With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 97, in clause 4, page 3, line 4, at end insert—
'(3A) In this section, the term ''suffering'' includes both mental and physical suffering or cruelty.'.
No. 161, in clause 4, page 3, line 6, at end insert—
'(5) In this section, ''suffering'' includes mental and physical suffering, and ''suffer'' is to be construed accordingly.'.
We now come to the clause relating to unnecessary suffering, which the Minister will recognise as a long-standing concept in animal welfare legislation. It features in the seminal Protection of Animals Act 1911, which has served us pretty well for almost a century.
I hope that it is not in dispute that an animal can be caused not only physical but mental suffering. For example, somebody who regularly shouts at their dog might cause the dog distress, but I am not confident that clause 8 would necessarily cover that in terms of the so-called five freedoms. We must identify the possibility of unnecessary suffering that is not of a physical nature.
The 1911 Act expressly included a provision for certain types of mental suffering. That was almost 100 years ago, and it would be prudent, unless the Minister can convince me otherwise, to continue with some reference to that in the Bill. Yet that provision appears to have been deleted. On the face of it, the provisions in the Bill could be regarded as weaker than those in the 1911 Act.
The Minister might argue that by not specifying the meaning of ''unnecessary suffering'' the Bill allows the court to reach a wider conclusion about the meaning, and that to specify types of mental suffering would be to eliminate those that had not been considered. I am arguing his case for him, but that would be the case only if a list of types of mental suffering were to be included in the Bill. However, that objection does not apply if merely the words ''mental suffering'' are to be included, because that would be sufficiently wide to allow the provisions to catch anything that had not been thought of. However, at least it would refer to mental suffering, which would therefore allow the courts to assume that the Bill has not been weakened from its 1911 origins. I am not clear on how many prosecutions are actually brought for non-physical unnecessary suffering under the current legislation; perhaps the Minister can tell us.
We need to ensure that the Bill, which is, by and large, a helpful move forward for animal welfare, does not start with an unnecessary and unwelcome loophole that can be exploited. Including the phrase ''whether physically or mentally'' would help to ensure that there is a belt-and-braces approach to the Bill without necessarily limiting the prosecutions that could be brought under the terms of the Bill.
The Committee will find that my amendments on this issue are similar to those of the hon. Gentleman, and his summary about a belt-and-braces approach was helpful.
Amendment No. 97 seeks to ensure that mental suffering is included in the Bill. It is easy to provide evidence of physical suffering to the court in cases in which the scars can be seen. However, the judiciary should also be able to consider the possibility of mental suffering. The 1911 Act covered certain types of mental suffering, and the RSPCA has expressed concerns about the absence of those provisions in the draft Bill. The amendment would help the court to decide whether harm had come to an abandoned animal, if it determined that, in the circumstances, the abandonment had caused the animal to suffer mental suffering.
Amendment No. 161 seeks to ensure that mental suffering is included in the Bill; we have been lobbied about this by various groups. Paragraph 18 of the explanatory notes mentions that the suffering offence covers physical and mental suffering, but I think that that should be stated explicitly on the face of the Bill. The code for the welfare of meat chickens and breeding chickens states that as one of the five freedoms, chickens should have
''Freedom from Fear and Distress—by ensuring conditions and treatments to avoid mental suffering.''
If mental suffering can be stated explicitly in a code for chickens, I see no reason why it cannot be mentioned on the face of the Bill.
I am confident that animals can be victims of mental suffering and I would therefore like to have that point covered. I suspect that the hon. Member for Stroud, who kindly added his name to the amendment, might feel the same. I will allow him to return to his seat in case he wants to speak to the amendment.
I was just trying to give my apologies for being about to go to an Adjournment debate. I am waiting for some clarity on the wording from the Minister. It is linked closely to what I want to say about amendment No. 191, so if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will reserve my remarks for that amendment.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. He kindly informed me that, as is unfortunately so often the case in this building, he has to be in two places at once. I wanted to make sure that he had his say in case he has to go next door.
