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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Eric Martlew
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben (Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham) (Lab)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow) (Lab)
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
MacShane, Mr. Denis (Rotherham) (Lab)
Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington) (Lab)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Wills, Mr. Michael (North Swindon) (Lab)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 13 March 2007

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Draft Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007

10.30 am
The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 and the draft Welfare of Animals (Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007.
Mr. Bradshaw: I am pleased that the Committee has agreed to debate the three sets of regulations together. They are a key part of the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the bulk of which we hope will come into force on April 6.
The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 will consolidate existing legislation that relates to the mutilation of animals. The Animal Welfare Act 2006, prohibits all mutilations of animals other than for the purpose of medical treatment, but subject to any exceptions as may be specified in regulations; the Government are exercising the latter permission in this proposal.
It is commonly agreed that some mutilations are necessary for an animal’s long-term welfare or benefit, whether for reproduction control, identification or better management, leading to improved welfare. In addition, some forms of mutilation—for example, the ear-tagging of certain animals for identification purposes—are required by law.
The permitted procedures are set out in schedule 1, with conditions attached to their use, such as the use of anaesthetic or a maximum or minimum age at which the procedure can be performed under schedules 2 to 9. In addition, regulation 3 provides that the procedure must be carried out in such a way as to minimise pain and suffering, in hygienic conditions and in accordance with good practice. Those safeguards provide more generally for all kinds of cases that may arise. Regulation 4 will exempt any procedure that is carried out in an emergency to relieve pain or to save life.
In deciding which mutilations should be permitted, we have largely repeated those permitted under existing legislation, but we have also consulted widely about any other procedure that should, or should not, be allowed and the status quo has been replicated in most cases. However, unlike present legislation in which certain procedures are banned, the new regulations will also ban outdated and unacceptable practices not specifically outlawed at present.
We have identified 20 practices that are not subject to legislation at present and that are no longer generally considered justifiable on animal welfare grounds; they will no longer be permitted. They include procedures such as the application of corrosive acids to an animal’s skin, the devoicing of cockerels, the ear-cropping of dogs and the drilling of tortoises’ shells.
The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 are accompanied by the Welfare of Animals (Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007, which will revoke the current legislation on mutilations of farmed animals that will be replaced by the mutilations regulations.
The Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007 will supply the necessary mechanisms by which the principle of the limited tail docking of dogs agreed by the House of Commons in March last year may have effect. We had a thorough debate on the subject at that time and all the main parties allowed Members of Parliament a free vote in which a ban on tail docking, with an exemption for working dogs, was the preferred outcome.
The exemption for working dogs allows a dog that is likely to be used for specified types of work to have its tail docked by a vet. The dog must not be more than five days old at the time of docking and the vet will have to certify that he or she has seen evidence that it is specified in the regulations that the dog is likely to work in one of a few permitted areas: law enforcement, the activities of Her Majesty’s armed forces, emergency rescue, lawful pest control or the lawful shooting of animals.
The vet’s decision on whether to dock is discretionary; the measure will not require a vet to dock an eligible dog’s tail. Vets will continue to be permitted to dock the tail of a dog at any age for the purpose of its medical treatment. To ensure that only dogs that are genuinely likely to work are docked, the regulations detail how those dogs will be identified and certificated. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
10.34 am
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): The tail-docking debate was covered extensively at various stages in the consideration of the Animal Welfare Bill—in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which examined the first draft, in the Standing Committee and in a heated debated on the Floor of the House. I am pleased that the Minister followed the suggestions of many to ensure that the issue was dealt with in the Bill, rather than by regulation.
Rather than dwell on tail docking, I want to focus on the content of the regulations and ask the Minister to clarify a number of points. First, am I right in assuming that the docking of dogs’ tails can only be done surgically and not with a rubber band? Secondly, following the criticism in the other place last week of drafting errors in the regulations that led to their withdrawal, will the Minister tell us whether any changes to the regulations are likely? Thirdly, the regulations are due to come into force on 6 April. As the Easter recess is drawing ever closer, will they be debated in the other place?
The regulations are important, and it is right that they are in the first tranche of secondary legislation. When the 2006 Act was being passed, the enforcement and workability of the legislation was a central theme of debate. However, there seem to be questions about the regulations and the parent Act.
