New Clause 8 — Docking of dogs' tails

Orders of the Day — Animal Welfare Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 14th March 2006.

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'(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he removes the whole or any part of a dog's tail, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment;

(b) he causes the whole or any part of a dog's tail to be removed by another person, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment.

(2) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he is responsible for a dog,

(b) another person removes the whole or any part of the dog's tail, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment, and

(c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening.

(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply if the dog is a certified working dog that is not more than 5 days old.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), a dog is a certified working dog if a veterinary surgeon has certified that the dog is likely to be used for work in connection with—

(a) law enforcement,

(b) activities of Her Majesty's armed forces,

(c) emergency rescue,

(d) lawful pest control, or

(e) the lawful shooting of animals.

(5) It is a defence for a person accused of an offence under subsection (1) or (2) to show that he reasonably believed that the dog was one in relation to which subsection (3) applies.

(6) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he owns a subsection (3) dog, and

(b) fails to take reasonable steps to secure that, before the dog is 3 months old, it is identified as a subsection (3) dog in accordance with regulations made under this section.

(7) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he shows a dog at an event to which members of the public are admitted on payment of a fee,

(b) the dog's tail has been wholly or partly removed (in England and Wales or elsewhere), and

(c) removal took place on or after the commencement day.

(8) Where a dog is shown only for the purpose of demonstrating its working ability, subsection (7) does not apply if the dog is a subsection (3) dog.

(9) It is a defence for a person accused of an offence under subsection (7) to show that he reasonably believed—

(a) that the event was not one to which members of the public were admitted on payment of an entrance fee,

(b) that the removal took place before the commencement day, or

(c) that the dog was one in relation to which subsection (8) applies.

(10) A person commits an offence if he knowingly gives false information to a veterinary surgeon in connection with the giving of a certificate for the purposes of this section.

(11) The appropriate authority may by regulations—

(a) make provision about the giving by veterinary surgeons of certificates for the purposes of this section;

(b) make provision about the identification of dogs as subsection (3) dogs;

(c) make provision about the functions of inspectors in relation to certificates for the purposes of this section and the identification of dogs as subsection (3) dogs.

(12) Power to make regulations under subsection (11) includes power to make incidental, supplementary, consequential provision or transitional provision or savings.

(13) Before making regulations under subsection (11), the appropriate national authority shall consult such persons appearing to the authority to represent any interests concerned as the authority considers appropriate.

(14) In this section—

"commencement day" means the day on which this section comes into force;

"subsection (3) dog" means a dog whose tail has, on or after the commencement day, been wholly or partly removed without contravening subsection (1), because of the application of subsection (3).'.—[Mr. Bradshaw.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (a), in line 13, leave out subsections (3) to (6).

Amendment (b), in line 36, leave out subsection (8).

Amendment (d), in line 41, at end insert ', or'.

Amendment (c), in line 42, leave out from 'day' to end of line 43.

Amendment (e), in line 44, leave out subsections (10) to (13).

Amendment (f), in line 63, leave out from beginning to end of line 66.

Amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 21, clause 5, after 'apply', insert—

'(a) to the docking of the tail of a working gundog; or

(b) '.

Government amendment No. 38

Amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 25, at end insert—

'(6) In subsection (4), "docking of the tail of a dog" means the deliberate removal of any part of a tail of a dog if the removal is carried out—

(a) by a veterinary surgeon; and

(b) on a dog which is less than 10 days old.'.

Government amendments Nos. 39 to 60.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The purpose of the first part of our deliberations this afternoon is to facilitate a debate and then, if the House desires, votes on the docking of dogs' tails. When we published the Bill, the Government said that we would not seek to be a persuader on such a contentious issue, where views on both sides are strongly held and the evidence disputed. We said that we would listen to Members' views.

In Committee, the majority of Members who spoke advocated a total ban on the docking of dogs' tails. Some Members said that they would prefer an exemption for working dogs and no Member who spoke supported the status quo of allowing cosmetic docking. However, all members of the Committee, whatever their views, said that they felt that the issue should be opened up more widely to all Members. That is what we are doing now.

We are offering the House three options—first, a ban on tail docking, but with an exemption for working dogs; secondly, a ban with no exemption for working dogs; and thirdly, the status quo, which allows cosmetic docking. Of course, it will remain possible under all those options for a vet to dock a dog's tail if that is necessary for medical reasons—for example, because the tail is damaged or has become diseased.

Members who wish to support option one—a ban, with an exemption for working dogs—should vote for new clause 8, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and against amendments (a) to (f), which stand in my name. Members who want a total ban should vote for the new clause and those amendments. Members who wish to retain the status quo should vote against the new clause.

I wish to make it clear that I support an exemption for working dogs. I appreciate that that puts me in the somewhat unusual position of not voting for my own amendments. Amendments (a) to (f), which stand in my name, are intended to facilitate the deliberations of the House.

I do not intend to repeat the long arguments that were aired in Committee, so that as many Members as possible can contribute to the debate. No doubt, Members will have been lobbied both for and against a working dogs exemption. However, to help the debate, I wish to say something about how the new clause banning docking, with a working dogs exemption, would work.

One of the main concerns expressed in Committee by those hon. Members whose minds were not already made up was that any exemption for working dogs should be workable and enforceable. The Government agreed, and we have endeavoured to achieve that in the new clause. Under the new clause, only a vet could preventively dock a dog's tail provided that, first, the dog is no more than five days old, and secondly, the vet has been shown specific evidence that the dog is likely to be used for work in connection with law enforcement, the armed forces, emergency rescue, pest control or the lawful shooting of animals.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am sorry to interrupt so early in my hon. Friend's explanation. However, the law is very clear that tail docking should be carried out only by a qualified veterinary surgeon, but the number of surgeons willing to do that operation and the number of dogs whose tails are docked do not correspond. Quite simply, the law is not being enforced at the moment. That is the problem. Why is the law more likely to be enforced if we agree to the exemption compared with current practice, where the law is an ass?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I shall come to some of the extra safeguards that we have put into the new clause in a minute, but there would be a fairly significant reduction in the overall number of dogs that could be docked legally, to about 20 per cent. of the current number. That is our estimate of the number of dogs docked currently that then go on to be worked.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

Yes, of course. I am about to explain some of the safeguards in a little more detail, but I am happy to take another intervention.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

New clause 8, on my reading of it, relates to dogs. What is the position for other animals—cats and, particularly, sheep, most of which are already docked?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

That is all in the Bill. There is a general prohibition on mutilation, with exemptions that will be set out in regulations. Those exemptions will not change the status quo—for example, for animals whose tails are legally docked currently—because the Government's original intention was to deal with the issue by regulation. However, feelings were so strong among hon. Members on both sides of the argument on Second Reading and in Committee that it was thought more appropriate for the issue to be settled once and for all in the Bill, rather than leaving it for future Governments to settle by regulation, which would not allow the same parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

For the benefit of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, will the Minister confirm that if new clause 8 and the relevant amendment are both rejected, there will not be a change to the Bill, and he will undertake to introduce a total exemption for tail docking of dogs in the regulatory process?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

Yes.

The vet would issue the owner with a certificate showing that the dog had been docked legitimately and detailing the evidence that they had seen. The puppy must be microchipped before it is three months old and the microchip number added to the certificate. The effectiveness of the new clause hangs on the definition of a dog that is "likely" to work. The Government have sought to define that tightly, but we also propose to introduce a delegated power to allow the appropriate national authority to tighten it further as necessary. I will explain to the House how we would use the power initially if the new clause is passed unamended. Through regulations, we would prescribe a template certificate that a vet must use for each dog that they dock and which would record the details of the vet, the owner, the date of docking and the microchip number. The vet and the owner would sign it—the owner to confirm that they had not provided false information. Providing false information would be an offence carrying a penalty of up to 51 weeks in prison, or a level 4 fine—currently £2,500—or both. The regulations would specify, too, the evidence that the vet must be shown before they could certify that a dog was likely to work. For law enforcers, for example, that could be a police identification badge and evidence from the head of a police force's breeding programme that the dog was intended to be worked.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

One could drive a coach and horses through the regulations on law enforcement by taking a four-year-old dog to the vet and saying, "I'm going to use this dog to protect my scrapyard. Keeping trespassers out is law enforcement, so can you dock its tail?" Because proposed subsection (4) of the new clause does not say that the dog must be used predominantly as a guard dog, after the scrapyard owner has used the dog for two days he can sell it to a man in a pub as a docked dog and escape scot-free.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