I shall be here later, and will pursue the issues in amendment No. 191 if my hon. Friend would like to brief me before then.
I want to probe the Minister on amendment No. 5, and the matter of mental suffering. The Minister and his officials have received a lot of correspondence and lobbying on the proposal. The 1911 Act is clear that mental suffering should be included but it is not in the Bill. The Minister will argue that the Bill, as drafted, deals with mental suffering and my plea is that he states the case clearly. There may be an opportunity to consider the matter later in clause 56, which is entitled ''General interpretation''. Depending on what the Minister tells us this afternoon, an amendment might be tabled to that clause on what constitutes suffering. It would be easy to put together an amendment defining suffering as both physical and mental suffering.
I, too, add my support to the amendments. In particular, I support the proposal to specify mental welfare in the Bill, which is wise for several reasons. First, it would align the Bill with the explanatory notes. The Bill will obviously have to be enforced when it becomes law, but its main aim is the prevention of cruelty. In the real world, people are first alerted to an act of cruelty by hearing the mental distress of animals—for example, they may hear them yelping or squealing in pain. To include mental suffering in the Bill would send a clear message to the public that when they pick up on that suffering, they should report it. To exclude mental suffering may lead people to think that if they have not seen the animal physically hurt, there cannot be a prosecution. We should be conscious of how the proposal is interpreted, not just in the courts but by the general public, and structure it to ensure that the public feel that they can play a role in helping to prevent animal cruelty.
In whatever way we achieve it, it is important to ensure that the Bill makes it clear that animal suffering covers mental as well as physical suffering. As hon. Members have said, the best way to do so might be to consider clarification of the interpretation in clause 56.
Neglect gives rise to many types of mental suffering. Hon. Members will have seen, and be aware of, many types of neglect and the Bill must be clear about that because it will aid prosecutors and the courts.
I think the Minister will find that every member of the Committee will support the inclusion of mental suffering in the Bill. As hon. Members have said, the 1911 Act alluded to mental suffering in the terms ''cruelly infuriate'' or ''cruelly terrify''. Those words summarise what we are talking about; there is merit in adding the words in the amendment to the Bill, and the amendment would be simple and straightforward to introduce. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood said, the words could be added to clause 56, which is headed ''General interpretations''. Will the Minister make that simple amendment on Report? We are considering the Animal Welfare Bill, and an animal's mental welfare is as important as its physical welfare. I therefore hope that he will take the suggestion seriously and add the suggested words later in Committee or on Report.
I understand the concerns expressed by members of the Committee who are worried that the Bill will not protect animals from mental abuse. Let me make it clear that the Government believe that suffering includes mental suffering. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes reminded the Committee of the quaint wording of the 1911 Act, which refers to certain types of mental suffering infuriating or terrifying an animal. That is too prescriptive and limiting an interpretation of mental suffering and underlines why it is undesirable to prescribe what constitutes mental cruelty.
The feeling of the Committee is not that we want to be prescriptive but that we want the words ''mental suffering'' added to the Bill. That is what we are getting at; we do not wish to define the term. Given that the 1911 Act contained those quaint words, the fact of their vanishing could cause certain magistrates to feel that they no longer apply. I am worried about that. We must be very clear so that magistrates know that mental cruelty is covered in the Bill.
I shall try to reassure my hon. Friend further. Most people accept that we have moved on since 1911. We live in a society in which most, if not all, people accept that suffering can be mental as well as physical. The question that I am putting to the Committee is whether it is necessary to spell that out in the Bill. I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood and for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) have said about the scope for including a definition of suffering in clause 56, for example, and I will think carefully about that suggestion.
