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Clause 5 - Mutilation

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 17th January 2006.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:00 pm, 17th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 100, in clause 5, page 3, line 10, at end insert

'unless he is a veterinary surgeon registered to perform that procedure.'.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 101, in clause 5, page 3, line 20, at end insert

'carried out by a registered veterinary surgeon.'.

No. 82, in clause 5, page 3, line 20, at end insert—

'(3A) For the purposes of this section, any procedure carried out on an animal as part of a medical treatment by a registered veterinary surgeon prior to the commencement of this Act cannot be prohibited through the making of regulations under subsection (4).'.

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

Amendment No. 100 would ensure that vets do not commit an offence when carrying out a procedure that might save an animal's life and prevent it from harm. It would also ensure that the person carrying out such procedures is suitably qualified as a vet. As drafted, clause 5 is not sufficiently detailed about the exemptions for permitting mutilation for medical treatment. That has been left to regulations, to be made at a later date, but guidance is needed now and in the Bill. For example, if a cat has a badly broken leg, it may be in its interest to have the leg amputated. In such circumstances, the person responsible for the animal and the vet will need to know that their actions and the medical treatment that they administer are not in violation of the law. The amendment would provide that guidance and protect such people from the risk of prosecution.

Amendment No. 101 has similar wording and seeks to ensure that veterinary surgeons are protected from being accused of harming animals when they are only carrying out their duty to protect the life of an animal. As drafted, clause 5 makes no exemptions for mutilation, and a cat, for example, might need to have a leg amputated after a road accident. However, the clause does not state what a prohibited procedure is, and that will not be known until the relevant regulations are made. Clause 3(3) and (4) could arguably be deemed to offer some protection to veterinary surgeons in the course of their duty, but I believe that a medical treatment exemption should be included.

Amendment No. 82 is designed to prevent current medical treatments for animals from being prohibited in future regulations. The Bill does not include contentious issues such as tail docking, and it leaves them to be determined in regulations at a later date. There is a strong scientific case for tail docking not to be banned. It is already regulated under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and serves a medical purpose. Around half of working dogs suffer from tail injuries if their tails are not docked, and their owners' failure to dock their tails could be defined as cruelty under clause 4(1)(b). I accept that tail docking is contentious and believe that if the Government want to ban it, the proposal should be made in a Bill and not in regulations. My colleagues may deal with that this afternoon. Amendment No. 82 would ensure that while protecting animals from vicious and unnecessary   mutilation, mutilation that is necessary for an animal's health can continue.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

I draw it to Members' attention that later amendments refer to tail docking and ask them to confine their remarks to the amendment.

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

We shall come to the details of tail docking when we come to the next group of amendments so I shall not say anything about it in connection with dogs. I shall address the amendments relating to vets and lay persons.

I hope that some of the concern that has given rise to the amendments has been allayed by Committee members having had sight of the draft regulations listing exempted mutilations, which were circulated earlier today.

Amendment No. 100 is intended to define the mutilation offence as excluding veterinary surgeons, so that when a procedure is performed by a vet, whatever the procedure is, it is not an offence. I have the greatest respect for the veterinary profession but I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view that it should be given a blanket exemption from an offence in the Bill. I have no doubt that the vast majority of vets would not perform unnecessary procedures on animals, and one of the functions of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons guide to professional conduct is to ensure that. However, mutilation is mutilation, no matter who performs it, and the fact that someone is a vet does not automatically mean that they should have licence to perform procedures that are not required as part of an animal's medical treatment. They should be allowed to perform procedures only for good management reasons in pursuance of an overall welfare benefit or for medical treatment, just the same as anyone else. It may be rare that a vet performs a procedure for other reasons, but on such rare occasions I believe that an appropriate remedy should be available.

I hope that the draft exemption order will reassure the hon. Gentleman that all procedures that may need to be carried out in the exercise of veterinary judgment will be exempted from the scope of the ban. I also hope that he agrees that the procedures that will be banned—for example, ear cropping a dog, devoicing cockerels and mulesing operations on sheep—should not be performed at all, even by vets, unless it can be shown that they are for the purpose of medical treatment.

On amendment No. 101, just as I do not believe that vets should be given a blanket exclusion from the scope of the mutilations offence, I do not believe by the same token that lay people should be excluded from the protection given by the medical treatment defence. The ''medical treatment'' in subsection (3) ensures that procedures are not considered mutilations within the scope of the ban in the clause if they are carried out for therapeutic purposes.

