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23 Oct 2006 : Column 1013

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the noble Baroness continues her reply, in my comments on her amendment, I repeated that we had grave concerns about caught wild birds and those concerns have not gone away; but it is a question of how you then deal with them. I told her that, on reflection, our view was, having raised this matter two or three times and given that it has been recorded in Hansard, that the Government are well aware of the issue and will provide specific direction to local government and the courts. I would like to see—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords—

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am sorry but I am replying to the noble Baroness. Am I not allowed to?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I have allowed there to be as much flexibility as the Government normally allow on such an issue. We are away. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was replying to the debate on her amendment. Only she may speak after the Minister. I direct that remark to both sides of the House.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I misheard the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, but did she say that that was more than the normal time allowed by the Government? If so, she was in error, because it is a matter of what Parliament allows.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Earl either misunderstood me or I expressed myself badly. I drew attention to both Front Benches who have intervened when the noble Baroness was the only Member who should have been speaking.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may speak briefly and I will not be incorrect again. I just wish to say that if a point is raised by a fellow Peer which misleads the House, I thought that it was possible to correct that.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, procedure apart, I apologise if any Member of the House feels that I have been misleading in any way. I was simply attempting to express the views on this issue of various colleagues in this House and in another place.

However, I am not so insensitive that I do not realise that the amendment has not received the degree of support that I would have hoped for. That is disappointing, as it will be, too, to the Animal Protection Agency, which stated:

others are not. The agency vociferously supported the amendment. I heard what the Minister said about it being a matter for the court to judge, but it is also for the Government, in drawing up the codes, to have this guidance in place. That was what my amendment attempted to do.

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I shall not waste the time of the House in testing its opinion, because it is clearly not with me and, therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pendry moved Amendment No. 8:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the face of it, this amendment may seem frivolous, but I assure noble Lords that that is far from the case, as many youngsters up and down the country would testify. The three of us who have tabled the amendment are all members of the All-Party Group on Fairs and Showgrounds and we work closely with the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, a responsible body that represents more than 20,000 people in that profession. I know that it is fully behind the objectives of this amendment, which is designed to combat the purpose of the original amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

In Committee, I related my experience of winning a goldfish as a schoolboy at the Merrie England amusement arcade in Ramsgate. The fish was well looked after until it died, which was, I should tell noble Lords, from natural causes. Before that happened, the fish brought great joy not only to me, but to my brothers and sister. I know from correspondence that I have received since the Committee stage that my sentiments and those of the noble Lords, Lord Bilston and Lord Hoyle, are shared by many hundreds of people in this country.

I said in Committee that the amendment then proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, went over the top. At the end of our debate, she withdrew her amendment on the grounds, I hope, of the strength of our arguments, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle—unfortunately, he cannot be here today, as he is stuck in a traffic jam—who requested that we should return to this issue on Report with a suitable amendment. That is where we are today.

I sincerely hope that sense will prevail and that the practice of allowing goldfish to be won as prizes will continue. The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain has taken measures to ensure that anyone who wins a goldfish as a prize is presented with a leaflet drawn up by the RSPCA and headed “Care of Goldfish”, which provides advice on how to care for the fish. The RSPCA is surely the kind of body that this House should listen to, alongside my noble friends and me. I beg to move.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Byford, which are grouped with this amendment.

Clause 11 sets out to regulate the transfer of animals to those under 16 through selling them or offering them as prizes. Subsection (3) specifically outlaws the making of an arrangement by which someone who is reasonably believed to be under 16 is given a chance to win an animal as a prize. Subsection (5), however, excludes an arrangement made in the absence of the potential prize-winner, provided that the party offering

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the prize has reasonable cause to believe that a responsible adult agrees to the arrangement.

The idea of offering an animal as a prize to someone whom one has not seen and whose circumstances one does not know is abhorrent to most people—and even goldfish have come in for a tide of sympathy recently, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, has shown us, there are good arguments for defending the practice. In Committee, the Minister referred to the sorts of competition that, for example, are run in a horse magazine to win a pony. As I said, offering a sentient being as a prize to a person whom one has not met and about whose circumstances one has no knowledge, but who one has reason to believe is under 16, is not acceptable to many or, I hope, most people.

If a magazine were to do that, the likelihood is that there would be a written entry containing a name and address so that a responsible competition manager would be able to check with an adult before dispatching the animal, whether by courier or in a horsebox. On the internet, however, things are not so black and white, and any Bill concerned with animal welfare must be framed to take account of the more modern ways in which all sorts of deals are struck. By what means will a competition ensure that a child who posts a winning entry has the permission of a responsible adult to accept the prize?

