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One or two hon. Members asked who would be responsible for the proposed marine management organisation. There would be a DEFRA ministerial lead, but the organisation would be a non-departmental public body. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge for clearing up the little dispute that we had earlier about the size of the marine protected areas. I am absolutely committed to developing a network of marine protected areas as quickly as possible, and they should be as big as they need to be—“necessary” is the operative word here—in order to deliver the biodiversity protection and other protection that is needed. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out that the areas for some migratory species will need to be much bigger
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than those for other species such as shellfish, or for static biodiversity, if I can call it that.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) both made impassioned and well informed speeches about the problem of the acidification of the oceans. People are just beginning to wake up to this phenomenon, although experts have been aware of it for some time. It is extremely important that it should be given much more publicity outside this place. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East has announced that he will not be here after the next election, and I am sorry that we shall be losing his passion and expertise. He was absolutely right to say, prophetically, that there was a real danger that, if we lose the correct pH balance in our oceans, the role that the oceans now play as a regulator of the earth’s climate will change. That would mean that the present climate change trajectory would tip much more steeply, and that we would move from the pretty cataclysmic projections of the more pessimistic scientists to a much more serious situation. This is not just about protecting the seas and what is in them; it is about protecting the whole of the global biosphere.

My hon. Friend was also right to point out our oceans’ potential for developing new medicines and treatments, and for scientific research. I will go back and check the exact extent of our support for marine science, but I know that DEFRA spends £26 million a year on marine research, which sounds like a reasonable sum of money. We would always like to spend more, but I would be surprised if the United Kingdom were not in the forefront internationally for such research.

Linda Gilroy: The United Kingdom is currently equal to, and possibly even leads, the United States in terms of marine science. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, with 50 per cent. of the world’s population living within 20 kilometres of a coastal zone, sea levels rising by even a modest amount will present huge challenges, and that our investment in marine science could be repaid many times over in terms of meeting climate change challenges?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for informing me not only that the United Kingdom is among the leading nations for marine science, but that it is the leading nation for marine science. She should know, because in Plymouth she represents one of the best, if not the best, marine science research establishments anywhere in the world. Long may we continue to be in that leadership role. She is also right that the research needs to consider adaptation as well as mitigation. That is an important issue, which we have not talked about a great deal. It is good that she made that point.

My hon. Friend, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck), who was here for a long time but could not stay for the end of the debate, are worthy champions of Plymouth’s strong maritime tradition. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) welcomed the pioneering and challenging nature of the Bill. She has been doing excellent work
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with her city council in promoting Plymouth as a centre for marine science, and Southampton and Brighton are also strong centres for marine science and marine activity.

I was grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge for his excellent contribution. He described the White Paper as excellent, a little quotation that I shall take away and tuck in my pocket for future reference. He can claim a lot of the credit for the progress that has been made so far with his private Member’s Bill—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): It was blocked.

Mr. Bradshaw: By Tories in the House of Lords, not by us.

I want to reassure the hon. Member for Uxbridge about the time scale. At the moment, 2020 is the end game for the whole network of marine protected areas, but that does not mean that we will not start before then. In fact, we are in the process of setting those up and will move as quickly as possible. However, one of the challenges, which was pointed out by a number of hon. Members, is the science, research and mapping that we need to do if we are to get the areas right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and one or two others raised the possibility of charging for recreational sea angling licences. As he rightly acknowledged, that is not a new idea. Indeed, it was included in the wonderful manifesto for anglers that he helped to write at the time of the last election. As he also rightly pointed out, there is an argument, for which there is support in the angling community, that just as the freshwater angling, or rod, licence has delivered conservation benefits in our rivers and lakes for anglers—they recognise that and it is why the rod licence is popular—there is potential to do the same in the marine area. However, I take his point that there must be a quid pro quo. There is a duty on us in government and us as legislators to deliver the benefits that the sea angling community would like to see if it is to be asked to contribute.

I would ask—this is really a philosophical point, which we try to tease out in the White Paper—whom we expect to pay in future for the management of our marine environment. Should it be the taxpayer, who already makes a significant contribution—my hon. Friend mentioned the cost of managing the commercial fishing sector—or should it be those sectors, not just fishermen,
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commercial and recreational, but companies that extract minerals and so on, that benefit financially from the marine environment? We think that there is a case for a balance to be struck. There is also a case for making the argument that if we give people rights over a part of our environment, they also have a responsibility to make a contribution. I hope that that philosophy can be shared throughout the House.

My hon. Friend also called for the modernisation of sea fisheries committees. He is absolutely right. That is part of the White Paper, as other hon. Members mentioned.

