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House of Lords

Friday, 20th October 2000.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

11.5 a.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Whitty I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report Stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clause 1,

Schedule 1,

Clause 2,

Schedule 2,

Clauses 3 to 8,

Schedule 3,

Clauses 9 to 43,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 44 to 48,

Schedule 5,

Clauses 49 to 54,

Schedule 6,

Clauses 55 to 64,

Schedule 7,

Clauses 65 to 68,

Schedule 8,

Clause 69,

Schedule 9,

Clause 70,

Schedules 10 and 11,

Clauses 71 to 75,

Schedule 12,

Clauses 76 to 79,

Schedule 13,

Clause 80,

Schedule 14,

Clauses 81 to 86,

Schedule 15,

Clauses 87 to 91,

Schedule 16,

Clauses 92 and 93.--(Lord Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Protection of Animals (Amendment) Bill

11.6 a.m.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce a Bill which will increase the protection afforded to animals as this has been a lifelong interest of mine.

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Indeed, at this point I should perhaps declare an interest, although not a financial interest, as I am a vice-president of the RSPCA. Although I am told that it had no hand in drafting the Bill, clearly it has an interest in its safe passage through this House.

However, it is not the only body which welcomes the Bill. I am delighted to say that the National Farmers Union, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the British Veterinary Association and, indeed, MAFF welcome the provisions in the Bill. It is modest in scope, as befits a Private Member's Bill, but it is useful in plugging a gap in the current welfare provisions. I shall explain the background before I turn to the provisions of the Bill.

The main Act dealing with animals is the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Under Section 1 of that Act it is possible to bring a prosecution for cruelty or neglect of any animal. A prosecution can be brought by the various public bodies that engage in prosecutions or, indeed, by any private individual. However, one of the snags is that court proceedings can take a long time, usually longer than weeks. They may last for months and may even extend beyond a year. What happens to the animals which are the subject of a case in the meantime?

It is possible under the 1911 Act for the police to take away the animals for safekeeping. However, I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that with all the pressures upon the police at the present time, and, indeed, for many years past, this is in many cases not a practical proposition for the police to undertake. Sometimes organisations such as the RSPCA and other welfare bodies will step in at their own expense to look after the animals, perhaps for a considerable period. Occasionally the owner may give up ownership of the animals, in which case action can be taken. However, I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that this is a highly unsatisfactory position.

Perhaps I can illustrate the position more clearly by mentioning one or two cases. One elderly Welsh farmer in his seventies suffering from arthritis had no fewer than 1,400 sheep on nine different sites. He was looking after them on his own and travelling around by bicycle. He covered about 100 miles of road to tend to the sheep. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that he did not do the job well. Sheep scab was a serious problem. The farmer had difficulties in providing the sheep with water. Sometimes sheep which were dying were given no care. It was difficult to persuade him--although he was finally persuaded--to hand over part of the responsibility for the animals to a younger relative. But how much better it would have been had the sheep been removed from his care at a much earlier stage before the matter was finally concluded--in this case out of court.

An even worse case--in that it is persistent--occurred in the West Country. I am ashamed to say that as I have close connections with the West Country. The case concerned Roger Baker of Truro. I name him because of his persistent offences. It is a most shocking series of cases. It appears that between 1994 and 1999 MAFF made no fewer than 70 visits.

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I understand that other welfare organisations such as the RSPCA were also involved. Despite several bans on keeping animals and several prison sentences having been imposed, the man continued to buy or obtain more animals and ill-treat them. It would have been much better if the local authority had been able to remove the animals, sell them and thus not incur astronomical costs.

Even when such animals are cared for by a third party, because of the length of time that it takes for courts to decide cases there must be a disincentive for animal welfare organisations, or even kindly neighbours, to pick up the bill. I refer to one case where 14 horses were boarded for 10 months until a case was concluded. In that time costs of no less than £87,000 were incurred. That was in part on boarding the animals and in part on veterinary fees. If the animals could have been sold at an early stage, many of those difficulties would have been resolved.

