will often happen, if at all, but because it would be an exceptional occurrence, we agree that parliamentary scrutiny of the decision is appropriate. On that basis, I urge the House to accept the Lords amendments.

Bill Wiggin: The subtle changes to the wording of the provisions for making regulations under the legislation are important, as they appear to widen the scope for consultation. The Opposition have pushed for similar measures throughout, especially in Committee, when the Minister reassured us that such technical amendments were not necessary. It is important when drafting regulations and codes that everyone with an interest in those matters should have their say and not be excluded. Members with a keen interest in this Bill will have been lobbied on various provisions by a wide range of people and organisations, and by considering all those views we have managed to produce a better Bill.

I wish to sound a note of caution, however, about the amendments and the question of whom the
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Minister chooses to consult. The Bill is improved by the requirement that the Secretary of State consult individuals

as opposed to consulting

I would be grateful if the Minister reassured us that he will consult individuals who do not necessarily represent a specific organisation or interest, too, and consider their views. If the Lords amendments shift the emphasis from individuals to delegates and representatives, someone who wants to be heard must be backed by a group. That is fine, unless individuals are prevented from participating in the consultation, because they are not part of a group. I am sure that the Minister can reassure me on that point.

It is important to conduct a thorough consultation on the future codes and regulations on which much of the legislation depends and on which owners, inspectors, prosecutors and the courts will base their decisions. We must wait for the individual animal codes to see how we can ensure that our cats have enough mental stimulation and are not too fat or too thin. We must wait to see the status of animals in circuses and the definition of pet fairs. We must wait, too, for the codes and regulations that govern the welfare of racing greyhounds. There is tremendous pressure on the Minister to produce those codes sooner rather than later, and I am pleased that he has already prioritised greyhounds. There is a need for action now, as the stories in the newspapers over the summer about the killing of tens of thousands of dogs demonstrated. I hope, however, that the extra time will be used wisely for a thorough consultation and scrutiny by Parliament.

It would be helpful if the Minister updated us on the progress of the production of those codes and regulations, and told us which working groups he has established. In Committee, he could not tell us how many codes of practice he intended to introduce. Will he sketch out his ideas for pre-legislative scrutiny of the codes, which are subject to negative resolution? I hope that there will be no need to pray against them. Will he explain how consistency will be maintained across Great Britain in producing regulations and codes, as Scotland has a different Act and Wales can produce its own secondary legislation? With regard to his earlier responses, different definitions could apply to the docking of working dogs in Wales. I hope that we will have an opportunity for helpful pre-legislative scrutiny before the codes are introduced in statutory instruments, and I hope that he can reassure me about the importance of allowing individuals to take part in consultation.

5.15 pm

Mr. Martlew: The Animal Welfare Bill is a landmark Bill. It is tremendous; anybody who is involved in animal welfare will applaud it. In the future, when the Minister looks back following a long ministerial career, he will take pride in the fact that he took it through the House.

I wish to say something about the regulations on racing greyhounds. As has been pointed out, earlier this year in The Sunday Times there was an horrendous story about the slaughter of up to 10,000 greyhounds in County Durham. There is obviously an urgent need
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to address the issue. Can the Minister give us an idea of what the timetable will be for that, and what attention will be given to non-regulated tracks?

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I shall concentrate on two issues. First, regulations are usually designed to give effect to a Bill that has been agreed to by the House and the measures contained therein, but in respect of pet fairs, the Government have radically changed their position from that which they set out when they initially brought the Bill before the House, and the banning of pet fairs is not in the Bill. Therefore, in many ways we are completely at the mercy of the Government in respect of what they do with regulations on this matter, because there is nothing in the Bill to guide them.

