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The collars can also have a damaging long-term effect on a dog’s well-being, as has been documented in the August-September 2006 newsletter of the UK Leonberger Association.

Bob Spink: The hon. Lady may not be aware that I have bred bearded collies. They are most exuberant and very intelligent dogs. The way to train them is through love and care, by trusting them and by building trust and a relationship with the dog, as with other dogs. This weekend, I shall be going to see Daisyfield Jessie, a racing greyhound, at Romford. She may retire at some stage, and when that happens, I hope to take her over. There is no more loving animal or no more easy pet to have than an ex-racing greyhound. They are wonderful dogs. We do not need to use electric shock devices to train these wonderful animals. Some people seek a short cut and an easy way, and that is symptomatic of society today. Everyone wants to find an easy way.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. That is rather lengthy for an intervention.

Bob Spink: I accept that. I think that the hon. Lady gets my point.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I certainly do. The love that people have for their dogs comes through; genuine responsible dog owners are horrified by the thought that anyone would use these devices.

I return to the newsletter of the UK Leonberger Association, which stated:

My final case study is a very sad case that was reported in the The Argus, a Brighton evening newspaper, a few years ago. A woman used an electric shock collar on her dogs, but the first time she did so it was by mistake when a small dog was walking past. For ever after, her dogs associated the shocks with small dogs and became afraid of them. One day when she was out with her dogs, an old lady walked past with a little shih tzu and her dogs became scared and attacked the little dog. It was taken to the vet but had to be put down. Her dogs had not shown aggressive behaviour before, and she was convinced that her dogs connected the pain of the electric shock with little dogs and that that had driven their uncharacteristic behaviour.

I am aware that those case studies are anecdotal, but considerable scientific research has been done on this. During the passage of the Animal Welfare Bill, the
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would not consider a ban on electric shock collars, partly because it had not commissioned its own research and partly because of concerns regarding the validity of some of the existing research. When this was followed up, it transpired that just one particular study was causing concern, and on investigation, it was found that the concern was down only to how the research had been written up.

The research was referred to Dr. Stephen Wickens from the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, who, after clarifying the research, was able to address these concerns. He then re-evaluted the findings and concluded:

Those conclusions stated:

I understand that DEFRA still believes that we require further research on this, but when a call went out last summer asking for universities to undertake this research, only one response was received. It could not be followed up, because it was a proposal for a study that would not have involved actually testing shock collars on dogs. On looking into the reasons for the poor response rate, it transpired that, in many cases, this type of study would not have got past the given university’s ethics committee because it considered there to be enough research to prove that electric shock collars were cruel.

Rachel Casey and Emily Blackwell, who are both from the department of clinical veterinary science at the university of Bristol, have stated:

Another call has recently gone out, and it has elicited one response. That has got past the ethics committee, because the research is on dogs that are already used to these collars. I am struggling to see how this research can be valid. These dogs may already be conditioned, so surely there would need to be a control group. But of course that would not get past the ethics committee, so we have a Catch-22 situation. Meanwhile, the devices continue to be available for sale. The time scale envisaged for that further research is also very long: it is at least two years, during which time I am concerned that we will see an exponential growth in the use of such devices in this country.

Leaving all that aside, there is a precedent for banning a cruel and unnecessary practice on animals without needing extensive scientific research. I refer to tail docking, which the House voted to ban with no exemptions and for which there was far less scientific evidence to support a ban than is available for shock collars.

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We have another precedent in that both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament propose to start consultation later this year on banning electric shock training devices, without needing any further scientific research. The Scottish Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Ross Finnie, said in response to a recent parliamentary question that the Executive favoured banning the collars in principle and would launch a consultation on that later this year. The Minister for Environment, Planning and the Countryside in the Welsh Assembly, Carwyn Jones, announced in December last year that he intends to introduce legislation to ban electric dog collars and associated restraints.

I know that my Government are committed to animal welfare, and I am sure that the Minister does not want to inflict unnecessary pain on dogs. I understand the need for a sound evidence base, but I hope that he will take on board my arguments against the need for further research and heed the example set by our devolved institutions. I know that there is little chance that the Bill will succeed, but I ask him to undertake to follow Scotland and Wales and to start a consultation process with a view to bringing in secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to ban those cruel and unnecessary devices.

10.51 am

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I am happy to tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I shall be rather briefer than I was at this stage last week. It is a peculiarity of this place that I came prepared to make speeches on two Bills—the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) and the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean)—and have ended up making a speech on an entirely different Bill. However, I am happy to do so. I have been reinstated on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench temporarily for that purpose.

I give my support and that of my party to the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) on her success in the ballot. There is no doubt that this matter needs to be dealt with. It is disappointing that it was not dealt with in the otherwise helpful Animal Welfare Bill, which displayed foresight, which is now law. During the discussions on it, I represented my party, and I served on the Committee with the Minister who is present.

I wrote to the Minister on 27 July 2005 following representations that I had received about electric shock collars:

I also expressed concern and disappointment that the Animal Welfare Bill, as it then was, did not outlaw the
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use of electric shock collars. I can tell the hon. Lady that I, and others, raised that during the Committee stage.

The Minister cares about these issues—I have no doubt about that. He demonstrated that in Committee, so it is disappointing that the issue has had to take the private Member's Bill route to be raised again. I hope that when he responds he will say that on reflection, having considered the matter and seen the strong views expressed across the House—Members from three parties so far have supported the measure—he will be inclined to give the Bill a fair wind. After all, the Government gave a fair wind to a Bill to exempt MPs from expenses. Surely they can give a fair wind to a Bill to stop torture and pain caused by humans to animals.

