Animal Welfare Bill

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Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman may overestimate my powers of persuasion with the Whips and parliamentary managers if he thinks that I could persuade them to find time to rush the codes through using the procedure that he recommends. That takes us back to a point that was made a little earlier. It may be helpful to the Committee if I say a few words about how we plan to prepare and introduce codes of conduct; that may put into context the debates that we are to have in a moment.

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For each of the codes that we intend to produce, we shall first convene a working group of experts to scope the work and ensure collaboration in producing a first draft. As is our usual practice, we shall in all cases try to convene a working group representing a wide range of interests. That happened with the draft cat code, which I have already made available to the Committee. Once the Department is happy with the draft, we shall put it out to consultation, and in most cases we would expect that to be a full public consultation.

All Departments conducting consultations are required to follow the Government’s code of practice on consultation. Criterion 4 of the code requires Departments to give

    “feedback regarding the responses received and how the consultation process influenced the policy.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as hon. Members will know, makes all responses to consultations publicly available on request, unless the respondent has asked that a response be kept confidential. Information provided by the public in response to consultations must be dealt with in accordance with the access to information regimes. Those are primarily the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Where respondents request that information given in response to consultation should be kept confidential, that is possible only if it is consistent with the freedom of information obligations. On the other hand, there may be rare occasions where it is appropriate for responses not to be made public in part or in total.

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Amendment No. 81 would require my Department to undertake a full public consultation before a first draft of a code of practice was produced. That would be an unnecessarily burdensome requirement, likely to slow down the production of codes—of which we have to produce quite a lot, as hon. Members have urged us to do. We do not think that such a slowing down in the process would be in the interests of animal owners or keepers. As I have explained, the access to information regime and the codes of practice on consultations already prescribe, in detail, the rights of consultees and members of the public in respect of evidence submitted to public consultations. We believe that it would be inappropriate to try to reproduce the complex provisions and safeguards of that regime with a summary requirement of the type suggested here.

The use of the word “authority” in amendment No. 63 could include the National Assembly for Wales. I am not sure whether that is the intent of the hon. Gentleman, but I doubt it given his earlier views on giving the Assembly powers under the Bill.

On amendments Nos. 64 and 65, clause 13 specifies the procedure that will be followed to make or revise a code of practice to apply in England. That is obviously connected to clause 12, on codes on practice, and clause 15, on the revocation of codes, while clause 14 specifies the procedure to be followed in Wales. When the Secretary of State proposes to issue or revise a code of practice, he or she will issue a draft and, as I
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mentioned earlier, there will then be a consultation. The draft would be laid before Parliament under the negative resolution procedure. Unless Parliament resolves not to approve the draft, the Secretary of State will then bring the code into force by order.

Norman Baker: As a matter of record, can the Minister indicate how many codes of practice he anticipates there will be in total?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that figure off the top of my head, but we are talking of a considerable number. I think that Sweden, which is further down the road than us in these matters, has codes of conduct on animal species running into scores. I may be able to give the hon. Gentleman more accurate information if we have a stand part debate, but I can say that the codes would be many and time-consuming. I acknowledge the point made previously by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith); perhaps not all of the codes need to be as long and detailed as the cat code. We wanted that kind of belt-and-braces code as a first example.

It is a time-consuming process, but that goes back to the point about being prescriptive. There may well be controversial codes which people want or against which they want to pray. However, our hope is that the vast majority of the codes would, having gone through the consultation process, not be controversial, so we do not want to prescribe that they always have to be agreed by affirmative procedure. That is why I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Hollobone: To speed up the process of compiling the codes, will the Minister be drawing on the experience of countries such as Sweden which are already well down the road?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, indeed; I am always keen to draw on good international practice, not only in the Bill, but throughout Government. We do not do enough of that. I am not in favour of reinventing the wheel, and we have studied carefully the experience of Sweden and other countries who have already taken these steps. That should help us to draw up the codes, in conversation with animal welfare organisations and other interested parties.

