Animal Welfare Bill

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Shona McIsaac: Given the duration of my musings on the subject, I do not think that my hon. Friend the Minister has addressed all the issues that I raised and some of my questions to him—for example, applying the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 to winter quarters. I think that it would be simple to do that, and something that we could do quickly. I am concerned that the proposed date for doing anything under the enabling powers of the Bill about performing animals in circuses is 2009. That is an unduly long time to wait when we are dealing with some of the most seriously compromised animals in the country. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider the date.

Before I decide what I shall do with my amendments and, subsequently, the new clauses, my hon. Friend the Minister must address the issue of winter quarters and the Zoo Licensing Act . Can he bring it in more quickly than 2009? My hon. Friend did not address the transportation issue in great detail, particularly the comparisons with livestock. I heard what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said about the export of horses for slaughter. If my hon. Friend the Minister wishes to intervene to answer any of these questions, he is more than welcome to do so.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am advised that the laws that govern zoos explicitly exclude circuses, but that does not mean that we should not base any regulation or licensing system of circuses’ winter quarters on the
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conditions enjoyed by zoo animals. I think that I am giving my hon. Friend the answer that she wants on winter quartering. The same is true of transport. It would be extremely difficult to meet the welfare standards that most, if not all, wild animals require. Again, that could be laid down in regulation.

We are looking at the timing. However, I offer one note of caution. As my hon. Friend may know, the Department has set up a performing animals working group and we are working closely with Performing Animals Welfare Standards International, which is a body that deals with the welfare standards of performing animals all over the world. We are talking about an international market, particularly when we think of Hollywood films and things like that.

5.15 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

5.30 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Bradshaw: I was in the process of responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes about the timing of secondary legislation. We have timetabled secondary legislation in the way that we have because of the nature of the issues involved. The question of circuses is going to be particularly difficult because it is a new area; the ones that we are dealing with first are generally regulated already in some form or another.

Given, however, the strength of feeling expressed by the Committee and the points raised by my hon. Friend, I shall reflect on whether it is possible to bring forward the timing of regulations applying to circuses, bearing in mind that they might impact on other areas that hon. Members feel equally strongly about.

I described the working group earlier, and its work on a draft code for circuses is well advanced. We hope that it will be finished this year. It will help to inform any action taken under the welfare offence in advance of any future secondary legislation. I hope that those words reassure my hon. Friend and that she feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Shona McIsaac: Given the length of that intervention, I forgot that it was one. I welcome the Minister’s commitment—

5.31 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

5.56 pm

On resuming—

Shona McIsaac: As I was saying, I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister’s commitment to seeing whether there is a way in which we can introduce the regulations governing performing animals in circuses. Similarly, I was also welcoming the fact that the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 may be reviewed to see whether it could apply to winter quarters.

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I must also say to my hon. Friend that I believe that the 1981 Act could also address some of the concerns about performing animals supplied for television, film and other performances, because the facilities in which those animals are kept are similar to those in circuses. Travelling circuses are a completely different sub-set in that they are well understood, so concerns about performing animals could easily be dealt with under the Act. I would like him to reconsider the matter, which leaves us with travelling circuses to consider. Although I welcome what my hon. Friend said, I have further concerns and questions that I want to put to him before I decide what I shall do about the amendments and thus the new clauses when we discuss them at the end of the debate.

I have some questions about Performing Animals Welfare Standards International, to which he alluded earlier. My understanding is that PAWSI is an industry-based organisation, and my hon. Friend said that the codes of practice are well advanced. I have been informed by people who have attended those meetings that there has been no discussion of specific standards yet, which gives me some cause for concern. I would like him to comment on that if he wants to intervene.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I have kept quite quiet in the debate so far, but I am concerned, because I believe that the Government have had extensive discussions with the circus industry about such things as codes of conduct, so the hon. Lady is making an important point. It would be helpful not only for the Committee but for the industry as a whole to know now whether all their discussions have been a waste of time. If they have not, that may influence how the hon. Lady feels about the clause.

Shona McIsaac: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but as I said in our discussions about the conditions in which animals are kept and the travelling conditions of those animals, I am worried that the people concerned are the people who are drawing up the codes of practice. Our perceptions will be very different from theirs, which leads me to another point that I made last week about lawful purpose. The circus industry could argue that there is a lawful purpose in hitting an animal with a metal pole when training it to perform tricks. I am concerned that that could be seen as a get-out.

