Animal Welfare Bill

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Norman Baker: The confusion is about whether responsibility should rest with an owner if the owner is not in a position to discharge that responsibility—for example, if the animal has been stolen.

Mr. Bradshaw: I will come on to that point in a moment.

An owner who temporarily shares responsibility for the animal with another—for example, the owner of a boarding establishment—should be able to rely on the responsibility of the boarding kennel owner to secure his animal's needs, as long as he has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that he is passing on responsibility to a suitable person. Further, clause 3(1) specifies that it is possible to be responsible for an animal on a temporary basis. Therefore, to answer the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, if someone were to take possession of an animal unlawfully, they would in most cases be considered to be responsible for it. They would, after all, almost certainly be ''in charge'' of it on a temporary basis.

Norman Baker: That person might be in charge or in control, but they would not own the animal. Clause 3(3) states that

    ''a person who owns an animal shall always be regarded as being a person who is responsible for it.''

It is perfectly possible to own an animal and not be able to responsible for it.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am about to come on to that very point. The owner of an animal would also be considered to be responsible for it even if it had been stolen. However, it is important to remember that the
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person responsible for an animal has to take only such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure their animal's welfare. The obligations which that responsibility put on the owner whose animal had been stolen would, in most cases, be either extremely limited or nonexistent.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): As it is the first occasion on which I have spoken, I declare my interest as a member of the Countryside Alliance. What would happen in the case of an animal knocked over by a car? If the pet was not under the immediate control of its owner, but it was injured by a road vehicle and was lying in pain on the side of the road, who would be responsible for its welfare?

Mr. Bradshaw: The owner would have responsibility for it. However, as I have just pointed out, it would be expected only that the owner had taken reasonable care to ensure the animal's welfare. I cannot imagine a situation where a court would convict somebody for allowing their animal to be run over. However, if the animal was unable to move, it would be considered to be temporarily in the care of the person who had run it over. That person would be expected either to dispatch it humanely or to call a vet or the police to the scene to ensure that its welfare needs were met.

Norman Baker: To follow the Minister's point, the clarification he has given is reasonable. If an owner cannot be in a position to discharge his responsibility, that is a defence, but it is not stated in the Bill. Would it not be wise to have that qualification expressed in the clause?

Mr. Bradshaw: We believe that the wording that says that the owner of the animal shall take steps that are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that animal's welfare would cover the issues to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred.

Bill Wiggin: That is not on the face of the Bill.

12 noon

Mr. Bradshaw: It is in clause 8.

Turning to amendment No. 96, clause 4(2) will make it an offence for someone who is responsible for an animal to allow another person to cause it unnecessary suffering. This will mean that if, for example, an animal owner or other person responsible for the animal watches another person beat his animal, he too can be convicted of causing unnecessary suffering. This will apply only to someone who is responsible for the animal to which they permit someone else to cause unnecessary suffering. If the amendment is intended to clarify the meaning of ''responsibility'', it is unnecessary.

Bill Wiggin: The Minister is doing as good a job as can be expected. The example that sprang immediately to my mind is this: if a person sends his dog away for training and the trainer beats that dog—perhaps he is a bad trainer, or perhaps he did not do his job properly—the dog owner would be responsible according to the Minister, would he not?

Mr. Bradshaw: Not if that person had taken reasonable measures to ensure that the animal's welfare needs had been met. If they had satisfied
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themselves that the dog was going to a bona fide trainer, the trainer would be responsible for the suffering. If the owner was present when it happened and was watching, however, that would be a different matter.

The concept of responsibility is already clarified by clause 3 and does not need further clarification. Someone who owns an animal or is temporarily responsible for it will already be classified as responsible for it for the purposes of clause 4(2). If the intention of amendment No. 96 is to restrict the definition of ''responsibility'' for the purposes of clause 4(2), it is misguided.

