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23 Oct 2006 : Column 999

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I am sorry to bring a discordant note into the proceedings. I have long opposed the docking of dogs’ tails and remain very unhappy about the exemptions allowed for working dogs. I appreciate that the Minister has sought to allay our fears, but he has not taken my fears away completely. It will be difficult to decide the fate of an animal when it is small and to know whether it will be a working dog. I also question whether all working dogs need to have their tails docked. I understand that police dogs, which are often German Shepherds, do not normally have their tails docked, and they do all kind of things that might be dangerous to them. I remain very disappointed. I believe that the Bill originally ended the docking of dogs’ tails, and this provision is much less than I hoped for.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I must remind the House that this is Report and the Minister has responded. I am being as gentle as possible.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I paused before I answered the noble Countess in case any other noble Lord was getting up. The noble Countess did not intervene; I had finished and she was asking a specific question. I am happy to facilitate debate, and I do not want any noble Lord to say that the Minister refused to answer. On the other hand, I must conform to the rules of the House.

However, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, that this matter was fully debated. It was the subject of a free vote, and this is the conclusion that the majority arrived at. However, I accept that there is a minority view on this matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rooker moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 4:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 5:

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 6 concerns circus animals and is similar to an amendment I tabled in Committee. These Benches believe that obliging the Government to licence the kinds of animals which they consider suitable for life in a travelling circus is a stronger starting point. A number of welfare organisations—Animal Defenders International, the RSPCA and the Born Free Foundation—agree that the Government’s decision to use a circus working group to consider the welfare needs of animals is a useful way forward. However, like those NGOs, we believe that the measure would be simpler and more effective if the burden of proof were on those who would legitimise the use of a kind of animal, as this amendment suggests, rather than assuming that all animals should be available for travelling circuses and the working group then discussing which sorts of animals it should ban.

If a positive list were produced, it would get around the problem of the collection of evidence. If one wants to ban using an animal, there will have to be evidence of cruelty. It would be much simpler if an animal had to be shown to be suitable. The amendment would require those who would include a kind of animal to bring proof of the potential to meet its welfare needs, rather than oblige others to go searching for abuses. That is important because the itinerant nature of a travelling circus makes it hard to track the welfare of an animal at all times. The Bill must provide for an animal’s welfare in performances, at rest and on the road. It has consistently proven difficult for scientists to investigate the whole working life of circus animals. This amendment would look after the needs of domesticated and exotic species alike. At the moment, only a handful of circuses in the UK use animals, so it would not be a hard task to work with those practitioners to verify their good welfare standards where they are met.

A brief from the RSPCA tells us that the minimum display pen sizes advocated by the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain for big cats, bears, zebras, camels, pygmy hippos, giraffes, elephants and primates are, on average, 70 per cent smaller than the recommended outdoor enclosure sizes in zoos. Why, if there is a minimum recommended size and the animals are of the same species, should there be that double standard?

3.30 pm

The Minister will be aware that, in the other place, Early Day Motion 1626 calls for the prohibition of animals in circuses now and has received 144 signatures. My amendment does not go that far. It recognises that the Bill is a framework Bill and that there is a circus working group, and therefore does not call for a complete ban. It calls for a standard of proof of welfare to be required where animals are used, rather than the more difficult and costly proof of abuse. I should appreciate a commitment from the Minister that the remit of the circus working group will be changed in line with that. It is a minor modification to change the remit of the working group, but the benefits will be very great. I beg to move.

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Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness and agree with all her remarks. As I said more than once in Committee, I am a prohibitionist. I think—and there is some evidence to show that my thoughts are right—that travelling circuses train animals cruelly, at least initially. When moving about the country with various groups of animals, they fail to provide the basic standards for an entertainment situation.

The amendment represents a minor but useful change. The circus working group should be quickly established. I am disappointed that the Government throughout the Bill have dealt with almost all issues by regulation. That is very unsatisfactory. The evidence is clearly that, in the main, circuses are cruel to animals and that the beasts are inadequately looked after. The noble Baroness should be supported in all her remarks.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I, too, welcome the moderate amendment that has been proposed. It is moderate because, like the noble Lord, I am basically an abolitionist in this matter. I am concerned not only about training methods but especially about the stress caused through travelling, especially under difficult conditions. I very much hope that the Minister will look kindly on the amendment and that, if it is unacceptable, he will at least bring forward something very akin to it.