6 pm

Animal welfare organisations that have provided much evidence to Committee members, such as Animal Defenders International, the Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA and the Captive Animals Protection Society, are extremely worried that discussions have been only with the industry. They are not confident that the code of practice will address the concerns about welfare that we in the Committee have all voiced and worried about in our discussions today. My hon. Friend the Minister is welcome to intervene on me with a response or to write to me on that issue. I was about to say that he could respond in the stand part debate, but this is essentially the stand part debate. He must address this point before I decide how to proceed with my amendments.

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Mr. Bradshaw: I might be able to help my hon. Friend. Perhaps I was not clear enough earlier; I should have made a more clear distinction between PAWSI and the Department’s working group. I understand that PAWSI is run by a small number of people, including a zoo vet, an animal consultant and someone from film production. Invitees to PAWSI’s council include the Dogs Trust, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the RSPCA and a circus representative. PAWSI has prepared a rough draft of a code of practice, but the DEFRA working group has not yet considered it. The working group includes representatives from the Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA, the Animal Consultants and Trainers Association, the Kennel Club, the Arts Council, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Dogs Trust, the SSPCA, the Production Guild, PAWSI and the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, so it has a much wider membership. That group will, we hope, agree the code of practice. If it fails to do so the Government will have to bring forward regulations.

Shona McIsaac: I appreciate that assurance regarding the DEFRA working group. I hope, if we are to go down the standards route, that we will have high standards and, as others have said, that the hurdles will be set prohibitively high so that no circus could keep performing animals any longer. In a way, I wish that my hon. Friend the Minister had said in his response that the regulations would effectively mean an end to performing animals in circuses, but he did not go quite that far—neither did he on Second Reading. That is why I am being so persistent, because I need more reassurance on this point. Will the regulations mean an end to performing animals in circuses? That is a crucial point if he is to consider bringing forward the regulations to take effect from an earlier date. He is not intervening on me; perhaps we can correspond on this issue.

Mr. Bradshaw: I think that I made my position absolutely clear earlier, Mrs. Humble.

Shona McIsaac: Well, I shall persist with the question: will the regulations mean an end to performing animals in circuses? My hon. Friend the Minister is not making any further comment on that.

Mr. Bradshaw: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, she is asking whether regulations that are yet to be published and yet to be consulted on will ban all animals, including domestic animals—she did not specify wild animals. No, I cannot give her that assurance, and it is unrealistic and unreasonable of her to expect me to do so in Committee.

Shona McIsaac: That is very helpful, because it gives me more of a feeling of where we must go, and what those of us who want a ban must do to get it.

Definitions are a vital question; there has been much discussion of them and I have some concerns about my drafting of the new clauses. I have concerns about our definition of circuses, although travelling circuses are a well understood concept. As to wild animals, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 provides a
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workable definition of a wild animal, as does the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. DEFRA’s circulars also give guidance on that. However, I should like more time to reflect.

If the Minister is to reflect on the timing, I shall reflect on some of the definitions in my amendments—the definitions of “circus” and the definitions relating to animals and performance—to ascertain whether there is a way to table something a little tighter on Report, to deal with the Minister’s worries about how we achieve our aims. I shall do so on the understanding that he will consider some of the issues that we debated earlier, such as bringing forward the timetable and examining the 1981 Act with respect to winter quarters.

I shall reconsider my new clauses and amendments if the Minister will give me an assurance that he will also do some work before Report, to enable us to bring our positions closer with a view to achieving our aims. As he said, he does not believe that welfare standards are being met, because of the way the animals are being transported. Perhaps we can work together to end that cruelty and suffering. It is only on that basis that I am prepared to withdraw my amendments at this stage. It is more a question of my own drafting than of my hon. Friend’s comments. I still have worries. I think that we shall have to return to the matter on Report or in the House of Lords. I want the Government to table some simple amendments on Report to deal with the concerns raised in Committee about some of the most serious welfare abuses in Britain today.

The Chairman: Does the hon. Lady want to withdraw the amendment?

Shona McIsaac: Yes. Do we also deal with the new clauses now?

The Chairman: The hon. Lady must at this stage make it clear whether she intends to press the new clauses to a vote at the appropriate time.

Shona McIsaac: I appreciate that guidance, Mrs. Humble. It is a shame, because I wanted to buy more time to reflect before decisions were made on the new clauses. Reluctantly, I shall not press the consequential amendments and new clauses 8 and 9, but I reassure the Committee that the issue is not dead. Today’s debate is a step on the way to a ban, and I shall return to the matter on Report. I am sure that it will also be dealt with in the other place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21

Inspection of records required to be kept by holder of licence

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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Bill Wiggin: I shall keep my comments uncharacteristically short—certainly for this Committee. I should like to know what inspection records pet shop owners, in particular, are likely to have to keep for up to three years. I am concerned that the clause might place an extra burden of regulation on anybody who receives a licence. If I am right, I would like the Government to think about the issue; if I am wrong, and there is no onerous extra burden, this little clause stand part debate will give us an ideal opportunity to clarify the point.

