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27 Apr 2007 : Column 1157

Ed Balls: I hope that you will allow me to make a final point about what might become part of the Bill in due course, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We are continuing to work with our advisers from Mutuo. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman yesterday, saying that we were happy to work further on the definitions of mutual insurers, but that it would take us days or weeks to know whether we could make progress on that. In conversation with the hon. Gentleman yesterday, on receipt of his letter, I reassured him that even though the Bill was programmed for Third Reading today, that work would continue and that if, in the time available, we could find a solution that would enable mutual insurance companies to be included in the transfer arrangements, we would consider with the appropriate authorities whether it would be possible to table appropriate amendments when the Bill is in the other place. I cannot, however, make a commitment that that will happen, because it has proved difficult to include them up to now, although I understand that in recent days the possibility of making progress has opened up. If we can, we will facilitate amendments in the other place, but we will not allow anything to occur that would destabilise the Bill or slow up its passage to the statute book.

We want, as the hon. Gentleman does, the Bill to be on the statute book at the earliest opportunity. With that caveat, we will continue to work to see whether a solution can be found. If it cannot, we will continue to see whether other opportunities arise, perhaps when he has another chance to bring a private Member’s Bill before the House.

Sir John Butterfill: What the Minister suggests is sensible. It will involve making time available in this place for us to consider a Lords amendment, but I understand that that may be possible. I also fully understand that it may not be possible to find a solution. However, I am grateful to him for his efforts and I pay particular tribute to his contribution in getting the Bill to where it is today.

Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman is generous. It has been a collective co-operative effort from hon. Members on both sides of the House. His leadership in particular has made it happen. We are on the verge, with consensual agreement, of taking an important further step forward for the building society and mutual sector in our economy and society. As I said, once the Bill reaches the statute book, with the Government’s full support, it will strengthen further the position of building societies and mutuals. They play a crucial role in innovating, serving their local communities and competing nationally and internationally in what is a fiercely competitive global financial services market. I am happy and proud to commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to .

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Electric Shock Training Devices Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

10.27 am

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am conscious of the huge privilege of having the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill given my relatively short time in the House. I must express my surprise at having that opportunity today, because I did not expect it.

I thank the Bill’s cross-party sponsors and all those on both sides of the House who have shown support. I also thank those who have signed my early-day motion 592 on electric shock training devices. I especially thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who tabled amendments to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 along the lines of the measures set out in the Bill. I also thank the Kennel Club which, along with other charities, has worked tirelessly on this issue and which has helped me to introduce the Bill. At this point, I also want to pay tribute to the Government for all the good work that has been done for animal welfare, including the 2006 Act, which came into force on 1 April. However, it does not go far enough on electric shock training devices.

There is a lot of support for the Bill, not just in the House but across the country more widely. I have received far more messages in support of it than I have received in opposition to it. I have also received a petition in support of it.

I was not aware of electric shock training devices until I was alerted to them by the Kennel Club last year, and I was horrified. The most well known of the devices is the electric shock collar, which in my view and the view of many others is cruel and unnecessary. For those who are not familiar with the concept, let me explain that the mechanics of the collar depend on the particular device chosen, but they are usually battery operated and the dog is subject to an electric current when she or he misbehaves. The idea is that that should be done to discourage negative behaviour.

I contend that there is an inherent and needless cruelty in that approach to training, and it is entirely unnecessary when there are plenty of positive training methods on the market. While some may say that a short sharp shock is worth it for an improvement in behaviour, I would argue that the shock is not short but repetitive, that it is not sharp but painful, that it does not always result in improved behaviour, and that there are alternative, painless methods to achieve that improved behaviour.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her excellent Bill, which I support as far as it goes. I also supported her early-day motion.

Will the hon. Lady add to her list of problems with those devices the fact that they can be used on animals not just for training purposes but in an abusive manner? That happens all too often, and is yet another reason why we should ban them.

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Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I agree. The potential for misuse of the collars worries me greatly, and I think that it adds to the weight of the argument against them.

Electric shock collars teach an animal to respond out of fear rather than an actual willingness to obey. They do not address underlying behavioural problems, and may leave the causes of barking or aggression suppressed. Training a dog on the basis of fear poses the risk that at some time in the future it may turn on its owner or, God forbid, on an innocent child.