I should have declared a non financial interest as a vice-president of the RSPCA, which slipped my mind—my apologies.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I, too, support the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. She has been an excellent advocate for circus animals throughout the passage of the Bill. Her amendment is very small and the Minister should have no hesitation in accepting it.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment, which is moderate. I share the views of my colleague that the Government have been very restrained in the Bill as a whole. I am uncomfortable with the way it has been dealt with in that regard. That said, a circus with performing animals has by definition at least to be providing a totally unnatural life for the animals concerned and almost certainly involves cruelty.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, we, too, look favourably on the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, knows, in Committee I moved an amendment totally to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Obviously things have moved on since then. We are lucky in that time has passed between stages of the Bill. I would be grateful for the Minister’s clarification of one or two matters when he responds.

There are currently two working groups on circuses. One, I believe, deals only with the welfare standards of performing animals. I also understand that another group was set up in July/August, chaired by Mike Radford, to consider scientific evidence of the welfare of those animals. We now hear that another working group may be set up. I am becoming confused about the number of working groups and

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study groups there are, and it would be enormously helpful if the Minister could clarify this. The Government’s decisions on these issues must be based on scientific evidence; otherwise it is very difficult to make judgments.

I was glad to hear the noble Baroness say that the working group’s remit will be altered to include the training of these animals. I was not aware of that. Again, will the Minister clarify that?

I should add that it seems, unless the Minister tells me to the contrary, that no animals from the wild are put to perform in circuses. If that is not so, that is another worrying matter. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, this issue has been debated at every stage of the Bill. It is good to report, although I accept that it never goes far enough, that our timetable for producing regulations on wild animals in circuses is now 2008—it used to be 2010—as a result of pressure from the Committee of your Lordships’ House.

As we just heard in the past two minutes, many people feel very strongly about this issue. Since the issue was last discussed in Grand Committee—I believe in July—the Defra working group, chaired by Mike Radford, the academic lawyer with extensive knowledge of welfare issues, has started work. The group is gathering and reviewing relevant available scientific evidence on the welfare needs of non-domesticated animals in environments comparable to a circus. It plans to report its findings early next year, and our aim is that draft regulations should go to consultation towards the middle of next year, with the aim of being brought into force in April 2008. That is two years earlier than originally planned. We cannot produce all the regulations at once. That is simply impossible. The resources are not there, and there must be prioritisation. Indeed, the priorities have changed as a result of pressure from Parliament.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, proposes a total ban with exemptions, but we believe that Clause 12 is sufficiently wide to enable us to achieve through secondary legislation the result that she seeks. There is no reason why a Clause 12 regulation could not achieve the same result as a ban with exemptions. I therefore do not rule out a total ban. I would not do so. Nor do the Government; Ben Bradshaw, the Minister concerned, made that absolutely clear. However, having asked a group of professional people to look at this, it would not make sense to pre-empt their findings or those of the subsequent public consultation on the issue. By definition, there will be a public consultation because of the regulations. I have been on the receiving end of many representations—indeed, I have made them myself—and we have given a commitment to ban the use of certain non-domesticated species in travelling circuses and to ensure that the standards that are applied to zoo premises are applied to permanent circus premises, provided that that is appropriate. We have begun, as I say, examining the available evidence with affected and interested parties. The Bill is enabling and a lot of the work will be done by secondary legislation which becomes highly targeted and more detailed than can

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be put in a Bill. We have progressed from the point that we reached in Grand Committee, and I therefore hope that the provision will be acceptable to the House. We have moved the timing priority considerably. There is no question but that the objective sought in this amendment can be achieved under the Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The objective sought cannot be achieved under the Bill, which is exactly why I have moved my amendment. Although it is good that the priority has moved, the Minister has not reassured me that the emphasis has changed one bit. He said that there is no reason why the Bill could not achieve the objective, but, equally, there is no guarantee that it will be achieved without the change proposed in the amendment.

