Animal Welfare Bill

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Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure that I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman on the points that he raised. I simply reiterate that the provision satisfies the devolutionary settlement. We will come to tail docking later today or on Thursday. In the event of tail docking being banned for dogs, a prosecution would be brought against the person who had carried out the illegal procedure. So yes, there would be a territorial implication, but the same point could be made about tail-docking tourism to European countries where the procedure would still be allowed.

Bill Wiggin rose—

The Chairman: Order. I suspect that there is going to be copious opportunity to discuss tail docking more specifically later in the Bill. I understand that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue to illustrate a point in connection with the amendment. That is perfectly in order, but a full debate on tail docking, which we will have in due course, is not. I am afraid that he will have to decide whether he wants to press the amendment to a Division or withdraw it.

Bill Wiggin: Having heard what the Minister said, I think that his hon. Friends will have the opportunity to persuade him that their passionate feelings about any issue covered in the Bill may be damaged by the devolutionary part. Due to my track record on
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devolution, I am not going to press the amendment, in order to show that not only is my mind open, but that I am very fond of Wales, particularly the Conservative Members of the Welsh Assembly Government who do a tremendous job. I would hate people to think that my interest in this part of the Bill is about me and Wales instead of the great danger that people might be able to cross the border and escape some of the helpful parts of the Bill that I hope will be enacted. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: I am satisfied that the matters arising from clause 1 have been satisfactorily debated.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

''Protected animal''

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 105, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out 'or' and insert 'and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 106, in clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end add—

    '(2) In this section, ''temporary basis'' means an occasion when the care of and responsibility for a ''protected animal'' passes from one person, or persons, to another person, or persons, by mutual consent.'.

No. 107, in clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end add—

    '(2) In this section, ''wild state'' includes animals which—

    (a) usually live independently from man in local habitats,

    (b) have been released from the control of man,

    (c) are no longer dependent on man to satisfy their welfare needs,

    (d) can come and go of their own accord, or

    (e) are ''wild animals'' that fulfil the criteria in this subsection and have been captured in the interests of animals control.'.

Bill Wiggin: This amendment has been suggested by some people and it is designed to avoid the application of offences under the Bill to animals that live in a wild state, but that are also of a kind that can be domesticated in Britain.

As the Bill is drafted, it is not clear whether such animals will be covered. A strong case can be made for their exclusion from the Bill because they can present a danger to human health that must be prevented. For example, a restaurant owner might wish to use rodenticides to prevent rats from entering the restaurant and endangering human health. However, because rats can be domesticated, the restaurant owner could be accused of committing an offence under clause 4(1), which would seem unreasonable given the circumstances of his actions. The amendment would clarify the situation because it marries the provision that an animal is not living ''in a wild state'', with the provision that it is

    ''under the control of man''.

Moreover, the amendment would ensure that animals that live wild, despite their possible domestication, remain outside the scope of the Bill. I suspect that the amendment very much does what the Government want it to do, and I hope that my drafting is sufficient to ensure that they take it very seriously.
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Amendment No. 106 seeks to clarify the expression ''temporary basis'' in clause 2(b). It is simply not enough to expect the courts to interpret what constitutes a state of temporary basis without some guidance in the Bill. The amendment specifies the circumstances that can be defined in law as a temporary basis. That guidance would help the judiciary if the term was tested in the courts.

The amendment places an emphasis on both people, or on both parties in the case of groups or organisations, to consent mutually to the change in control of the protected animal. It also makes it explicit that when control of an animal is handed over to another person on a temporary basis, that person becomes legally responsible for that animal. That would ensure that, in the event of a prosecution, it would be clearer to the court who was in control and responsible for an animal, and animals could not be placed under the control of a person or party without their knowing.

Amendment No. 107 intends to clarify the meaning of ''wild state''. The Bill does not contain an interpretation section, so the courts will require guidance on what constitutes a wild state. Consequently, legal problems could arise when conservationists or gamekeepers release animals back into their natural habitats, or when wild caught animals are caught in snares.