To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Leominster about the chicken code, we intend to introduce such codes to spell out much more clearly and explicitly what constitutes suffering. I am sorry that hon. Members do not have those codes in front of them already as I hoped they would; my officials assure me that the Committee will have them by this afternoon's sitting. We have produced a draft cat code to give the Committee an idea of how the codes of good practice mentioned in the Bill will look. When hon. Members read it, they will find that, very much like the chicken code, it includes many examples whereby the welfare needs of a cat would be considered not to have been met as a result of mental suffering. The point of the legislation is to ensure through the welfare offence that those responsible for animals do not think solely about preventing overt physical cruelty. Bearing in mind what I have just said about looking again at the potential for a change to clause 56, I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments.
I am not quite sure, but I think that the Minister said that he would go away and think about the matter. I suspect that if we push him harder, he might return with his own amendments at a later stage. I am content with what he said. There is an unwritten risk that it is difficult to prove mental suffering alone in creatures that cannot speak, and I am sure that the Minister will bear that in mind. I would be content to withdraw my amendments, but I do not lead on this group.
The amendment is in our name, or at least that of the Liberal Democrats. I have listened to what the Minister says, and I hope that he has listened to what the Committee says; I am confident that he will have done. There is a common view across all the Committee that there is a need to include some reference to mental suffering in the Bill, and that seems to be the view of all Members who have spoken, and even, perhaps, that of the Minister himself. The reasons are clear: it could be seen as watering down the 1911 Act, as the hon. Member for Cleethorpes rightly said. Secondly, although there is probably more understanding that mental suffering can exist than there was 100 years ago, that understanding is not unanimous or universal. There is, therefore, a possibility that if it were not mentioned explicitly, particularly in relation to animals, it could be deemed not to be included by some unhelpful judge at some point in case law. Those are two good reasons for including the phrase in the amendments.
Is there a reason for not including those words? The Minister talked about prescriptive lists, and members of the Committee accepted that point. I certainly admit that he is right on that, as did the hon. Member for Cleethorpes. We do not want to go down that road, for reasons that he understands. However, including the words ''whether mental or physical'' or some other variation is not prescriptive. In fact, it would be a general definition, which adds to the Bill rather than subtracting from it. I am not particularly wedded to the words in amendment No. 5. If the Minister wants to come back with something else, I shall be perfectly happy and am happy to withdraw the amendment. However, I hope that he will have taken the temperature of the Committee and realise that something has to be done: there is a general wish for something to be in the Bill. If he can find some way of doing it, that would be great, but we shall have to have something, either later in Committee or on Report.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 191, in clause 4, page 3, line 1, leave out paragraph (d).
No. 200, in clause 4, page 3, line 2, at end insert—
'(da) whether the suffering was caused in the furtherance of any commercial activity;'.
No. 99, in clause 4, page 3, line 6, at end add—
'(4A) Nothing in this section applies to the destruction of an animal for the benefit of another animal in a manner not dissimilar to that which could be witnessed in the wild.'.
This is what is commonly known as a probing amendment. I want to explore the issues. Amendment No. 6 would remove from the reasons that excuse unnecessary suffering the protection of property. I am instinctively uncomfortable with the idea that somebody can justify what would otherwise be called unnecessary suffering, simply in order to protect property. If there is a need to protect a person or an animal, which are the categories listed in subsection (3)(c)(ii), they seem to be sensible inclusions in the Bill. However, I have a greater difficulty accepting in my own mind that it is acceptable to cause what would be otherwise unnecessary suffering simply to protect property. It may be that there are circumstances that I have not considered and that the Minister can justify the inclusion of that word, but on the face of it, the argument that something that is inanimate can be protected, while an animal that has feelings and is a sentient being can suffer in the process, seems to be inherently difficult to justify.
This will be a very rapid speech, because as I have already made clear, I have to be next door. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood will listen carefully to what I am saying and will fill in more detail. Will the Minister say why the clause has been changed from the draft Bill? I have conflicting evidence from animal welfare charities about the implications of this clause. At one extreme, there is a view that it drives a coach and horses through what we are trying to do in clarifying what may be prosecuted as an offence of cruelty, and at the other end, what may transpire as a defence of cruelty if we set the hurdle too low. Somebody might be able to argue that they were carrying out their normal role of training an animal and were not being cruel. I want the Minister to explain why the Bill has been changed. The draft Bill was clear that cruelty is definable and that in practical terms it can be the subject of prosecution. Why have we now given what seems to be a defence to people who, as part of their so-called training of an animal, wish to indulge in what to most of us is a cruel act?