In general, the purpose and effect of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 is to prevent lay people from   administering medical treatment to animals. To that extent, the amendment does not add anything to the clause, because in practice only a vet would be able to invoke the medical treatment defence without risking a charge under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. However, I do not agree that we should therefore introduce that limitation into the clause. If the review of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 concludes that lay people could perform certain procedures in the administration of medical treatment to animals, I shall be content to allow them to continue to perform those procedures.

The effect of the amendment would be that even where lay people are, or might be, authorised by the current or future veterinary surgery legislation to perform procedures for animals' medical treatment, they could still be held liable under clause 5 for performing a prohibited procedure. Surely it cannot be right to introduce such an incapability, or potential incapability, into our legislation.

Amendment No. 82 is based on a misunderstanding of how clause 5 and regulations under it will function. Let me explain that clause 5 prohibits the mutilation of any protected animal. A mutilation is defined as a procedure that interferes with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of an animal other than for its medical treatment. That definition was inserted at the recommendation of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and closely follows the definition used by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Clause 5(4) then gives the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales the power to exempt certain procedures from the ban. There is no power in the clause to prohibit a mutilation by regulation, as all mutilations are banned unless they are specifically exempted. The aim of the amendment to prevent the authority from prohibiting a procedure through regulations is therefore unnecessary, as there is no power for them to do so in the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman's aim behind the amendment may be to ensure that someone who has owned an animal that had been mutilated before the prohibition came into force should not be held to have committed an offence. Nothing in the Bill will apply retrospectively.

Clause 62(3) allows the Secretary of State or National Assembly for Wales to specify the date on which the ban on mutilations will come into force. The ban will not be brought into force unless the exemptions regulation is also ready to be commenced at the same time. Any act committed before that date will therefore not be an offence, and it will not be possible to specify by regulations that it was.

There is no need for the amendment if its intention is to ensure that the prohibition is not retrospective. The amendment is also inappropriate or unnecessary if the hon. Gentleman's intention is that it should not be possible to prohibit any procedure currently commonly performed by a vet for the purposes of medical treatment. Under clause 5(3), anything that is done for an animal's medical treatment is automatically exempt from that prohibition. There   are no circumstances under which it would be possible for something reasonably done for the purpose of an animal's medical treatment to be a prohibited mutilation.

I understand the problems that Committee members have had in considering the clause in the absence of the draft exemptions regulations, and I am pleased that I have been able to share them. I hope that that will help discussion of this clause and show the hon. Gentleman why his amendments are unnecessary.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15 pm, 17th January 2006

The Minister was very clear and his explanation extremely helpful and constructive. I am very grateful to him, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 162, in clause 5, page 3, line 21, after 'apply', insert—

'(a) to the docking of the tail of a dog;

(b) to the amputation of the dew claws of a dog; and

(c) '.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 152, in clause 5, page 3, line 22, at end insert

'; but the docking of the tail of a dog may be so specified only in respect of circumstances where a veterinary surgeon certifies that the procedure is necessary in the therapeutic interests of that dog.'.

No. 7, in clause 5, page 3, line 25, at end add—

'(6) Regulations made under subsection (4) shall not include the amputation of any part of a dog's tail except for the purpose of treating existing injury or disease.'.

No. 163, in clause 5, page 3, line 25, at end add—

'(6) In subsection (4) ''docking of the tail of a dog'' means the deliberate removal of any part of the 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.'.

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

I shall confine myself to amendments Nos. 162 and 163, which are designed to make the Bill state explicitly that the clause is relevant to tail docking and dew claw amputation, and make provisions for their regulation. The Bill is unclear about the future of those practices and whether they will be banned or regulated, or whether the status quo will remain. Those practices, which we all know are contentious and controversial, have been left aside. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have made a strong case for keeping the measures in place, particularly for working dogs. The Secretary of State has stated:

''I am very conscious indeed that the docking of dogs' tails is a controversial practice. At present, the law permits veterinary surgeons to undertake the operation, and the Government are inclined to support the status quo.''—[Official Report, 10 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 165.]

Moreover, paragraph 15 of the Bill's regulatory impact assessment, which was signed by this Minister, states that the Government's preference is that

''there should continue to be freedom of choice''.