These laws do not make it easy for inspectors and constables who enforce the regulations to identify dogs with lawfully or unlawfully docked tails. Importantly, they do not appear to have the power to demand to see the certificate that proves whether or not a tail was legally docked. If someone is driving and is pulled over by the police, legally, they have up to seven days to produce their driving licence. However, if an inspector or a constable suspects that a tail has been docked illegally, they have no corresponding power to request to see the docking certificate—the key piece of proof that no illegal act has taken place.
Will the Minister clarify whether an owner is obliged to show the docking certificate to an inspector, constable or anyone else? Will he tell us where that requirement is in the legislation? I am delighted to notice pieces of paper passing backwards and forwards. I shall be most grateful when we hear the answers to those questions. The requirement is not in section 6, which deals with docking, or section 23 of the Act.
Section 6(13) states that the regulations may be made by the national authority with regard to the function of inspectors in relation to docking certificates and the identification of docked dogs. Will the Minister provide further details about that provision and say whether he intends to introduce any of those regulations and whether they could be used to grant inspectors the power to demand sight of a docking certificate? Furthermore, will the veterinary surgeon who carried out the procedure be required to keep a record of the docking? If so, could an inspector who was investigating a suspected illegal docking request sight of that copy?
Moreover, with reference to docking under section 23, what evidence would need to be shown to a magistrate to demonstrate that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence had been committed and a warrant required? For example, would refusal to answer an inspector’s question or request for a docking certificate be sufficient and reasonable grounds for obtaining a warrant?
I know from paragraph 16 of the regulatory impact assessment that the Minister does not anticipate any more than a handful of prosecutions for offences under the regulations. Does he intend to issue guidelines to police and inspectors about how to interpret and enforce the legislation? He estimates that police enforcement costs will be minimal. Is that because he intends local authority inspectors and private organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to bear the brunt of the costs and responsibility for enforcing the docking legislation?
Moving on to microchipping, the suggestion that docked dogs should be placed on to a national register has been dismissed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as unnecessary red tape and not in line with the Government’s better regulation agenda. However, in the Animal Welfare Bill’s regulatory impact assessment, the Government stated their desire to establish an animal welfare enforcement database.
Will the Minister update us on those plans? Will he consider using such a database to keep a central record of docked dogs? It would be invaluable to those who enforce the regulations if they could merely check a dog’s microchip with a database to confirm whether illegal docking had been performed. Moreover, it would be a good back-up in the event of a docking certificate being lost by an owner.
Most responses to the consultation on the regulations favoured microchipping happening at the same time as the docking procedure. Will the Minister explain why it was decided that there could be as much as a three-month time span between the dog being docked and its being microchipped? Unless the same vet who performed the docking also does the microchipping, problems may occur in ensuring that the legislation is effectively applied.
Moving on to the regulations on mutilation, will the Minister provide some clarity about castration? There appears to be some confusion over the time span when anaesthetics are required and when they are not. For cattle, the regulations state that an anaesthetic is needed for cows over two months old, with no further details for cattle under two months old, other than the use of a rubber ring in the first seven days. For sheep, an anaesthetic is needed for those aged three months and over and a rubber ring for those aged seven days and under, but nothing between the seven days to two month period.
Last January, when dockings and mutilations were debated in Committee during the consideration of the Animal Welfare Bill, the Minister helpfully provided us with a draft of the proposed mutilations exempted procedures that was clearer on this matter. Although that draft has not survived to the present day, it contained a table that detailed the dates that certain procedures and anaesthetics could and could not be used for certain animals. It explicitly stated that anaesthetic was not required for cattle under two months old and likewise for sheep under three months old. Can the Minister confirm whether that is still the position, as it is not explicitly stated in the current draft?
The regulations also permit the tooth reduction of pigs, as with the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003. Tooth reduction is only permitted within the first seven days and when other environmental and management systems have been used to prevent tail biting. Is it not the case that tail biting takes place at a much later stage and that the tooth damage is usually to sows’ teats? The consultation document did not ask any questions about tooth reduction in pigs, and concerns have been raised that reducing piglets’ teeth has no impact on the incidence or severity of tail biting and other similar vices when the pigs are older.
How many pig owners are the regulations likely to apply to and does the Minister intend to issue any further guidance on the environmental and management systems that are adequate or will they be the same as those outlined in the 2003 pig code? It would be helpful if the Minister clarified any research that his Department has conducted to support the position outlined in the regulations.