I shall speak only to amendment No. 99, which is a gentle, probing amendment. It seeks to uncover the Government's intentions regarding circumstances in which an animal may act instinctively in a way that causes harm to another animal. I do not think that the present draft of the Bill caters for such unfortunate events, and I am not even sure that the example I am about to give is completely adequate. If a pet cat left alone in its owner's garden attacked a bird or mouse, as its instincts would dictate, we would be left wondering whether the owner would be liable if the bird or mouse were injured. As the bird would be wild, that is not as good an example as those of a tame bird or a dog attacking a cat or of animals in a zoo or wildlife park that become involved in a fight. I hope that the Government can clarify the position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud asked me to make the case for his amendment No. 191, but I think that he made the case well himself, and I just want to reinforce it and remind the Minister that the point was raised on Second Reading. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) raised it, supported by her hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), so the Minister will be aware that there is concern across the Chamber.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who has also served on the EFRA Committee, pointed out, there has been a change in the drafting of the Bill. My real concern, however, which is simple, is that the clause as it stands offers a defence
''where the suffering was proportionate to the purpose of the conduct concerned''.
The central argument and the key example concern the fact that, as currently drafted, the Bill appears to offer a possible defence when an animal in training is subjected to abusive treatment in order to produce the right kind of conduct or performance, although behaviour such as beating an animal would not be acceptable during performance itself. As the Bill stands, there is at least a possibility that such a defence could be used. I am sure that that is not the intention of the Bill, but that is the concern, because it would make prosecution more difficult. Like my hon. Friend the. Member for Stroud, I shall listen carefully to what the Minster says.
I shall speak to amendment No. 200. While I agree with what the hon. Gentleman just said, I approach the issue from a different angle, because the purpose of my amendment is to add the words
''whether the suffering was caused in the furtherance of any commercial activity.''
That is a relevant consideration in determining whether an offence has been committed.
Because animals have to take whatever we dish out, it is right to create a proper legal framework to ensure that any suffering that may be inflicted is both necessary and minimal. Legislation should recognise that animals may be required for commercial purposes to pull loads, bear weights, race, or search for people, drugs or explosives. If animals are deliberately being put into an environment that uses their instincts and training for the purposes of a trade or business, it is reasonable to expect the management of that business to have carried out a proper risk assessment of harm to the animal. Such actions should be open to question when considering suffering.
I support the comments made my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud and for Sherwood. Their argument is very strong that subsection (3)(d) offers a defence that may allow many individuals who make animals suffer in the course of training to get off the hook. I would, however, apply that argument to the whole subsection, and would appreciate it if the Minister reconsidered the wording, which offers far too much by allowing an argument to be made in court that the Bill contains a strong defence, which could undermine subsection (1).
That is the fear that many members of the Committee are expressing. On the other hand, I understand many of the reasons for including such a defence in the Bill, such as protecting a person. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes referred to the case of the lions in Grimsby. During that escape, one of the lions managed to get one of the citizens of Grimsby into a death grip, and a police car had to ram the lion into the wall to save the man's life. I am sure that that man is extremely grateful that the local police caused suffering to the animal in order to save his life. In that case, the police had a clear defence.
It is also clear that any individual who deals with a dog that is attacking a young child also needs such a defence. We all know of terrible cases in which young children have been badly damaged and mutilated by animals that are out of control or that have suddenly gone on the attack. We all know what it is like to canvass households with dogs that sometimes seem to be trained to attack politicians, whether they are Tory, Labour or Liberal Democrat. There was a very unfortunate case in Sheffield in which one candidate was attacked by a dog that had been nowhere in sight but suddenly came from behind the house and down the passageway and mutilated him very badly. I completely understand why it is felt that there is a need to include a defence against that sort of activity and a protection for any person trying to contain or restrain an animal in the process of attacking another individual, or, indeed, another animal or property. An animal running amok in a property can be a danger to other human beings, but I ask the Minister to reconsider the subsection, because it leans too far in the defence of individuals who may use it as an excuse when they are being prosecuted for causing suffering, and it is quite unnecessary.