I forgot to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East for raising the excellent Royal Society report. I was pleased that he did so. There was a bit of discussion about whether land-locked MPs have a right to talk about the subject, but we all should, inside and outside the House. The future of the marine environment is a massive challenge. If we do not get it right, future generations will not forgive us. That is as important for land-locked constituencies as it is for constituencies such as mine which touch the sea.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


Alzheimer’s Disease

5.59 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I wish to present a petition on behalf of Doreen Tapscott, members of the Plymouth branch of the Alzheimer’s Society and supporters in the city of Plymouth, a total of 993 people. The petition declares:

To lie upon the Table.

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Welfare of Dogs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Cawsey.]

6 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak up for man’s best friend, and to bring the issue of dog welfare before the House once again. Hon. Members will know of my long-standing interest in dog issues. Since my election as a member of Parliament, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most dedicated groups and organisations in the country, who perform a magnificent job in defending the interests of our four-legged friends.

I pay particular tribute to the Kennel Club, whose work in the dog world goes far beyond the call of duty, extending from welfare issues to dog shows, breeding and, of course, the Westminster dog of the year competition. The Dogs Trust has also campaigned on dog welfare-related issues to ensure a safe and happy future for caninekind, and has made the slogan “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” a household phrase. The Dogs Trust will

the popular motto that inspires so many people to sponsor its wonderful re-homing programme. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is another organisation that does miraculous work in looking after dogs that have been cast out by cruel and irresponsible people.

I also pay tribute to a friend of mine, Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund, who has been a personal inspiration to me. She is always there with an open ear and friendly advice for people all over the country with problems in the dog world. Juliette has helped to save many dogs from immediate death following the unwise implementation of the draconian Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 before its amendment.

There is another organisation known as “Vets Get Scanning”, whose patrons include Bruce Forsyth and his daughter Debbie Matthews. It seeks to promote the practice of microchipping all puppies as a matter of routine and procedure, and the practice of scanning every dog that enters any veterinary surgery anywhere in the United Kingdom. Why, Members will ask, is such a practice so necessary and important? It will probably come as a surprise to them, as it did to me, to learn that dog theft is one of the fastest-growing criminal activities in the United Kingdom. The crime targets the natural bond that exists between owner and pet—a bond that in many cases is as strong as the bond between family members. These vile criminals will seek to exploit the natural affinity between man and his best friend, either by kidnapping the dog and holding it to ransom—as happened recently to the pop artist and singer Lily Allen—or, as happens in many thefts, by stealing the pet to sell on to unscrupulous breeders or those willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a particularly rare breed of dog. If the ransom is not paid or the dogs cannot be sold on, they will often be killed and discarded.

It is hoped that promoting the simple practice of scanning a dog when it enters a veterinary surgery will cause authenticity of ownership to form an effective barrier and deterrent to those who might enter into the
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crime of dog theft, whether it be the criminal who steals the dog or the unscrupulous breeder or others who may buy the animal from the criminal. The “Vets Get Scanning” scheme is helping to eradicate that evil activity. I commend its work to the House and hope that the Minister will consider working with it to make the scanning of all dogs whenever they enter a veterinary surgery a routine practice.

As many Members will be aware, for many years I have owned Staffordshire bull terriers. As any owner of a Staffie will confirm, they are magnificent family animals that epitomise the phrase, “Man’s best friend”. They are caring, loyal and gentle animals, which in recent times have sadly endured a bad press owing to the deplorable treatment of them by a minority of owners. [Interruption.] I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is sitting beside me. He has informed me that Watchman is the name of the dog that is the mascot of the most excellent Staffordshire Regiment. Indeed, the Staffordshire bull terrier has an historic place in terms of that regiment, the county of Staffordshire and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Many Members will know that Spike was my first Staffie. He wore his own made-to-measure Union flag waistcoat and stood by me during every step of my political career, campaigning in my first two parliamentary campaigns: in 1992 during which he tirelessly trudged through the streets of the glorious constituency of Glasgow, Provan, including the Blackhill estate—an area that Mr. Speaker will know well, as it is in his constituency—and then in Thurrock in 1997, before seeing me safely into the House of Commons in 2001 with a thumping majority. Of course, Spike’s proudest moment, as the Minister will know, was when he greeted the noble Baroness Thatcher as she arrived at Romford market two days prior to the 2001 general election. Having done his duty, Spike passed away on St. George’s day 2002.

My current Staffordshire bull terrier, Buster, has taken over working as Britain’s “top campaigning dog”, an accolade he was awarded in last October’s Westminster dog of the year competition. He also met Baroness Thatcher in Romford just before the 2005 general election, wearing his Cross of St. George waistcoat, and on Saturday Buster will once again be by my side as we campaign in Romford market to make St. George’s day a public holiday in England. Spike and Buster have truly represented the British bulldog spirit, which I passionately share.

