Animal Welfare Bill

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Mr. Bradshaw: Many people will have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. We all want to see a high standard of welfare at greyhound tracks and improvements. However, I am not convinced by the argument that greyhound racing uniquely should have a place in the Bill, nor do I believe that he was as fair as he might have been about some of the improvements that have been made in recent years and are being made. I believe that the new regime at the organisation that oversees racing is committed to high welfare standards.

One principle that the Government have tried to stress throughout the Bill, which I think would be shared by his party if not by the hon. Gentleman as an individual, is that, where possible, regulation should be self-regulation, as long as we can be satisfied that it works. Livery yards, for example, could be regulated and inspected by some of the horse welfare organisations, because they have expertise in that area.
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We are keen to see welfare improvements at the tracks and to give self-regulation a chance, but I have made it clear on many occasions, and I am happy to do so again today, that if we are not satisfied that self-regulation is delivering the welfare improvements that we seek, we shall not hesitate to regulate.

Norman Baker: Does the Minister accept that, although there have been improvements at the tracks under the control of the National Greyhound Racing Club, the same has not been true of some independent tracks? Therefore, it is not enough to rely on the code of practice if it is implemented for only some tracks.

Mr. Bradshaw: I accept that. We expect all greyhound tracks to meet the welfare standards of the best. If they do not, we may have to consider regulation. However, I would be reluctant in the Bill to bind this or a future Government to do that within a particular time frame, given the pressure that other hon. Members have put me under to bring various bits of regulation forward as fast as possible. The case has not been made to single out greyhound racing. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as soon as the Bill is passed, the welfare and cruelty offences will apply to greyhound tracks, and that should make an immediate improvement in welfare at those tracks.

3.2 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.17 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Hollobone: This is a serious issue that I am afraid the Government are not being robust enough in addressing. Parliament has talked about this issue over many years. Almost 15 years ago, the Home Affairs Committee recommended lots of changes to independent tracks, but, effectively very little has happened in that time. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also recommended that the Government take a serious look at the industry. I appreciate why the Minister says that he wants to give the industry time, but, from my perspective, it has had enough time.

This is a wonderful opportunity to say to the industry, “We want you to introduce these improvements and to do so within two years.” That is not an unreasonable time scale. The industry could fund the changes, because hundreds of millions of pounds are made by bookmakers and their clients who bet on greyhound racing. It would also provide the Minister with a quick win as far as animal welfare is concerned. Before we come back for the next election, I would be proud to stand up and praise him for the changes brought about in the greyhound industry as a result of the measures introduced in the Bill. We could have a family-friendly, extremely popular, animal welfare-led greyhound industry that would be a credit
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to this country and the world. I hope that the Government will not miss this opportunity and I would like to put the matter to the vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

[Division No. 5]


Baker, Norman
Greening, Justine
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Paice, Mr. James
Wiggin, Bill


Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Cunningham, Tony
Drew, Mr. David
Griffith, Nia
Keeley, Barbara
Kidney, Mr. David
McIsaac, Shona
Smith, Ms Angela C.
(Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Snelgrove, Anne
Tipping, Paddy

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 14


    ‘(1)   Section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c. 69) (“the 1981 Act”) is amended.

    (2)   In subsection (1)(a)—

      (a)   after “position” insert “or otherwise uses”;

      (b)   the words “self-locking” are repealed;

      (c)   the words from “which” to the end of the paragraph are repealed.

    (3)   In subsection (1)(b), the words from the second “any” to “aforesaid,” are repealed.

    (4)   In subsection (2)(a), for the words “or snare” substitute “(but not a snare)”.

    (5)   After subsection (2) insert—

    “(2A)   Subject to the provisions of this Part, any person who—

      (a)   manufactures;

      (b)   is in possession of; or

      (c)   supplies, or offers or exposes for supply, whether by way of sale or otherwise,

    a snare shall be guilty of an offence.”.

    (6)   Subsection (3) is repealed.

    (7)   In section 16(3) of the 1981 Act, after “11(1)” insert “(b), (c) and (except so far as relating to paragraph (a)) (d).”.’.—[Mr. Drew.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Drew: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to move the new clause, but I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has tabled new clause 15, so I shall be rapid. However, as this is probably the last time that I shall speak, I should like to thank you, Mr. Gale, and your co-Chairman Mrs. Humble, the Government, the Opposition and particularly my hon. Friend the Whip for allowing Back Benchers to have a voice, if not a vote—we shall wait for another day—on the new clauses. The Minister has listened carefully on a number of issues and, notwithstanding the previous
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Division, when some of us would have preferred to vote with our hearts, there is a reason why we shall vote with the Government.