There would not be any circumstances under which a four-year-old could have its tail docked. [Interruption.] Perhaps my hon. Friend meant four days.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am glad that the Minister has abandoned his self-denying ordinance, because I did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee and thus did not hear his mellifluous tones, but I am more than happy to do so this afternoon. Great man though he is, Rob Marris has an insatiably suspicious disposition, and I am not sure that his suspicion is justified. Will the Minister clarify the regulation-making process? Why cannot we see—or perhaps we can—draft regulations before the final passage of the Bill, as that always makes me much more sanguine than knowing that they will be published at a later, unspecified date?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I do not rule that out, because the Bill still has to proceed to another place. If it will reassure the hon. Gentleman, I am certainly prepared to consider that suggestion with officials to see if we can do so when the Bill returns to the House. Briefly, in response to my hon. Friend Rob Marris, I accept that there are Members on both sides of the House who will not vote for the exemption because they do not think that it is drawn tightly enough or is enforceable. I take a different view and I urge them to listen patiently to the extra safeguards that we have included. If that does not change their minds, the way in which they cast their vote is their prerogative—we are offering a free vote, as is every party in the House.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

Would I be prosecuted if I went to a rescue centre and bought a dog with a docked tail that was born after the commencement of the measure?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

Not if the tail had been docked legally. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman would not be responsible, as the offence was committed by the person who docked the tail illegally, or perhaps by the vet who allowed it to be done illegally.

As I was saying, the vet would issue the owner with a certificate showing that the dog had been docked legitimately and detailing the evidence that the vet had seen. The pup must be microchipped before it is three months old and the microchip number added to the certificate. The new clause includes provisions to drive down the demand for cosmetically docked dogs, which is extremely important for Members who are considering voting for the exemption, but would like more reassurance that it will bite—excuse the pun. Experience from Sweden and Germany—countries with a complete ban and an exemption for working dogs, respectively—suggests that not restricting the showing of docked dogs results in continuing demand for them and incentives to find ways around a ban, including importing. Therefore, the Government propose restricting the showing of legally docked dogs to demonstrations of their working ability. That is not because of any distaste for showing, but to support the aim that only dogs intended for working are docked. That would ensure that the number of dogs docked would be kept to a minimum.

Amendments (a) to (f), tabled in my name, would remove the exemption from working dogs currently set out in the new clause. The amendments also remove the exemption that allows certified docked dogs to be shown to demonstrate their working ability. Under the amendments, no dog docked after the provision is enacted could be shown.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My question relates to the Minister's earlier point. I believe that in many cases people cannot decide for some time—certainly not by the five-day stage—whether a dog is suitable as a working dog, so is the intention to give people latitude to have several puppies to choose from for their working purpose, or would the exemption be narrow and possibly lead to problems?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

In the end, we will have to leave it to the courts to decide whether the intention at the time was for the dogs to be worked. The right hon. Gentleman is right—it is not always possible to know for certain at the time of the docking that the dog will definitely be worked, even though the likelihood exists and can be certified by a vet who sees the dam. That is why some of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members are concerned about an exemption. Nobody has proposed a tighter exemption because it is difficult to devise one. We have done our best to do so in order to facilitate a free vote.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I support the Government's new clause, but does the Minister accept the view that I take—that a blanket ban on docking is bad for animal welfare because some working dogs will necessarily suffer if they are not docked, yet are used in perfectly legal activities in the countryside? Would he, like me, counsel those who want a blanket ban to recognise that that will have the opposite effect in some cases, by increasing animal suffering rather than reducing it, as the Minister is attempting to do in a reasonable way in new clause 8?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

That was the point. The reason I am supporting the exemption is that I partly agree with the hon. Gentleman.

If the House chooses not to vote for the new clause, that will leave it open, as I reaffirmed to Mr. Paice a moment ago, to the Government to make regulations exempting tail-docking from the general ban on mutilations prescribed in clause 5. The Government would subsequently be able to alter the law without recourse to primary legislation. Despite the strength of feeling on all sides, the House may still detect some virtue in this flexibility.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 tabled by Bill Wiggin would introduce an exemption for working dogs from the ban on mutilations. However, there are problems with the drafting. Amendment No. 5 seeks to define a term that does not appear in amendment No. 4. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's new clause is a more appropriate way to achieve a ban on docking, with a working dog exemption. I hope that on this basis he will not press his amendments.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I may be wrong, but I think that I heard my hon. Friend say that there was an exemption for working dogs in Sweden. My understanding is that that is not the case. Does he intend to name the breeds to which the exemptions will apply?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

No, I will not name the breeds now. That will be subject to regulation, but the breeds will be named. That will be part of the template document for the vet, and they would be tightly drawn. My hon. Friend misheard what I said about Germany and Sweden. Sweden has a total ban. Germany has a ban with an exemption for working dogs, but in both countries Governments and animal welfare organisations argue that the much more important aspect is the ban on showing. That is what we are including in the exemption. The ban on showing acts as the biggest disincentive to illegal docking or the import of docked breeds.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Before the Minister moves on from specific breeds, will he confirm that it is possible for cross breeds to make excellent working dogs?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare) 5:45 pm, 14th March 2006

I will give hon. Members a further insight into the breeds that we would consider if the new clause were passed without amendment. The exemption for working dogs would include spaniels, hunt point retrieve breeds, working terriers and crosses involving one or more of those types.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Labour, North Swindon

Will my hon. Friend clarify the evidence on which he has formulated the proposed exemption? What is the potential damage to working dogs if docking is forbidden? [Interruption.]

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment says from a sedentary position that the matter is disputed. He takes a different view from me, and I suspect that we will be in different Lobbies later this evening. Not only the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, but the police have produced evidence on that point in the past few days. The police have provided compelling evidence on the number of dogs that they use in important security operations that have had to have their tails docked later in life because of injuries that they have sustained in the course of their work.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The Minister has made my point for me. Working dogs are used for far more than shooting, and there are police, rescue and customs dogs. The police are the only body that has provided any real evidence, and they have come out very strongly in favour of an exemption for their working dogs.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

My hon. Friend may have received a letter from Assistant Chief Constable Peter Vaughan, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers working dogs representative. Peter Vaughan has worked in the field for many years, and he has appealed to the House to support new clause 8, because it is common for working dogs to sustain serious injuries that require surgery if their tails are not docked.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Has the Minister considered the case of the old English sheepdog, which used to be a working dog? Many old English sheepdog owners prefer to dock their dogs for reasons of hygiene. Has he dismissed heavy-coated breeds, which are at risk of perennial fouling and which will be caught by the new legislation?

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I thank my hon. Friend for eventually giving way. I am a complete novice in this matter and want to focus on certification, about which the veterinary profession has some concerns. Will he detail how we can be certain that dogs as young as four or five days will be working dogs?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

As I have said, there is no such thing as absolute certainty, which is why I am sure that some hon. Members will not be satisfied even by the tightly drawn exemption that we have devised. Given the extra safeguards that we have introduced—the provisions on showing are unprecedented in animal welfare legislation—we will achieve a lot more than countries such as Sweden, which has a total ban.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

Does the Minister recognise the difference between carefully formulated scientific evidence and the experience of police officers, which is valid but anecdotal? Will he explain why he thinks that the veterinary associations that support a ban on docking working dogs take a different view from the police? Does he believe that it is right, at least in the first instance, to trust the view of medical and scientific experts, rather than the anecdotal experience of people who currently work with working dogs?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

It has long been the view of the majority of the council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to oppose all tail docking, but, at the same time, there have been vets who have been prepared to carry it out. It is important that hon. Members listen to the views of people from all organisations—be they vets, police or people who have intimate working knowledge of dogs—and make up their own minds. I am not trying to persuade the hon. Gentleman of my view; I am simply trying to give him and other hon. Members options so that they can reach a view and express it in the way that they vote this evening.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I was interested in what my hon. Friend said about the police. I understand that the police have something like 2,000 or 2,500 working dogs. Will he tell the House what percentage of those working dogs sustained an injury so severe that it necessitated amputation of their tail?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

It may help if I quote from the letter dated 9 March that I received from Assistant Chief Constable Peter Vaughan, who said:

"Twenty working dogs have had to have their tails docked as a result of injury in the last two years."

He goes on to say:

"Experience over many years of working with police dogs has shown us that certain dog types, performing certain roles; usually a search function where dogs are often required to work in difficult terrain and confined spaces are susceptible to causing injury to their tails. Any docking of new puppies is restricted to such dog types and conducted in order to minimise the risk of such injury, which can be particularly distressing and require a protracted period of recuperation."