Mr. Drew: Like the hon. Gentleman, I shall be brief. I simply seek clarity from the Minister on one issue. The licence obviously implies that an inspection will take place, but will it set out which data will be required to be held, so that there will be some commonality in the format that inspections take? On the back of that, what format will that data be required to take? In some respects, the clause is innocuous, but we need to tease out what it really means.

Mr. Bradshaw: I apologise in advance to both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend. The difficulty is that we cannot say at this stage what records will be required to be kept, because that will depend on the licence conditions. The records that might need to be kept under existing licensing systems include those of animals kept on the premises, animals’ movements and a register of the licence holder’s employees. However, we have not yet published and consulted on the draft secondary legislation, and it is impossible for me to predict what details the licence holder will be required to keep.

Bill Wiggin: That is very honest of the Minister, although I am not sure that it is particularly helpful to the Committee. I hope that he will go away with the understanding that we do not want huge volumes of extra regulation. An enormous amount of record keeping is already involved in keeping farm animals, and whether it is all completely essential is a matter for the Government’s strategy for dealing with diseases. In this case, however, we are dealing with a rather different mindset, and I would be grateful if the Minister took the point away with him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Inspections in connection with licences

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 24, in clause 22, page 12, line 7, at beginning insert ‘Subject to subsection (4),’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 25, in clause 22, page 12, line 9, at end add—

    ‘(4)   Subject to subsection (5), a Justice of the Peace may, on the application of an inspector, issue a warrant authorising an inspector to enter premises, if necessary using reasonable force, in order to carry out an inspection under subsection (1).

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    (5)   The power to issue a warrant under subsection (4) is exercisable only if the Justice of the Peace is satisfied—

      (a)   that it is reasonable to carry out an inspection on the premises, and

      (b)   that section 46 is satisfied in relation to the premises.’.

No. 26, in clause 23, page 12, line 18, at beginning insert ‘Subject to subsection (4),’.

No. 27, in clause 23, page 12, line 20, at end add—

    ‘(4)   Subject to subsection (5), a Justice of the Peace may, on the application of an inspector, issue a warrant authorising an inspector to enter premises, if necessary using reasonable force, in order to carry out an inspection under subsection (1).

    (5)   The power to issue a warrant under subsection (4) is exercisable only if the Justice of the Peace is satisfied—

      (a)   that it is reasonable to carry out an inspection on the premises, and

      (b)   that section 46 is satisfied in relation to the premises.’.

Norman Baker: The amendments are designed to tease out from the Minister the relationship between clauses 22 and 46, because it is not clear to me, although it might be clear to everybody else. The amendments would ensure that an inspector with a warrant had access to a licensable premises that was also a private dwelling for the purpose of carrying out an inspection without necessarily giving 24 hours’ notice of entry. That would aid the enforcement of the law, which I think is desirable.

Clause 22(3) specifically excludes entry into a private dwelling, unless 24 hours’ notice is given. However, clause 46 sets out four conditions. Under the fourth condition, which is set out in subsection (5), it is permissible to secure a warrant without 24 hours’ notice where

    “it would defeat the object of entering the premises, or . . . entry is required as a matter of urgency.”

It is certainly my view that inspectors should be able to secure a warrant without the occupier knowing in advance, which is how I read clause 46, and also where the matter is urgent. That seems to be at variance with clause 22(3). These amendments attempt to correct that. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the relationship between the two clauses and specify exactly what the inspector’s powers are.

6.15 pm

Mr. Drew: I have little to add to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. We are now entering into the important issue about who the inspector is, on what grounds he can gain entry and who can confirm that he has done that correctly. I put my name to this group of amendments so that the Minister can answer those probing questions. He can also tell us what the failsafe is if things do not work as they should and animals are either taken when they should not have been taken or destroyed when they should not have been destroyed because of some misunderstanding of the terms on which the powers are being offered to those who have to take these difficult decisions.

Mr. Bradshaw: Let me try to assist hon. Members. If I have misunderstood their queries about the clauses, I may have to write to them, but I am slightly mystified, as are my officials. Clauses 22 and 23 contain powers of entry to carry out routine inspections. They are not concerned with situations in which an animal is in
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distress or in which an offence has been or is being committed. They are for routine, not emergency, inspections. I ask hon. Members to forgive me if I have got this wrong, but we do not find it easy to envisage a situation in which one would want to rush to a magistrates court for a warrant to conduct a routine inspection.