I turn to the provisions of the Bill which seek to address these problems. The core feature of the Bill is the introduction of what one might describe as care orders whereby authorised bodies or individuals can apply to a magistrates' court for an order to deal with the animals. This, however, is subject to two conditions. First, there must be a current prosecution for cruelty under Section 1 of the 1911 Act and the animals must be kept for commercial purposes. For example, a pet animal, a companion animal, kept in someone's home would not be covered by the provisions of the Bill.

"Commercial purposes" is a wide-ranging phrase. It has not been defined in the Bill for what I believe are good reasons. It is extraordinarily difficult either for a private Member or even, I suspect, government departments to provide definitions which are all-embracing and stand the test of time. It therefore seems to me better that the term "for commercial purposes" should be left without further definition in the Bill. I am not a lawyer but I believe that the term is well understood in legal circles and that it would be for a court to decide whether an animal was kept for commercial purposes under the Bill. That would not simply include farm animals but might embrace circus animals, guard dogs, sniffer dogs and animals kept in pet shops for sale. However, the Bill does not deal with experimental animals which are dealt with under the Animals (Scientific Prodecures) Act.

First, when applying for one of these orders from a magistrates' court it would be a prerequisite before an order could be given that evidence should be received from a veterinary surgeon. This would preclude, therefore, people making malicious, vexatious or frivolous claims which waste a court's time. Secondly, the courts would need to take account of all the circumstances, including the interest of the owner, before coming to a decision. Under the Bill, they would have various options open to them which I hope would deal with those cases I have drawn to your Lordships' attention. For example, if suitable, it would be possible to care for the animals on the premises where they are found. They could be removed to a

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place of safety to be looked after. They could be sold at a fair price with the proceeds going to the owner; or they could be disposed of in another way--for example, by gift--if that proved more appropriate. Finally, arrangements could be made for the slaughter of animals if that were the right thing to do--and it might well be in the case of farm animals where there is an optimum moment at which they might be marketed and sold.

Puppies, too, have an optimum moment for sale. After that such value as they have declines sharply. Therefore it is appropriate that sale should be one of the options open to the courts. But they have to take account of all the circumstances and the evidence of a veterinary surgeon in deciding whether to grant the order to the prosecutor.

I turn now to who may seek such orders. Under the Bill there are what I call the usual categories from the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Crown prosecutors, local authorities, MAFF or any other suitable government organisation. But there is an additional feature. It is not unique but interesting in the context of the Bill. I refer to persons--that can legally include organisations--who at the request of MAFF or (in Wales) the Assembly may be authorised to prosecute. They would do so under a written agreement with MAFF which would set out the criteria on which such a body or person might be chosen. I am not a member of the Government but I understand that, in the event of the Bill becoming law, MAFF would seek to consult widely in order to ensure that there was widespread agreement on the criteria giving that power to another body or person. The RSPCA might be considered a suitable body but I would not rule out any other organisation which wished to do that. I have not consulted with them, but I have in mind that a body such as the National Canine Defence League might be willing to deal with dogs, or the Cats Protection League, which has a special interest in cats. There may be other organisations which deal with exotic species. The Bill would make it possible for them to do so. Any individual or person can bring a prosecution under Section 1 of the 1911 Act. However, in the Bill the care order would be restricted to the bodies I have outlined.

I turn to the remainder of the Bill. There are powers of entry. Those are obvious since if there is no power of entry one cannot get to the animals concerned. But that will not extend to a person's home. I think that the technical term is dwelling place. That will be excluded. But once an order has been obtained, in other homes entry can be carried out by the prosecutor using the terms of the order. They may remove the animals; they may wish to use equipment at the place where the animals exist. For example, the milking parlour might need to be used to milk cows.

There is an additional power in the Bill which might cause some concern. Where there is an intention to seek an order of the court, but before it is made--the court having been notified--entry can be gained for marking animals. That may be important in practical terms for deciding which animals are the subject of a

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prosecution or it may be important for various regulations, particularly farming regulations, when great clarity is needed about which animals are meant.

There is also the normal proviso that any prosecutor seeking to enter must have documents that identify him as that person and a written document explaining why the entry has been sought. That guards against malicious or fraudulent attempts at entry.