I cannot do any more than quote from a third party.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

If we are talking about scientific evidence, surely the Minister should tell the House what proportion of working dogs, or indeed police dogs, that represented. The control would be the proportion of tail docking that took place in the non-working dog population, among breeds that tend to have their tails docked, although that has been shaped by fashion. Tail docking used to be a tax avoidance device. In the 18th century, it was introduced to avoid the tax that had been imposed on certain types of working dog.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

My hon. Friend will have to forgive me, but I do not know what proportion of working dogs Assistant Chief Constable Vaughan is talking about. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber a little earlier when I gave the overall figures, but I repeat that, even with the exemption, at least 80 per cent. of current dockings would be illegal. The cosmetic dockings that I think most hon. Members want to consign to the history books would not happen.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Forgive me, but I think that this is a debate. However, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he confirm my impression from the figures in the letter from the police that it would be a mistake to compare the 20 working police dogs that have had to have therapeutic docking in the past two years with the total number of 2,500? The vast majority of the 2,500 working police dogs will not be of a type that works in confined spaces. They will be Alsatians and Labradors that are used for other purposes. A much smaller proportion—spaniels, predominantly—would be used in those circumstances and so might be at risk. It is not a direct comparison to talk about 20 out of 2,500.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I hope that he will forgive me—I was not trying to say that we are not having a debate. There have been a series of interventions. There are hon. Members who have come here to make a considered contribution and I want to allow them time to do that.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Labour, Dundee West

I understand that a ban already exists in Scotland. If the same does not apply in England, it will lead to tail-docking tourism, whereby Scottish people bring their dogs down to Carlisle, get their tails docked and then go back up to Scotland with them. Is that a scenario that the Minister has considered?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The Scots have not yet legislated on the matter, but, in theory, my hon. Friend is right and that would be one of the consequences of the devolution that I imagine he and the rest of us supported.

In conclusion, the House has three options. Those who favour the status quo and the flexibility afforded by the delegated power in clause 5 should oppose the Second Reading of the new clause. Those who want a ban on cosmetic docking, but with an exemption for working dogs, should vote for the new clause tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If the new clause is given a Second Reading by the House, those who wish to go further and ban all tail docking should vote for the amendments that stand in my name. However, those who are persuaded by the arguments in favour of a working dog exemption should vote against those amendments.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

First, let me welcome the attack of common sense that the Government seem to have had since the Bill was in Committee. Perhaps it was a rush of blood to the Minister's head that caused him to abandon the status quo, for which he had the blessing of the Secretary of State, take the temperature of the Committee and conclude that a total ban on docking was needed. I welcome the change that has happened since.

We all agree that what is needed is a cool head and a measured approach. At all stages, we must bear in mind that any sort of docking is illegal unless it is carried out by a qualified vet. The next step is to decide whether the procedure is necessary and whether it hurts. The evidence is overabundant, because everyone has an opinion. I am sure that it probably can hurt, but usually does not and that it is sometimes necessary, but it is not a feature that I personally find attractive in a dog. I am left to make a decision based on the overwhelming area of agreement, which is that the vet who performs the operation must do it properly and legally. If that is the case, I can see no reason why people who are so committed to animal welfare that they take six years to qualify, and end up with enormous student debts, should not be more than able to decide whether they feel comfortable with the operation, and why that should not be enough. That is satisfactory. There is no need for a ban.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is the crux of the problem. Tail docking is not taught in veterinary schools any more, and the vast majority of vets do not want to do it. Those who do it are an ageing part of the profession. Surely it is almost inevitable that tail docking will die out. It is just that the law will follow that. Is that not a problem?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing that that is the nub of the problem. If he is right and tail docking dies out—personally, as I said earlier, I do not favour the look of a docked tail—that is how I would prefer things to proceed. Docking would die out because people did not want to do it, rather than because we legislated for that in the Bill.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman (Organising and Campaigning), Conservative Party, Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

Is it not the case that a great many veterinary surgeons today specialise purely in companion animals and small animal care, and that there are fewer vets who serve rural areas, including farm practices, and cover the sort of working dogs that we are talking about? That is why the views of the professional bodies are not necessarily representative of the minority who are specialists in rural areas.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and is absolutely right. We should not make decisions based on the number of vets available to carry out the procedure. People who own dogs have to deal with the issue for themselves. I do not like bans and I do not think that there is a need for a ban. Bans are bad for everybody. They lead to illegal activity, and when all is said and done, my suspicion is that people who prefer docked breeds will selectively breed bob-tailed dogs, which will make the enforcement of the law on tail docking extremely difficult.

I have seen the campaigns showing dead puppies, and I think that they are revolting. One says:

"Robbed of their tails. Robbed of their lives."

That campaigning is unhelpful. It is based on illegal docking, which will remain illegal whatever we choose to do today, and on spin rather than fact. It does not do the issue any favours.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is speaking with a great deal of knowledge and a lot of experience, and most eloquently. I share his view about the photographs. Most of them were of illegal tail dockings, yet they purported to show what was happening across the board legitimately and normally. Many people would have presumed that those dockings had been carried out by vets.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I urge my hon. Friend not to be too modest with his praise for me; I am most grateful for it. What he says is right—and I have had some fairly unpleasant criticism from the Council of Docked Breeds, which actually agrees with me on this matter. The subject is emotive, and we should allow dog owners to make up their minds themselves.

There is a temptation to vote in favour of new clause 8 because it contains an exemption for working dogs. The exemption is prudent and sensible, but I will be forced to vote against the measure because I prefer the status quo. I have changed my position slightly since the Committee stage. I have been persuaded by the volume of bureaucracy, paperwork and certificates—and sheer difficulty—that the measure would introduce.

Owners should decide which dogs need to be docked. There is a compelling argument for pre-prophylactic docking based on evidence that damage will be done later in life. The comments of the security services are also most helpful. As the Minister said, show standards are the area on which progress could be made. For example, a non-docked dog should be at no disadvantage compared with a docked dog unless the tail has a fault. There is an incentive for show dogs to be docked if there is a fault with the tail, so the anti-docking campaign should focus its attention on that.

There will be an entirely free vote on both sides of the House. Paragraph 15 of the Bill's regulatory impact assessment, which was signed by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Bradshaw, states that the Government's preference is

"that there should continue to be freedom of choice."

Reluctantly, I will not support new clause 8, on the basis that I do not like banning things, paperwork or bureaucracy. I do not like cosmetic docking either, but we should make the matter a free choice for all dog owners, rather than using the Bill to determine what should happen.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 6:00 pm, 14th March 2006

I am pleased to be able to participate in the debate. I will focus on the reasons why I believe that the only workable and practical way forward is to have a complete prohibition on tail docking with no exemptions for so-called working dogs.

As my hon. Friend David Taylor said earlier, it is important to understand the history of tail docking and the reason why it became a common practice for certain breeds in this country. He rightly said that a tax was levied on the owners of working dogs. Farmers, drovers and other owners of working dogs began to dock, or shorten, their dogs' tails so that they could avoid the tax. The tax was repealed in 1796, but people who were worried that it might be reintroduced continued the practice of tail docking. Prior to the tax, working dogs were not docked. The practice dated only from when the tax was brought in.

It is important to appreciate what tail docking actually is. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons describes the practice as a mutilation, and defines a mutilation as

"all procedures carried out with or without instruments which involve interference with sensitive tissues or the bone structures of an animal and are carried out for non-therapeutic reasons."

It is right and appropriate to describe docking as a mutilation.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I am happy to take interventions, but I would appreciate it if I could make a wee bit of progress first.

The process of docking involves cutting through—often by tying—bones, cartilage, muscle and nerves. It is done without anaesthetic on puppies under a week old and no analgesic relief is given after the procedure has been carried out. There is no justification for allowing the practice to continue.

People who support the exemptions for working dogs argue that because puppies are neonatal they do not feel any pain, but that is completely untrue. Scientific evidence demonstrates that the nervous system of neonatal puppies allows them to experience pain; they just experience it slightly more slowly than adult dogs. It would not be appropriate for hon. Members to argue that puppies do not feel pain, because they certainly do.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman (Organising and Campaigning), Conservative Party, Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I have been persuaded by the Minister on new clause 8. When considering the surgical procedure for tail docking, has the hon. Lady thought about other procedures in which the veterinary profession is involved? For example, I was present with a vet while a horse was being castrated and the procedure was pretty barbaric. Is she suggesting that there should be no more castration of stallions?