However, dogs are not just household pets. They are deeply significant in the everyday lives of many human beings, as guide dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for the deaf, as dogs for the disabled and visiting dogs for hospitals, and for therapy, too, bringing relief, joy and happiness to the sick and infirm. What other creatures could provide so much companionship to the elderly and the lonely? Dogs serve the police and the customs service as sniffer dogs, and they also work in mountain rescue, where they perform a vital task. They play an enormously significant role in the lives of all of us.

When I last spoke about dog welfare in the House, I covered the effects of the terrible injustice on certain breeds of dog that followed the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act. I do not intend to dwell on the matter again this evening, but I feel that it should be stated once more that in all matters to do with the
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actions of dogs it is the deed and not the breed that should be acknowledged. As I have said before, there are no problem breeds, just a handful of problem owners. We should never lose sight of the fact that any dog in the wrong hands can be as dangerous as any weapon. Any dog can be trained to fight, bite and attack on command, and that is something that needs to be addressed. People who use dogs for such violent purposes are obviously sadistic and evil. Although we in the House cannot police their behaviour, we can do our part to make it as difficult as possible to train animals for that purpose.

I hope that we can start by outlawing electric shock collars. The Animals (Electric Shock Collars) Bill ran out of parliamentary time in 2003, but the Kennel Club has worked tirelessly since then to get that product banned. According to a report from the Kennel Club that I received recently, the electric shock collars administer a static shock to a dog that does not do what is asked of it. In that way, they train a dog to respond out of fear of further punishment rather its natural willingness to obey. For a collar to serve efficiently as a training tool, the dog has to perceive the shock as painful. Moreover, if it does not respond, the punishment has to escalate, which creates further potential for abuse and cruelty. An angry or inferior trainer, or even a novice owner, could therefore misuse a shock collar to abuse or punish.

The product is readily available—via mail order, retail outlets and, of course, the internet. Anyone can get an electric shock collar. As there is no training or supervision, people can put one in place and administer so-called “correctional” treatment. Ultimately, however, such devices do not address a dog’s underlying behavioural problems, so the cause of its barking or aggression remains suppressed. Indeed, the collars are quite likely to cause further behavioural problems in the future.

The primary purpose of any training programme should be to improve the relationship and communication between a dog and its owner through compassionate, reward-based training. Other, more positive training tools and methods can produce dogs that are trained just as quickly and reliably, if not more so, with absolutely no fear, pain, or potential damage to the relationship between dog and handler. Given that those alternatives are available, I hope that the Minister will agree that there is no need for electric shock collars.

I come now to the issue of dog breeding and, in particular, to the training methods needed to educate people purchasing puppies. Educating puppy buyers and raising their expectations is a powerful tool to help eradicate puppy farming, while rewarding and promoting breeders who follow basic good practice will help to raise standards. The Kennel Club’s accredited breeder scheme was launched in 2004 and is working towards both of those ends. The club has joined forces with interested welfare bodies to establish a working group to identify ways to tackle puppy farmers. That is a long-term, ongoing project. There is a widely held view that a Kennel Club registration certificate puts a premium on a puppy. The club’s online puppy sales register is a valuable aid to breeders wishing to sell their puppies. In addition, it is raising its profile and that of its major show, Crufts, with the aim of becoming the first port of call for all canine matters.

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Finally, I should like to say something about greyhound racing. As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary greyhound group, I declare a keen interest in this matter. I am fortunate enough to have a splendid greyhound stadium in my Romford constituency that plays regular host to many significant events in the greyhound calendar. However, one very significant problem with greyhound racing is that some unscrupulous owners destroy their dogs when they cannot run any more. Personally, I find it incomprehensible that anyone who works with animals could destroy a dog simply because its running days are over.

The rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club seek to ensure that owners are responsible for the future of their greyhounds at the conclusion of their racing careers. Greyhound racing is enormous fun, but those who take part must also consider the welfare of the dog during and after its racing days. I commend the magnificent efforts of the Romford retired greyhound association based in my constituency. It is doing wonderful work rehousing greyhounds at the end of their racing days. Many such organisations exist throughout the country and I pay tribute to them all for their magnificent work.

To conclude, I should like to seek one or two assurances from the Minister. First, will he assure me that the Government will not seek to introduce dog legislation without proper consultation with the main dog organisations and charities? Secondly, will the Government seek to form stronger relationships with dog-related groups, giving support where it is needed? Thirdly, will the Government seriously review laws already on the statute book, some of the limitations of which I highlighted earlier in my speech and previously on the Floor of the House?

All hon. Members have thousands of dog owners in their constituency and still more dog lovers. Let us this day properly acknowledge the special place that dogs have and will always have within our society as man’s best friend, and the best friend that man is ever likely to have.

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