I thank all noble Lords who have supported me. I will carefully read the Minister’s explanation about the different working groups, although I am not sure that he gave the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, a full answer on what they would address. I will consider the position between now and Third Reading. I believe that the mood of the House is that the amendment is modest and merely trying to be more specific about the remit of the working group in pointing it to improving welfare standards. The Minister said, crucially, that the equalisation between zoo and circus facilities would apply to circus permanent facilities. However, I was talking about circus travelling facilities. So I fear that the reply is lacking in that respect. I will bear all those points in mind for Third Reading. I hope that, in the mean time, the Minister will give us a fuller reply on the exact remit of the working groups.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will certainly provide all the details and the membership of the working groups. I must assume that the membership list in front of me is a matter of public record. If it is not available, it certainly ought to be. I am certain that it is. I will ensure that a note is prepared both on the remit and certainly on the membership. Although the group has started work, some academic slots are still to be filled. I have a list of about 15 or 16 people from the full range of people involved with the circus working group. I will make sure that a detailed note is provided immediately after Report stage.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. From the tone of my reply, he will gather that I am still not fully satisfied and that I expect to bring the matter back at Third Reading for the reasons I have given. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 6:

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(a) a minimum spacing requirement per bird for enclosures in which any game bird is kept for the purpose of producing eggs, (b) a maximum length of time for which game birds are to be kept in a laying pen, and (c) a minimum spacing requirement per bird for enclosure in which any game bird is kept for purposes other than producing eggs.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment concerns an entirely different area of animal keeping and I return to the keeping of game birds for egg production, which I raised in Committee. As I explained then, I am of course aware that there are strict regulations in place specifying the minimum size of cages for chickens for egg-laying production. The European prohibition of conventional battery cages for egg-laying hens is due to come into force in 2012, under Council Directive 1999/74. However, there are no binding specifications for cages for game birds. Although these birds are brought in from the wild and then kept for egg production—albeit for a limited period—there is still no reason why there should be such a double standard for the conditions in which they are kept.

3.45 pm

When I raised this issue in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, said:

I thank her for that statement. I am sure that the Minister and his team will have had further discussions about this issue and I hope that a statement will be forthcoming today. If welfare is at the core of the Bill at Clause 9 but the battery cages for game birds fail to meet its requirements on several counts, it would be very unfortunate.

Here again we are slightly in the territory that lies between what is a farmed animal and what is a wild animal. For example, the normal behaviour patterns in pheasants include flight and running territorially and, obviously, those are all severely curtailed by cages. Pain, injury, disease and suffering are all the more likely in battery cages and all kinds of abnormal behaviour might be caused by them.

I have slightly adapted the amendment I tabled in Committee so that Amendment No. 6 is more in line with the wishes of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. He said in Committee that I was trying to put something specific in the Bill and that,

I hope that the amendment will now satisfy a little more the requirements of the noble Duke.

I have tabled the amendment so that I might ask the Minister some very specific questions in order to throw light on his discussions on this very important topic. Has his department looked at the Danish law on minimum spacing for game birds in egg production? Can he confirm that the last outbreak of

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Newcastle disease in the south of England was from caged birds? How many game farmers who use cages are not members of the Game Farmers’ Association? Which does he think is the better system—open flock pens or battery cages? Will he rule out reference to the Farm Animal Welfare Council by the working group as, of course, game birds do not count as farmed animals? What information does he have on the length of time partridges are kept in cages? Can he confirm that the only motive for using battery cages is to reduce costs for game farmers and the large commercial shoots?

As to that last point, most shoots of course do not use battery cages; most are small businesses using traditional practices and manage the land to the great benefit of biodiversity. I am not addressing here the vast majority of the shooting industry, which I think both economically and environmentally brings large benefits to the countryside; I am addressing only a handful of very large egg producers using battery cages. If that practice spreads, it is likely to bring the industry into disrepute. I beg to move.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said, we considered this issue in Grand Committee. I think that this amendment has a little more scope to it than the previous one. It does not try to comprehend all that could be included in a code of conduct and allows flexibility for different norms for different species, but, once again, perhaps we are in danger of overlooking the overall quality of the environment.

I take a slightly different view from the noble Baroness on the question of the drawing up of a code of conduct. I would like to ask the Minister whether the department has already taken up the suggestion of the Game Conservancy Trust to view the possibility of a code with the Farm Animal Welfare Council because it does have some experience in the welfare of animals and what could be drawn up in that regard. The code will also have to include all the latest available research. In that regard, the Minister’s view that most of this could be contained in secondary legislation is probably correct.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I acknowledge that it is important to distinguish between what I will call “traditional” shoots and those which have grown up very largely around large cities, particularly London, which appear to be very little more than live shooting practice. In Committee I said that the scale of some of these establishments is such that there is literally no market for what is shot, and the birds are buried in large numbers. There is no evidence, although a photograph has been produced. I wonder whether my noble friend has been able to establish the truth of this.

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