Animal Welfare Bill

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Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): I have some sympathy with the amendment. Electric shock collars are cruel, and numerous organisations have spoken out against their use as a training method. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, but there is also the Pet Advisory Committee, which comprises the RSPCA, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. the Dogs Trust, the Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Cats Protection, the Feline Advisory Bureau, the Pet Care Trust and the Pet Food Manufacturers Association. Many organisations have said that they are unhappy about the use of electric shock collars as a training method. Other organisations, which are not part of the Pet Advisory Committee but which have voiced concern about the use of the collars, include Battersea dogs and cats home, Dogs for the Disabled, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Pets As Therapy and Wood Green Animal Shelters.

My hon. Friend the Minister must consider the views of those well respected organisations on the use of electric shock collars in the training of dogs. I firmly believe that other methods could be used for dogs with behavioural problems; there are numerous other training devices. If any hon. Members do not have their eyes glued to the House of Commons Chamber on the monitors in their offices on Tuesday nights, they might want to watch a programme called “It’s Me or the Dog”, in which an animal behaviourist and trainer deals with very badly behaved dogs. The results achieved are phenomenal. We would assume that the dogs could never be trained because their behaviour is so extreme, but in fact they can be trained and their behaviour is vastly improved.

The Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association thinks that the collars are necessary and has mentioned to me their use to prevent dogs from worrying sheep or running into the road, to which the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) referred. I could not recall any constituents getting in touch with me to support shock collars, but apparently one did a couple of years ago. Far more constituents have been in touch with me to express their concern about the use of shock collars. That concern may derive from their own experience of having tried them and found that they do not deal with the underlying behavioural issues that might have caused the dog to bark incessantly, run away or whatever, or they may have seen the collars used.

I am sorry to say that some constituents have said that they believe that a minority of people take some pleasure in using shock collars. The hon. Gentleman says that he believes that their use is morally wrong. He does not like the idea that someone can zap a dog and cause it discomfort and pain. Some constituents have told me that they have witnessed collars being used in that manner. If people are doing so, we seriously have to consider the issue.

I hear what people are saying about electric fences and the so-called freedom fences that confine a dog to a certain area, but I am also worried about the use of electric goads and prods, which can be used in the
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training of circus animals. If we are going to consider shock collars, we should also consider goads and prods. They could be grouped together as similar devices.

9.30 am

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I very much support what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster has said. The Committee must avoid the trap of looking for what could be described as simplistic solutions and must respect the need for a sense of proportion. I do not like the idea of using an electric collar, but the issue of electric collars is certainly different from that of freedom fences. To me, the freedom fence is akin to the electric fencing used as standard practice for farm animals and horses all over the country. The animal gets used to a particular barrier. It may just be a thin wire that would never normally keep the animal in, but the animal learns that that is a barrier because it has received a shock. The same principle can apply to the use of an electric collar.

There is no one way to train an animal. One has only to watch television programmes or read the magazines and thousands of books on the subject to realise that experienced, competent trainers have different ways of doing things and different ideas. However, I quite agree with everybody that the use of an electric collar should not be the normal method. I also agree with the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster that there are probably people who take some sort of vicious pleasure in using such collars. That is clearly wrong and should stop. There are no ifs or buts about it.

However, thousands, if not millions, of people in this country have their own pet dog—not necessarily a working dog—and have tried in their own best way to train it, but perhaps not done very well. Let us be realistic: we all see dogs like that when we walk round the countryside in our constituencies. We must consider what the last resort is, which is why we have to accept the existence of electric collars, albeit regulated. I look forward to what the Minister is going to say about that. I do not support an outright ban because such collars can be the last resort to break a dog of a bad habit, such as chasing sheep, running off or chasing any wild animal in the countryside. However hard the private owner has tried to train the dog, they may have failed to break that habit.

The role of the electric collar is to give a short shock. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) is right: of course the shock is painful the moment it happens. However, it could be used to break the concentration of a dog that was chasing something. I have seen it happen and it works. Just for that split second, the dog’s mind is taken off chasing the hare—or whatever it may be—and that can be enough to make it return. The collar should not be used as part of a normal process, but it can work as a last resort.

Shona McIsaac: I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about using the collar as a last resort, but I understand that there are collars that emit a scent, such as citronella, which dogs find mildly
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unpleasant. That can have the same effect of stopping a dog from doing something, given a dog’s sense of smell, but it is not as cruel as the use of shock collars. People are not as aware of spray collars as they are of shock collars. Perhaps that could be a solution.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Lady is right: there is a citronella spray collar. There are also collars that emit a screech—a loud noise—to break the dog’s concentration. We are talking about anything that breaks the dog’s concentration on whatever it is chasing or whatever course of action it has set its mind on. However, I would not necessarily say that any one method is right or wrong. I agree with the hon. Member for Stroud that there is a dearth of scientific knowledge about the issue, and there is clearly room for further investigation. At this stage, without that scientific evidence, it would be wrong to go for an outright ban.

