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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Animal Welfare Bill

Animal Welfare Bill

Column Number: 263

Standing Committee A

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Roger Gale, †

Mrs. Joan Humble

†Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
†Bradshaw, Mr. Ben (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
†Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
†Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Greening, Justine (Putney) (Con)
†Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
†Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
†Keeley, Barbara (Worsley) (Lab)
†Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
†McIsaac, Shona (Cleethorpes) (Lab)
†Mulholland, Greg (Leeds, North-West) (LD)
†Paice, Mr. James (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
†Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
†Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
†Tipping, Paddy (Sherwood) (Lab)
†Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Geoffrey Farrar, Jenny McCullough, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Column Number: 265

Thursday 26 January 2006

[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Animal Welfare Bill

Clause 30


9 am

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 58, in clause 30, page 15, line 11, at end insert

      ‘(e)   from riding, driving or using animals.’.

Welcome back to the Committee, Mrs. Humble. The amendment was suggested by the International League for the Protection of Horses and is intended to tighten up the disqualification powers. Although its advocates are pleased with the disqualification provisions already in the Bill, it has been pointed out to me that the provisions to disqualify convicted offenders from riding, driving or using animals are noticeably absent. The Bill contains provisions to place restrictive sanctions on the activities of those who have committed an offence under this legislation: subsection (2) prohibits them from owning, keeping or controlling animals. The amendment would be a logical extension of those provisions.

For example, if someone has committed a cruelty offence against a horse, it is only right that when they are punished, the magistrate has the option of prohibiting them from engaging in any form of contact with such animals in future. The amendment is brief, but it would be helpful to add to the Bill a reference to riding, driving or using animals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Government have some sympathy with the reasoning behind the amendment, although we are concerned about enforceability. We would like to reflect on the matter between now and Report.

Bill Wiggin: I am grateful for that tremendously positive opening to this morning’s proceedings. On that basis of co-operation, I am more than content to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32

Section 31: supplementary

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 179, in clause 32, page 16, line 44, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert

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    ‘(3)   In giving directions which specify the manner in which an animal is to be disposed of, the court may not direct the disposal of an animal to any person except—

      (a)   a licensed breeding establishment,

      (b)   a licensed pet shop,

      (c)   a licensed Scottish rearing establishment,

      (d)   a veterinary surgeon, or

      (e)   any other person of who the court is satisfied has the appropriate training and qualification in, and experience of, animal welfare.’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 131, in clause 32, page 16, line 45, after ‘regard’, insert

    ‘to the interests of the animal and’.

No. 112, in clause 32, page 16, line 45, at end insert

      ‘(aa)   the interests of the animal.’.

No. 32, in clause 32, page 17, line 7, after (3)’, insert ‘(aa)’.

Bill Wiggin: I shall speak only to amendments Nos. 179 and 131. The former would add to the Bill a list of ways in which an animal may be disposed of. My concern is that animals be disposed of in a way that is in their best interests. Subsections (3) and (4) make no mention of how an animal is to be disposed of and instead focus predominantly on protecting its value. In my opinion, we should predominantly be concerned with protecting the animal’s welfare first. Its value is also important, but should be secondary.

The amendment would restrict the persons into whose care a court could dispose of an animal. We would not want an animal to be disposed of to a person whose animal welfare credentials, although not questionable, were still unproven. For example, if a court is to dispose of a cat in the context of its being re-homed, and even if another cat owner would like to take possession of it, the first person who should take care of the animal should be an accredited animal carer. That would unquestionably preserve the animal’s best interests, which is what this brief amendment is designed to do.

Amendment No. 131 is similar and supports the arguments that I have made for amendment No. 179. We need to ensure that the Bill states that we are acting in the animal’s best interests. I hope that the Minister accepts this helpful addition to his drafting.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Amendments Nos. 131 and 112, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), are driving in the same direction. It is important that the interests of the animal are recognised, if not paramount. I am bound to say that the way in which the clause is written strikes me as belonging to a previous era, rather than the one that we are trying to usher in with the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to the direction of travel set out in the Liberal Democrat and Conservative amendments, and that, if he is not happy with the form of words used, he will at least undertake to consider the concept and to return with something that would satisfy us.