The Minister continued his response in Committee by saying:

That is my point entirely. However, he did not enlighten us about how, over the internet, such a possibility would be outlawed and the award of the animals monitored.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I agree that there should be some control over who should win prizes. In 1948, I won a goat in a raffle and it was sent to the Guildford market the next day. I suspect that, instead of grazing happily in one of my father’s fields, it ended up on a curry shop table. That is my only contribution on this clause.

4.30 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, our debate about goldfish in Committee allowed us to have some heated debate and some lighter moments.

This amendment would allow a person to completely disregard welfare when offering a goldfish as a prize. Effectively, it sets aside the core values of the Bill for one species chosen arbitrarily simply because of the fond memories held by some Members of your Lordships' House. I understand how they have managed to be very persuasive but, ultimately, the opinion of the scientists who have worked on the Bill, and whom the Minister has been very ready to quote to me this afternoon, is that vertebrate animals, including goldfish, are demonstrably sentient. We on these Benches do not feel that it would be consistent to go against that advice, however much some Members may feel us to be killjoys.

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I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the amendments tabled from the Conservative Benches, which I thought raised some interesting issues.

Lord Bilston: My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, would have been persuaded by the very powerful arguments that we advanced in Committee with regard to goldfish. Again, I acknowledge, as I am sure all noble Lords do, that the welfare issue goes wider than simply in relation to goldfish. I felt that we made a good case about both the welfare and employment elements relating to goldfish. We pointed out then, as I point out again to noble Lords today, that more than 20,000 people are employed at funfairs and through the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. I am not saying that all their jobs would be in jeopardy but, if it were decided to ban goldfish as prizes at fairgrounds, there is no doubt that some would be. If the case were made that the welfare considerations were enormous, then we would have to accept the loss of those jobs, but, as we sought to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and as I hope to point out to the House today, there are no serious welfare issues with regard to goldfish.

As I pointed out in Committee, it is 50 years since the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain passed a resolution to its constitution ensuring that all its members took account of the welfare of goldfish. It includes keeping them in a suitable container and passing them on to a winning competitor also in an appropriate container. That duty of care is enshrined in the guild’s constitution. In addition, every time a goldfish is awarded, the winner is given a copy of a leaflet headed “Care of Goldfish”, drawn up especially by the RSPCA. The leaflet details how to care properly for the goldfish and how to provide it with a proper home. The appropriate container also carries that advice.

It is part of the tradition and culture of showgrounds for goldfish to be offered as prizes. Today, I hope that we can still satisfy noble Lords, as the Minister satisfied Members in Committee, that there are no real safety issues. I can understand the noble Baroness being concerned that children may not take care of the goldfish, but I am sure that there are not many noble Lords here today who did not, in their childhood, win a goldfish and care for it. I did. Many of my school friends had a goldfish and we always took great care to make sure that its health and welfare was paramount. I hope to hear from my noble friend that we should not be over-concerned and over-anxious about goldfish being offered as prizes, and allow that to continue in the interests of our traditional culture and the important jobs lying behind that effort.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am on the side of the goldfish. Our tradition of giving goldfish as prizes at funfairs will and should continue. We are doing nothing in the Bill to abolish it. We are on the side of the funfairs giving goldfish as prizes, to be looked after well—in bigger bags, maybe. The containers are much

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better now than they were in the past. The leaflet is crucial; giving it with the prize is absolutely fundamental. It is important that the welfare of the goldfish is taken into account. It is not a question of do what you like. I do not think the Showmen’s Guild would support any of its members promoting anti-welfare practices by offering unsuitable containers and not giving good advice to the youngsters who win the prizes. Long may that continue.

There is a technical difficulty. If the amendment were accepted, it would mean double standards. They would be lower in funfairs than in pet shops. But there is no issue as long as the welfare of the goldfish is considered. No offence will be committed, so the tradition can continue, and there is nothing in the Bill knocking that out. I do not see it as a problem, but I am grateful to my noble friends for raising the issue today and in Grand Committee. As I told my noble friend Lord Bilston the other day, officials in my private office in Defra still talk about the debate we had in Grand Committee. They remember the day with joy. I hope that that will be acceptable to my noble friends.

This issue and Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 have already been debated. Amendment No. 11 would remove subsection (5)(a), which covers competitions that are not held face-to-face but which are in magazines, such as horse magazines, or over the internet. These competitions are often aimed at a section of the public who already have some knowledge of the animal that they are attempting to win and are therefore likely to prove responsible owners. Subsection (5)(a) makes provision for those types of competitions. We believe that the amendment would make their legality uncertain and could effectively prohibit them, which we are not in favour of doing.