There are a number of positive alternatives that allow dogs to be trained more quickly and reliably, without the potential for abuse or ill-treatment. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) referred to misuse, and indeed the potential for misuse is great. I have heard of some dreadful instances in which those devices have been deliberately misused to cause harm or discomfort to animals. There is even anecdotal evidence from the United States of a parent using one on a child.

Of course there is potential for misuse in anything, and it would not be practical to ban everything that could possibly be misused. I know that the new duty of care provided by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should prevent deliberate misuse of those devices. In my view, however, those arguments hold only if there is a positive benefit in using the devices in the first place. I would argue not only that there is no positive benefit, but that there is not even a neutral position. Those devices cause harm.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): That is not the experience of my wife’s cousin, who had a dog that would persistently jump up at people. She was at her wits’ end: in fact, she was on the verge of getting rid of the dog. She tried one of these collars, and within about a week the dog stopped its behaviour, which was not only dangerous to small children but, in muddy weather, caused her deep embarrassment when other people’s clothes were soiled. She has not needed to have recourse to the collar again.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but it seems a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Are we really saying that it is acceptable to administer an electric shock to an animal to prevent one’s clothes from getting muddy? I do not buy that argument.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The hon. Lady may have mentioned this already. If she has, I apologise. Does she own a dog, and if so what kind?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I do own a dog. It is the Heinz 57 variety—a good old-fashioned mongrel. It is typical of such dogs—there are all sorts of problems with it—but I would not dream of using an electronic training device to deal with some of those problems, such as jumping up at people. Owning a dog requires a huge time commitment if it is to be trained to behave properly. The problem I have with those devices is that people may think they are a quick and easy way of training a dog. “Let us just zap it with an electric shock,” they may say. “Then we need not take the time to train it properly.”

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I should point out at this stage that my Bill contains a special exemption for electric proximity fences following representations from farmers and others in the rural community. I am more than happy to accommodate that exemption, as the fences work on a different principle in deterring an animal from leaving a fenced-off area. In the case of shock collars and other such devices, it is not possible for the animal to escape the restraint. However, I am not persuaded by the argument sometimes advanced in the rural community that the devices can be used to train dogs to stop them chasing sheep.

It is virtually impossible to use an electric shock collar to train a dog not to chase sheep. The theory is that the dog will believe that the sheep gave it an electric shock, and will not chase sheep again. However, it is impossible to know at which level the collar should be set when the dog is near sheep. For the dog to think that the sheep had shocked it, the trainer would have to wait until the dog was very near the sheep, or the dog might think that the shock had come from something else in the vicinity. Moreover, under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, dogs being exercised near livestock must be kept on leads or under close control. Similarly, dogs in urban environments do not need shock collars to stop them from running on the road; they merely need to be kept on a lead.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The hon. Lady has clearly stated that she opposes the use of electric shock collars for training. She has also referred to the duty on dog owners to train them properly. Does she approve of the idea of imposing additional duties on breeders and people who sell dogs, and on those who buy them, to ensure that steps are taken so that the dogs are properly trained, are not a liability to others, and are safe among people and when they are out in public?

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: That is an important point. One of the problems, particularly in the case of dangerous dogs, is that people take on dogs with absolutely no appreciation of the time and commitment that will be required, and of what it takes to own a dog. If breeders and anyone who sells a dog made that clear when the dog is sold, or given in the case of rescue dogs, it would make people understand what they are taking on.

It has been argued that the devices are a method of last resort for dogs that do not respond to any other form of training. Indeed, I have received a letter from someone who assures me that without the use of an electric shock collar her dog would have had to be destroyed, as nothing else worked. But are we really saying that it is appropriate to torture animals to get them to do what we want them to do?

I have heard of many examples of so-called untrainable dogs being trained through intensive therapy with an animal behaviourist. I admit that such methods take a great deal of time and commitment—much more than zapping with the remote control of an electronic device—but, as we have all agreed, owning a pet involves a great deal of time, commitment and responsibility. What worries me is that because of the way in which the devices are marketed and because they are freely available, many responsible dog owners are led to believe they are a normal way of training an animal.