Finally, on a more general point, when will the other secondary legislation and regulations—such as those for greyhounds, circuses and the cat code—follow, and can the Minister provide a helpful timetable?
10.42 am
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): This is a difficult and controversial subject at times, but it is worth starting on a positive note: the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was important and significant legislation, on which the Government ought to be congratulated in many respects. It advanced animal welfare, and although some of us may have felt that it did not go far enough on issues such as the regulation of animals in circuses, it was still an overwhelmingly positive rationalisation and improvement of the previous legislative position.
Much of what we are considering today is therefore to be welcomed, as it is simply implements many of the ideas that were contained in that Act. Tail docking did provoke a debate; there was a free vote, as the hon. Member for Leominster suggested, and it was a free vote for Liberal Democrats. I voted for a complete ban, which did not carry through to the Act, but that is not the question today.
There is a question about whether or not the regulations are workable and enforceable. That is complicated by the fact that we are addressing three pieces of secondary legislation in one sitting—something that appears to have tied our noble Friends in another place into something of a knot, as they ended up with the motion being withdrawn on one set of regulations and the question not being put on the other two. In a way, I am raising a point of order during my speech: I would be grateful for the Chairman’s guidance on exactly where that leaves us and, in particular, on what we could do if we also wanted to oppose one set of regulations but not the other two.
The Chairman: On that point, the Committee had the option of debating each set of regulations separately at the very beginning, and it agreed to take them together.
Martin Horwood: As with other Members present, I could blame the House of Commons lifts, which held us up for three vital minutes. If the Chairman and the Minister are not willing to make allowance for that—which I would respectfully request that they do—that would leave us in the position of having to vote against all three sets of regulations, which would be unfortunate. I am not sure whether the Chairman would give me further guidance on whether he would therefore allow the taking of—
The Chairman: Order. We are debating all the regulations together, but we can vote on them separately.
Martin Horwood: I am very grateful for your guidance on that. Thank you very much, Mr. Martlew.
The Welfare of Animals (Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007 represent even more of a technical implementation of the requirements of the Act and also to be welcomed and supported.
The problem lies in the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007. I confess to being a little confused by the position of the hon. Member for Leominster, who seems to have raised an important catalogue of problems with the regulations but does not appear to be in a position thereby to oppose them, despite the fact that this is the very moment when they will be taken forward.
Bill Wiggin: I have put an extensive list to the Minister. I have every confidence that he will answer my questions. It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman was not involved in Committee that considered on the Animal Welfare Bill—one of his hon. Friends took part in it. Otherwise, quite a lot of these questions will be answerable. I have every confidence that the Minister will sort that out. If he does not, I may reconsider how I vote.
Martin Horwood: That was a welcome bout of optimism from the Conservative party in so many different ways.
It is significant that, when Liberal Democrats and others—possibly also Conservative Members—raised concerns during the passage of the Bill about the breadth of powers that were not specified in the Bill but promised in regulations subsequently, we were promised a great deal of consultation before that secondary legislation was introduced. I shall quote what the Minister said on Report:
“The effectiveness of the new clause hangs on the definition of a dog that is ‘likely’ to work. The Government have sought to define that tightly, but we also propose to introduce a delegated power to allow the appropriate national authority to tighten it further as necessary.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 1333.]
Are we presented with tight regulations today? My impression—it seems to be that of many well informed organisations—is that we are not.
As the Countess of Mar pointed out in the Grand Committee in another place on 7 March, there is considerable disquiet among organisations that we would have expected the Government to have consulted, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Kennel Club. In particular, she pointed out the flaw to which the hon. Member for Leominster referred, which then prompted the Minister’s noble Friend Lord Rooker to withdraw the regulations on that occasion.
Regulation 3(1) points out that the person who provides
“evidence that the dog is likely to be used for a specified type of work and is a dog of a specified type”
need not be the owner of the dog but can be another person whom the veterinary surgeon
“reasonably believes to be representing the owner”
“has shown him the evidence specified in paragraph (2).”
Paragraph (2) states that the evidence is simply that the person who presents the identification is a member of one of Her Majesty’s armed forces or is otherwise employed or contracted to work for one of Her Majesty’s armed forces, or is in one of the other official capacities that are listed.