We should regulate collars in some way, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says, but they have a role to play. It would be wrong to assume, as some hon. Members seem to be doing, that everybody who has a dog is brilliant at training it. That is not the reality. Many people are not that good at training their dogs—I probably stand as one of them—and we must understand that, in the long run, collars are probably in the dog’s best interests. If a bad habit is not broken, the dog’s behaviour may only get worse and it might end up being killed on the road or something like that. That is why we must find a balance: sometimes there may be a role for the short-term use of an electric collar to break a particular habit, and the dog may end up better off for it. It sounds perverse, but the question is one of balance.

I am happy to see more scientific research—indeed, I demand it—and I would certainly expect some form of control or regulation, but I would not support an absolute ban.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Like other hon. Members, I have constituents who have voiced concerns. I want to add a couple of thoughts in support of my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud and for Cleethorpes.

An impressive list of organisations has been cited that have urged that shock collars should not be used, but two further organisations have not been mentioned. It is telling that the Association of Chief Police Officers has urged police forces not to use electric shock collars and that the armed forces dog unit recently prohibited their use. The addition of those two organisations is very convincing. The evidence seems to be piling up from organisations urging that the devices are not used.

If any group of people has an interest in not finding dogs roaming about in outside areas, it is politicians and those who work on our campaigns. I have been chased a few times by dogs in my constituency. Some hon. Members have said that electric fences might be all right, but if they do not stop other dogs, children or even canvassers venturing into the area where the resident dog is, leaving the dog vulnerable to attack as well as perhaps children and other pets, they are not
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suitable. Something is available on the open market that should perhaps be used only by the smallest group, and there are even doubts about that. Clearly we have a problem. Although the scientific evidence is lacking and people that there has not been enough research, a convincing range of organisations is saying, “Do not use these devices”.

Greg Mulholland: We have had interesting and excellent debates on many clauses. Although I have not always agreed with the outcome, I have been persuaded that some of the arguments have a great deal of merit. However, the idea that an unacceptably cruel and unnecessary practice is justified because a dog might chase sheep or run into the this is probably the weakest argument against an amendment that we have heard. We all know that, to follow the country code, one’s dog must be on a lead. If people are irresponsible enough not to do that, their dog can be shot by a farmer. I do not believe that anyone has a problem with that. Children might run into the road. Do we seriously suggest that, because a child might run into the road, we should allow the use of shock collars for children also? I am afraid that the arguments being made are spurious. We cannot allow people’s inability to manage an animal properly, or their irresponsibility, to justify such means.

Mr. Paice: I believe that relating the discussion to children running on the road lowers the tone of what has been a good debate. The hon. Gentleman said that the country code requires dogs to be kept on a lead. Yes, it does. But in the country, many people do not obey the country code. We may not like that, and it may be wrong, but it is a fact of life. Politicians have to understand what goes on in the real world, rather than having a starry-eyed vision of everyone abiding by every law, rule and convention. Many dogs in the countryside are not kept on leads. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman says is that if, as a result of that, a dog runs into the road and gets run over, that is tough luck. I should have thought a short, sharp shock would be preferable to the dog’s being run over.

Greg Mulholland: I am afraid that that demonstrates how weak the hon. Gentleman’s argument is because it is entirely irresponsible not to have a dog on a lead by a busy road. His assertion is quite ludicrous. The dog should be put on a lead.

I am afraid that we have failed to realise that the duty of care for animals is not simply a question of animal welfare. All dog owners, and pet owners in general, have a responsibility, which the Bill covers to some extent. They also have a responsibility in relation to the country code, and if that is not working, we should consider it in a different way. However, to use such thin arguments as a justification for what is clearly an unacceptable, cruel and unnecessary method of training is not reasonable. If it is, in the words of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), a normal method that will not be allowed to continue, I should like the Minister to explain how that can be achieved apart from through an outright ban.

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Mr. Bradshaw: I would like to ensure that Committee members are clear about the effects of the amendment and new clause. They would ban any device that transmits an electric current and is designed to have an impact on an animal that comes into contact with it, which includes electric containment fences used for small animals.

I have listened carefully and have spent quite a lot of time in recent months, as Members would expect, talking and learning about such issues. Like most hon. Members here, I did not know a great deal about them. I do not own a dog myself, and I did not know a great deal about such devices before I became responsible for animal welfare. I have not simply waited to be lobbied by organisations and charities. I conducted straw polls in the pub in my constituency and in rural Devon. That somewhat tempered my instincts, which I suspect most people would share, that such collars are inherently cruel and should be banned. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire gave some good reasons why that would not be appropriate.