We are not aware of any welfare problems with this type of competition. One that we have seen in a popular horse magazine promoted welfare as it tested a child’s knowledge of horse matters, including horse care. Subsection (5)(b) ensures that the person offering the magazine prize has reasonable cause to believe that a child under 16 who enters the competition has sought agreement from their parent or guardian. This safeguard is present in existing magazine competitions in that the application requires parental endorsement. The effect of the amendment would leave subsection (5)(b) as a stand-alone provision that could, for example, be applied to a stallholder at a funfair. In many cases, it would be totally unreasonable for the stallholder offering fish as a prize to know whether or not the parent or guardian is content for the child to win the goldfish. It would therefore be a backdoor method of trying to impose a total ban on giving pets as prizes. That is why some noble Lords thought that there was an attempt by the original promoters of the amendment to be anti-goldfish.

On Amendment No. 12, the purpose of subsection (6) is to allow a prize to be offered in a family context; given, for example, by one family member to another as a reward or prize. The term “family” may refer to a relative but each situation can be different depending on individual circumstances. It could also be taken to

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include a partner of a child’s parent. We have not restricted ourselves in defining “family”, as this term will need to cover a range of situations. In most cases, it will be obvious where the term should be applied.

There is no justification for the state to interfere in harmless arrangements between family members, especially where the person held legally responsible for the care of the animal on the child’s behalf will, in most cases, be aware of the arrangements and have to have taken responsibility for ensuring that the welfare needs of the animals will be met. It is not a free-for-all just because it is a family. That is crucial. The welfare needs of the animal must still be met.

Lord Pendry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am pleased that people in his office are still talking about the heated debate that we had in Committee.

My noble friend Lord Bilston and I are somewhat disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, did not follow on from what we thought was a slight retreat from her original position. We know from all her other amendments that her heart is in the right place, but that is not quite the position on this issue. In view of the Minister’s positive response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Improvement notices]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 9:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment deals with inspectors and where an improvement notice might be added. It would enable an inspector to amend an improvement notice. It is intended to allow mistakes from simple drafting errors or errors of description to be corrected. Allowing the amendment of an improvement notice will reap benefits for the continued monitoring of animal welfare. It would ensure that, where there was a need to extend coverage of an improvement notice, that could be done by amending the notice.

At one stage, I was lobbied and asked whether I would agree to the cancelling of an improvement notice. I was unhappy with that, because the improvement notice gives people time to correct errors in the treatment of that particular animal, and make whatever improvements they should be capable of. In discussion with various groups, particularly the International League for the Protection of Horses, we came up with this amendment to allow an improvement notice to be amended but not withdrawn. One would therefore be transposed with the other: we did not want a cancellation.

As I said, the amendment would permit the correction of errors where, for example, the name of the owner is cited incorrectly or the opinion of a veterinary surgeon raises the need to redefine the description of harm. That can be done without the expense of producing another improvement notice.

The amendment is specifically drafted so that it will not be possible to cancel the improvement notice.

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Doing so could obstruct the purpose of the notice. My noble friend Lord Soulsby, who unfortunately cannot be with us today, tabled an amendment that would have made non-compliance with an improvement notice an offence. Our original amendment—then Amendment No. 47—would have allowed the recipient to make an appeal on an improvement notice. I was satisfied at that stage with the Minister’s response but the ILPH has since raised these concerns with me. When the Minister responds, he may also be able to help the House on a case which I brought to him earlier in the year—that of Mrs Diane McCluskey, who found abandoned horses and had great difficulty in having the matter resolved.

The International League for the Protection of Horses is very supportive of the Bill and of how it provides a means of avoiding abuse and cruelty to animals and increasing the penalties for those who contravene the law. During the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons some important and welcome improvements were made; so there are very few issues on which further amendments are needed. However, one issue remaining is improvement notices and the ownership of abandoned animals. This small amendment will improve the Bill. The RSPCA has had cases where an original improvement notice has proved faulty and needed to be amended but it could not be. It therefore seems sensible to raise the issue at this stage and to hear the Government’s response. I beg to move.

4.45 pm

Lord Higgins: My Lords, it seems a very long time since Second Reading when my noble friend and I raised this issue. There is scope here for—dare one say it?—improving the improvement procedure. It would be helpful if the Minister would indicate whether he feels that this would be helpful and say whether it would enable cancellation to take place.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am a trustee of the International League for the Protection of Horses and can confirm that the league gives great support to the Bill, particularly this amendment, for the reasons that the noble Baroness gave.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I did not know until I came to the Bill that Clause 10, to which the amendment relates, was introduced in the Commons in response to an opposition proposal that those accused of an offence should be told in a statutory improvement notice how they were breaking the law and what they needed to do to avoid being taken to court. We think that Clause 10 achieves that. However, I am quite happy to take advice on that, because I need to be absolutely clear that our views across the Chamber and among outside bodies are at one.

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