I hope that I will be able to reassure my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough, for Sherwood and for Stroud and the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that this is not a get-out clause.
I am slightly perplexed by the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that the clause has changed since the draft Bill. I do not know whether hon. Members have copies of that Bill, but I can certainly circulate my copy. The wording was exactly the same in the draft Bill, although the numbering was different, which may have led to some of the confusion. Clause 1(3)(c), (d), (e) and (f) were the relevant passages, and in relation to all the issues raised in the amendments and by hon. Members in their comments, I see no change in the wording. I am prepared to be corrected once Committee members have had a chance to study it, but I think it important to make the point that there has been no such change as the one my hon. Friend referred to.
All the amendments would modify the exemptions to the offence of causing unnecessary suffering. Amendments Nos. 6, 191 and 200 are intended to modify the scope of clause 4(3) in relation to the considerations that are relevant when determining whether suffering is unnecessary. Amendment No. 99 is concerned with a blanket exemption from the offence. First, I shall say something about the clause, because several concerns have been expressed. Subsection (3) is a list of relevant considerations. It is not a list of absolute defences. It was not intended in that way in the draft Bill, and it is not so in the Bill before the Committee. The opening wording of subsection (3) makes that clear when it refers to the
''considerations to which it is relevant to have regard when determining for the purposes of this section whether suffering is unnecessary''.
The subsection lists factors that a court may or may not take into consideration in determining whether an animal's suffering was unnecessary. It may take other factors into consideration also. The list is not exhaustive. Some of the listed factors may not be relevant, and the court will therefore not take them into account.
On amendment No. 6, I reassure hon. Members that the inclusion of the protection of property in subsection (3) does not mean that protection of property becomes an absolute defence to the offence of cruelty. It merely means that the protection of property is one factor that a court may take into account in determining whether suffering was unnecessary. It is not a sign of a belief on my part that property rights should in some way trump animal suffering. It simply reflects the reality that in some circumstances—I shall give a couple of examples in a moment—the protection of property may justify some level of animal suffering.
An example that has often been quoted is the use of riot horses by the police. The police use riot horses sometimes as the most effective means of protecting people and, in some cases, of protecting property from damage and destruction. Sometimes, unfortunately, riot horses will be injured. In principle, the police who take them into those situations could be held responsible for their unnecessary suffering, by virtue of clause 4(2). I hope that no hon. Members would disagree with my view that riot control is an important and legitimate purpose, that it provides an example of legitimate protection of property, and that we do not want police officers taken to court because of injuries suffered by their animals.
A further example might be the use of guard dogs. Dogs are used by private individuals. That would not be my choice of property protection, but it is some people's choice. It is legitimate to protect property, and those dogs can be injured by persons who threaten it. A burglar might hit, kick or even shoot a dog that attacked.
In the example about police horses, the person who is rioting, and thus injuring the police horse, should be prosecuted. The same goes for the burglar who breaks in and kicks or attacks the dog. Those examples do not tally with the effect of the amendment. I hope that the Minister has another example.
If the amendments were accepted, the police officer or property owner could be liable for the suffering inflicted on their animal by a third party. The dog is used for the protection of property, and I consider that a legitimate use of the animal. I reassure hon. Members that a court should also take into account the factors in clause 4(3) in determining, in a particular case, whether the suffering inflicted was unnecessary. It would consider whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced, such as by a different method of riot control. In addition, it would consider whether the suffering was proportionate to the purpose of the conduct. I do not consider that the owner should be held responsible under clause 4(2) for the suffering inflicted on the animal while it was protecting his property, as long as the court felt that the balance of factors in subsection (3) weighed in favour of the owner's conduct.