Mr. Bradshaw: Before I address the amendments, I will just mention that for, technical reasons, we are reviewing the wording relating to the reimbursement
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of expenses in the clause. If necessary, we will present amendments on Report, but they will not mean a substantive change.

Amendments Nos. 32, 112 and 131 would require a court to take account of an animal’s interests when exercising its powers under clauses 31 and 32. As with amendment No. 130, which we discussed on Tuesday, I am happy to reflect further on these amendments, although I have some reservations and will wish to ensure a coherent approach throughout the Bill.

Amendment No. 179 attempts to restrict the category of people to whom the court can direct an animal to be disposed of. That would be an unnecessary restriction on the freedom of the court to make a judgment in each case about who is the most sensible person to take on the care of such an animal. The person to whom the animal was given would become at least temporarily responsible for it and therefore subject to the welfare offence. The courts will make it their business to consider whether the person who is given the animal is capable of caring for it properly. The amendment also appears to consider only companion animals and would, for example, prevent the courts from sending farm animals to market or slaughter. I can reassure hon. Members that, should it become obvious in the future that the absence of this requirement was causing animal welfare problems, we would issue appropriate guidance to the courts.

Subsections (3) and (4) are necessary to ensure that the interests of the owner or keeper of a seized animal are protected. That is particularly relevant in the case of farm animals, where a whole herd or flock may be seized. On the basis of those arguments, I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Bill Wiggin: The Minister has already said that he is thinking about the matter. Perhaps when the clause was drafted, farm animals, rather than companion animals, were at the front of the drafter’s mind. We are most grateful for the Minister’s assurance that he will consider the issue. We recognise some of the difficulties with the wording of the amendments, but if he has taken on board our concern that the court should regard the interests of the animal as paramount, I am more than content to withdraw my amendment. I look forward to seeing what comes forward on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

Destruction of animals involved in fighting offences

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 34, in clause 34, page 18, line 4, at end insert

    ‘, where it is reasonable to presume that a threat to public safety exists’.

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 181, in clause 34, page 18, line 15, leave out ‘destroyed’ and insert ‘disposed of’.

No. 183, in clause 34, page 18, line 31, at end insert—

    ‘(6A)   In this section, references to disposing of an animal include destroying it.’.

Greg Mulholland: I will not dwell on the amendment because I am keen to make progress as this is our last day. The matter was touched on in the discussion on clause 29. I just want to reiterate that the issue in this case is clarity. As the clause stands, it does not specify what

    “other than the interests of the animal”

refers to. It is rather worryingly vague. We are trying to make it clear that there needs to be a reason, and the reason that we suggest is a threat to public safety. Will the Minister go over the arguments again?

Bill Wiggin: In the same vein as what the hon. Gentleman has just said, we want to change the word “destroyed” to “disposed of” in the case of fighting dogs, and indeed any other animals. As we have already discussed this morning, we want to ensure that the court does not default to destroying the animal and will instead consider disposing of it if that is safe and possible. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment refers to threats to public safety. My amendment is intended to ensure that the court can dispose of the animal.

The Minister said that in the case that we have just discussed, he would, if necessary, issue guidelines to the court. I suspect that that would be satisfactory. However, we should ensure that, under the Bill, the court has the maximum flexibility to deal with those poor creatures that have been so abused, rather than automatically destroy them.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): There needs to be clarification of what the process will be if a dog is taken into care, which is what would happen. One would hope that this line would not be taken, but we need to be clear about what we mean by the process, if there has to be one, of disposal rather than destruction. Will the Minister clarify the issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: Clauses 33 and 34 allow a court to order the destruction of an animal that has been the subject of an offence. Orders under the clauses could be made against either a convicted owner who had not been deprived of his animal—in which case the animal would be destroyed, but he would be entitled to its value—or in relation to any animal to which the conviction relates, even if the person convicted of the offence in relation to that animal is not its owner. If I mutilated my neighbour’s cat, a court could convict me under clause 5, and, if it were in the cat’s interests, order its destruction under clause 33. If I made my dog fight, a court could convict me under clause 7 and order its destruction under clause 34.

Hon. Members are concerned that clause 34 is the only post-conviction power relating to fighting animals and that if an animal has been involved in a fight, its destruction will be automatic. I reassure them that that is not the case. If the convicted person owned
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the animal, he could be deprived of it under clause 29 and it would be disposed of under that clause. That would not only involve destruction.