Some feel strongly that collars are cruel and should be banned. Equally, I have met very responsible dog owners—I am sure that they have lobbied other hon. Members—who take their responsibility to their pets extremely seriously, but who swear by such devices as a last resort. They say that the alternative in some rare cases would be euthanasia for the dog.

We are in a slightly difficult position in that there is no proper scientific evidence concerning the cruelty and effectiveness of such methods. My Department recently commissioned research into them because of the controversy and debate, including the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes as to whether comparisons between effectiveness and cruelty could be made in relation to citronella sprays. I stress that in the very rare situation highlighted by my hon. Friend where an irresponsible owner used such a device inappropriately, that owner would be subject to the cruelty clause anyway, if not the welfare clause.

Mr. Drew rose—

Mr. Bradshaw: Regarding the effect of banning underground electric fences—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. I remind hon. Members and everyone else in the room that all electric devices should be switched off.

Mr. Drew: Of course, MPs respond to electric shock treatment through their pagers.

Will the Minister say more about the research? It was not available to us when we undertook the pre-legislative scrutiny. Will it be published? Will it lead to consultation and an opportunity to look at regulations? If so, I will feel reasonably satisfied, but we need to know a bit more.

9.45 am

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Of course, as we have discussed before, all research into these areas will be put into the public domain if it is commissioned by Government. Research is taking place not just here, but in Germany,
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where the issue is the subject of some debate. In fact, that research might be a little further down the line than ours.

Norman Baker: I understood that shock collars were banned in Germany and some other countries. That was the briefing that I received from the Kennel Club, which says that they are banned in Denmark, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Slovenia. Is that not correct?

Mr. Bradshaw: My information is that it is not. This is a Länder issue in Germany; some Länder have banned the devices and some have not. In fact, my information is that in some cases in Germany people are even allowed to use shock collars in sheepdog trials, which I do not think we would find acceptable in this country.

Shona McIsaac: Following on from what the hon. Member for Lewes said, will the Minister give a commitment to the Committee to investigate some of the research that has been done in the countries that have banned the devices?

Mr. Bradshaw: We have done quite a lot of research into the information that is available. One needs to be slightly cautious about some of the lists that are published showing which countries have done things. I have discovered in the process of working on the Bill that they are not always completely accurate. That is one reason we wanted to conduct our own research.

The impact of the amendment and the new clause would be to ban containment fences. The case for that is probably weaker than in the example of the individual shock collar. As the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire and for Leominster said, in some cases one is preventing an animal that it has been impossible or impractical to contain by a wall or a fence from running away to worry, or even maul and kill, sheep, or from running on to a road and creating danger for human beings. In light of that and the Government’s commitment to draft codes and to conduct research, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud will accept that this issue should be dealt with not in the Bill, but by means of a code of conduct and regulation once we have the research available. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Drew: I would not say that I am delighted to concur with the Minister, but we have made some progress on the issue. Certainly, I did not realise how much research the Government have been undertaking—perhaps in relation to the Bill, but possibly because the issue is out there already. I am aware that, in the amendment and the new clause, I use the words “electric” and “electronic” interchangeably. It is an electric shock, but electronic equipment. There might be some problems with the wording. I accept that that is an issue in itself. However, I ask the Minister to bear it in mind that the wider issue will not go away. At the very least, we need to recognise that proposals will have to be made in due course to regulate the industry and the use of such devices. I
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remind the Minister that the Select Committee suggested that, in extremis, the use of such devices could be limited to veterinarians, for example.

Norman Baker: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Even if it is accepted that, in some situations—perhaps those described by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, such as when the device is used for agricultural purposes—there may be a justification for the devices, does he agree that the present situation where they are available to all, including those who do not need to use them, without any regulation at all, is unacceptable? We must find a way of limiting their availability to those who genuinely need them, rather than their being the first resort, which they clearly are for many people.

Mr. Drew: I agree entirely, and I shall not roll over. I shall ask—rather than demand—that the Government put the process in place as quickly as possible. There is a proper debate about the evidence, so to be fair to those companies that are in the marketplace, they are given due warning that they must be able to defend their products. I know where my mind and heart lie: those devices are unacceptable in the norm. They should be banned, or for those who have to use them, regulated.