Mr. Paice: I am interested in the Minister’s remarks, Mr. Gale, but I want to return to the issue of negative and affirmative resolutions. Naturally, I understand the Minister’s desire for these codes generally to be non-controversial and agreed by all relevant and interested parties. Indeed, for a number of the activities that we are discussing, I hope that we will largely be adopting codes that already exist under self-regulatory processes.

Is the Minister aware, however, of concern among Conservative Members, which I believe is more widely shared, about the amount of secondary legislation in the Bill? We support the idea of flexible legislation and understand that, nearly 100 years since the last such Act, there is a need for a whole raft of primary
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legislation. In order to update flexibly as science advances and public opinion changes, it is necessary to have some secondary legislation, but we are concerned that it has gone too far.

I ask the Minister to think again about that issue. Although I hope that most of the secondary legislation will not be controversial, we all know that a Statutory Instrument Committee can go through even controversial matters in a very short time. I know that the Minister of the day would have to come and make a short statement, but it is not a big deal. However, the affirmative procedure gives some parliamentary control over the secondary legislation: it makes people think more carefully.

As somebody with your experience will know, Mr. Gale, the theoreticians will say that the negative resolution still requires everybody to look at what has been tabled and to decide whether to pray against it, although a prayer does not always end up in Committee. However, I believe that the principle of Parliament having to approve a code is right. Ideally, I would prefer to have an opportunity to amend it. It is a fault in our procedures that we cannot amend statutory instruments, but that is a separate issue which it is not for the Committee to resolve. However, at least an affirmative resolution gives an extra stamp of parliamentary control and would not create the problems of inflexibility that the Minister seems to imply.

Clearly we shall not force a Division on the amendment, but I wanted to stress that it is a serious concern. The Bill gives the Minister and his successors a huge amount of power. In many ways we do not regret that because of the flexibility that exists, but some element of democratic control is necessary, and I ask him to think again about the affirmative procedure versus the negative.

Mr. Bradshaw: I appreciate that there is a balance to be struck between parliamentary scrutiny and the speed of getting codes through, as we have discussed before in the Committee. Regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure. Here we are simply talking about codes, which have a slightly different legal status. Even with the best will in the world on my part or that of any future Minister, there are also constraints on parliamentary time for consideration of statutory instruments. If we were to adopt a prescriptive rule that every code had to be subject to the affirmative resolution, that would inevitably slow the process up, unnecessarily in this instance.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): There is already the precedent of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, in which codes of practice are subject to an affirmative resolution. Does the Minister agree that that approach would merely align the Bill with that earlier Act?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, because the intention is to change the way in which we deal with agricultural issues. We intend to make those codes subject to the negative procedure as well.

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Norman Baker: I understand why we have argued for the affirmative resolution, which I support as a concept in principle, but I also understand the Minister’s objections. I wonder whether, when a code is about to be produced or subject to a negative resolution, a halfway house might not be for the Minister formally to send a copy of the code to the relevant spokesman of the other parties with a note saying that it was now here. It would then be flagged up and there would be no question of its being missed. Would that be a better way of doing it? In those circumstances Opposition Members would be fully aware of the statutory instrument and would have the opportunity to pray against it if necessary. Neither I nor the Minister would want a code to go through without its having been noticed. We know how much stuff goes past our desks every day. That might be a way to meet legitimate requirements.

Mr. Bradshaw: Speaking for myself, I should be happy to do that, but I would not necessarily want to bind any successors. It would also be within the powers and scope of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, for example, to spend time scrutinising the codes if it wanted to; even Back Benchers, if they felt particularly strongly about a certain code, could call a Minister to account in an Adjournment debate, or something like that. Therefore, hon. Members should not get too hung up on whether the codes require the negative or the affirmative procedure. There will be a great deal of interest and discussion, as there has been in the Committee, particularly on some of the more contentious ones.