Whether the convicted person owned the animal or not, if the animal were injured and suffering, it could be destroyed in its own interests under clause 33. Clause 34 is not a single route, but one of many ways of dealing with fighting animals. It gives an additional power, not available under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, to ensure that the courts have all possible means of dealing with fighting animals.

Amendment No. 34 is unnecessary; we can have faith that the courts will not destroy fighting animals unless compelling considerations of public safety override the animal’s interests. We do not think that that needs to be explicitly stated. On that basis, I urge hon. Members not to press the amendment.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the Minister for that clarification; we are largely reassured. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 35

Reimbursement of costs relating to animals involved in fighting offences

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 35, in clause 35, page 18, line 41, at end insert

    ‘or had been trained so to do’.

This amendment is an attempt to tease from the Minister the conditions under which reimbursement might be applicable. Subsection (1) specifically mentions an offence under clause 7, and it seems to me that it would cover all the offences under that clause, which, among other things, refers not only to simply participating in a fight, but to carrying out arrangements for one. It covers the entire spectrum.

However, subsection (3), which I seek to amend, seems to limit the criteria applied to animals that have taken part in a fight. I wish to ensure that reimbursement might be deemed appropriate when an animal has not necessarily taken part in a fight, but has been trained to do so. In being so trained, it will have developed the characteristics of an animal that would take part in a fight and therefore the reimbursement provisions might be applicable. The Minister may be able to reassure me that the Bill says that. I detect a slight conflict between subsections (1) and (3), and should be grateful if the Minister could clarify the issue.

Mr. Bradshaw: I have already agreed to consider a number of questions in connection with clause 4. If the hon. Gentleman agrees to withdraw his amendment, I shall also consider the one that he has mentioned.

Norman Baker: The Minister is being very helpful.

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Bill Wiggin: Characteristically.

Norman Baker: I am thankful for that description from the hon. Gentleman. On that basis, I beg to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36

Forfeiture of equipment used in offences

9.15 am

Mr. Drew: I beg to move amendment No. 208, in clause 36, page 19, line 10, at end insert—

      ‘(aa)   in the case of a conviction for an offence under section 5, to an electric collar or similar device or anything designed or adapted for using it;’.s

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 13—Electric collars—

    ‘(1)   A person commits an offence if—

      (a)   he attaches an electric collar to an animal if he knows it to be an electric collar; or

      (b)   he knowingly uses or permits the use of any electric collar or similar device on any animal.

    (2)   A person commits an offence if he has in his possession or under his control, or offers, exposes, or advertises for sale or supply, or sells or supplies, any electric collar or similar device designed or intended for use on any animal.

    (3)   In this section, “electric collar” means any collar or any other device which is made, designed or adapted to transmit electric current or other electric impulse to cause shock, pain or other stimulus to an animal wearing, or otherwise in contact with, the collar or device.’.

Mr. Drew: We reach another of the somewhat controversial elements of the Bill, and I hope that the Government will clarify what they intend to do. As is the nature of the Bill, their intent does not appear in it and there is no implication in the clause that the Government will do anything about the issue. I start from the premise that electric shock collars are cruel and unnecessary and that there ought to be alternatives. I am happy for the Government to introduce suggestions that, at the very least, would clarify the grounds on which they should be used, who they should be used by and, if there is abuse, what the consequences should be.

To refer back to the Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, we were somewhat surprised that there had been no research in this area. Research has been done by some of the antagonists—those who want the devices banned—and those who believe that they are vital for training, but the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has yet to undertake any research. I shall outline the arguments that should be considered in a moment, but DEFRA should examine this issue.

There has been an increase in the use of these products; they are ever present. I distinguish between electric shock collars and devices such as electric fences. They are different, and I prefer the latter. My friends in the Stonehouse dog training club, with whom I met regularly when I was a town councillor, told me that using electric collars is not the appropriate
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way to train a dog. If hon. Members want to listen to experts, they should listen to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which was very clear in the evidence that it gave to the Select Committee: it felt that there should be a ban. I am no expert in this area. I have listened to those who are, and the Kennel Club takes the clear view that it regards such collars as an inappropriate way to train a dog.