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I must admit that when I was preparing the notes for my speech, my mind had not actually wandered on to the subject of the castration of horses. The Bill allows such practices to continue. The practice would not be regarded as a mutilation under the veterinary profession's definition, even though the hon. Lady regards it as quite barbaric.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I was going to make a rather similar point to Angela Browning. The vets' definition of mutilation that Shona McIsaac cited mentioned an attack on sensitive tissues for non-therapeutic purposes. Neutering a dog would fulfil the definition because that is obviously done for non-therapeutic purposes. If she is using the definition as a justification for opposing tail docking, she must, logically speaking, either support an outright ban on the neutering of dogs, or explain why she has different definitions for the two mutilations.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

The definition of a mutilation is not mine. I cited it because it is the veterinary profession's description of the practice of tail docking. As I said earlier, neutering is not covered by the Bill, as we determined in Committee, so the procedure may continue after the Bill has been passed.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I share the distaste for docking and regard it as a mutilation. I had intended to vote for a complete ban until I had an encounter in the Chamber a few hours ago with a docked springer spaniel. When I commented to the dog handler that docking might not be permitted in the future, the handler told me that that beautiful dog had had a full tail, but the tail had had to be docked because while doing its work looking after us in the Chamber, it had undergone serious injury from knocking its tail against the edges of the wooden seats and the Table. Can my hon. Friend convince me that that is only an isolated case? Given the safeguards that the Government intend to put in place, I am inclined to vote for new clause 8, but I put on record the fact that I want to see what the regulations are, so if the matter comes back to the House, I might well change my mind again.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

As I continue with my arguments, I hope that my hon. Friend will find that there are compelling reasons why we should vote for a full ban. I will come on to the point about injuries later, so I hope that she will stay in the Chamber to listen to that part of my speech.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

The hon. Lady may not have had horse castration in mind when she came to the Chamber, but has she considered the parallels with human circumcision, which, as she will know, is discretionary? Has she considered the fact that if she is successful, animals will have more protection against mutilation than humans?

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I did think about the issue of circumcision, because I received what I can only describe as racist and abusive letters from people who wrote to me about my stance on tail docking, having assumed on the basis of my surname that I was Jewish. The hon. Gentleman cannot draw that analogy, because the Bill excludes humans. An amendment that Bill Wiggin tabled in Committee would have included humans, as well as all crustaceans.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I was just sitting here quietly minding my own business—but the hon. Lady's point about crustaceans and cephalopods is valid. If she thinks that pain is the key to her decision, those creatures should be covered by the Bill.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I did have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about cephalopods, but I thought that including them in the Bill would be going too far. However, I do not want to go too far down that road, as we are talking about tail docking.

We have heard about the position of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I want to put on the record the names of the organisations that are supporting a total ban on tail docking. First, we have the Anti-Docking Alliance; it might be said that one would expect that of it Then we have the Blue Cross, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, the British Veterinary Association, the Dogs Trust, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the RSPCA, Vets Against Docking, and Wood Green animal shelters. That is a substantial list of people who have to care for animals, and about the welfare of animals, and feel that the time has come to end docking dogs' tails just in case of injury.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

Does my hon. Friend agree that it seems a little strange to use the ACPO evidence, or so-called evidence, to support the amendment, given that the police could dock their dogs at the moment but are not doing so?

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Yes. The ACPO material is anecdotal—it is not based on scientific fact and has not been peer reviewed. In fact, most people who want exemptions admit that the supporting evidence is anecdotal.

I want to explain why new clause 8 will not work in practice. The exemption is for working dogs. Before Members vote, they should ask themselves this question: as tail docking is carried out on a neonatal puppy under a week old, how can one tell whether it will be suitable for training as a working dog? I would argue that one cannot tell with any certainty whether any dog will become a working dog. If one has a litter of eight springer spaniels, it is likely that the majority will not be working dogs but kept as pets.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

I should declare an interest. My family have kept springer and cocker spaniels over the years, some of which have had puppies. If one is selling a puppy for quite a lot of money, it will be bought at the higher rate only by someone who is going to use it as a working dog. If one breeds a dog to a very high standard, there is probably a 95 per cent. chance that the entire litter will go into a working role.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 6:15 pm, 14th March 2006

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment, but I still do not believe that it answers the question of how one can tell with certainty whether any puppy will be suitable for training as a working dog.

Sweden has a ban on tail docking that it has not reversed since it was introduced. In fact, no country that has introduced such a ban has reversed it having monitored the effects. It has been argued that a study in Sweden demonstrated that injuries went up as a result, but that was not a scientific study. Again, it was anecdotal—and it was a survey by a breeders' group that wanted the ban reversed. The scientific evidence shows that there are injuries to the tails of working dogs, but after any prohibition on tail docking the level of injuries experienced reaches that experienced in the dog population in general. Among any group of dogs, the probability of a non-working dog injuring its tail is similar to that of an undocked working dog doing so. Some Members are shaking their heads; clearly, they do not understand probability.

My main worry about the exemption provision is that it asks vets to certify that a dog is likely to be a working dog. As I said, it is not possible to tell. I, and other members of the Standing Committee, received a letter from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the governing body of the veterinary profession, citing the three options mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister:

"the status quo . . . a ban on docking but with an exemption for certain working dogs; and an outright prohibition on docking otherwise than for the purpose of medical treatment."

It says that it

"recommends the third option: a ban on the docking of dogs' tails except when the operation is carried out for therapeutic purposes."

It goes on to say:

"We have particular concern with subsection (4) of the new clause. This provides for a veterinary surgeon to certify that a puppy is likely to be used as a working dog. In the College's view it would not be appropriate for a veterinary surgeon to offer such an opinion. Veterinary surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat animals, and their expertise does not extend to assessing the intentions of the current or a future owner of a newborn puppy. It is in any case not possible at that stage to judge whether a particular puppy in a litter will prove suitable for training as a working dog."

That is the stated position of the veterinary profession in this country, and it renders the new clause unworkable. If we claim that the veterinary profession must certify, but it says that it is inappropriate for it to do that, that is a serious problem.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

The hon. Lady is worried about tail docking not having any purpose because it falls within the remit of normal injuries. Has she considered dew claws, which are often a problem on working dogs and are sometimes removed for cosmetic reasons?

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Yes, but the debate is about tail docking. The hon. Lady did not serve on the Committee, and those who did realise that I have a propensity to talk at length on such subjects—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members agree with that. I am therefore trying to restrict myself to tail docking, much as I would like to discuss dew claws, too. I shall refrain, despite the hon. Lady's intervention.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Our objection to the new clause is that it will be abused. No dog nowadays should have its tail docked, because since 1993 it has been illegal for anyone but a vet to do that, and the veterinary associations have been against it. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the discussions on the Hunting Act 2004. My good and hon. Friend Paddy Tipping and I stood shoulder to shoulder on that but we probably provided too many exemptions, and people have abused the Act. Time and again, police forces tell us that they cannot police it. What chance do we have of policing the Under-Secretary's amendments?

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I agree. The exemptions would create a massive loophole, which the unscrupulous will abuse. The pain and suffering that the Bill is intended to prevent will thus be perpetuated. My hon. Friend Mr. Drew said earlier that the number of tail dockings carried out in this country could not physically be done by the number of vets who are willing to undertake them. It is being done illegally, and that is a serious problem, which the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has identified. Given the nature of some of the people with whom we are dealing, they will exploit any loophole and thus perpetuate pain and suffering.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

My hon. Friend cited the letter from the president of the RCVS, so it is only fair to say that my officials have worked closely with RCVS officials in drawing up the exemption and the regulation that would implement it. They accept that the way in which we are constructing the regulation would remove the problem that my hon. Friend envisages, because a vet would simply have to certify that the relevant paperwork was present and the type of dog was within the law.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention but I do not know when he last discussed the matter with the RCVS. It has changed its view, and that is important. Recently—only days ago—its council took a vote to change its position to support an end to prophylactic docking and to say that it was time for a total ban. I received the letter that I read out only a couple of days ago. The position has changed, and I fear that my hon. Friend may be referring to the royal college's position before it changed its policy.