Bill Wiggin: First, the Minister made some important points about the fact that the whole Committee wants to see these codes of practice brought in as quickly as possible, and on that I agree with him. Then he laid out the procedure for consulting the public fully and transparently. He then had a quick go at me about my Welsh roots. For what it is worth, the House will this afternoon will be taking the Government of Wales Bill through its Committee stage.

Hon. Members will be interested to know that, while the Select Committee was engaged in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, the consultation was still open. The Government had not consulted fully before sending the draft Bill to the Select Committee; indeed, the consultation period closed on the day the Select Committee reported. It is not fair to say that the Government always get their consultation periods exactly right; nor is it good enough to say that they will consult fully, openly and transparently, because their track record is not perfect.

None the less, I understand that the Minister wants to consult as widely as possible. In one of their tidying-up exercises, the Government have probably lopped off the important bit about transparency. I can understand why they did so, although I am surprised that they did not want to embrace the openness and transparency that they always suggest.

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We have talked a little about having a halfway house between the affirmative and negative procedures for introducing the codes of conduct. The problem with codes of conduct—we have already discussed their legal standing—is that Parliament will not have the option to amend them at any stage. As a result, we will be passing a Bill that gives a huge range of opportunities for prosecution. In allowing that to go through, we are denying ourselves, as elected Members, any option for amending the Bill. That is a great shame.

I take the Minister’s point about affirmative and negative resolutions, but hon. Members will not have the opportunity to deal with the codes in a Committee considering delegated legislation. The Minister must be clearly aware that he is asking us to commit an act of faith. To approve the framework for making codes of conduct without having the option to intervene as elected Members is not altogether acceptable. I made that clear on Second Reading. I make it clear again that I am not content.

Norman Baker: I agree with the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman says, but neither the affirmative nor the negative procedure will solve the problem. The basic problem, which I have raised on the Floor of the House, is that statutory instruments are not amendable. It is Parliament that needs to get around that problem.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is right. It is not acceptable. Not even a statutory instrument would be acceptable.

The Minister suggests a middle way. I suggest that we need to be involved at a far earlier stage than after the consultation. Transparency and openness are important, as is the fact that the Secretary of State should not be able to choose who to consult. Those who have been missed out of the consultation may say, “Oi, you’ve forgotten this one crucial fact”, but at that point the process will be closed. It is a weak part of the Bill, and we shall need to think carefully about it before Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 14 and 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Powers in relation to animals in distress

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 173, in clause 16, page 8, line 28, leave out subsection (4).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 67, in clause 16, page 9, line 12, at end insert—

    ‘(8A)   When using any of the powers granted under this section, constables, inspectors and veterinary surgeons shall take such biosecurity measures as are necessary to protect the environment from disease.’.

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Bill Wiggin: Again, this is a probing amendment. It seeks to clarify the powers of inspectors and constables to end the life of animals in distress. There seems to be a contradiction: subsection (2) acknowledges that constables and inspectors are not qualified to make crucial decisions about the life or death of animals, but subsection (4) permits them to do so. I appreciate that in some circumstances it may be more humane to put the animal down on the spot.

In most circumstances, as stated in subsection (3)(a), only a veterinary surgeon should be able to make a life or death decision. An animal may need urgently to be put down if it has been run over by a car. However, as the Bill is not completely clear on the subject, the contradiction to which I alluded remains, and I would be grateful if the Minister clarified matters. It is important, because one cannot, for example, fire a gun near the edge of a road, so the quickest and kindest way of putting down a deer that has been hit by a car is illegal.

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Amendment No. 67 states:

    “When using any of the powers granted under this section, constables, inspectors and veterinary surgeons shall take such biosecurity measures as are necessary to protect the environment from disease.”