I shall take the Committee through the arguments. First, there is no evidence that the use of such collars is an effective way to train a dog or any animal. There is a lot of evidence that it will not make that much difference to dogs that have problems with barking or running away. My second argument is that there should always be an alternative method of training, and the use of collars should not be a primary source of training.

Thirdly, there is a dearth of scientific research on this issue. It must be undertaken, and given that we are considering a Bill dealing with this matter, the least I would expect from the Minister is an explanation. I hope that he will agree that we should consider the area and pursue the matter further.

Finally, there is the issue of abuse. What is abuse and what is acceptable? What can be done if a product is completely inappropriate? Are such products licensed or registered in anything other than a cursory way? I am sure that the Minister will have something to say about that.

I am aware that we use electric shock treatment on human beings, via electro-convulsive treatment, something about which I have grave misgivings, given my interest in mental health. That is a slightly different issue, inasmuch as it is connected to medical treatment. The matter under discussion is not connected to any form of medical treatment for an animal; it is about the notion that the best way to train a dog is by giving it a shock, so that it will not perform in a certain way again. That is not the right way to go about things, but I am willing to listen to the Minister to find out what proposals he might come up with at least to ensure that the matter is dealt with appropriately. At the moment, it clearly is not.

Norman Baker: I am pleased to support the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) in his amendment and new clause. He raises an important issue. There are differences of opinion about this matter, and, looking at the Minister, I assume that on this issue, as on tail docking, there will be a free vote. Certainly, it seems that there is no party line in the Opposition parties on this issue. If there is a vote on Committee or on Report, Liberal Democrats will have a free vote.

I am concerned about the use of shock collars, as are many people who are intimately involved in the training of dogs, including well respected organisations such as the Kennel Club. A shock collar must be painful for the dog; if it is not painful, it does not work. The whole purpose of the shock collar is to inflict pain in order to guide behaviour. That is not an appropriate way forward. It hardly inspires a relationship that one would wish to see between a dog and a trainer, and it fails to exploit the positive options that are undoubtedly available, whether it is behaviour
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training, advice on how to deal with a dog or other training methods that are well established in dog circles. It is a pity that people resort to cruel methods, rather than going down the route of the positive training that is available.

As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a question about scientific research, but I cannot believe that negative training is the right way forward. I am also concerned that such devices are readily available without proper advice on how they should be used. They are available on mail order and through retail outlets on the internet. They are accessible to people with limited experience of how to use and administer those devices. Even if the case could be made that they are appropriate and can be properly used, which I do not accept anyway, the devices are available to people who do not have the training and may not use them as the manufacturer suggests appropriate. The devices will be used by those who have not explored the options of positive behaviour training and have opted for an inferior method of controlling the dog, namely the use of shock collars. There is no justification for that.

There is a difference between the other devices that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and electric collars, and I can see no reason why electric shock collars should be permitted. I hope that the Government shall respond positively and treat it as a free-vote issue, recognising, as I hope DEFRA will, that there is case for dealing with such devices under this Bill.

Bill Wiggin: I can confirm that this is a free-vote issue for the Conservatives, too. I wrestled with my conscience on this matter for some time. I do not like the idea that people can zap their animal as they see fit, because it is effectively the same as hitting them. However, when it comes to sheep worrying, there is a very big problem, because a dog’s natural instinct is to want to chase sheep. Often at this time of the year, sheep worried by dogs will abort their lambs.

This is a serious duty-of-care issue for the Committee. As a result, I do not support the absolute ban, although I agree with what the hon. Member for Stroud said about fencing. The Government can deal with the matter differently from making a provision in the Bill. Farmers will shoot dogs—and they do. Farmers rightly do not ignore that power, because if one has lost control of one’s dog, the knock-on effects are serious welfare problems for the sheep. That is possibly the only excuse, but it is a good one.

The other issue is the dogs that run into the road and potentially cause huge problems, not only for motorists but for people standing by the road who may be hit by a car swerving to avoid a dog. There may be mitigating circumstances for the use of such devices. There is common ground in Committee, in that we do not want people to use electric shock collars as a torture device. We would not want such devices used on people or on any other sentient being. This is a difficult issue, and I look forward to seeing how the Minister deals with it.

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