If there is a reasonable belief that an animal is in distress on the premises, the power to enter under clause 17 will be available. If one believes that an offence is being, or has been committed, on the premises, including carrying on a licensable or registerable activity without having licensed or registered it, a warrant for entry can be applied for under clause 20. In the absence of a need to act under clauses 17 or 20, we cannot see that the situation would be sufficiently urgent to require an ability to apply for a warrant.

Norman Baker: The Minister’s explanation has been helpful and has clarified matters. He will accept that spot inspections are often carried out under legislation. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 includes such a provision. Would he accept that, under certain circumstances, it is important that inspections can take place without notice and that that is currently prohibited under clause 22 as I read it?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure that that is the case, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman about that. Does he want me to finish reading my speaking note as it may help to clarify some of the other issues that he raised? I am not sure that I understood the point that he was making. I beg the Committee’s forgiveness.

The power in clause 24 was included on the basis that, in relation to farm premises, it may be difficult to satisfy the requirement of the clause, but that it would none the less be reasonable to conduct an inspection. A farmer may have had problems in the past, but on this occasion the inspector might not have a reasonable belief that an offence is being committed sufficient to satisfy the provisions in clause 20, perhaps because he had been denied access to the premises and the premises were sufficiently large that he could not see from a distance the condition of the animals. In that situation, it would still be reasonable for the inspector to inspect the premises.

In an equivalent situation on a licensed or registered premises, the inspector would have the additional leverage of threatening the withdrawal of the licence. This leverage is not available in the case of farms and it is important that the Bill fills that gap. This is where the difference between the clauses stems from. I hope that that has helped to clarify matters.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for being very honest in this regard. Let me describe the situation as I see it. On one occasion when I was out with RSPCA inspectors, we were refused permission to enter premises. The lady in question was a breeder. She admitted that, but she did not want to let the RSPCA on to the premises, because she felt that it was there because it had received complaints. She
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wanted to know from whom the complaints originated before she would let the RSPCA on to her premises. I want to clarify whether, as a breeder, that lady would now have to be licensed. As a result, the RSPCA would have certain powers, although it would want to put neither itself nor the lady at risk. However, will my hon. Friend clarify whether the RSPCA would have additional powers to force the issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: Inspectors will have the power to insist on an on-the-spot inspection. The definition of inspectors for the purposes of this part of the Act does not include the RSPCA. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the clarification that he seeks. The RSPCA has not sought extra powers, and we are not giving it any.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I should appreciate a line in the post about spot inspections. Doubtless, other Members would appreciate one, too.

Mr. Bradshaw: This clause allows spot checks of licensed premises without notice.

Norman Baker: I am again grateful to the Minister for clarifying matters. Will subsection (3) allow for spot inspections of private dwellings? That is the point about spot inspections with which we are not entirely happy. However, given the time that we have spent on other matters, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26

Power of local authority to prosecute offences

Mr. Paice: I beg to move amendment No. 212, in clause 26, page 13, line 8, at end insert—

    ‘(2)   Proceedings for a crime under this Act shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Crown Prosecution Service or the legal department of a local authority.’.

The amendment is relatively small but quite important. Hon. Members from both sides of the House realise that, whatever our support for the Bill and subject to further proceedings, we are approving some major powers to deal with major allegations of animal cruelty and—if convicted—offences against animal welfare. In those circumstances, there should rightly be some checks and balances to ensure that there is no vexatious litigation for whatever purposes.

The purpose of the amendment is to try to bring English law into line with what we understand to be the conventions in Scottish law. The Bill contains no checks on prosecutions. The clause allows a local authority to prosecute proceedings for any offence under this legislation. Whatever one’s views of local authorities, they are not necessarily the right people to decide whether a clear offence has taken place. Private prosecutions might also take place prior to the commencement of any official prosecution by a local authority. We could make accusations of a violation
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by the Minister or any other member of the Committee, regardless of whether we as individuals had any real expertise or the professionalism necessary to make that accusation. In view of the extensive powers of entry and other powers granted by the legislation, including the power to disqualify people who are convicted from continuing to own animals, it is important that there is some oversight of prosecutions.

A well established part of English law is that where there are such extensive powers, there should be some limit on who can begin proceedings, without interfering with the right of private persons to do so. That is why we are suggesting that the Crown Prosecution Service or the legal department of a local authority should agree to any proceedings. I understand that, in Scotland, prosecutions for offences relating to animal welfare are taken through on behalf of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by the procurator fiscal. That enables there to be an effective check on those prosecutions to ensure that time is not wasted and that they are sound. Obviously, the procurator fiscal would not take them forward if his professional opinion was that they were not sound. Amendment No. 212 is simply intended to bring English law into line with Scottish law.

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