My next point relates to the intervention of my hon. Friend Mr. Martlew about illegality. Vets are not taught how to dock in college nowadays. The Vets Against Docking website reveals that the vast majority of vets refuse to do it and are against docking dogs' tails. The exemptions therefore cause a serious problem and place the veterinary profession in a difficult position.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend has been generous in giving way, but I am sure that she is conscious that many other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. Will she confirm that the RCVS will tell its members that they should do whatever the law states? They may have professional views, but they must follow the law as defined by Parliament.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Of course the royal college will follow the law, but it has pointed out to me and other Members of Parliament that it has serious anxieties about the law as it stands. When the law was changed in 1993, vets believed that it would end cosmetic docking. It is exceptional for the royal college, which took a step back from the issue for many years and left the choice up to individual vets, to change its position and state that it is time to end prophylactic docking and that it does not believe that it is appropriate for the profession to certify which dog will become a working dog. It has also stated that one cannot tell whether a puppy will become a working dog.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I know that other hon. Members want to speak—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I could have made a much shorter speech, but I wanted to be generous and give way. I shall not do so again, so that I can conclude my speech and let others take part in the debate.

Abuse is currently happening. Puppies die and are injured through illegal docking. I therefore believe that a complete ban is the only way to clamp down on illegal docking. The exemptions will create loopholes, which will be exploited and perpetuate the pain and suffering that the Bill is meant to prevent.

I spoke to the RSPCA—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Some Opposition Members groan when I mention the RSPCA. If they tempt me, I could mention many other organisations. However, last year the RSPCA received 205 complaints about docking involving 835 dogs. This is a serious concern, and the Bill is meant to be about the protection of all animals. Unless someone can stand up today and explain how they can tell with absolute certainty whether a two-day-old puppy is going to become a working dog, there can be no excuse for carrying out this mutilation "just in case". The profession is against it, as are the majority of animal welfare organisations, and I urge all hon. Members to support the option for a total ban. We must not leave loopholes that can be exploited.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 6:30 pm, 14th March 2006

I thank the Minister for the manner in which he has handled this controversial matter, both by enabling a decision to be taken on the Floor of the House—as is right—and through his novel exercise in democracy in Committee when he cajoled from each member of it their view on the matter. On that occasion, not one Member wanted to maintain the status quo of allowing cosmetic docking to continue. Bill Wiggin has now apparently decided that he does want it to continue, so I imagine that we will have a vote on that later. I confirm that the Liberal Democrats will have a free vote on this issue; I think that all three parties are in that position.

There needs to be a good reason to mutilate an animal. My hon. Friend Lembit Öpik spoke earlier about the neutering of animals, but neutering is carried out for a purpose, and that purpose is not achieved unless that procedure is carried out. That is not necessarily the case with tail docking, because there is doubt as to whether it is necessary. We need to concentrate on that key point.

To be fair to the Minister and his colleagues, the new clause has been drafted quite tightly—that was his stated objective in Committee—and the number of loopholes has been reduced. The idea that it was possible to identify breeds that would never work has been dealt with, as has the idea that breeds could be docked allegedly for one purpose but then shown. The issue remains as to whether an assurance might be given that a dog would be used as a working dog when there was no intention to do so. Notwithstanding the purity of a vet's intentions in those circumstances, they might later be held to have been complicit in a dishonest act because they had given information that turned out to be inaccurate.

Photo of David Borrow David Borrow Labour, South Ribble

What would be the motivation for someone who breeds dogs to dock their tails deliberately if there was no intention to use them as working dogs, given that it would then be illegal to use them as show dogs?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I agree that there would be less motivation. If they were working dogs under the provisions of new clause 8, there would be no problem. If, however, the intention was to show them, there would be no point in docking their tails. Some people might have domestic reasons for wanting to dock their dog's tail; they might wish to have such a dog in their house. There are circumstances in which it would be to someone's advantage to mislead a vet in that way, although I accept that they would be fewer and more constrained than they are at present.

The issues are whether the mutilation of a dog at birth is justified, and, whether or not it is justified, whether the dog suffers as a consequence of the procedure. It is now for others to make their case, as I have had the opportunity to do so at some length in Committee. I would simply say that a dog is born with a tail, so presumably that tail has a purpose. If it did not, it would have been eliminated through genetic manipulation over many generations. Tails assist balance and agility, and they are used to communicate with other dogs. It is questionable, to say the least, whether it is advantageous to dogs to have them removed.

As to whether puppies feel pain, to be fair, the science is not clear on that; there is no clear evidence in that regard as to the consequences of the mutilation. The RCVS has stated:

"Tail docking in dogs is an unacceptable procedure when carried out for non-therapeutic reasons".

That is the firm view of the experts. Like my hon. Friend Dr. Harris, I place more emphasis on what they say than I do on the anecdotal evidence of the police or of others who use dogs in their working capacity.

What are the downsides if tail docking is not performed on working dogs? It is up to those who advocate the mutilation of an animal to make the case that that mutilation is justified. It is not for those of us who believe that mutilation is wrong to make our case. An animal is born as it is born: a dog is born with a tail. Those who wish to remove their tails must justify that decision. I have not heard any such justification so far in the debate—to be fair to the Minister, he tried to be relatively neutral in his introduction—so I shall wait to hear from other hon. Members the justification that such actions are absolutely necessary.

I am happy to accept that some breeds are prone to tail damage if they work in thick cover or confined spaces. I am also happy to accept that, in some circumstances, tail damage in later life can lead to a dog suffering more severe pain, and that a general anaesthetic would be necessary to remove the tail at that time. One could also argue that working dogs were more susceptible to such injury than pet dogs. However, the scale of the incidence of such injury has not been teased out, even by those in favour of tail docking. The 20 examples given by the chief constable mentioned earlier is not a huge number. In any case, a tail—or part of a tail; let us not forget that option—can be amputated under general anaesthetic later in a dog's life if necessary.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

As my hon. Friend is standing down from his Front-Bench position, may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his work on animal welfare? I am pleased to be able to agree with him on this issue; I do not agree with him on everything. The key point is that the onus must be placed on those who wish tail docking to continue to demonstrate their case. The safest option, given the scientific doubt that exists, is to introduce a ban and see whether there is an increase in the number of reports of tail damage in working dogs as a result. We could then review the position in five years' time. However, the default position should be to go along with the experts' opinion, to avoid taking a disproportionate approach to the issue.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, he has stolen my conclusion from me. It is for those who wish to mutilate dogs to prove their case. I do not believe that the case is proven, or that mutilation is necessary, and I shall therefore vote in support of the new clause and of the amendment to it that has been sensibly tabled by the Under-Secretary.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate and to be able to support my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in his rather uncomfortable position of voting against his own amendments. Like him, I want a ban on cosmetic docking, but with an exemption for working dogs. There are many different, deeply held views in the Chamber on this matter.

I am relatively new to this issue, and I come to it with no preconceptions. I became involved in it when I was a member of the Select Committee that looked at the draft Animal Welfare Bill. I also had the opportunity to take part in the debate as a member of the Standing Committee. The report produced by the Select Committee was a good one; it was unanimous, and among its findings was the recommendation that

"tail docking in dogs should be banned for cosmetic reasons."

It also commented that allowing an exemption for working dogs was difficult in view of the practicalities involved, but concluded that the best way forward was to introduce an exemption, provided that the procedure was carried out by a vet. The vet should take the necessary steps to establish that the dog was to be a working dog, and should maintain records and microchip the dog with details of who had done the docking. The vet should also give the owner a certificate showing why the dog had been docked. I think those are good recommendations from the Select Committee; I have not changed my view on them at all.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

On that point, has my hon. Friend seen the letter from the RCVS? On whether a puppy is likely to be used as a working dog, it says:

"In the College's view it would not be appropriate for a veterinary surgeon to offer such an opinion. Veterinary surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat disease . . . and their expertise does not extend to assessing the intentions of the current or a future owner . . . . It is . . . not possible . . . to judge whether a particular puppy in a litter will prove suitable for training".

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Of course I have seen the RCVS letter and I have had discussions with the RCVS. I want to make the point—my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber—that the vets who work for the RCVS will do whatever Parliament decides. It is up to Parliament to decide on this issue, not the vets. Vets have a long training, and if that is too difficult an issue to discuss with an owner in relation to their intention—that is all vets are being asked to do and to certify best intent—I think vets are putting themselves down fairly badly.

I support the Select Committee report and I am delighted by the new clause, which takes all the points that the Select Committee has asked for and puts them down in detail. My hon. Friend the Minister has made the point that the strong aspect of the new clause is the unique proposal that will stop the showing of dogs that have been docked. That will stop the impetus towards docking dogs for cosmetic reasons.