As the Countess of Mar pointed out, that opens a very obvious loophole: there is no necessary connection between the person who provides the identification—for instance, a member of the armed forces—and the owner or actual user of the dog. Therefore, it is an extremely weakly drafted regulation and is open to very obvious abuse, whereby people could simply get their friends who happen to be in the armed forces to provide their identification on the occasion. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby groans, but that is the basis of the Countess of Mar’s argument, which led to the withdrawal of the regulations in another place. So it is clearly a serious argument, which the Minister’s colleague took very seriously. The provision would put veterinary surgeons in a difficult position.
Even more seriously, the principal organisation that might be responsible for enforcing much of the regulation—the RSPCA—has expressed a series of concerns about how it will work out in practice. The RSPCA points out, for instance, that the list of exempted breeds, which was supposed to be tightly drawn, is not included in the regulations. The list of breeds includes, for example:
“Terriers of any type or combinations of types.”
That is not a specification of a breed.
A brief look at the Crufts website will reveal that terriers are a group within which there are many different breeds. I can tell the Minister that this year’s supreme champion was Champion Araki Fabulous Willy—a Tibetan terrier that would be exempted under the drafting. As he is extremely hairy, it is difficult to tell from his photograph whether or not his tail has been docked, but some kind of tail docking is clearly possible in this case, and I would say that Champion Araki Fabulous Willy would probably be mortified to be described as a working dog. However, the regulations will allow a considerable loophole, because they are so broadly drawn and are not specific about breed. Will the Minister confirm whether Champion Araki Fabulous Willy will be covered by the regulations?
Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is my understanding of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 that no docked dog can be shown and that it would be illegal to do so.
Martin Horwood: That is important, and it demonstrates that the looseness of the regulation is inconsistent with other parts of the Act. That is serious. Clearly, I have chosen a rather obvious and public example, but not all other dogs docked for cosmetic reasons would necessarily be shown, so the point still stands.
The RSPCA goes on to state its concern about whether or not other aspects of the regulations are workable and enforceable. The hon. Member for Leominster referred to the fact that vets are not obliged to obtain the documentation and certificate that relates to a docking, and there is no obligation to present them when confronted by an RSPCA inspector. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how the RSPCA is supposed to check whether a dog has been legally docked. I gather that the RSPCA has had guidance that it can use section 23 of the Act, but it does not believe that the use of warrants will address the issue because the grounds for obtaining a warrant may not be met in the first place. If a warrant were to be issued, the investigator may be searching for a document that does not exist. That seems to be a major flaw in the regulations.
The regulations provide for cross-breeds of different types of dogs to be exempted from the ban on docking. The RSPCA comment:
“It is unclear whether the cross-breeds must be of breeds within the exemption or any cross-breed. Either way, it can be very difficult to effectively enforce legislation including cross-breeds or breed-types.”
All members of the Committee will be aware of the unfortunate example of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which demonstrates the difficulty of identifying certain breeds.
Furthermore, on the scope of the exemption, the RSPCA points out that it should be limited to
“those breeds that are genuinely and regularly used as working dogs and are listed in the regulations not general exemptions for all hunt point retrievers”.
It gives the example of the Large Munsterlander—I am not entirely sure what that is—which is not traditionally docked, yet its docking would be allowed under this broad drafting of the legislation.
Finally, on microchipping, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Leominster, the RSPCA’s conclusion is clear:
“The Society believes that Parliament is being asked to agree to law that does not address the promotion of animal welfare in a targeted manner, and is not workable or enforceable. On this basis the RSPCA urges parliamentarians to oppose the regulations.”
When an organisation of such authority and immediate relevance to the legislation is so clearly opposed to it, especially an organisation that was promised that it would be consulted on the drafting of the regulations, hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have no option but to oppose the regulations. I shall therefore vote against the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.
I remain confused by the position of the hon. Member for Leominster. I look forward to him joining me in opposing the regulations, unless the Minister gives us a remarkable rebuttal of the RSPCA’s position. Unless he can be persuaded to follow the wise example of his noble Friend and retreat for further consideration, I shall oppose the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007, but not the other regulations.
10.56 am
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I welcome the fact that the regulations reflect the view of Parliament. I am sure that Ministers have listened to the views of groups such as the RSPCA, but it is vital that the wishes of Parliament, as expressed in a Division, are reflected in the legislation.