Amendment No. 191 would remove the consideration of whether the suffering of the animal was proportionate to the purpose for which that suffering was inflicted. I listened carefully to what my hon. Friends said, particularly with reference to the training of circus animals. We will come to debate circuses—at some length, I predict—later in Committee.
Up to a point, there are some situations in which a level of animal suffering can be justified, but there must come a point at which the suffering becomes unnecessary, even in view of a particular situation. As a general rule, the provision aims to ensure that any suffering inflicted on an animal does not exceed the level of suffering necessary in the circumstances. There is case law on the subject, and I will go into it in more detail if Committee members would like me to.
To give an example, if a farmer carried out a farm management procedure on an animal that caused it to suffer more than another method would have done, and did so in order to maximise his profits, the court would have to consider whether the suffering the animal experienced was proportionate to the farmer's aim. That takes us back to past case law; in one case, a farmer was successfully prosecuted for de-horning cattle without using anaesthetic because it was cheaper and saved him money. That is an example of a case in which a court used the ''proportionate'' argument.
Amendment No. 200 concerns commercial activities. I am not entirely clear about what the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) says, although I think that he is implying that certain commercial activities should be considered in a positive, rather than negative, way for the purpose of his amendment. Either way, I do not agree that we should include that provision in subsection (3).
Taken as a whole, subsection (3)(c) is concerned with whether the conduct that caused the suffering was for a legitimate purpose. As a matter of general principle, commercial activities involving animals are entirely legitimate, but I acknowledge that involvement in a commercial activity may introduce considerations that conflict with animal welfare; as I mentioned, it may be in an individual's financial interests to keep his animals in a poorer condition if he is involved in commercial activities. That is why we have asked for the power to make regulations in order to introduce an additional layer of regulation on commercial activities. Ultimately, additional offences will be created to deal more specifically with those situations, and I do not think it advisable to embark on a modification of the general offences in the Bill in order to try to deal with all those situations by including a provision such as that in amendment No. 200.
Finally, I think that amendment No. 99 is an attempt to exempt the feeding of live vertebrate prey to other animals; if I am mistaken I will end my comments there. This issue has been raised by some people. Most captive-bred carnivorous predators would accept meat or carcases as their diet. Some people have suggested to us that there may be occasions on which it is necessary to feed live vertebrates to predators—for example, when predatory animals refuse all alternatives. I understand that that specifically relates to the feeding of live rodents to snakes.
Although I understand that it may on rare occasions be considered necessary to feed a live vertebrate to a predator to encourage it to eat, the Government believe that the Bill provides the necessary balance for the courts to decide whether an offence of suffering or poor welfare has been committed. The practice of feeding animals in that way is not something that the Government wish to condone, and in fact I believe that it is extremely rare. But we would not wish to offer a blanket exemption to the practice, as it could be used as a loophole to cause suffering.
The offences in the Bill are drafted in such a way that where suffering is inflicted on a live vertebrate by feeding to a predator, the court can take that circumstance into account. It could be a ''legitimate purpose'' under subsection (3) or a circumstance to which the courts would have regard in determining whether reasonable steps were taken to meet the animal's welfare needs under clause 8(1). On that basis, I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments.
I am grateful for that interpretation of amendment No. 99. In fact, I was offered the feeding of live rodents to snakes as an example to give the Committee, but I am not particularly happy with it, because it is actually rather dangerous to feed live rodents to snakes; very often the rodent fights back and does more harm to the snake than does feeding it in another way. That is not the intention of the Bill, and I agree with what the Minister said about that. The amendment is really to do with who is liable if an animal fights with another animal, and I suspect that that goes beyond this Bill, which is why it is a probing amendment, as I said.
However, on the Minister's other points, particularly with regard to police horses, I am not sure he is right that withdrawing the word ''property'' makes the police liable. Perhaps he would like to think about that?
In respect of amendment No. 99, I wanted to learn the answer to the following question: in the unfortunate event of one animal attacking another, at what point is the owner of either animal liable—or, rather, in breach of this legislation?
