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I assure the Minister that there will be many Members of the House, and many organisations and individuals outside it, who will look carefully at the regulations in relation to pet fairs. I am one of those who wish that the Government had taken the
opportunity to interpret what many of us felt was the existing law in the way in which some local authorities have been interpreting it for years: that is, to say that pet fairs are against the law and should not be licensed. Unfortunately, there was inconsistency. Now we have a kind of consistency in the Governments proposals in that commercial pet fairs and markets are not to be licensed, but those organised by groups of hobbyists and specialist societies concerned with a particular breed or species of animal might well be able to find themselves with a licence.
I am afraid that the sad history of pet fairs leads me to believe that there will be many people who will do their utmost to circumvent those regulations. Many people with informed views on the subject believe that not only would that bring the law into disrepute, but it may have sad consequences for animal welfare itself, because of the conditions at many pet fairs that have taken place in the past. I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their position during the course of the consideration of the Bill.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Like my hon. Friend, I spent many an hour on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. It is interesting that the Government basically stopped all shows during the time when there was a big threat of avian influenza. In these days when animal diseases are much more prevalent, the issue is not just animal welfare, but its interconnectedness with the fact that there is a threat if there are large numbers of birds or animals together. Does he agree that the Government ought to bear that in mind?
David Lepper: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. At an earlier stage in the consideration of the Bill, I drew the Ministers attention to many peoples concerns about the potential for the spread of avian flu as a result of the conditions in some bird fairs.
I emphasise again that, although I welcome what the Minister has said and will listen with interest to what he has to say in answer to the hon. Member for Leominster about the consultation on and scrutiny of the regulations, I assure him that many of us here, and outside Parliament, will look carefully at the detail to ensure that the more unscrupulous elements involved in the so-called caremore often the tradingof birds and animals do not get their way.
Mr. Hogg: I rise simply to support the determination of the Government to consult, as reflected in Lords amendment No. 12. I have two comments that I hope may reinforce the Governments commitment to consult effectively. First, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) said. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry if I mispronounced his constituency. The phrase to represent any interests is a narrowing phrase, because it confines itself, on the face of it, to those who represent interest groups established by association or institution or whatever.
It would be a great pity if the consultation were limited to such persons, especially when one sees the scope of the activities to which the regulations extend, as set out in subsections (5) and (8) of clause 13. They are activities in which many members of the public have a wide interest, even if they do not belong to one
of the recognised interest groups. For example, I possess a dog, I ride, shoot, fish and all the rest of it, but I belong to no association other than the Countryside Alliance. However, I undoubtedly have a range of interestsloosely definedand I would like to be one of the people to be consulted. I thus hope that the consultation powers will be widely interpreted.
Although we do not often agree on such matters, I think that I will echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on the nature of the consultation. In this instance, as in so many, the Government will rely on statutory instruments. We all know that statutory instruments are an imperfect way of legislating because they are either approved or rejected in whole. I would like the Government to be willing to lay before the House the regulations and the codein so far as it is different from a regulationin true draft for comment, before they are laid before the House for approval. That would enable the Government to take account of the views of right hon. and hon. Members on the draft, as opposed to the measure for approval, and allow members of the public to comment on the original draft. The Government would thus be able to test the acceptability of their proposal and amend it in time so that the House would not approve an imperfect draft.
Shona McIsaac: As many hon. Members have said, the Bill is a major step forward for animal welfare, because it updates 100-year-old legislation. We should be proud of that, but as others have said, we will be relying on regulations, which causes me some worry. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, if there is concern about a regulation that has been tabled, there is little that we can do about it. I was thus also going to suggest that drafts of such regulations should be produced before they are finally tabled, to allow comment and consultation. That would allow the organisations involved in discussions to point out possible flaws and problems with the regulations.
I am worried about circuses, although I will not make a lengthy speech on the subject. Contradictory comments have been made about the pathway of the discussions that are under way. I know that there is worry about the discussions on drawing up the regulations, so it would be useful to see regulations in draft before we finally approve them.
Mr. Drew: Does my hon. Friend agree that the working party that has been set up to discuss the arrangements for circuses should be called to account? It should give a clear definition of what it is doing and explain the way in which it carries out its discussions before bringing forward recommendations, because that is not clear to me, at least at the moment.