Let us consider how the Government wish to approach the matter. It was never my intention to put my proposals in the Bill; however, as we have had a very good debate, I certainly intend to consider the issue further, because it draws forth strong emotions on both sides. Those devices should not be the normal means of training a dog or, to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes, any animal. However, there may be extreme reasons why they should be used by an appropriate person, as the Select Committee said. I should like to consider that evidence, and that is why I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I hope that the Government now do as they say they will, but urgently. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37

Orders under section 29, 31, 33, 34 or 36: pending appeals

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 186, in clause 37, page 20, line 13, at end insert—

    ‘(4A)   A person appointed under subsection (4)(d) must be a person who the court is satisfied has appropriate training and qualifications in, and experience of, animal welfare in order to carry out the directions.’.

Reading my notes on the amendment, it seems that we have had most of the debate, so I shall keep my comments short. I seek to ensure that when a matter comes to the law courts, the welfare of the animals is put first in all circumstances. Subsection 4(d) gives the courts the power to appoint a person to carry out the directions that it has ordered. The amendment will ensure that that person is properly qualified. The
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person will become the animal’s guardian, so they will fall under the duty of care in the Bill. We have heard that from the Minister; my amendment is a way to ensure that such a provision is in the Bill. I understand why the Minister may not want that to happen, but in the circumstances it is probably worth having this debate, so that an animal that has experienced trauma or cruelty will be looked after by someone who is properly qualified and possessed of the skills to deliver that care.

Mr. Drew: Again, I shall be brief. To rehearse and synthesise earlier arguments, I am not sure whether the Bill is the right place to go into detail about what is implied by “animal welfare inspectors”. However, through secondary legislation or at least a code of practice, we will need subsequent clarification about the experience and qualifications that such people should bring to bear. I imagine that it will link with the veterinary surgeons Bill, which, as I said on Second Reading, I hope the Government introduce rapidly. We did not spend much time discussing that subject during the Select Committee proceedings. I hope that the Minister has something to say about what the Government have in mind, so that we know where we are going with the issue.

Mr. Bradshaw: We have discussed the issue before, and although we agree that a court should appoint the most appropriate person, it is not necessary to include that provision in the Bill to achieve that goal. The person appointed would temporarily be responsible for the animal and therefore subject to the welfare offence, and I reassure hon. Members that, should it become obvious that the absence of that requirement was causing animal welfare problems, we would issue appropriate guidance to the courts. I urge the hon. Member for Leominster to withdraw his amendment.

Bill Wiggin: I rather suspected that the Minister would say that. We have already discussed the matter, and we should make some progress. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 38 and 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40

Effect in Scotland of disqualification under section 30

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

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall not repeat the explanations of clauses 40 to 44 in the explanatory notes. However, it may be helpful if I inform hon. Members that, on Report, the Government will move a small number of minor technical amendments to clauses 41 to 43 to keep them in line with minor changes being made to
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the parallel Scottish Bill, which is being examined by the Scottish Parliament. I shall explain the amendments on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 41 to 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45


Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 187, in clause 45, page 25, line 10, at end insert

    ‘(2A)   A person may only be appointed as an inspector under this section if he holds an appropriate qualification to be an inspector for the purposes of the provision in question.’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 59, in clause 45, page 25, line 13, at end insert

    ‘(3A)   Where a person other than a state veterinary inspector is to be appointed under this section, the appropriate national authority shall ensure that they have the necessary training, knowledge and qualifications for the exercise of their functions under this Act.’.

No. 40, in clause 45, page 25, line 16, at end insert

    ‘(4A)   A person may only be appointed as an inspector under this section if he holds an appropriate qualification to be an inspector for the purposes of the provision in question.’.

No. 41, in clause 45, page 25, line 22, at end add

    ‘(7)   In this section, “appropriate qualification” means—

      (a)   a qualification—

      (i)   accredited at the time of its award, and

      (ii)   awarded by a body accredited at that time;

      (b)   a qualification awarded before the coming into force of this section which the Secretary of State certifies to be treated for the purposes of this section as if it were a qualification within paragraph (a); or

      (c)   a qualification obtained in an EEA State (other than the United Kingdom) which is equivalent to a qualification within paragraph (a) or (b).

    (8)   In subsection (7)—

            “accredited” means accredited by the Secretary of State; and “EEA State” means a state which is a contracting party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area signed at Oporto on 2nd May 1992, as adjusted by the Protocol signed at Brussels on 17th March 1993.’.

No. 48, in clause 45, page 25, line 22, at end add

    ‘(7)   The appropriate national authority shall ensure that adequate additional funds are available to local authorities for the appointment and training of inspectors under this Act.’.

No. 60, in clause 45, page 25, line 22, at end add

    ‘(7)   The appropriate authority may not include in any list of suitable persons to serve as inspectors, persons employed by organisations enjoying charitable status, or having agendas which are hostile to those activities they will be inspecting.’.

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