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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Animal Welfare Bill

Animal Welfare Bill

Column Number: 291

Standing Committee A

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: †

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: 293

Thursday 26 January 2006

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Animal Welfare Bill

Clause 49

Power to detain vessels, aircraft and hovercraft

Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

1 pm

Question again proposed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I was responding to a question from the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about hovercrafts when we broke. Apparently, hovercrafts are specifically referred to in the clause heading because they are not vessels, as they do not sit in the water but float on it. They are referred to later in the clause because, unlike ships under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, we need to refer to them so that we can make regulations that apply to them. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 50 and 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 52

Scientific research

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

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I speak on behalf of Bob Dillon, a prominent Labour party activist in Kettering. Rather than write to me, he chooses to correspond with me through the letter pages of the Kettering Evening Telegraph. This week, he urged me to table amendments to modify controls on laboratory research. Why would that not be appropriate? Do the Government have any plans to alter legislation on the subject?

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Good afternoon to you, Mr. Gale. I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s point, because those of us who are concerned about animal welfare—I take that to be everyone in this room—are naturally concerned that the welfare of animals held for research purposes be properly considered, and that suffering be kept to a minimum within the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The relevant point is that that
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Act was passed 20 years ago. We have since identified further measures to improve animal welfare and have more information about how that can be best delivered. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether any of the advances made in understanding those issues could be applied to the 1986 Act. I recognise the special position of that Act, but are there any plans to bring forward amendments to improve the lot of animals held for research purposes?

Mr. Bradshaw: As the hon. Gentleman suggests, the reason why animals kept for scientific purposes are not included in the remit of the Bill is that they are dealt with under separate legislation, which is in turn informed by EU legislation. The EU directive is currently under review, and I would not want to pre-empt the outcome.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) can assure his Labour-voting constituent that the Government have tightened up procedures governing the way in which animals are held for scientific procedures. A lot of people do not realise that the cruelty offences in the Bill will also apply to animals kept for scientific procedures if that cruelty is outside the scope of the licence that applies to the animals concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 54

Crown application

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 43, in clause 54, page 28, line 41, leave out subsections (6) and (7).

Many of us who have been in this place for some time are interested in exemptions that apply to the Crown. I came across one this week, when a row of fantastic trees in Lewes was felled by Lewes prison on the basis of a Crown exemption. That would not have been allowed by anyone else, as the trees had an amenity value. I wish, if possible, to restrict Crown immunity. I admit that the clause sets out the terms that normally apply, but I particularly wanted to ask about subsections (6) and (7), which refer to the monarch in her private capacity. I am not quite clear why an exemption for private estates should be specifically written into the Bill. On all sorts of occasions, we have heard, and been given reasons why, things should not be written into Bills, and, here, we are talking not about estates held by the Crown—Buckingham palace, or whatever—but about private estates. Obviously, animals will be held on those estates, and we want to look after animals there as well as those anywhere else. I am interested to know what justification there can be for that inclusion.

Mr. Bradshaw: Committee members may be interested to know, if they do not already, that the existing legislation—the Protection of Animals Act 1911—exempts all the Crown estate, including the sort
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of premises to which the hon. Member for Lewes referred, such as prisons and anything that comes under what is commonly known as the Crown.

This Bill provides an exemption only for the Queen and her private estates. That is because the Queen cannot be criminally liable, because, under our unwritten constitution, she is the prosecutor. That does not mean that inspectors will not be able to gain access to her private estates when permission is given, just that they will not be able to demand it. There are also security considerations in respect of her private estate. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear such things in mind and withdraw his amendment.

Norman Baker: I am interested by the Minister’s response. I acknowledge our constitutional situation and the prosecution arrangements, but it would seem more equitable if the power of entry were the same for private estates owned by the monarch as for any other piece of land. The question of prosecution is separate from that.