I am trying to reflect the mood of the House on Second Reading. At that time, we did not wish to go down the road of banning certain species, but that appears to be the direction in which the discussion group is moving. If anything, there should be a prohibition on performing animals. Any circus that
wished to have performing animalsdogs, or perhaps a horsecould then apply for an exemption from the prohibition. Such a scheme would be a better way forward and would reflect the mood of the House on Second Reading.
To echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) said, there will be people who will try their very best to circumvent any regulation that we put in place. That is a serious concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and I know a man in our area who will do anything he can to circumvent any regulations that we impose in respect of tail docking. I do not believe that he will stick to any such regulations. He will say that a cross-breed dogs grandparent was a spaniel, for example, and use any way he can to get around the law.
Enforcement is also a serious concern. I have recently been dealing with a case in Cleethorpes of a small zoo. The vets who inspected the conditions in which animals in the zoo were kept issued a damning report, but the local authority went ahead and gave the zoo a licence to keep the animals. We have to be careful about how we enforce the regulations that we impose, so that we can take on those who will do all they can to circumvent the law. Sadly, not everyone in Britain is an animal lover, despite the excellent work that the Bill represents.
Let me begin by trying to reassure the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about consultation. Throughout the passage of the Bill I have been prepared to hear representations from all interested individuals, and I am sure that my successors, whoever they are, will do the same. There is no intention to restrict consultation to people who have a particular interest in the subject of the regulation.
As a rule, we try to lay regulations in draft so that anyone can comment, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested. However, there is a trade-off between the number of consultations one has in hand and their different stages and speed. Ministers are always under pressure from some quarters to get regulations made as quickly as possible, but it is important that consultation takes place properly. The draft cat code is a case in point: it was published as a draft in an attempt to help hon. Members following a request made in Standing Committee, but we made it clear at the time that it was merely a prototype. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said, it was far too long and too detailed.
Norman Baker: If a consultation document is published on the web, for example, those who are interested will no doubt find it and be able to comment. However, some parish councillors in my patch complain to me that they are consulted on matters that have nothing to do with them. There is a balance to be struck: matters must be made available for consultation without swamping people who have no interest in the subject.
The hon. Member for Leominster asked which working groups are already up and running. There are groups on the primates code, the cat code, the dog code, circuses, and greyhounds. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations in an effort to achieve as great a degree of consistency as possible, but as one or two hon. Members pointed out, we might end up in different places on certain aspects of the Bill. I hope that we do not, but it is possible.
As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald pointed out, our original intention was to regulate the commercial selling of pet animals at pet fairs through a licensing scheme to be enforced by local authorities, but the High Court judgment of 14 June 2006 in relation to a judicial review in the case of Haynes v. Stafford borough council, which was about the issuing of a licence to the organisers of a pet fair under the Pet Animals Act 1951, led us to review our position. One of the findings of that review was that local authorities could not issue licences under the 1951 Act to organisers of pet fairs where those events fell within the activity described in section 2 of the Act and involved the sale of pet animals as part of a business to members of the public.
In the light of that judgment, the Government propose to prohibit the sale of pet animals to members of the public where this is part of a business at pet fairs. However, we also propose to make exceptions to this prohibition in the case of koi carp shows, racing pigeon sales and poultry sales. Such events will be licensed by local authorities under regulations to be made under the Bill. Events where there is no selling of animals to members of the public, or where there is selling of animals but not in the course of a business, such as hobbyists selling excess stock, will continue to take place.
All events where animals are present will be subject to the welfare offence, whether or not they are specifically regulated by a local authority. We believe, and we have received a large amount of support from animal welfare organisations and some of the hobbyist organisations, that the revised proposals on pet fairs, combined with our proposals to raise the standards of pet vending generally, as well as the introduction of the welfare offence for companion animals, provide the best protection yet for animals at pet fairs.
Mr. Bradshaw: There will be an exemption from the requirement for a licence for those events, because there is no evidence of which I am aware that there are any welfare problems with them. We do not want inadvertently to prevent an important and legitimate economic activity about which no concerns have been raised by animal welfare organisations.
I find the Ministers comments odd. Clearly, there are potential welfare implications in relation to any live creature. The Government have
legislation in place to deal with poultry kept as farm animals, for example, so why does the Minister believe there are no considerations regarding poultry sold at pet fairs?