I must declare an interest as the owner of a Patterdale cross Lakeland terrier. With terriers, the decision on whether the dog is a working dog lies not with the owner but in the dog’s brain. I have yet to come across a terrier that is not convinced in its mind that it is a working dog. It will disappear into any bramble thicket or any other part of my farm in pursuit of a rat or a rabbit. Exempting not only pure-bred terriers but crossbreds is sensible.
I should like to ask a question about the use of elastrator rings. The majority of breeders who dock dogs do so for animal welfare reasons. I speak as somebody who has both castrated and de-tailed many thousands of lambs using elastic rings. Was the decision not to include that method of tail docking taken for welfare reasons or for reasons of practicality? If it were done by a vet, the vet would presumably want to arrive, do the job and leave. To use an elastrator ring takes time. Are there compelling animal welfare reasons for allowing only surgical removal, or is it just for the vet’s practical reasons?
10.57 am
Mr. Bradshaw: If the hon. Member for Cheltenham does not mind my saying so, he is trying to reopen a debate that was settled, as hon. Members have rightly said, by a free vote on the Floor of the House and in Committee at which he was not present. The RSPCA has always opposed an exemption for working dogs, and I suspect that one of its reasons for trying to delay the regulations is the belief that, if they were struck out, we would have a total ban on all docking of tails, but we would not have any ban; we would not even have a cosmetic ban. If the hon. Gentleman had his way and the regulations were rejected, section 6 of the Act, which deals with the docking of dogs’ tails, would not come into force and thousands of dogs’ tails would continue to be docked for cosmetic reasons. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats do not want that.
Martin Horwood: We certainly do not. I made it clear in my opening remarks that the issue at hand was not whether the ban should be complete, but its enforceability and workability. That is what has been debated, and I would be grateful to the Minister if he addressed that point.
Mr. Bradshaw: Of course I shall go on to address that point. It is worth reminding hon. Members that, as a consequence of the regulations, about 90 per cent. of dogs that currently have their tails docked will no longer have them docked for cosmetic purposes. That will be illegal.
The Act requires the vet to certify that the dog is of a type, and the regulations will allow him to do so where attribution to a type take place on the basis that the mother, the dam, conforms visually to the same type. We changed the regulations in that way at the specific request of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The regulations will not give the vet the power to require the production of the mother, but if the mother is not shown to the vet, he cannot proceed to certify and dock the dog.
There will be another debate in the House of Lords at the end of March. Given the positive indications that I am told were made in this morning’s meeting—the Countess of Mar has always opposed all tail docking, even of working dogs—we believe that peers will be largely satisfied with regulations and that they will not wish to frustrate their progress, which would mean that the cosmetic docking of dogs’ tails could continue for at least another six months.
Bill Wiggin: The Minister has helpfully clarified one of the points. If the dam were to die during the birth of the puppies, my concern would be that, although they might be working dogs, failure to produce a body would mean that the tail docking could not proceed. The time frame is very short, so that probably is not a problem, but will he clarify whether I have understood that correctly?
Mr. Bradshaw: As the hon. Gentleman indicates, that probably will not be a problem, but such things are always at the discretion of the vet. If the vet were satisfied that the evidence was sufficient, the procedure could be carried out if the vet wanted to do it.
On the question from the hon. Member for Cheltenham about whether the winner of Crufts would be exempted, he would not be exempted because he is not a working dog. His owner would have needed to decide that it was necessary to have his tail docked. The vet would have had to agree and evidence would have had to be presented relating to his work.
On the obligation of a vet to retain a certificate and the obligation of an owner to produce a certificate, if a document does not exist, the owner cannot prove that he falls within the exemption and therefore the owner will be liable to prosecution and conviction. One assumes that vets and owners will be keen to produce certificates, to escape that liability.
On the question about rubber bands, Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, are right to say that the discretion to use a sharp instrument or rubber band will—I have moved on from the docking of dogs’ tails, by the way, to the tail docking of other animals as well—allow the use of rubber bands, because we are aware of no evidence that the use of a band is any less of a welfare problem than the use of a sharp knife.
There is no specific requirement to retain a copy of the certificate—a point that I dealt with a moment or two ago. The guidelines for magistrates are a matter for magistrates and prosecutors.
On the costs to the police, we are currently working with the police, local authorities and the RSPCA on a statement of intent regarding who will enforce the Act. We do not expect the police to be involved unless there are very serious cases of offences or public order matters.
We have not made microchipping obligatory at the same time as the tail is docked, because the advice that we have received is that it is not always possible to microchip animals at such a young age.