The Chairman: Order. That has nothing whatever to do with the new clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to get on with it.

Mr. Drew: I will get on with it. That was the nice bit; now for the nasty bit.

I abhor snares: they are a dreadful way of capturing animals. By chance, I was with a group of farmers last Friday and they concurred. They hated snares and thought that they were the worst possible way to capture animals. Snares are not humane and if there were any alternative methods of dealing with the problem—I say “if”, but I seek guidance from the Minister—they would be used.

In speaking to the new clause, I make no apology to the League Against Cruel Sports or Naturewatch, both of which have written to me to say that they feel as strongly as I do. Time is against us, so I will not go through a lot of detailed arguments, but I will say that the debate is very current. Everyone knows that because, as those of us who face the dreadful problem of bovine TB are aware, if the Government agree to a greater culling policy, which is not my preferred choice, they are seriously considering using snares for that purpose.

We are presumably talking about pets being the major beneficiaries of the Bill, because there are other means of protecting wild animals. However, farmers do not like snares for the simple reason that any animal can get caught in one. Snares are not discriminatory; they are cruel. The reply that I received today from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), made it clear that the Department have already put in place a code of practice. I shall look at the code, but I would like to think that we would go further. It is interesting that the Department also conducted further research to look for a more humane snare. The code of practice cannot be sufficient if, at the same time, we are looking for a more humane way of using snares.

I have mentioned suffering. Voluntary codes do not work—the Government already have a voluntary code but they are still conducting research. As I said, snares are indiscriminate. That is something that we shall face as the issue recurs and it is something on which we need to have a view here, even if we do not have the opportunity to deal with it—I am sure that the Minister will say that this is not the appropriate place.

Finally, snares are deeply unpopular, not only with farmers but with the public. In a MORI poll of 2,053 respondents in 2003, some 79 per cent. of the population—if that figure is meaningful—were against the use of the snares. That is substantial, but we do not need to rely on the general public; we can ask hon. Members. Up until 16 January, 222 hon. Members had signed an early-day motion standing in my name. If one takes out Front Benchers—the hon. Member for Leominster screws his face up at that—that is a substantial number.

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People do not like snares. They want to know that the Government are considering at least an alternative, if not a complete ban. I believe that snares should be banned. We are behind other parts of Europe and other parts of the world in that regard. We have already had a debate about the reality as compared with what is said to be the reality, but the fact is that other parts of Europe do not use snares—they do not encourage the use of snares.

Mr. Paice: I just want to put one question to the hon. Gentleman. I understand the points that he is making and I accept that snares are unpopular. If set in accordance with the code, a snare is not particularly indiscriminate, and if a properly set snare does catch an animal of a non-target species, it can be released. However, the main point that I want to put to him is that the House decided—rightly or wrongly, depending on people’s views—to ban fox hunting. That leaves only a small number of ways to control foxes. Lamping is the one frequently discussed, but there is also snaring and live trapping. Live trapping is immensely difficult, as anyone who tries to catch rural foxes by that method finds. That only leaves snaring. In many areas of the country, lamping with a high-powered rifle is unsafe. That is particularly so near built-up areas. I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell the Committee how he believes foxes could be controlled in such areas if people could not use a rifle and if he was successful in banning snares.

Mr. Drew: That is a useful intervention. My answer is that lamping and trapping should be used, because they are more humane and better methods. There is a lot of argument about efficiency. We have the voluntary code, but I put it to the Minister that it would be useful to see the evidence behind the evolution of the policy on this matter. The Government have a policy; they have to have a policy in recognition of the problems with bovine TB. I am asking the Government to be completely clear and to say what they are doing, how they are doing and what plans they have if they intend to use snares. My position is clear—I do not agree with snares—but there should be accountability, and the Bill provides an opportunity in that regard. This is not an area in which things can easily be licensed, which is my problem.

I agree with what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said in his intervention, but the problem is that, for every person who knows how to set a snare, there are many others who do not. They set illegal snares and are happy to see animals suffer. I say that because they must know if they put down such a snare that the chances are that an animal will be caught in it, regardless of whether it is the one that they intended to catch or one that is indiscriminately caught. That is the problem. Snaring is not a science; it is something that people do because they think that it is an effective means of catching an animal. I question that.

I am glad to be able to propose the new clause. I am sure that the debate will not go away but will take place again on Report. I would like to know from the
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Minister what the Government are doing, what they plan to do and, at the very least—to try to mitigate my worries—what additional controls they will impose so that we do not have snaring taking place as it does, which is completely unacceptable in this day and age.