I explained earlier that if animals were sold, any money made would go to the owner, but any costs incurred by the prosecutor could be deducted from the sale proceeds.

The Bill applies to England and Wales only, although I believe that moves are afoot in other parts of the United Kingdom to introduce a similar measure. I hope that I have given a fair summary of the provisions. I shall happily deal with any questions or requests for clarification during the debate.

I mentioned earlier that various reputable bodies had given their support to the Bill. I shall quote an unsolicited letter of support from the British Veterinary Association. It said:

    "We therefore fully support the amendment bill and the additional powers it contains not only because it meets a real need but also because it strikes just the right balance. Our members, not least those in the State Veterinary Service, are confident that this legislation will provide a significant improvement in their ongoing endeavours to improve the welfare of animals kept for commercial purposes".

I very much agree with those sentiments and I hope that your Lordships will also agree.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Fookes.)

11.22 a.m.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, has introduced the Bill so admirably and thoroughly that, although I am only the second speaker in the debate, I shall repeat some of her comments. I make no apology for that; they are points that need to be emphasised.

I support the principles behind the Bill, but the House should reflect with care on some elements. It is perhaps of concern that a Bill which, among other things, gives powers of entry to private, albeit commercial, premises should be presented as a Private Member's Bill in the other place, with the lack of scrutiny that sometimes results from that. The Pet Care Trust, which is closely involved with the measures relating to puppy farming that we passed last year, has kindly briefed me and expresses some concerns.

I hope that it goes without saying that I welcome any measures that will alleviate the suffering of animals, particularly when they are held in inhumane conditions. I believe that my concerns deserve close consideration and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for raising some negative aspects of the Bill.

The Bill provides that its main provisions apply only in relation to an animal that the owner keeps or has kept for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, "commercial purposes" are not defined in the Bill.

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Despite what the noble Baroness said, I am concerned that that will lead to a grey area and an unintentionally wide application of the provisions to animals. I understand that the expression is intended to encompass, for example, circus animals, animals kept for commercial breeding, animals kept for sale in pet shops, guard and sniffer dogs and others. However, uncertainty and confusion may arise in some circumstances. Does an animal bred at home and subsequently given to a pet shop for commercial sale count as an animal kept for commercial purposes? The Bill gives prosecutors wide powers of access to premises where animals have been bred with no intention of their being used for commercial purposes. When such powers are granted to individuals, albeit through an order of the court, it should be clear what premises they apply to.

The Bill would allow the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the National Assembly for Wales to enter into contractual arrangements with corporate bodies to act as prosecutors under the Bill. It is envisaged that the RSPCA, for example, will be appointed to that role. I am concerned that not enough control will be exercised on the appointment of the individual officers by such bodies. Would it not be more sensible for the appointments to be made directly by the Ministry from a panel of appropriately qualified and vetted individuals? Given the nature of the important powers conferred on these people by the Bill, it is important that their objectivity is guaranteed and that their performance is carefully monitored and reported on to the Ministry.

There is also cause for concern about the powers of entry conferred by Clause 3. While the Bill provides that an order to confiscate animals can be granted only when proceedings are already under way for an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, it will allow individuals who have simply notified the court that they intend to apply for an order under the Bill--irrespective of the fact that it might not be granted--to enter premises for the purpose of identifying and marking animals about which they are concerned.

It is also worrying that a person entering the premises under those powers is required only to produce a document showing that he is an authorised person and to state in writing his reasons for entering. There is no requirement for him to produce a copy of the order or a notice that he has applied for such an order, which would seem to be a minimum requirement. There is some doubt about the legality of those provisions, which appear to convey wide powers of entry to private property, under the Human Rights Act 1998. I feel sure that my noble friend the Minister will give us some reassurance on that.

A further point of concern is that the owners of animals subject to a care and disposal order should have the opportunity to make a full case in response to an application for such an order. Once again, in view of the nature of the powers sought, it is surely of fundamental importance that those who are subject to such interference with their property should have the

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right to reply at the time that the order is applied for and to produce evidence, if necessary from a vet, in order to resist such an order being made against them.