The new clause has been carefully crafted, and I support it. It will do the things that I want to be done. I accept that this is a difficult area, but the Government and the parliamentary draftsmen have used their best endeavours—the new clause is perfectly clear. What is not clear is the scientific basis. Everyone who has spoken in the Chamber has acknowledged that. The only people to produce any reliable statistics are the police, and they have been accused of being anecdotal.

It is interesting to note that the police, Customs and search and rescue organisations, as well as those connected with shooting, all agree that there is a case for an exemption for working dogs. My hon. Friend Lynne Jones rightly said that this Chamber is searched each day by dogs that have been docked. It is important to see what evidence the police can produce. The Metropolitan police dog training school says very clearly that 10 dogs have had full amputations as a result of accidents at work.

Photo of David Borrow David Borrow Labour, South Ribble

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a difference between tail docking and full tail amputation, and that those dogs that have their tails docked as puppies retain most of their tail? The advantage they get from having a tail in terms of wagging and balance is also largely retained. Those dogs that injure themselves and have the whole tail docked lose the whole of that advantage and are in a much worse position.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend Shona McIsaac, who is a good friend of mine and normally has similar views to mine, dismissed the notion of amputation by saying that only 20 dogs are involved, but it is important to those 20 dogs, as it is for working dogs. The Bill is about animal welfare. I want animal welfare for all animals. I want dogs that go out and work to be protected. That is what the new clause will do.

I want protection for working dogs and I want to listen to the voice of the rural community on this issue. I have met many dog owners who go out shooting whose dogs have been docked. Again, I have listened to the anecdotal evidence. I want to hear and respond to the voice of the organisations involved—the police, the rescue services and the shooting sector.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the new clause and I hope very much that Parliament will reflect on it and vote for it tonight.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham 6:45 pm, 14th March 2006

I will be brief—I know that many other hon. Members want to take part in this short debate—and I start by drawing the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests, which is relevant to the debate.

Paddy Tipping made an extremely good case for the exemption for gun dogs. I think he is playing it wise in deciding how to vote on this. Sadly, I cannot agree with him, as I shall oppose the new clause and the Minister's amendments, which he does not agree with, because I believe that we should retain the status quo.

My particular reason for thinking that way is that I dislike bans. Parliament is increasingly getting into the habit of telling people what to do and not allowing individuals to make up their own mind on important issues. We did that with the Hunting Bill quite recently, and just the other day Parliament was telling pub owners, club owners and restaurateurs whether they would be allowed to have smokers or non-smokers in their establishments.

Today, we are once again producing a ban. In relation to anything to do with animals, reason often seems to flee the Chamber. I wonder what some of the people from history who sat on these Benches and debated matters of huge importance would think about the House spending two hours talking about whether a third of a puppy's tail should be removed. Perhaps this shows that ours is becoming a very nannyish state.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I hope that history will look on us and see that we have shown some interest in animals, which is a good thing for the House to do. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly proper, as he says, to consider bans a last resort, which is a view I share, but must he not balance the right of individuals to do what they wish with the consequence for the animals? If he believes that the consequence for the animals is harmless, fair enough, but he must weigh those two together.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's point is that the evidence is not conclusive on either side, which is why we should leave this to individuals. It is also why I believe that the hunting ban is wrong. People should make their own mind up on these issues.

Another reason for my voting against is that we are in danger of producing bad legislation. Goodness knows, the Hunting Bill was a bad enough muddle; this Bill will be a muddle even if it contains an exemption for gun dogs. I asked the Minister early in his speech what would happen if I acquired a dog with a docked tail, born after the legislation had come into force, and I could not produce any microchip evidence or a certificate from the vet. I could just say, "Well, guv, an Irishman sold it to me at a fair." It might be a stray or I might have got it from a man in a pub.

As Mr. Drew said, it is easy for people to dock their own dogs. It is estimated that there are 1 million docked dogs in this country and very few vets that do it. Even today, there must be quite a number of illegally docked dogs. It will be easy to get round the legislation.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I admire the hon. Gentleman's consistency on the matter, but does he not agree, whichever side of the hunting debate we were on, that there is a lot of unhappiness about the grey areas and the attempts to get round that legislation? We should be deciding: are we to allow docking or not? The attempts at a fudge somewhere in between are unhelpful.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

The point I am getting at is that it becomes difficult to legislate precisely for all those issues. This one will be the same. I have explained to the House a simple get-out clause for someone who has a dog that has been illegally docked, and they are entitled to have it.

Let me make it clear that I am not an advocate of cosmetic docking— I have no particular liking for it—but the campaign should be directed once again at the breed societies and the show organisers, because if they take a stance against docking it will quickly die out without the requirement for an Act of Parliament.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

My hon. Friend has hit on a point there. I have changed my mind, having listened to the debate. I was going to support the new clause, but I am now minded not to, because a better approach would be to allow the status quo but introduce a measure focusing on showing dogs. That would drive down the demand for cosmetic docking. It would be much more effective and would avoid some problems with exemptions—for example, those raised by Dr. Palmer.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that legislation is needed, but I believe that show organisers and breed societies should think about the practice of tail docking, knowing how unpopular it is with many people.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Could not breeding societies be encouraged to breed dogs with the aim of producing shorter tails? There is a good deal of evidence that that is possible, and it would deal with some of the problems in the medium term.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I am no expert on the breeding of dogs, but if that is possible, it would certainly present a solution.

Members have asked how it can be established whether a dog will become a working dog. The answer is that that cannot be established, but many people own working breeds such as spaniels which, even if they are not used for shooting or similar pursuits, may nevertheless injure their tails. Even if it is kept purely as a pet, a spaniel with a full tail is in danger of rushing into undergrowth and damaging its tail. It is illogical to suggest that one spaniel should have its tail docked because at some stage it may be used in field sports and another should not because it is simply a pet. The same applies to terriers, which may not be working dogs but may choose to run off and go down rabbit holes. It is when a terrier with a curly tail tries to back its way out of a rabbit hole that an injury may occur. The dog will often become stuck. The only way in which to get a terrier out of a hole may be to pull its tail—not its legs, which will break. That is one reason why terriers' tails are traditionally shortened.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Scotland Office, PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Department for Transport

The House has discussed various types of working dog today, including hounds used in hunting. The most prolific working dog is undoubtedly the border collie used by shepherds. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why those two breeds do not have their tails docked?

Hon. Members:

They do not go down holes.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

As my hon. Friends are saying, border collies do not tend to go down holes, and foxhounds are not in the habit of going into thick cover. That is what spaniels and terriers do.

We are in danger of producing another complicated piece of animal legislation which will be difficult to enforce, will be widely abused, and will bring the House into disrepute.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I am about to end my speech, but I will give way.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

One of the depressing aspects of legislation of this kind is the House's inability to listen to the views of people outside who really know what they are talking about. Is that not a compelling reason to oppose the new clause, especially in the context of terriers?

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I entirely agree. It is dangerous to be blinkered when faced with these issues, but when it comes to animals some Members are utterly blinkered. They see no reason and no scope for a compromise. As I have said, that leads to bad legislation—and ultimately, if the law is treated as an ass, the House will be brought into disrepute.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

Originally, I was open-minded. I generally support shooting and field sports. Three or four weeks ago, when I first looked at the proposals, I thought that I would vote for the exemption for working dogs. However, I have the honour of being a member of the council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a Privy Council appointee. I hasten to add that I am a lay member.

I am vice-chairman of the college's external affairs committee. When, about three weeks ago, the Bill came before the committee, all the vets opposed tail docking. That influenced my thinking. The vets were minded to put their views to the next meeting of the full council on 2 March, less than two weeks ago. I encouraged them to do so, because I felt that, as the ruling body of veterinary surgeons, the college should have a view on tail docking but that the matter should be put to the full council. It did, and as the chairman was absent I put to the council—without leading its members in any way—that the House would need guidance from a body such as the college. I was amazed when not one vet spoke in favour of tail docking. They all opposed it, and produced cogent reasons for their opposition. That persuaded me to vote for a full ban, which I shall do tonight.

Day in, day out, those vets on the council see dogs whose tails have been docked, and they know that they have not done the docking. Any exemption, whatever the wording in which it is couched, will muddy the legal waters and cause problems. The council's decision is now the policy of the college: its policy is not to allow tail docking. Unless we support it by voting for a ban, it will not be able to implement that policy.