I have been very concerned about the Government’s attitude towards pet fairs throughout. I share the sentiments of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who said that this is a most important Bill and that people with an interest in animal welfare will welcome it. Those of us with an interest in animal welfare were baffled, however, at the original decision that pet fairs would not be banned. We were further concerned when the current situation was tested to the limit in June of this year when the Parrot Society UK—apparently acting on the advice of somebody in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who it is said has been involved in the drafting of this Bill—organised a one-day public bird sale to test the state of the law and proclaimed that the birds were not pet birds, but were breeding birds.

When there are such ways of getting around the law—or of attempting to do so—I am somewhat dubious about the whole of this business being left to regulations, although I accept that I am now faced with a fait accompli. As I understand it, the Minister is proposing that new measures will be laid in regulations permitting occasional private and non-commercial sales between hobbyists. I think that most of us could say, “Yes, that is perfectly reasonable.”, but we should look at the way that the law was circumvented—or the way that an attempt was made to do so—with that parrot fair. Thousands were in attendance; it was not a hobby fair at all. Therefore, we need to be assured that these regulations will be extremely tight, and that there will be a good opportunity for this House to examine them before they just get relegated to being statutory instruments, when it will all become a fait accompli.

The second thing that I am particularly concerned about is the codes. I have looked at the draft code: I have looked at it, I have blinked in disbelief and I have read it again. Apparently, I, as a cat owner, who has had cats that have lived to be 23 before now—

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Hear, hear.

Miss Widdecombe: I thank the hon. Lady. I, as a cat owner, who has had cats that have lived to be 23 before now and who regularly takes them to the vet and deeply attends to their welfare, am now being told that I commit an offence if I cannot say—which I cannot—how much my cat should weigh in order to keep me within the law, relevant to its bone structure, its size and its breed. I do not have a clue about that.

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Furthermore, I am informed that I commit an offence—if this code of practice informs the law—if I do not provide for due privacy for my cats when they visit the litter box. The code actually says that we must take cognisance of an animal’s preference for privacy. Do the people who wrote this code have any experience of animals’ preference for privacy? They do not have any preference for privacy when they are discharging their natural functions. They will walk out during a barbecue and do it there and then, in the middle of the lawn. However, I commit an offence in law if I do not have regard for the animal’s “preference for privacy”.

That may sound entirely humorous, but it genuinely is in the code of practice. The more serious point is that we all know what happens when codes and regulations get too detailed and the implementers get too zealous: ordinary citizens who cannot get the police round when they have been burgled find that they are on the wrong end of the law for what most people would consider entirely silly nonsense. We have to know that this code of practice, with all its silly detail, will be applied only with an exceptionally light hand and only in the spirit of the legislation, which talks about neglect, cruelty and indifference to welfare, and that it will not penalise some poor owner who cannot say how much her cat should weigh. I will of course make a point of asking the vet about that when my cats go for their annual boosters, and I will write the information down and carry it round in my pocket, so that I can pull it out if I am ever asked for it. I say that only slightly sarcastically, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that law has a habit of growing its own legs.

Norman Baker: The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) rightly said that this is a good Bill which is welcomed in all parts of the House, but ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have taken on trust promises from the Government to introduce codes on a range of matters that are of great concern to Members in all parts of the House, and we have not disbelieved the Minister’s integrity or his intention to introduce them. We were told, cliché notwithstanding, that this was not going to be a “Christmas tree Bill”—a phrase used regularly in Committee and even on Second Reading. However, we must ensure that these codes are introduced quickly and as a matter of priority, as people would wish—I agree that the issue of greyhounds also needs to be dealt with speedily—and, to pick up on the point just made by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), that they are well written. I have no idea how much my cats weigh, either, and I have no intention of finding out.

We must press the Minister this afternoon for some indication of what he is doing about these outstanding matters. He was good enough to say in his introductory remarks that he would give such an indication, and I assume that, as we are discussing codes, he feels that this is the appropriate time to do so. Although we have made welcome significant progress in a number of areas, even at this very late stage in the Bill’s consideration—at five minutes to midnight—there remain unresolved issues on which it is not quite clear where the Government are going. For example, the situation regarding circuses has, if anything, become less rather than more clear as a consequence of the Bill’s passage through the Lords. Lord Rooker said that

6 Nov 2006 : Column 607

But between Report and Third Reading, he wrote to peers saying,

the group being set up by the Government—

Those two statements could be read as being slightly contradictory, and it would be helpful if the Minister clarified the position this afternoon.