My final point, which was also raised in another place, is whether the Bill can provide adequate compensation for owners who have had their livestock removed and possibly sold or destroyed but who are subsequently acquitted in proceedings under the 1911 Act. That is unclear. Although the court has to have regard to the owner's interest in the value of the animals and in avoiding increasing the costs when making an order, what happens if it transpires that an entirely innocent party has suffered what could be a serious financial loss as a direct result of the exercise of those powers?

The Bill requires closer scrutiny in a number of respects, but I hope that my noble friend will be able to give assurances that these matters will be addressed, because the Bill cannot be delayed. Amendments would only wreck it.

11.29 a.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, the Green Party is in favour of legislation that reduces the amount of cruelty imposed on animals by men. I imagine that it is therefore in line with all the other parties represented in your Lordships' House.

I am not an animal rights man. That is a phrase without much philosophical or legal justification. I am a human duties man. I have a scale of priorities for how we should address our human duties. The control of animals in the wild is a complex issue that we shall doubtless deal with in extreme form in the next year or two.

Much higher on my list than, for example, fox hunting is the welfare of animals which are already under human control. As your Lordships know, issues such as battery hens, the welfare of pigs and broiler fowl have been a constant concern of mine during my entire time in this House. For that reason, I give the Bill my hearty support and give great thanks to those in another place and in this House--particularly, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes--who have supported the Bill thus far.

On the whole, the Bill seems to me to be in an admirable state. I listened with care to what the noble Viscount said. No doubt, the matters which he raised will be addressed by the noble Baroness when she replies. However, there did not appear to be anything in what he said that would deny our duty to give the Bill a speedy passage. I hope that the Government--I look forward to hearing the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who knows a great deal about these matters--will not be slow to activate it once it has passed into law.

The country as a whole owes great gratitude to those who bring forward this type of legislation. It reduces the immense amount of cruelty towards animals which has been carried out in the past, sometimes wittingly and sometimes unwittingly. Such cruelty is seen to a

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lesser extent now, and we hope that it will be inflicted to an even lesser extent in the future. I wish the Bill well.

11.31 a.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I am pleased to support the Bill and my noble friend Lady Fookes, who has introduced it this morning.

Over the years, the Protection of Animals Act 1911 has been the cornerstone of legislation dealing with cruelty to animals. The original Act is, to my mind, remarkably comprehensive. It has been amended in various areas in order to deal with issues as they have arisen; for example, performing animals, the need for anaesthetics during animal operations, the use of cruel poisons, and others. However, overall it has served this country well over almost 100 years since it was put on the statute book.

The concern of the United Kingdom for animal welfare is well known and well accepted in this country and elsewhere. Indeed, animal welfare concerns pre-date those of the welfare of children. The RSPCA was established in 1824, some 60 years ahead of what was then the National Society for the Protection of Children. The Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, which my noble friend Lady Fookes mentioned, similarly was a forward-looking piece of legislation to regulate the use of animals in scientific experiments. Of course, as has been mentioned, this amendment of the 1911 Act does not apply to such animals.

Therefore, it is curious that, while the original Act dealt with the disposal of animals by depriving the convicted person of ownership of the animal or by ordering its destruction, there is nothing in the Act to protect the welfare of animals during the course of the proceedings for cruelty or neglect between the time of indictment and the time of trial. As has been stated, that period can be lengthy, passing into weeks or months. In one or two cases, the process has lasted for more than a year.

This amending Bill reduces the lacuna in the original Act. It extends those who may conduct prosecutions from the police constable in the original Act to a list of individuals or bodies. They are the approved prosecutors. The Bill gives the prosecutor the authority--having been granted permission by a magistrates' court, thus providing a great safeguard--to enter premises other than a private dwelling for the purposes of identifying and marking animals subject to prosecution. I hope that advice may be given that microchipping is probably the preferred and more effective method of identification and that which is least subject to falsification.

As my noble friend said, the Bill has the support of the National Farmers Union, the RSPCA, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association. I believe that we have

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probably all received the documentation from the Pet Care Trust, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred.

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