The Minister cited in his defence police horses and guard dogs. Those are animals that will have been properly trained—by the police or by the company that owns the guard dogs. They will therefore have been trained to deal with the situations in which they find themselves; they will be more capable of doing so than other animals would be. They would not necessarily be caused suffering, mental or otherwise, merely by the environment they are in. Suffering would be caused to animals in that situation if, for example—as one sometimes sees—protesters attempted to harm such animals in order to get them to rear. In such circumstances, there is a sensible defence for the police: they have trained the animal properly, and the environment it is in is not inappropriate for it. The perpetrator of the suffering is the person or persons who have caused it to suffer—namely the protesters in the example I have given. Therefore, I do not think it is necessary to include property to protect the police or those who have trained guard dogs.
The inclusion of the word ''property'' could be counter-productive in a different sense. It might be used in a subsequent court case to justify something that the Minister would not agree with, and which he has not given as an example: someone might say in a defence argument, ''Well, this is property, and we are told in this legislation that property is a legitimate reason for causing unnecessary suffering.'' I could say that I had expensive property, such as a valuable piece of equipment or a coat that was worth a lot of money, and an animal was attacking it and causing me great concern, so I prevented the animal from destroying it.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on a letter I received from a constituent who has a real downer on cats going into his garden? He has written to me to say that if he could shoot them, he would. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that that defence could be used if property was included?
I sincerely hope not, but I fear that it might be. That is a perfectly legitimate point. If ''property'', a word that is wide open, is included, that raises the possibility of many different sorts of defences.
I am not happy with the Minister's response on this matter. If he is prepared to tell me that he will look into it again, I will withdraw the amendment, but if he is set on his response, I feel that I must press the amendment to a Division.
There is one other point that I would like to raise in a clause stand part debate; I can do so now if you wish, Mr. Gale, or I can raise it following our discussion on this amendment.
I fear that the hon. Gentleman may need to do that, because the examples he has given of a burglar or a rioter being responsible for the welfare of an animal if they attack that animal are covered by the legislation. What this clause attempts to do is allow the courts to take certain matters into consideration if a prosecution is taken out against the police or a householder because their animal—their police horse or guard dog—is injured in the course of legitimately protecting private property. I think we are arguing in circles; I do not think there is a fundamental disagreement between us.
I am sorry that I jumped to conclusions about the origins of one of the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Leominster—the feeding of wild animals to snakes. In answer to his question about what happens if an animal causes another protected animal suffering, if the owner of that animal has taken reasonable measures to prevent that from happening, they will not be liable. However, if they have not, they may be liable. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman the clarity he seeks.
On a point of clarification, the impression I get from the Minister's comments is that we are discussing the owner of an animal, so a householder who restrains an animal and perhaps hurts it in the process of preventing damage to property or persons in the house would not be liable to prosecution. What happens if another adult in the house, who is not the owner of the animal, prevents it from injuring a child? Is that person still protected from prosecution? I would certainly hope so, but the impression given is that it is the owner who is covered by the provisions.
As I pointed out in my initial remarks, none of this is an absolute defence but, in the unlikely event that someone were to prosecute a person who had prevented an animal from attacking a child and had injured the animal to some extent, the clause will allow the court to consider those circumstances as part of the defence. That is why the clause is included in the Bill.
I am grateful for what the Minister said about animals fighting. I was going to talk about, for example, when dogs fight in a park. If the owners have them on a lead, they have taken suitable care of their animals and would not be liable to prosecution. However, a person whose dog was off the lead would be liable, which is why I am slightly concerned.
Regarding the comments of the hon. Member for Lewes about voting on the amendment, will the Minister clarify that it is his legal understanding that if the word ''property'' were removed, well-meaning but perhaps slightly muddle-headed people might prosecute the police for other people's attacks on their police horses? That strikes me as a very odd case for the courts to deal with, but it is my understanding of the current position. By including the word ''property'' in the Bill, we can cut the number of prosecutions of good, animal-loving, sensible people like the police and those who might use a guard dog, who are attacked by vicious and unpleasant criminals.