Mr. Bradshaw: I have to disappoint my hon. Friend: the Government do not plan to ban snares. I am sure he accepts that what most people consider to be snares—self-locking snares—are already illegal. We do not intend to ban snares because wildlife in the countryside needs to be managed and pests need to be controlled. He cites public opinion surveys. I have to tell him that many people who respond to such surveys just do not like the idea that animals need to be managed and pests sometimes need to be controlled. I suspect that the surveys he cited reflect that and that if those people were asked whether they would rather the animals be poisoned or another, less humane means of dispatch used, they would be even more unhappy. If they had a greater understanding of the need to control some pests, they might respond in a slightly more nuanced way.

3.30 pm

My hon. Friend asked what the Government were doing. As he acknowledged, we have just published a good, updated code of practice, which applies to snares. Some of the cases he cited would be in breach of the code and therefore prosecutable. He also cited an answer given to a question he put to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, who is responsible for this area, which laid out in some detail what the Government are doing. It mentioned the research that we are doing into restraints in the event that they need to be used in relation to bovine TB.

I would not want to close that door because, if a decision is made on such matters, the alternatives may be less attractive to my hon. Friend and those who care about animal welfare. Given what the Government are doing, the fact that we take care constantly to determine how updating can be made as welfare-friendly as possible, and that there is a need to control pests, I ask him not to press the motion.

Mr. Drew: I listened very carefully to the Minister; obviously I am not at one with my Front-Bench colleagues on the matter. It is not appropriate to press the motion to a vote now, but I shall reintroduce it on Report. I am sure that others feel as strongly as I do about it. Snares are something that we can do without in the 21st century. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 15

Welfare of gamebird laying stock

    ‘(1)   The person responsible for an animal to which this section applies commits an offence if the animal is kept otherwise than in accordance with this section.

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    (2)   An enclosure in which any pheasant is kept for the purpose of producing eggs must be of a kind which provides a minimum of one square metre of floor surface area per bird.

    (3)   Pheasants shall only be kept in a laying pen described in subsection (2) for up to a maximum of six months in any one year.

    (4)   After the laying period, pheasants which are not released into the wild must be moved to a separate enclosure which provides a minimum floor surface area of two square metres per bird.

    (5)   An enclosure in which any partridge is kept for the purpose of producing eggs must—

      (a)   be of a kind traditionally used for the keeping of partridges (commonly known as a partridge box), and

      (b)   provide a floor surface area of no less than 0.55 square metres per bird.

    (6)   Partridges shall only be kept in a box as described in subsection (5) for a maximum of six months in any one year.

    (7)   After the laying period, partridges which are not released into the wild must be moved to a separate enclosure which provides a minimum floor surface area of one square metre per bird.’.—[Paddy Tipping.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Paddy Tipping: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am pleased and somewhat relieved to have the opportunity to speak to this new clause. The issue has attracted a great deal of interest in the shooting press recently. I am delighted that the RSPCA and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation have worked together on the new clause. It has a good deal of, but not universal, support.

There is growing concern in this country about the use of intensive rearing practices and battery cages. The evidence relating to poultry suggests that overcrowding of birds can lead to stress and aggressive behaviour. That is one issue, but there is a wider issue for the shooting industry, which promotes its product as being free, natural and a valuable food source. That contrasts sharply with intensive rearing practices.

The new clause makes a stab at laying down minimum cage spaces: different ones for pheasant and partridge. I am not confident that the areas specified are the right size. The League Against Cruel Sports and Animal Aid support the general thrust of the new clause but argue that greater space is necessary. It is absolutely clear that we need greater research into the issue. I have had a helpful letter from the Game Conservancy Trust, an excellent body that does very valuable work. It suggests that it would like to be involved in research on the matter and also argues for the involvement of the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

I am pretty confident that the Minister will say that a code of practice will be introduced. I want to inform the debate on that code of practice and ask the Minister whether, in the run-up to the publication of the code, the necessary research can be carried out. One of the interesting aspects of the Bill is that it has proved a vehicle by which people with different views and interests have come together and begun a debate. Although there are important issues in the Bill, and to come in regulation, its true strength is that it will prove to be a catalyst and focus for debate, bringing together bodies that have traditionally held different views. I welcome it.

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Mr. Paice: I should emphasise, as some hon. Members know, that I am not only a long-standing member of the BASC but a member of the Game Conservancy Trust council. Both positions are non-pecuniary, but I wanted to make that clear in the interests of transparency.