A person can be considered responsible for an animal in more ways than by owning it or having temporary responsibility for it. For example, while a racehorse is in a trainer's stables and the trainer is in charge of it, the trainer would be responsible for the horse. However, that would not necessarily be temporary, nor would the trainer necessarily own the horse. Amendment No. 96 means that the trainer could not commit an offence of permitting someone else to cause the horse unnecessary suffering. I do not think that that is an acceptable outcome. On that basis, I urge the hon. Member for Leominster to withdraw the amendment.

Bill Wiggin: I am not sure that I completely understood that. If the racehorse is in a trainer's stable and the jockey beats it, the jockey is responsible to the racehorse trainer but not to the owner. The jockey—''jockey'' might be the wrong word, as it could be somebody else—would therefore be liable. Is that right?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes.

Bill Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that. Funnily enough, racehorses were one of the examples that I was thinking about in which ownership of the offspring is not necessarily the same as ownership of the mare or parent animal.

The Minister's point about clause 8 is important. As I said in my opening comments, my amendments are designed to clarify matters for the good people who look after their animals, not just the people who commit offences. We do not really want the draft legislation to be tested in court; we want people to understand what their obligations are when they read it. My amendments set out to clarify what will happen when people go away and it is not so clear-cut that one can say, ''Look, the animal is clearly in your care—it's your animal, you're responsible for it.''

The example that I am dying to bring in is my own case. Every week I come to the House to look after the welfare of my constituents, while my neighbour looks after my chickens. He is effectively responsible for them when I am not there, but I own them.

Shona McIsaac: What about the cows?

Bill Wiggin: The cows are different. They are owned partly by me and partly by Mrs. Spreckley. She looks after them in the winter when I am not there.

The point is that the duty of care and the duty of ownership should go hand in hand. Problems arise when they do not, and my amendments sought to keep
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them together. I am content that the Minister has said enough to clarify that we need to consider clause 8 for the real details of the responsibility that should go hand in hand with ownership. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Unnecessary suffering

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in clause 4, page 2, line 20, after 'suffer', insert 'whether physically or mentally'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 97, in clause 4, page 3, line 4, at end insert—

    '(3A) In this section, the term ''suffering'' includes both mental and physical suffering or cruelty.'.

No. 161, in clause 4, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

    '(5) In this section, ''suffering'' includes mental and physical suffering, and ''suffer'' is to be construed accordingly.'.

Norman Baker: We now come to the clause relating to unnecessary suffering, which the Minister will recognise as a long-standing concept in animal welfare legislation. It features in the seminal Protection of Animals Act 1911, which has served us pretty well for almost a century.

I hope that it is not in dispute that an animal can be caused not only physical but mental suffering. For example, somebody who regularly shouts at their dog might cause the dog distress, but I am not confident that clause 8 would necessarily cover that in terms of the so-called five freedoms. We must identify the possibility of unnecessary suffering that is not of a physical nature.

The 1911 Act expressly included a provision for certain types of mental suffering. That was almost 100 years ago, and it would be prudent, unless the Minister can convince me otherwise, to continue with some reference to that in the Bill. Yet that provision appears to have been deleted. On the face of it, the provisions in the Bill could be regarded as weaker than those in the 1911 Act.

The Minister might argue that by not specifying the meaning of ''unnecessary suffering'' the Bill allows the court to reach a wider conclusion about the meaning, and that to specify types of mental suffering would be to eliminate those that had not been considered. I am arguing his case for him, but that would be the case only if a list of types of mental suffering were to be included in the Bill. However, that objection does not apply if merely the words ''mental suffering'' are to be included, because that would be sufficiently wide to allow the provisions to catch anything that had not been thought of. However, at least it would refer to mental suffering, which would therefore allow the courts to assume that the Bill has not been weakened from its 1911 origins. I am not clear on how many prosecutions are actually brought for non-physical
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unnecessary suffering under the current legislation; perhaps the Minister can tell us.

We need to ensure that the Bill, which is, by and large, a helpful move forward for animal welfare, does not start with an unnecessary and unwelcome loophole that can be exploited. Including the phrase ''whether physically or mentally'' would help to ensure that there is a belt-and-braces approach to the Bill without necessarily limiting the prosecutions that could be brought under the terms of the Bill.

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