As a matter of record, people can institute a prosecution if they want to in any case. Whatever the legislation says, it does not affect the number of prosecutions; it is a question of whether the defence is there. I believe that the defence is there anyway without the word ''property'', which has all sorts of wider connotations.
'(3A) For the purposes of this section, an act of abandonment shall be considered to be a form of unnecessary suffering.
(3B) In this section, ''abandonment'' is to mean when an animal protected under this Act is, without lawful reason or excuse, deliberately discharged from the control of man without any future provisions for care being established.'.
'(3A) If an animal has been abandoned, any person who immediately before that time was a keeper of the animal shall continue to be a keeper of the animal for the purpose of this section until another person becomes keeper of it.'.
The intention of amendment No. 98 is to state explicitly how an abandonment offence would fit into the Bill. As the Bill is drafted, animal abandonment could be classed as an offence of cruelty, unnecessary suffering or welfare. We may find that some people who have abandoned an animal will be prosecuted under clause 4, while others will be prosecuted under clause 8. That legal inconsistency is unacceptable.
When an animal is abandoned by its owner or the person responsible for it, that incredibly cruel and vicious act should be treated as such. Not only would the amendment make that happen, but it outlines the criteria of what constitutes animal abandonment.
As I made clear on Second Reading, it concerns me that abandonment is an offence only if it can be shown that suffering has occurred as a result. Clearly, that should be rectified.
I am looking for reassurance from the Minister that there is not a loophole in the Bill that could lead to someone being able to abandon an animal in a way that would be acceptable. For example, a person could leave an animal on the doorstep of a well known, good animal shelter, ring the bell and run away. They would know full well that that animal would be fully cared for and that there would be no question of it coming to any harm or suffering or even of its welfare being neglected. My concern on this issue is not necessarily covered by the welfare provision in the Bill, never mind the cruelty provision. I do not believe that the reassurance I am looking for is in the Bill.
Together, the amendments could be very useful. Subsection (3A) in amendment No. 98 makes it clear that abandonment should be an offence in itself, and I welcome that. Subsection (3B) gives a definition, and that is important. Amendment No. 14 has a clarification of ownership, which is also important.
Together, the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Leominster and by me make a strong and clear case for dealing with the issue of abandonment. The Pets Advisory Committee is clear on this issue; it says that abandonment should continue to be a specific offence. Regardless of the assurance given by the Minister that abandonment will be covered by the duty of care,
''the PAC considers this dilutes the severity of the offence as it removes it from the deliberate cruelty section of the Bill.''
It is important that the issue is addressed. Like many of the organisations involved, I have concerns and I seek reassurance from the Minister that the issue is properly covered.
As I am sure Committee members know, the Government are committed to a better regulation agenda, and that means that we try to simplify things when possible. With that in mind, the Department has simplified the Bill considerably since its first draft. If a provision did not add anything to the substance of the Bill, it has been removed. One example of that is the offence of performing an operation without due care and humanity; we considered that that did not add anything of substance to the cruelty offence in clause 4.
Abandonment is another example. We have decided that it is not necessary explicitly to replicate the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. As hon. Members have already implicitly acknowledged with these amendments, abandonment is merely one way in which welfare or cruelty offences can be committed. If someone abandons an animal and it is unable to fend for itself, that person will have failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure that its needs are met. Consequently, he or she is likely to have committed the welfare offence in clause 8. If suffering occurred as a result of the abandonment, the cruelty provisions in clause 4 would be engaged.
Our view is that an explicit provision is unnecessary. We are also aware of some issues of definition that would arise if the term ''abandonment'' were included in the Bill, and I touched on a couple of those on Second Reading. I simply reiterate that trying to draft a definition that does not catch, for example, the release of game birds, of fish into streams or ponds, or of animals on to common land, is exceptionally difficult.
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at Four o'clock.