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The problem with the argument that the devices are a method of last resort is that that is how they started out in the USA. Now they are routinely marketed as training devices for all dogs and puppies, and their use has grown exponentially. At present sales of electronic shock collars in this country are still relatively low, but they are growing. That makes it all the more important to ban them now, before they become the “normal” way of training a dog. They are not a normal way of training a dog, and they are unnecessary. Dogs are highly reactive to learning experiences and have a strong bond with humans, so it is possible to utilise their natural instincts to train them easily.

Angela Watkinson: While the hon. Lady has been speaking, I have been thinking about the training methods used by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. I think it relevant that certain breeds are much more susceptible and co-operative than others. It is notable that guide dogs tend to be retrievers and Labradors. It is also notable that when puppies that have been selected as being suitable are being walked, they always keep all four feet on the ground at the same time and do not jump up. Clearly there is a way of training them not to do so at a very young age. People, too, must be taught to bend down when they want to speak to a dog or pet it, so that the dog does not need to jump up. Lessons could be learnt from those methods.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: Exactly. It is also important to note that the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is not in favour of using electric shock devices to train dogs. There are numerous examples of dogs being trained in other ways to achieve the benefits that the hon. Lady has described.

All animals, ourselves included, learn through experience. If an action brings a positive outcome it will be repeated, as it is beneficial. However, dogs also have a natural, in-built “fight or flight” response when put in a situation that causes pain or fear. As a dog will have no idea what has caused the pain, it is far more likely to associate it with something in its immediate environment than to connect it with its own behaviour at the time. That something could be an area, an object, another dog, the owner or even a child, and the dog could become afraid or even act aggressively as a result.

Some people believe that it is okay if the collar is used only at a low-current setting. The difficulty with that approach is that the shock level may be too low to influence behaviour, thus the owner would have to increase it. The problem is that the dog can become accustomed to the gradually increasing discomfort. Carolyn Menteith, who is a dog trainer affiliated to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, has said:

There are a number of models to choose from; there are a number of anti-bark shock collars, which emit an electric shock of about 6 V to 9 V every time that the dog tries to bark while wearing one. By way of comparison, I should say that a Black and Decker drill also requires a 6 V battery. For about £270, one can get a remote control shock collar, which delivers a shock of about 3 V to 9 V via an owner-operated remote control.
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Incidentally, some of those devices do not come with instructions unless one pays extra.

I deliberately used the term “devices” in my Bill, because not just collars are available now—other such remote control devices exist. Electric shock leads are designed to stop a dog pulling on the lead; the level of shock increases in line with the amount of pressure that the dog puts on the lead. The most horrifying of all are electric shock mats, also known as wireless crates, which are designed to keep a dog in one place at home. They detect a dog’s weight and emit electric shocks, via a collar, to the dog when it is within a 6 ft radius of the crate and until it returns. One can imagine the scenario involving a dog left unattended, possibly while the owner is at work. Should the owner misjudge the distance, the dog would be unable to go out to the toilet or to get to its food without receiving an electric shock.

Those devices are readily available via mail order and over the internet—they often come with poor instruction manuals—to people who have little or no idea of how best to use them. A quick Google search pulls up devices that have a range of 1 mile, four days’ continuous use facility, an option for up to three dogs to be controlled individually from one handset, with a selection of three different modes, and a timer-controlled charging dock. Another website features a model that can deliver 16 levels of shock stimulation intensity. It makes one wonder to whom the devices are designed to appeal. Who needs the facility to zap three dogs from the same device?

To return to the point that the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) was making, some of the best trained dogs, including assistance dogs, are not trained using electric shock training devices. The police and the armed forces have banned the use of electric dog collars for training, and the collars are also condemned by the German Shepherd Club, the Kennel Club and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

As long ago as 2000, the Association of Chief Police Officers urged police forces not to use electric shock collars after it had heard evidence from the RSPCA and other animal welfare groups. Furthermore, the armed forces dog unit has also prohibited the use of electric shock collars. If we can train dogs to a high enough calibre to be used in our police and armed forces without resorting to electric shock training, why should we need to use such devices on household pets?

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. The best way to have a well trained pet is by teaching one’s dog to respond because it wants to respond, not because one has successfully managed to scare it half to death.

I should like to quote from correspondence received by the Kennel Club from people who have had bad experiences with these devices. A gundog trainer from Worcestershire noted:

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The owner of a bearded collie reported the following:

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