I think that the Association of Chief Police Officers was misled. I think that it believes therapeutic docking following tail damage will be stopped. If that is not the case, why have not all its dogs' tails been docked? That would be legal.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Is my hon. Friend aware that most of the dogs used by the police are gifted to them? Their tails may have been docked at an earlier stage.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

That is a point, but the fact remains that most of the dogs' tails have not been docked to avoid damage. By definition, the police are using dogs whose tails have not been docked. Occasionally some are damaged, but that happens to all dogs with tails. Vets treat them as damaged dogs, and continue to practise therapeutic docking. What they do not want to practise is prophylactic docking on the off chance that a dog might be working.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Given my own view, I am rather sorry that the hon. Gentleman has reached this conclusion. He asked why the police did not automatically dock dogs' tails if they are in favour of that. There are two answers. First, the vast majority of police dogs do not engage in activity that makes damage likely. Secondly, a letter from Assistant Chief Constable Vaughan to DEFRA points out that nothing can be done about mature dogs that have been given to the police, and also states:

"Experience over many years of working with police dogs has shown us that certain dog types, performing certain roles, usually a search function . . . in difficult terrain and confined spaces are susceptible to causing injury in their tails. Any docking of new puppies is restricted to such dog types".

Does that not clarify the position?

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

Not at all. I still cannot see the logic. That is the opinion of a particular police officer who has seen tail damage. I think he believes that the Bill will not allow therapeutic docking. Why else would he reach such a conclusion?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I have engaged in two lengthy conversations with Assistant Chief Constable Vaughan. He is under no illusion that the new clause would ban therapeutic docking; he is talking about prophylactic docking. [Interruption.]

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

My hon. Friend David Taylor asks from a sedentary position why they do not use less vulnerable breeds. Why is this seen as evidence in favour of the exemption when, at the moment, those breeds are not used, for the very reasonable reason that it is not allowed or that those concerned get them too late to be docked? It is simply not an argument for the exemption that they are not using the exemption now.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unlikely that the police would dock a five-day-old puppy that they were going to take later? The dogs would never be docked because they would later be doing police work.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes the point perfectly that that is not an argument in favour of the exemption.

I accept the evidence of the vets; they work with animals every day, see dogs with docked tails and have great suspicion about where those dogs have been docked and by whom. The only way in which this abuse will be stopped is if we have a total ban on docking, which I urge the House to support.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons) 7:00 pm, 14th March 2006

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Jones and it is sad that we are not on the same side tonight. We have often debated countryside, shooting and rural issues and we have been on the same side. It is a great pity that we will not be tonight.

I have an interest to declare. I have owned dogs all my life. Since I was about 10, my family has had springers and cockers, and we have bred those dogs. It has always been accepted as a matter of fact that the working springers and cockers would have docked tails, for very good reasons. The dogs will go into thick undergrowth; they are natural hunters. I have seen docked springers and cockers coming out of thick undergrowth with blood and cuts on what is left of their tails. Those injuries heal quickly, but I have often wondered how much worse the injuries would have been if the dogs had not been docked at birth. I have always taken a great interest in this subject.

I also own a slightly old labrador called Tiffany. When she was younger, she was an active dog and had a habit of being in a good mood most of the time. She wagged her tail against different objects, such as doors and chairs. Her tail was in such a bad state that we nearly had to have it removed, or therapeutically docked. I am talking about a labrador with a tough tail; one can immediately see the difference between that and a spaniel's tail.

The difference was brought home to me when I thought about the dogs that are used by our security forces and by the police and which operate in confined spaces. If one comes in early to this place, one can see the dogs that work in this Chamber, the police sniffer dogs. They are in an extremely good mood and go careering round the Chamber, in a controlled fashion, in and out of tight spaces. If they had long tails, they would be banging them against every object in sight.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

The hon. Gentleman and I share the pleasure of having a labrador. Would it not be logical to say that we should cut off the tails of all dogs, including labradors? Indeed, I notice that the hon. Gentleman, like me, uses his arm a good deal when he speaks. Should we not cut off his arm in case he injures it?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman slightly devalues his argument with his rather flippant remark. My point is that a labrador has a different tail from that of springers, cockers and some of the sheepdog breeds.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Clwyd, South had to say about vets. I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who commands a great deal of respect in this House and is a Privy Council nominee to the council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. In my constituency, the vets are divided on the issue. If one goes to a rural veterinary practice, one finds that vets are almost unanimously in favour of the status quo and of tail docking per se. In urban areas such as Norwich and King's Lynn, there are veterinary practices dominated by vets who are used to looking after smaller animals. They are not used to the countryside and have not spoken to the people there, who would be involved in countryside pursuits or farming. Those vets are mainly in favour of an outright ban.

One has to look carefully at the conclusion reached by vets and ask whether the decision is the result of the domination of that council by predominantly urban vets. Has the voice of the countryside been heard? I put that point to the hon. Gentleman, who is very wise on these matters.

Photo of Martyn Jones Martyn Jones Labour, Clwyd South

I was trying to work out the numbers while the hon. Gentleman was speaking, but at least four members of the council are rural vets and all were in favour of a ban. There may be anecdotal evidence, and I am sure some vets are in favour of docking, but 91 per cent. of vets are against it; that figure must include quite a lot of rural vets.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said, which carries some weight, although I have discovered that my rural vets are in favour of the status quo.

Much misinformation has been put out by the Anti-Docking Alliance, the League against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA. I intervened on the excellent speech by my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin, who went into this matter in great detail, and asked him about the e-mailed photographs that we have all received, some of which were quite disgraceful. They showed docked dogs with tails lying on the ground and older dogs that had been docked by amateurs. All those dockings would have been completely against the law. One must keep stressing the point that it has been illegal for the past 15 years or so for individual dog owners to dock a dog. It has to be done by a vet.

The issue of pain was discussed at some length. Shona McIsaac made a long speech and, to be fair, took a lot of interventions. I do not know whether she has seen a puppy being docked.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

She has. I have seen puppies being docked by vets and I do not feel that there is any lasting pain. [Interruption.] One cannot be sure of that, but the puppies in question immediately went back in with the litter, showing no sign of distress whatever. These were puppies with their eyes shut. That procedure cannot be compared with the pain suffered as a result of therapeutic docking that might have to take place at a later stage. There is no comparison whatever.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that scientific evidence demonstrates that the neonatal puppy experiences the sensations of pain and, possibly, because of the nature of the neurological pathways, does so more intensely? People argue that because the puppies do not react, there is no pain, but there is very little a two-day old puppy can do apart from squeal. The puppies that I have seen docked certainly squealed when their tails were amputated. No one in this place, I hope, would argue that a neonatal puppy could have a paw or an ear cut off and not experience pain.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I am not going to pursue this issue in detail, but the point is that I have seen puppies having their tails docked and although they may well suffer some temporary pain, they get over it very quickly indeed, settle back into the litter and show no signs of ongoing distress. They are not put off their food and they soon develop as normal, healthy dogs.

I am in favour of the status quo. On entering into this debate, I probably erred toward voting for a partial ban and voting against cosmetic docking, but I have been impressed by the arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper). It is already illegal for individual dog owners to dock their dogs. Dogs have to be docked by vets, so what we should have is proper enforcement of existing law. If the law was properly enforced, if—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham pointed out sensibly and with such imagination—pressure was put on the showing community to veer from cosmetic docking, and if the word went through the entire breeding community that kennel clubs and the various breeders do not approve of it, we would see a big reduction in cosmetic docking. I am also impressed by the arguments concerning bureaucracy, freedom of choice and the complications to which an outright ban would lead, which is why I am in favour of maintaining the status quo.

I am sorry that the Minister has been put in this position. He gave various commitments to organisations such as the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. He spoke to them at length and told them that he would do all that he possibly could to ensure an exemption for working dogs. I am very sad that he has been unable to deliver on that.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is very interesting, because according to an article in The Times in 2004, the Minister had assured countryside rural sports organisations that there would be an exemption for working dogs. Whether such discussion included the Countryside Alliance, I do not know, but it certainly included a number of other organisations very close to it. It is a pity that the Minister, having said that he was standing up for the countryside and for freedom of choice in the countryside, has been unable to deliver.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am going to sit down in a moment. This is yet another example of this Government saying one thing to the countryside and doing something completely different. That is why I am minded to support the status quo.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health

As a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill, I want to thank the Minister for the way in which he conducted our debates, for taking the Committee's temperature and for allowing us a free vote.