Can the Minister also say whether, ultimately, the codes will consider issues such as training and performance, which the circus working group appears not to have taken on board? It is a question not simply of the winter conditions in which animals are kept, but how they are performed—or otherwise—and trained. The Minister will know that there are significant concerns about the training methods used in circuses; indeed, that is one reason why many of us feel uncomfortable about animals being in circuses in the first place. I hope that the Minister can offer some clarification.

The Minister will also be aware that minimum display pen sizes are an issue. I hope that they will feature in the regulations, notwithstanding the light touch that, in theory, I endorse. Those of us who advocate a light touch also want some detail on issues such as pen sizes, given the current significant variation between the average circus pen size and—if we are comparing zoo licensing conditions with circuses, as the Minister has considered doing—the average zoo outdoor pen size.

The Minister has still some way to go to achieve the conditions that I would like to see, which, with the possible exception of dogs and horses, is an end to performing animals in circuses. There is even more need to provide clarification of the Government’s intentions, which are still not entirely clear even at this late stage of the Bill.

In common with the Minister and the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), I should like to mention greyhounds. I hope that the Minister will confirm that their welfare is a priority for his codes and that the matter will be dealt with sooner rather than later, particularly given, as the hon. Member for Leominster said, some of the terrible stories that appeared in the national press over the summer. I do not know whether I should declare an interest, but my brother breeds greyhounds— [Interruption]. He does; one cannot be judged by one’s family. My brother tells me that he is concerned by the existing loopholes and he wants them closed. I know from someone I know in the industry that there is concern about those matters. Those who act responsibly in the industry, as much as those outside it, want the provisions tightened up.

Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Kevin Brennan): Does he give you any tips?

Norman Baker: He has not given me any tips, but if he does, I shall communicate them in due course.

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The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald referred to pet fairs. We should be grateful that the Government have moved on this issue as their position was unsustainable in the early stages. They have listened, but there are still problems with the types of events that are referred to and there are gaping loopholes. It is all very well to say that the commercial sale of animals will be prohibited—we can all agree with that—but what is and is not a commercial sale? Who is going to police the provision and who will determine what is such a sale? We need a law not only that we agree with philosophically, but that can be understood and enforced by the enforcement agencies and can be interpreted by the courts. I am not sure that we have got that for pet fairs.

We have the unsatisfactory position by which the Pet Animals Act 1951 is subject to varying interpretation by local authorities. This is the opportunity to sort that out once and for all and arrive at a position with which people agree. I fear that we will not do that.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is right. However, because of the nature of the Bill, we could end up with different rules in Scotland and in Wales.

Norman Baker: We could, indeed, end up with that, but I suspect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I went on about devolution in too much detail. We will have problems, but it is an inevitable part of devolution. It is not a reason not to have different rules by which the Scots and the Welsh are entitled to express their opinions and form their own legislation. For England at least, I hope that we have a clear answer from the Minister that gives us confidence not only that the will of the House is being met but that codes will be drawn to be enforceable.

David Lepper: Although I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, like the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I was one of those who spent many happy and sometimes fraught hours a couple of years ago on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee considering the draft Bill and making proposals about the legislation. I am therefore pleased to be here today to consider the last stage of the Bill’s passage through the House.

Like others, I welcome the Bill as landmark legislation of which the Government and all those involved in its framing can be proud. Although I welcome the Minister’s comments about the scrutiny of regulations and the written announcement on the Government’s attitude to pet fairs that he made on, I believe, 10 October, following the Stafford pet fair judgment, I wish briefly to echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker).

5.30 pm

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