Mr. Bradshaw: That is not what I said. I have tried to emphasise throughout our discussions on the Bill, when we have argued about whether events should or should not be included, that every event will be subject to the welfare offence. We took the view that it was not sensible to include the widespread and common sales of koi carp, poultry and racing pigeons in the ban on pet fairs, which would have been the effect of not granting the exemption that I mentioned. We are not aware and nobody has made us aware of particular welfare problems at such sales which require them to be banned, and that is consistent with all our veterinary advice. Also, a ban would have a disproportionate effect on those businesses.
I accept entirely what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said about the cat code. It is not the Governments intention to punish the owners of fat cats, although overfeeding an animal can be problematic [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) says from a sedentary position, it can be very cruel. When I first took on the portfolio from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I remember discussing overfeeding. I have known a number of pets which I think have suffered through overfeeding, but I am sure the right hon. Ladys cats are not among them.
Miss Widdecombe: I am sure the Minister will appreciate that one gets fat not just as a result of what one eats, but as a result of not exercising. Whereas some cats love to go out hunting, there are other cats, like mine, that prefer to curl up and sleep.
Mr. Bradshaw: I take the right hon. Ladys point. I agree that in the debate on obesity, whether human or animal, we often ignore the role of physical exercise and concentrate too much on diet. I hope I have reassured her that we published draft codes in good faith in response to requests, and we probably went into far too much detail. She is right about that. The codes will be consulted on, and she and every cat lover in the country will be able to comment on them.
Bill Wiggin: The Minister said that we will have an opportunity to be consulted on the codes but he did not clarify whether Parliament will have a pre-legislative opportunity. It might be helpful if the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, or some other august body, were given a chance to become involved with the codes. Perhaps the cat code could have been slimmed down.
On greyhounds, my noble Fried Lord Rooker gave a firm commitment on Report in another place that we will draft a regulation by 2008. The matter has rightly been given higher priority following concerns expressed in the press about abusealthough we must be careful what we say because it is currently sub judice. I look
forward to the report from the all-party group on animal welfare, which is conducting an inquiry into the welfare of greyhounds. We are still keen on self-regulation if possible, but only if all concerned can be satisfied that open and auditable self-regulation is possible. When I meet representatives of the greyhound industry tomorrow, I will ask them to deliver, as a minimum, four key points. We believe that the National Greyhound Racing Club should have a new name, should appoint more stipendiary stewards, and should have in place, or expect to have in the near future, UK service accreditation; and that the British Greyhound Racing Board should announce a significant increase in welfare funding. Should those requirements not be achieved, we will look to appoint an outside regulator.
On circuses, I reiterate what has been said here and in another place. The Government are committed to a ban on certain non-domesticated species currently used in circuses, with regulation coming into forceagain earlier than originally envisionedin 2008. I gave that commitment in the House on 8 March, and my noble Friend Lord Rooker repeated it in debate and in letters to peers. That decision will be based on scientific evidence. The circus working group, which has brought together the industry, welfare organisations and scientists involved with animal welfare, is up and running and giving advice. It will consider the scientific evidence and make recommendations to inform Ministers and to inform the debate. However, its role is to inform, not to prepare a binding list, and it is premature to draw conclusions as to the evidence that it will provide.
Mr. Bradshaw: The amendments respond to concerns expressed in both Houses about the perceived absence of effective safeguards on the exercise of some of the powers in the Bill by introducing such safeguards.
Bill Wiggin: I think that it might be helpful to the House if Members do not pronounce the o in Leominster. For the purposes of this Bill, I will forgive them if they make it rhyme with hamster.
I welcome the inclusion of measures to deal with appeals through the Crown Court. They provide an extra legal procedure to check on the actions of inspectors and constables who will save an owner time and expense when they wish to appeal. An inspector or constable will have the power to take a protected animal in distress into his possession, and a magistrates court can then proceed to make arrangements for the
animal. The original drafting contained no provisions for the owner to appeal. In that respect, the principle behind amendment No. 27 is admirable. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify a point about subsection (2), which states:
Nothing may be done under an order under section 20(1) unless
(a) the period for giving notice of appeal against the order has expired, and
(b) if the order is the subject of an appeal, the appeal has been determined or withdrawn.
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