How do shock collars work? They work only by inflicting pain on animals, causing them distress and such a traumatic experience that they will avoid a particular form of behaviour in future. If they did not cause pain and trauma, they would not work. By definition, the shock collars have that effect on the animals.

In this day and age we should be finding more humane ways of training dogs. More humane ways exist, as the hon. Lady clearly set out. Some people say that there are people who can use shock collars responsibly, but that fails to take into account the fact that many people will buy those collars without proper training and use them irresponsibly. However we look at this matter, the Bill has highlighted an issue that deserves the support of the House.

10.55 am

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and to speak in support of the Bill introduced by my friend and hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry). She ended her excellent contribution by saying that she doubted whether her Bill would have success. Even if it does not, the points that she raised may come back in another form of legislation that the House will approve. It is important that the points that she raised be given a proper airing.

May I say, by way of introduction and in case there is an intervention to ask this question, that I do not own a dog. I never have.

Mr. Robathan: A cat?

Mr. Khan: I am asked whether I have owned a cat, and I have, for many years.

The points that I seek to make have been raised with me by constituents who own dogs, by those who do not own dogs, and also by experts. They have raised some important points, which have been echoed in the contributions by the hon. Member for Lewes and by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North. Some of these points are worthy of being heard on the Floor of the House. It is worth remembering that, for a country that is known to love dogs and pets, we do not have the best track record in passing legislation concerning dogs. We all remember the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and some of the repercussions of that.

Some of the points that have been raised by animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and
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the Kennel Club, have been referred to by my hon. Friend, are worthy of being given a proper outing. Some important points have been raised about why the Bill should be passed.

As someone who in a previous career spent his time interpreting legislation, I applaud the fact that the Bill has only nine clauses. If only all the Bills that we discussed in this place had nine clauses, life would be a lot more bearable for many of us.

The arguments in favour of banning electric shock collars are ample. There is pressure to ban. It is mostly directed at operator-controlled devices, on the ground that the dog has no means of escaping the stimulus. As has been said, they operate by inflicting fear and pain. There are more positive ways of training animals successfully. Those devices are capable of misuse, whether deliberate or unintentional. If used inappropriately, they can do more harm than good to the animal by, for example, provoking an aggressive reaction. Like any automated device, the collars can malfunction and inflict burns on dogs.

I have to confess that it seems that none of the people who work in my office owns a dog. I will need to ensure when I recruit next time that that is one of the questions that I ask interviewees. When I was preparing my speech on the Bill and I mentioned that I was coming to discuss electric shock training devices, they could not believe that such devices existed. That is one of the reasons why I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill. She has made people aware that there are in existence things that one can buy lawfully, whereby dogs have electric shock collars placed on them and their owners, who claim to be dog lovers, use the button to elicit pain and control their pet. It is worth reminding ourselves—the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) raised the point—that the use of those devices can lead to laziness. Rather than training their dog and showing them compassion, people can be lazy, press the button and inflict pain.

The fact that the USA and some of our European partners allow the use of electric shock collars is not a reason for us not to outlaw them. They are of course banned in Denmark, Slovenia and Sweden, and there are restrictions on their availability and use in most Australian states. Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland have better legislation on this issue than we do, and Austria and Italy are considering introducing bans.

Bob Spink: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the phenomenon whereby children in other countries have been known to get hold of these devices and torment animals with them?

Mr. Khan: I suspect that that is so. We all know that children imitate the behaviour of adults. If they see someone whom they love—their mother, father, uncle, auntie, grandmother or carer—using these devices on pets, what message does that send to them? It concerns me that adults—people in positions of influence, power and control—are using these devices on pets in the sight of their children.

I know that animal welfare is a core and passionate belief of my hon. Friend the Minister, as was
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demonstrated by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is now law. We have a track record of which we can be really proud, and I am pleased that his Department is making sure that proper research is undertaken; we may well end up with legislation based on evidence, rather than simply on the anecdotal experiences described to us by experts and constituents. The issues being raised today are extremely important not just because they were first raised by constituents and experts, but because they demonstrate our commitment to the welfare of the huge number of pets that are owned in this country.

The 2006 Act provides for the introduction of secondary legislation once proper research has been undertaken. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has been listening thoughtfully to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North and the hon. Member for Lewes, and those made in the excellent interventions of other colleagues. It is really important that such research be undertaken as soon as possible, and that if the evidence shows the Minister—as we suspect it will—that electric shock training devices are an oxymoron, and cause much more harm than good, he will swiftly introduce secondary legislation to outlaw such collars.

The Government have a good track record on animal welfare, and I know that they are committed to ensuring that all such legislation is evidence-based, and that they take seriously the recommendations and research of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The Companion Animal Welfare Council is a very important advisory body that carries out independent studies of the use of training devices, and I am sure that it will help DEFRA to form policy, and that such studies will complement any separate research that DEFRA might commission. However, will my hon. Friend the Minister also examine overseas research, and consider the rationale behind the reasons why the countries that I mentioned earlier decided to ban electric shock training devices? It is worth looking at that evidence.

Angela Watkinson: The hon. Gentleman referred earlier to gratuitous acts of cruelty to animals, and I am sure that he is aware that RSPCA statistics show that the number of incidents of such cruelty, particularly by children, is rising alarmingly. The RSPCA is not sure why, or what effect that might be having on other forms of violence in our communities; however, the idea that shock collars could be part of that syndrome is extremely worrying, so he is right to raise the issue.

Mr. Khan: The hon. Lady makes an important point. There is clear evidence that when people torture and harm their children, it can lead to their children torturing and harming others when they become adults. We must also consider the important issue of the imitation of behaviour.

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