I am particularly concerned because of the limitation at an earlier point on the power of entry. There is no restriction on the power of entry to the Prime Minister’s house or that of the head of MI5. Lots of people with good reason for restricting entry to their premises are covered by the Bill, but the monarch in her private capacity is not. I leave the Minister with that thought. I think it dangerous, inequitable and unfortunate to set up such exemptions in legislation.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 55

Orders and regulations

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 49, in clause 55, page 29, line 6, after ‘orders’, insert ‘, codes’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 50, in clause 55, page 29, line 8, after ‘11’, insert

    ‘, or codes made under 13,’.

No. 51, in clause 55, page 29, line 8, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    ‘(2)   All—

      (a)   regulations,

      (b)   licensing and registration regimes, and

      (c)   codes of practice,

    made under this Act shall only be made after the Secretary of State has presented them in the form of a draft statutory instrument which has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.’.

Bill Wiggin: After that attack on Her Majesty’s corgis, we should move quickly on.

The Chairman: Do not even begin to go down that road.

Column Number: 296

Bill Wiggin: I suspect that the hon. Member for Lewes is trying to protect the corgis, rather than attack them.

The three amendments are intended to harmonise procedure for enacting secondary legislation in the Bill, which has different procedures for the enactment of regulation, codes of practice and licensing and registration regimes. That may well be inconsistent. Many controversial and contentious matters could be included in secondary legislation, so it is important that there should be an onus to debate and approve matters positively rather than introducing some through the negative procedure.

Although I acknowledge that that may be a small burden on parliamentary time, I am conscious of the need to make sure that such regulations, codes of practice and licensing registration regimes are fair and effective. In addition, I believe that Parliament should scrutinise secondary legislation enacted for not only its content but its method. We have been through a lot of this debate before.

Given that the Government have already set themselves a target in the Bill’s regulatory impact assessment to introduce most of the required secondary legislation within the next few years, they might, in their haste, make mistakes, or they may not consult as fully or widely as we would want. The amendment would reduce the possibility of legislative short cuts, enhance the democratic accountability of the Government and strengthen our democracy.

Mr. Bradshaw: We have already discussed whether codes should be made by affirmative or negative procedure. Amendment No. 49 would require the codes to be exercisable by statutory instrument. We believe that that is excessive because the codes are not legislation and therefore not capable of being statutory instruments within the meaning given to them by the 1946 Act. Amendment No. 50 would appear to result in two procedures for the approval of codes of practice—both the affirmative and negative. I assume that the intention was to make the code subject exclusively to the affirmative procedure. Amendment No. 51 would require that all delegated powers in the Bill be subject to affirmative resolution. That would include the issuing of codes, as well as the minor power under clause 49(6) to extend the power of detention or some modified form of it to hovercraft.

The Bill requires the Secretary of State to publish a draft or revised code, on which there must be full consultation, every time he or she proposes to issue a code. The draft will then be laid before Parliament, and either House may resolve not to approve it within 40 days, in which case it cannot proceed. Therefore, the procedure gives Parliament the final say as to whether codes should be adopted, but it is not as onerous or time consuming as a full affirmative procedure.

We believe that the procedure allows for the right level of scrutiny. As failure to comply with a code will not of itself constitute an offence, we believe that a higher form of scrutiny is not necessary. As I said the other day, we expect to introduce a large number of codes to cover the different species of animal covered
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by the Bill, and they may be revised as science and society develop. If we bind ourselves to an affirmative procedure, that could create undue delay and possibly even prevent important changes to codes taking place quickly in the light of scientific evidence. Parliament will always be able to scrutinise a code if it wishes to do so, but it may not need to debate every code if it does not consider it appropriate.

On that basis I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Bill Wiggin: As the Minister said, clearly we would prefer positive statutory instruments, but, as we need to make progress this afternoon, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 56

General interpretation

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 188, in clause 56, page 29, line 32, at end insert

    ‘“sale” includes hire, barter and exchange, and related expressions shall be construed accordingly.’.

The amendment is intended to tidy up the Bill, many parts of which relate directly or indirectly to the sale of animals. Either through the activities that will be subject to licensing and registration under the clause or through the disposal of an animal detailed in the part of the Bill dealing with post-conviction powers, the Bill will have implications for the sale of animals and, as such, should include a definition. The definition provided by the amendment is consistent with the definition of “sale” in other legislation, including section 27 of the CITES licensing and bird registration under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and section 14 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The amendment would include hire, barter and exchange in the definition of sale.