The time limits on pig tail docking and tooth reduction that are set out in the regulations are entirely within the directives laid down at European Union level, and they are the same as the status quo.
I will write to hon. Members spelling out the timetabling of the rest of the secondary legislation. We have spelt that out on a number of occasions, but I will do so again for the hon. Member for Leominster.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about rubber rings being used up to the age of seven days with no anaesthetic being required. Under any other method, anaesthetics are required in cattle and goats over two months old and in sheep over three months old. By implication, an anaesthetic is therefore not required under those time limits, although it could be given. That is an exact replication of the current law under the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954.
On the time scale for castrations, we are keeping the status quo for each species. Each species is different, and different time scales may be appropriate. We would seek further evidence before wanting to change the existing requirements. The Farm Animal Welfare Council is currently examining sheep castration; we await the report.
On vets only being permitted to dock dogs, we would anticipate that they would use a surgical method and not tail banding. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
11.5 am
Bill Wiggin: The Minister shares my desire to get animal welfare right, as indeed does the hon. Member for Cheltenham, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats. The Minister’s explanation in answer to some of my questions does not do him justice, because I know that he cares very much. I urge him perhaps to publish some guidelines for the production of certificates, because there is no great incentive for people to dock dogs’ tails.
At the moment, large numbers of dockings are done for cosmetic reasons, because of breed specifications. For a dog such as a boxer, which is not deemed a working dog by the regulations, people are docking, so that they can show the dogs according to the current regulations. That will change, so I expect that the large majority of dockings will cease. However, people will be vulnerable to prosecution if, say, they have lost their certificate. If their house burns down and the docking certificate is lost in the fire, they will be liable for prosecution. According to the Minister, it is not in their interest to lose the certificate, because they would be liable. Therefore, I would urge him to go away and think very carefully about a central database, to which vets would send their half of the certificate, so that DEFRA would have some record—
Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Mr. Dave Watts): More civil servants.
Bill Wiggin: Before I get accused of spending—[ Interruption . ]
The Chairman: Order.
Bill Wiggin: Perhaps the vets could return the certificates. After the fire, it would be possible for the owner to seek a new certificate. What we are trying to do is exactly what the Minister originally said—to enable the legislation. There is a problem with his explanation, because it does not make clear exactly how the legislation will be enacted. Equally, there is a problem with the Minister’s answer on microchipping.
A puppy may be too small to be microchipped. The microchip is put under the skin and may move in the fat. If the requirement is for the docked dog to be microchipped, which is right and something I agree with, we also ought to have some way to ensure that the person who does the docking is also the person who does the microchipping. If that is not possible, there should be some way to ensure that the two do not part company.
Those suggestions are practical, to prevent dog owners being prosecuted unnecessarily and to prevent wasting court time and messing people around unnecessarily. I am sure that the Minister shares that wish, and I am happy with his answers on the House of Lords procedure.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): For clarification, could the hon. Gentleman identify whether there are any puppies smaller than a microchip?
Bill Wiggin: The hon. Lady has, sadly, expressed her misunderstanding of microchipping. The microchip goes into the fat under the skin. As the puppy grows, it is possible for the microchip to migrate through the body and to cause quite a lot of damage or even to get lost in some cases, so that the microchip cannot be found when bleeping the dog to identify it. The whole purpose of the process is ease of identification.
I do not think that there are many puppies smaller than a microchip. I hope that there are not. I can see all sorts of animal welfare nightmares if the Government produce microchips larger than a puppy. I am sure that the hon. Lady is only making a light-hearted intervention, but she has identified that the problem of microchipping is serious. I hope that people who find a stray or lost dog would check for microchipping. That would lead to improved animal welfare and owners would get their dogs back quicker, which I am sure her constituents would want. If not dealt with properly, the dog might be deemed to be illegal and automatically put down, which would be a great shame.
Question put:
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 1.
Division No. 1 ]
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Butler, Ms Dawn
Cruddas, Jon
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Goodman, Helen
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Kidney, Mr. David
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Watts, Mr. Dave
Wiggin, Bill
Horwood, Martin
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007.


That the Committee has considered the draft Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007.—[Mr. Bradshaw.]


That the Committee has considered the draft Welfare of Animals (Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007.—[Mr. Bradshaw.]
Committee rose at twelve minutes past Eleven o’clock.

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