As the hon. Member for Sherwood said, there has been a lot of discussion about these issues for the past year or two, stemming from a video taken by Animal Aid of one or two game farms in the UK. It is important to emphasise that those cages were in conflict with the game farmers’ own code of practice, which has been published. If the Government were later to adopt the Game Farmers Association’s voluntary code as the statutory code, the farmers in the video who were using those cages would be open to prosecution under clause 8.

Shona McIsaac: Of the game farms in this country, how many are estimated to be using cages that could be illegal?

Mr. Paice: For the benefit of the hon. Lady, I can say that it is estimated to be about six. I emphasise that the Game Farmers Association does not necessarily support this system, but it does exist. It has therefore developed its own code, which involves a system of enriched cages. That is why I said that the cages in the video would have been outwith the code.

Secondly, the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Sherwood—he and I agree on many of these matters, but I take slight issue with him on this—refers to the figures. He accepted that he does not know whether they are correct. They are figures that I am afraid the BASC has distorted in its campaign, because they relate to the square meterage for pens and are figures that the Game Conservancy Trust put forward some 30 years ago for a different rearing system for pheasants. That was for pens on the ground.

Raised cages, where the birds are on a wire floor, are a very different housing system, because clearly the birds will not be in mud or in their own faeces, so the issue of square meterage is completely different. The BASC was wrong only in translating a recommendation for an open pen on the ground to a cage. The second aspect of that, as I said, is that the figures are 30 years old and, frankly, were not based on much science at the time. They were the general practice and were reckoned to be all right, but that was a long while ago and it is time they were updated.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the Game Conservancy Trust has written to the Government asking that this matter be referred to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Incidentally, the Game Farmers Association has written direct to FAWC asking it to consider the issue. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that at this stage the Minister will say that, when he comes to develop a code, he will work with the whole shooting industry—not just with the BASC, which on this issue is on its own—and will make a commitment today to refer the matter to FAWC. When the statutory regulations are made we will then all be able to see independent advice from those appointed to
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look at this issue, so that we can reach a conclusion on the basis of up-to-date scientific knowledge. I believe that all the rural community would support that.

I emphasise that we are talking about laying birds, not about rearing birds. I personally do not like the idea of keeping the latter in cages for the reason mentioned by the hon. Member for Sherwood—I believe that the shooting community should work more closely to nature than that—but we should base our decisions on expert information and scientific research. If the Minister can assure us today that he will refer the matter to FAWC, I will be very pleased.

Mr. Bradshaw: The Government are sympathetic to the amendment’s purposes and share the concerns expressed over the use of barren, raised cages. I have said on the record several times myself that most people find it difficult to understand that a practice that we have banned for poultry we still allow for game birds.

I will certainly reflect on the suggestion that the hon. Gentleman has just made. As game birds are not considered to be farmed animals, I ask myself whether the matter would be within FAWC’s remit. I have just been advised that it is a borderline matter, but that does not mean that I should not discuss with FAWC whether it could take the matter into its remit. I should like the codes to be based on the best possible scientific advice. If that requires further research, the commissioning of research or drawing on other countries’ research, I should be happy to facilitate that.

Mr. Paice: I suggest to the Minister that there is probably enough ministerial discretion for FAWC to look into the matter. This may sound like special pleading; it is not meant to. If he comes to the conclusion that FAWC cannot consider it, he might consider formally requesting the Game Conservancy Trust, which is widely accepted to be an expert in that field, to carry out the research. It has not done so for more than 30 years, and we need that scientific evidence.

Mr. Bradshaw: I appreciate that, and there is one other thing that hon. Members may wish to consider: game birds are not farmed animals, so they are not subject to EU legislation. I am concerned to try to avoid an uneven playing field in the EU, whereby we ban a practice or introduce a regulation in this country which stops a practice that continues on the continent, allowing the cheaper breeding and export of young birds that could damage our game-rearing industry. We have formally asked the Commission to look into that whole area, so that we can try to ensure that whatever happens, it happens on an EU-wide basis. Following those comments, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood will not press the motion.

Paddy Tipping: I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and for the helpful comments from the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. The Minister is right to argue that an EU dimension is needed. One driver for such cages is imports from
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France, where the system is used. I am also keen to stress that further research is needed, and that science should inform a code of practice. The Minister has picked up on that point.

There is a case for FAWC considering the matter. The Minister has influence over it, and I hope that he will talk to it and others with expertise in the area. The shooting industry and animal welfare organisations jointly want to make progress, and the Minister has made it clear that he wants to make progress, too. Given that, I am delighted to beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

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