I hope that the Minister will accept this minor amendment, as it brings the Bill in line with other legislation.

Mr. Bradshaw: Clause 9 aims to protect animal welfare by prohibiting commercial and private vending to children under 16. We are not aware of any compelling reason to ban the hiring of animals to children. To the extent that there is a market for that, it is rather limited and already regulated. Riding schools, for example, which hire out ponies or horses to children, are subject to licensing requirements and will continue to be so under the Bill.

We believe that the case for regulating the exchange and barter of animals in transactions involving or taking place among children is also extremely weak. If two children aged 14 swap a hamster and a gerbil, why should they be criminalised? Does it make a difference if an 18-year-old barters his guinea pig for a 14-year-old’s two mice? To the extent that the animals being exchanged are a species that may be legally exchanged,
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they are transactions in which the Bill should not interfere. In all those cases, the animals are protected by the welfare and cruelty offences.

The hon. Gentleman said that in other pieces of legislation it is necessary to protect a particular species or type of animal. The law already bans, as he said, the bartering and exchange of badgers or live wild birds. The reasons for those bans are the conservation and protection of the animals concerned—the hon. Gentleman mentioned CITES—but we see no need to extend them universally. The definition of “sale” in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 is not appropriate to the Bill.

In the second set of circumstances to which I have referred, the Bill grants the courts the power to sell animals that have been taken into possession because they are in distress, animals whose owners have been deprived of the right to own them or animals in relation to which a disqualification order has been breached. In all those cases, the courts have a discretion to dispose of the animals in accordance with the provisions in the Bill. It is highly unlikely that a court would seek to hire out the animals, and the possibility of exchanging or bartering such animals simply does not arise. Why would a court engage itself in such transactions? Therefore, we believe that the definition is inappropriate in the context of the Bill and I urge the hon. Gentleman to seek to withdraw the amendment.

1.15 pm

Bill Wiggin: I should just like to make a couple of points. I accept that perhaps the drafting is not quite right. I also accept the Minister’s argument on hiring a pony, for example, because if you hire one it is presumably under the protection of its owner. However, although I hate to say this, swapping two mice for a guinea pig is not altogether such a minor thing. My dear mother, for example, hates mice, and my returning home, as I often wanted to, clutching my new pet mouse, would not have been met with the same affection as my returning with a guinea pig. We are in the same sphere as when a small child, or even a large child, buys a pet—

Norman Baker: Or wins it at a fair.

Bill Wiggin: Indeed. It is wrong to exclude part-exchange if there is a significant change in terms of responsibility. If people can swap their animals, other than animal for animal, they are essentially getting round the part of the Bill that prevents children from buying animals. I hope that the Minister will consider that. I recognise that the amendment is, perhaps, not drafted correctly. I accept that and I am happy to withdraw. However, it is odd that animals that are protected in the way that badgers or very rare animals are protected are excluded.

Norman Baker: One of my concerns, which the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned, is the possibility that those who wish to engage in sales, but are aware of the legal restrictions that properly apply to sales, may seek to construct another arrangement taking the place of
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a sale, but with the same effect. For example, people did not used to be able to charge for entrance to sporting events on Sunday, so they would charge for the programme. People are inventive in getting round rules. It is possible, under the Bill, for someone to hire something for an extended period, which is effectively a sale.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is right, which is why I tabled the amendment, although it is possible that we have not drafted it quite correctly. The spirit of the Bill says that people cannot acquire animals. How they get round the definition of “sale” is a problem. The Minister may tell us that, for a court case, the definition would include barter or exchange. I doubt that the hamsters-for-mice scandal that may hit the press at any stage will ever get to court, but the principle behind the Bill is affected by this matter.

Although it is odd that this matter has been missed out, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: We now come to amendment No. 206. The issue relating to suffering was fairly extensively debated under clause 4. Ordinarily, this amendment would have been grouped with the amendments relating to clause 4, but it was tabled after that debate took place, which is why it is being called now. It is entirely proper that a debate takes place on the amendment now, but it would not be proper for it to be extensive or repetitive.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 206, in clause 56, page 29, line 32, at end insert—

    ‘“suffering” is not confined to physical suffering;’.