That would be ridiculous in the example that I just gave, but I have noticed that the state veterinary service takes great trouble with biosecurity if there is a suspected outbreak of some notifiable disease. People will remember that during the foot and mouth outbreak those who were trying to slaughter sheep frightened them to such an extent that they jumped out of the field and infected the next farm, thus widening the need to cull contiguously; indeed, that happened even in my constituency.

We therefore need to ensure that constables, inspectors and veterinary surgeons abide by the legal and biosecurity precautions, which I believe may already be on the statute book and which are obviously extremely important in such situations, when they deal with these sorts of problems.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I have very little to add to what the hon. Gentleman says, except to urge some caution in the wording of subsection (4) because it gives an awful lot of power to someone who wants, humanely, one hopes, to destroy an animal. It is implied that a veterinary surgeon will be called in, but I want it to be clear that a veterinary surgeon will be called to attend even after an animal has been humanely put down, just to prove that destroying it was justifiable.

Mr. Paice: I want to pick up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster touched on tangentially. I had hoped to table an amendment, which would in fact have fitted into the group of probing amendments tabled by my hon. Friend, relating to road traffic accidents, which, unfortunately quite frequently nowadays, involve deer.

My understanding of the Bill and conversations with the Minister lead me to believe that a deer that has been injured and is lying on the verge comes within the
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ambit of the Bill because there is clearly an issue of how it is cared for and how its condition is resolved. If the Minister tells me that such a case would be outside the ambit of the Bill, that would partly resolve the matter, but my understanding is that at that stage it would be protected by the Bill, just as an animal caught in a trap is protected by the Bill. That can, of course, also apply to dogs or indeed to any animal, even, sadly, to horses on occasion these days.

These accidents can be quite horrendous. An animal can be very seriously wounded. I do not want to be gory, but bones can protrude. That sort of thing is quite clearly beyond veterinary help and recovery. A wild animal such as a deer would almost certainly never recover because of the trauma. I understand the purpose of subsection (4) and the need to destroy the animal humanely and as quickly as possible to put it out of its suffering.

The point on which my hon. Friend touched is very important, because inevitably after a road traffic accident, the animal is lying on the road or, more often, on the verge. It is an offence to use a firearm within, I believe, 30 m—

Bill Wiggin: Within 50 m.

Mr. Paice: Within 50 m of the road. It is certainly not possible to use a firearm on the verge. The Minister is listening, which I appreciate, and he may want to go away and think about this. There have already been many cases in which people who are licensed to have a rifle have been called to a scene, but have said that they will not shoot the deer, not because it does not need to be shot but because they cannot fire their rifle in that situation without contravening firearms legislation. The animal has to suffer for much longer before someone comes along with an humane killer, which is the only thing that one can use in such a location.

There is an issue about whether the officer who sees that the animal is clearly in immense distress and needs to be put out of its suffering as quickly as possible, should be able to authorise someone who lawfully owns a weapon that would do the job to use it then and there. There is also an issue about the type of weapon that can be used. There are firearms that are not approved by law for the killing of deer, such as a shotgun, which is clearly not appropriate in the field. But a shotgun at point-blank range is an extremely lethal weapon and it could be used perfectly satisfactorily to put an animal out of its suffering.

Perhaps the Minister will want to talk to his colleagues in the Home Office about this. The country and sporting press report a number of occasions on which licensed stalkers, gamekeepers and so on were on hand to dispatch an injured animal, but would not do it because they feared that they would be breaking the law and might lose their firearms certificate. One may argue that that would be an unreasonable act by a chief constable, but it happens and people are right to be concerned. There is the issue of the humane treatment of a seriously injured animal, and I hope that the Minister will take it on board.

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Mr. Hollobone: Can the Minister clarify the law as it stands at the moment, and as it may be changed by the Bill, with regard to road kill? For many of our constituents these will be some of the most distressing circumstances in which they are directly faced with an issue of animal welfare. Who is responsible for the welfare of an animal that is hit by a car and is lying injured by the side of the road? Does that responsibility change depending on what kind of animal it is? Does it have to be a protected animal as defined by clause 2? Is there a distinction between domesticated and feral cats? Could the Minister also clarify the duty of members of the public to report an animal injured in a road accident? I am sure that this is an area of huge confusion for the great British public. This may be an appropriate opportunity to explain the law on the record.