I want to begin by taking issue with what Mr. Atkinson said about past debates on animal welfare in this House. The first animal welfare Bill was debated and passed in 1911, and it is the sign of a civilised society when it debates, without mawkish sentimentality, the welfare of animals, whether they are pets or working animals. It is right that Members in all parts of the House find this issue important.

I will be supporting the Minister's amendments—even though he is unable to do so—mainly because of lobbying in my constituency. Stephen Smith, a local vet, wrote to me saying that tail docking

"is a procedure I have never elected to perform, on welfare grounds . . . it is not in the animal's best interests . . . puppies feel pain during the process of docking . . . the use of the tail to communicate is essential to a dog's well being . . . There is no scientific evidence to show that undocked working dogs damage their tails any more than undocked non-working dogs . . . If exemptions are introduced into the law there will always be an opportunity for exploitation of a loophole and inevitably the law will fail to protect the animals that it is intended to protect."

Those are overwhelming reasons why we should vote for a total ban, with no exemptions.

Vets throughout the country are making the same arguments as Stephen, saying that docking is not in the dog's interest. That has put some doubt in my mind about the crucial test—whether tail docking is a good thing. Surely it cannot be, given that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association have all long believed the practice to be unethical. As a result, it is no longer taught to veterinary students as part of their studies.

The docking of animals' tails is not wrong if there is a scientific case for doing so; indeed, there is a strong case for the prophylactic docking of some animals. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—I am afraid that some Members seem to have little respect for the RSPCA, but I have a great deal of respect for it—is not asking for a ban on the docking of lambs or piglets, subject, of course, to specific restrictions on the manner in which it is carried out. The National Farmers Union emphasises:

"What may be appropriate provision for companion animals is not necessarily appropriate for animals kept for commercial purposes as in farming."

No one would suggest that farmed animals should not be protected by docking. Reference was made earlier to a sheepdog soiling itself, and it was argued that it would be better for such animals to have their tails docked at birth. Members should be aware that according to the RSPCA, proper and careful grooming of dogs is a far better approach than cutting off the tail to avoid the area underneath becoming soiled with faecal matter. In some cases, hygiene problems are increased by docking, as the procedure can damage the anal muscles. Therefore, we cannot extrapolate from one species to another, and the evidence is that what is appropriate for livestock is not right for dogs.

In considering whether to dock the tail of a puppy or to leave it, the moral dilemma will always be weighing the potential pain from possible tail damage against the definite pain from what may turn out to be an unnecessary preventive measure. There is evidence of pain, but no evidence of benefit. I advanced this argument on Second Reading and in Committee, where I was pleased to table the amendment prohibiting docking, and I want to address it again. The House of Commons Library provided a journal article on the available research and, according to that, all the evidence reviewed thus far is consistent with the claim that docking causes acute pain to dogs. No evidence could be found to support the claim that new-born pups do not experience any pain at the time of docking. On the question of benefit, the article concludes:

"The absence of appropriate studies in this area represents a significant difficulty for those who support tail docking, even in those breeds that may be expected to sustain tail damage."

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 7:15 pm, 14th March 2006

I was unable to read the full Committee proceedings, but am I right in believing that a substantial majority of Committee members favoured a total ban?

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health

That is entirely correct. Those who reached a decision one way or another—that did not include the Conservatives—indicated that they supported a total ban, which is why we are debating this issue today and having a free vote on it.

An unscientific study by a Swedish German pointer breed society in 1989—my hon. Friend Shona McIsaac mentioned it earlier—showed that of the 191 dogs studied, amputations had to be conducted on only seven. Therefore, 97 per cent. of those dogs did not need to be docked. In the light of robust evidence from Denmark and Norway, even if the pro-dockers are right and there is a 20 per cent. increase in tail injuries following a docking ban, which is doubtful, tail injuries would rise from under 0.037 per cent. to 0.044 per cent., leaving some 99 per cent. of dogs with healthy, uninjured tails.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Scotland Office, PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Department for Transport

A local vet in my constituency produced two letters, one dated 1991 and the other 1997, from the Swedish Boxer club, suggesting that for that breed injuries had increased from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent., but the information is scant because it does not give the actual number of dogs involved. Does my hon. Friend have any more up-to-date information?

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health

I have indications from vets in my constituency that the number of injuries to dogs whose tails were not docked following a ban would not exceed the number of injuries in dogs that are not docked at present. The number of injuries would remain almost the same and we would not see any huge increase. One in six dogs—1 million—is docked. We do not have 1 million working dogs. Only a third are even working breeds. Thirty thousand dogs are docked a year, if the average dog lives for 10 years. [Interruption.] Docking is a very popular practice and we need to be realistic and accept that there would be abuses—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. May I remind the House that we must not have casual conversations while the hon. Lady is addressing the House?

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health

We are told that an exemption would mean that a vet would have to certify that the dog is likely to be a working dog, but the word "likely" is not a very high barrier to overcome. We already know that even a dog likely to be a working dog is unlikely to injure its tail.

We are told that the exemption would also lead to a ban on showing dogs with docked tails, but as I have said, 1 million dogs are currently docked and not all of them are show dogs. People are docking dogs for cosmetic reasons, but not always to put them in a show.

As a House we welcome the Animal Welfare Bill and the story of the improvements in animal welfare in this country. We have moved a long way away from cruelty. Cruelty has been excused by tradition, for cosmetic or entertainment reasons, or on the basis of anecdotal evidence. However, we have moved towards the treatment of animals based on the best scientific evidence and the highest standards possible. I doubt that allowing docking to continue would be in any way beneficial, and without full confidence in that, I have to vote for a complete ban.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

I had planned to vote for new clause 8, but having listened to the debate and to the Minister's promises of what he will do if clause 5 remains in the Bill, I shall vote against the new clause. I am not entirely comfortable with the definitions in the Bill of working dogs.

For welfare reasons, we have to consider the likelihood of a dog having more damage to its tail in later life than it would if it were docked. That likelihood has to vary with the nature of the breed involved. That is why I am not comfortable with considering only what the dog may do for a living.We also need to consider what dogs that are not working dogs do in rural areas. If certain breeds of dog have a particular propensity to suffer damage to their tails, it does not matter whether they are working dogs or companion dogs. Dogs taken for walks in rural areas, such as the Forest of Dean, are likely to engage in the same activities—going down holes, for example—as working dogs. That would not be covered by an exemption for working dogs.

A better approach would be to keep clause 5 in the Bill and have the Minister bring forward regulations to exempt tail docking. At the same time, we could consider how to drive down the demand for cosmetic docking by adopting the sensible provisions in new clause 8 about the showing of animals.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Has my hon. Friend had a satisfactory assurance from the Minister in that regard?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Minister gave clear assurances to my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin. If the Minister has anything further to add to that, I am happy to give way to him.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I point out to the hon. Gentleman and others who have suggested that a possible solution may be to ban the showing of dogs with docked tails without banning the docking of tails, that that would be extremely difficult to achieve. Can he imagine the Kennel Club acceding to a situation in which docking was not banned, but showing docked dogs was banned? It simply would not work.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

I still think that exploring that route would be beneficial, instead of having a ban.

When we were listening to the lengthy contribution from Shona McIsaac, she referred on several occasions to the scientific evidence. It appeared that her definition of scientific evidence was the opinions that she agreed with, and anything else was purely anecdotal. One of the difficulties with the issue, which I have considered because of the interest expressed by my constituents, is that there is no clear evidence either way. It is certainly true, as Mr. Jones said, that many vets have opinions about the issue, but there is a lack of clear scientific evidence. There is anecdotal evidence from those who use working dogs and from what has happened in countries such as Sweden, which have a complete ban. That evidence appears to show that damage to dogs' tails has increased, and that has to be taken into consideration.

This is a complex issue and the scientific arguments are not clear. It would be much more sensible to stick with clause 5 and consider ways to drive down demand for cosmetic docking, instead of adopting new clause 8.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

In the short time I have left, I shall try to be consistent. My hon. Friend the Minister has changed his position at least twice and the Opposition spokesperson has also changed position tonight. Thank goodness for the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

At least the Liberal Democrats have been consistent, although Norman Baker has unfortunately got the chop.

It is nonsense to pretend that we will go backwards if we retain the status quo, which has failed to deliver an end to the cosmetic docking of tails. The majority of vets want to see the end of the practice, but we have ended up with a lot of illegal tail docking—

It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 476, Noes 63.

Division number 187

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

Amendment proposed to the proposed new clause, (a), in line 13, leave out subsections (3) to (6).—[Tony Cunningham.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 278.

Division number 188

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause added to the Bill.