We do not want people who rear endangered species to be prosecuted for replenishing stocks of indigenous animals on the basis that, by releasing them, they are in effect violating their duty to ensure the welfare of the animal. Nor do we want gamekeepers to be prosecuted for releasing their game birds into the wild. When the Bill was first drafted, the EFRA Select Committee determined that gamekeepers should not continue to be responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of game birds once they have been released into the wild.

The amendment also makes it clear that animals released into the wild must be released into an indigenous local habitat. In doing so, it would prevent keepers of non-native animals from releasing them from their control into English and Welsh habitats. Furthermore, specifying the definition of ''wild state'' in the Bill would prevent future regulations from defining ''wild state'' differently and would ensure legal consistency.

Norman Baker: I am not entirely convinced that amendments Nos. 105 and 107 are very helpful to our consideration of the Bill. They may be well intentioned, but they may have a deleterious and counter-productive consequence. Amendment No. 105, which would replace ''or'' with ''and'', would weaken the Bill by requiring every condition, rather than simply one of them, to be met. That raises the barrier against any action, and therefore reduces the status of a protective animal.

Nor is it clear what would happen if an animal had ceased to be under the control of man and was living wild. How would something that had escaped from a circus, for example, be dealt with?

Shona McIsaac: Such as the four lions in Grimsby.
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Norman Baker: I am therefore not in favour of amendment No. 105.

Bill Wiggin: We heard the example of the lions in Grimsby, but it is very important that people do not release lions in Grimsby. That is what the amendment seeks to prevent.

Norman Baker: Animals are very intelligent and can escape—the hon. Gentleman told us about the octopuses—and we must take that into account.

Amendment No. 106 makes a sensible point. It is fair to seek clarification of what ''temporary basis'' means, and I hope that the Minister will clarify the term for the record this morning.

I am also unhappy with amendment No. 107. My assumption—perhaps the Minister will clarify this point—is that a game bird that has been kept in a cage is a protected animal. That is what he told me on Second Reading last week. Presumably it is no longer a protected animal when it is released. That is very clear, and does not require further changes to legislation. The amendment would muddy the waters. Under its proposed new clause 2(d), animals

    ''can come and go of their own accord''.

How does that deal with pets such as cats that wander in and out of cat flaps? My cats certainly come and go of their own accord, but I want them to be protected, so I am afraid that I cannot support the hon. Gentleman's amendments.

Shona McIsaac: As has been said, I agree that the insertion of the word ''and'' instead of ''or'' means that to be protected an animal must satisfy the criteria set out in all three paragraphs, rather than just one; that would reduce the number of animals that would be protected, so the amendment is not suitable for inclusion in the Bill.

As to the purpose of amendment No. 106, clarifying the term ''temporary basis'' might be helpful. Perhaps the Minister could consider that. However, the attempt in amendment No. 107 to redefine the term ''wild state'' does not work, as the hon. Member for Lewes said. When I read the definition, I thought of the three cats that I cannot say I owned, because they were fairly independent beasts—sadly they are no longer with us—and that came and went of their own accord. Nobody could have said that they were under my control. There is confusion in that attempt to redefine the term ''wild state'' and we should not support it.

Bill Wiggin: I take the point, and there is a concern about animals such as cats, which come and go. If the cat had been hit by a car, or required a vet, I think that the hon. Lady would have paid for it; she would have taken responsibility for her animals. The fact that she did not seek to constrain them does not mean that she was not responsible for them. We are trying, I think, to define an animal for which she is responsible, rather than one for which she is not. If she found a rat on her doorstep in a very unwell condition, she would not necessarily react by paying a vet's bill for it, whereas she would have done that for one of the cats in the same condition, because it was her cat. That is what we need to identify: whether the animal is wild or not.
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