I shall take your words to heart, Mr. Gale. The amendment was tabled in light of the comments made by the Minister during our earlier discussion about suffering, which, as you rightly say, ranged widely. Many hon. Members were keen to see mental suffering dealt with in the Bill. The Minister told us that such an amendment was not necessary, but he said, on the suggestion that there should be an amendment to clause 56:

    “I will think carefully about that suggestion.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 17 January 2006; c. 34.]

I hope that the Minister has had a chance to think about that and will respond positively.

Mr. Bradshaw: As Committee members will remember, when we met on 17 January, I indicated that we would consider carefully the suggestion that we needed to do something in relation to the definition of suffering. We have some slight difficulty with the drafting of my hon. Friend’s amendment, because it seems to suggest that suffering never consists only of physical suffering, whereas it might, in some cases, and we would not want to create that loophole.

If my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw the amendment, I will consider the matter further and table an amendment on Report.

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Paddy Tipping: I am grateful for the Minister’s very generous comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 124, in clause 56, page 29, line 40, leave out from ‘dwelling’ to end of line 42 and insert

    ‘are to a part which is wholly or mainly occupied as a private dwelling.’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 44, in clause 56, page 29, line 41, leave out ‘yard, garden’.

No. 54, in clause 56, page 29, line 42, at end insert

    ‘except insofar as any yard or outhouse may contain an animal to which section 17(1) may refer.’.

Bill Wiggin: Groundhog day hits us again, because here we are, talking about dwellings; the Minister helpfully clarified the part about private dwellings earlier. Clause 56 does not specify what is meant by a private dwelling, and the explanatory notes are of little help. Moreover, the Government have made no changes to it, despite the criticisms made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The Government may seek to make those changes later, although consequently I believe that it is necessary to amend the clause accordingly to prevent confusion from arising over the powers of entry once the Bill is enacted.

It is important that constables and inspectors know what they can and cannot enter, especially when an animal is in distress. An outhouse or a yard could be deemed to be a private dwelling. I believe that the Minister has said before that if someone has turned their garage into a stable, they can no longer expect it to be considered a private dwelling. It is not clear, however, whether there would be some dispute about that if someone had left a pushchair, a load of children’s toys and various other household items in the garage as well. If the Minister can throw some light on the matter and we can tidy it up, that is all well and good.

Paddy Tipping: I do not want to push my luck with the Minister, but we have made some progress, and we had a good discussion about the notion of a private dwelling when we last considered the matter. Since then, the RSPCA has examined the cases that it has brought. It remains concerned about the notion of a private dwelling and will provide the Minister and his team with some statistical information. I urge the Minister to keep his mind open about this point.

Norman Baker: I speak to amendment No. 44 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), which offers a halfway house between what the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) suggests and the Government’s stated position so far, although I must say that I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s presentation.

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My hon. Friend and I tabled the amendment to delete the words “yard, garden” because there is a clear difference between something that is visible and something that is not. The contents of a garage or an outhouse are not visible, so the occupier of a house could construe a garage or an outhouse as a private dwelling, whereas a yard or a garden, even a backyard, as the Minister suggested on the other occasion, is much more likely to be treated as an open space, albeit a private one. It is very common for such yards and gardens to be visible, at least from outside the property, to those who pass by and to the neighbours of that property.

It is difficult to believe that one cannot use the powers of entry in clauses 16 and 17 if one sees, from a public place, an animal in distress in the yard or garden. I ask hon. Members to bear it in mind that one probably cannot see an animal in distress if it is in a garage or an outhouse. I do not believe that privacy is infringed in the same way at all if a person enters someone else’s yard or garden for those purposes as it would be if they entered someone’s garage or outhouse, or even their house itself—that is in a different category altogether. One has a right to expect the garage, outhouse or house to be private. They will probably be locked, and access will be denied in that way. Yards and gardens will not be locked in that way, and there is a strong case for deleting those two words.

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Prepared 27 January 2006