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall first address the points made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) about whether someone could be criminalised for humanely dispatching a deer that had been hit by a car. My oral advice from my officials is that that person could not be prosecuted if they had dispatched the animal, regardless of what the law says about where they are allowed to use a weapon. I will talk to my Home Office colleagues about this. The hon. Gentleman made a good point. If an animal is clearly suffering and someone, such as a farmer, has the means to dispatch it humanely, it would seem to me and to most members of the Committee unreasonable that he could be prosecuted for carrying out a humane act. My advice is that he could not be prosecuted, but I will seek clarification in writing on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf.

Bill Wiggin: Subsection (8) states:

    “A person acting under subsection (7)(b)(i), or under an arrangement under that provision, may make use of any equipment on the premises.”

If the equipment on the premises was a gun, even if it was close to the road, the Minister might have a get-out there. It might be helpful if that was clarified.

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Minister. I agree that common sense would dictate that what he said is right, but the issue is not just prosecutions; it is also whether the person could lose their firearms certificate. A person does not have to have been prosecuted for a chief constable to decide to remove their firearms certificate. If the chief constable has reason to believe that the gun has been used improperly, or if a caution has been given, the certificate can still be lost. Firearms certificates are for many people who live in the country an instrument of livelihood, and they are understandably extremely concerned about what is proposed. I am grateful that the Minister is to investigate further.

Mr. Bradshaw: On the point that was made by the hon. Member for Kettering, I hope that he will forgive me, but I do not, off the top of my head, recall the rules on responsibility for people who knock down different sorts of animals. He is right in thinking that they vary
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depending on whether they are domesticated pets or wild animals. I shall obtain clarification for him before the end of today, if that is acceptable to him.

Justine Greening: Will the Minister also clarify the role of local authorities? Obviously, London is a very busy place, and if an animal were knocked over at the side of a red route, for example, an RSPCA officer might be required to come and collect it. I understand that at present the RSPCA must contribute to the congestion charge. Would the Mayor have some responsibility for the removal of the animal?

Mr. Bradshaw: That sounds like a rather more complex question, to which I may not be able to obtain an answer by the end of the day, but I shall endeavour to get one before the Committee’s proceedings finish at, we hope, the end of the week.

On the general issue, I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that we are talking about an exceptional case in which a vet has been called. The clause makes it clear that in the vast majority of cases an animal may be dispatched only by a vet, or if there is a vet’s certificate. However, several hon. Members have drawn attention to cases such as a road traffic accident after which an animal is clearly suffering, but the vet is unable to arrive in time and the person concerned has the necessary means and, indeed, the courage to do the deed. Most people, unless they were brought up in the country, like me, find the idea of putting an animal down humanely quite difficult. We are trying to avoid making it a criminal offence to act in that way because a vet could not get there in time. On that basis I ask the hon. Member for Leominster not to press his amendment.

Bill Wiggin: Amendment No. 173 is intended to identify the circumstances in which a vet would not be required. We can clearly understand those that relate to a road accident. Obviously one would not need to wait for a vet if an animal was thrashing around in agony. However, there are other occasions on which a vet might or might not be required. I need to tease out more information from the Government.

We have all read about the houses where mad people collect huge numbers of animals and do not look after them properly, so that a certain number must then be put to sleep. We understand about that, but in those situations there is often time for a vet to inspect them properly. It is not clear from the clause how the two types of case will differ from each other. We can make up illustrative examples in Committee, but at some stage someone will turn up and say, “Actually, they should have called a vet. The animal would not have been in any more agony if it had waited,” and that will have to be tested in law. If we could get something from the Minister now that might not be necessary.

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