The amendment would be welcome as it allows for the continuation of prophylactic docking to prevent future   suffering from being inflicted on an animal. It would put into the Bill the views expressed by the Secretary of State and the Minister.

Amendment No. 163 would make tail docking a lawful activity within the criteria specified. Tail docking is not explicitly mentioned in the Bill, but we all know that this clause on mutilation is designed to cover the issue. Moreover, there is nothing in the Bill that makes provision for prophylactic docking when it would be in the long-term interests of the dog. For example, if both parents of a dog suffer from split tails, it is highly probable that their offspring will suffer the same condition, especially in the case of working dogs. In those circumstances, it would be a failure in the duty of care not to take the appropriate and necessary preventive measures against future suffering.

When docking was banned in Sweden, the Swedish-German pointer club carried out a research project on the ban's effects on working dogs between 1989 and 1991. The conclusions indicated that 38 per cent. of undocked working dogs received tail injuries within the first 18 months of the study. By the end of the study, that figure had risen to 51 per cent. It is therefore clear that prophylactic docking has welfare advantages. We also know that the Secretary of State wishes to keep the practice in place. The amendment would clarify the Bill and ensure that any activity resembling tail docking, or carried out under the auspices of tail docking but not within the specific criteria, would be a tail mutation and therefore illegal under the appropriate provision.

I know that this is a contentious subject, and I hope that I have put my argument in a clear and measured way so that we can take the issue forward.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble. My name is attached to a number of the amendments, and I shall try to set out what moves I deem to be necessary.

Will the Minister clarify how he will deal with the issue? It appears that there is consensus on one point, and perhaps only one: people should decide on the issue through conscience. If and when we get the opportunity to do that, I hope that we can get some clarity on exactly what we are deciding. I am pleased that the Government have brought forward the papers that they placed on the table today. I have not fully understood all the details in those papers, and, as always, I am looking for guidance from those who know better than I do exactly what the implications of some of the Government's proposals are.

In simplistic terms, I take the meaning of the papers to be that we have three options: to leave the issue alone, to bring in a complete ban on tail docking or to introduce a ban with some exemptions. Given that the Minister will hopefully take cognisance of the view of Parliament, will he say exactly how and when the proposed statutory instrument will be drafted? For some of us, this issue is a matter of conscience and needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. Having heard from those both for and against the ban who have lobbied us at a constituency level and through   various organisations, it is clear that people have mainly made their minds up on this issue. Therefore, it is appropriate for Parliament to do so.

I was particularly struck by the evidence of the British Veterinary Association, which reminded us that its members are against tail docking—strongly so, it seems. We have been reminded that the operation is frowned upon, and it is immoral even if it is not illegal, so what will the Government do? I raised on Second Reading the question of how, with such clear evidence from the profession about this issue, it will impact, if not on this Bill, on new legislation dealing with veterinary surgeons and their professional standards.

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

I, too, received the evidence from the BVA. I am a sort of semi-patron of the BVA, and normally its advice is very good. In that piece, however, it said that it is no longer teaching docking to vets. I am concerned that if certain types of dog split their tails and have them docked as adults, which seems to be what happens in the Swedish example, the association will need to teach vets how to perform that operation, although it will be a different sort of procedure. For once, the BVA has been perhaps more emotional than clinical in its assessment of this particular issue.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is exactly why we need to clarify the law. Without leading on people to speak in this debate, I point out that there will be Government Members who strongly agree that tail docking should be banned but with clear exemptions, whether for prophylactic purposes or for working dogs. That is why we in this Committee must make our minds up about which direction we shall take. I shall be clear: tail docking should be banned. I have put my name to the amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman, because we must be clear about how the provision will be made. As I said, I think that tail docking should be banned, but I am open to persuasion. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, tail docking may be appropriate in certain situations and for certain requirements, and the provision must be made properly. If, as the BVA says, no one in the profession in the future will have the necessary skills, there will be some difficulties. Tail docking will either go underground, it will be done badly by people who are not trained to do it properly, or dare I say it, the law could end up being unclear.

As I intimated, some people say that the law is already clear. Tail docking is a form of mutilation, and it should not be committed, because it is immoral. However, we must make it illegal. I have also seconded the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), which is the clearest way forward. I ask the Minister to synthesise and appropriate the detailed considerations that he has brought forward, so that if the proposal is decided on Report, Parliament is clear about it and the proposal is deliverable and efficacious.

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

I enter this discussion earlier than I otherwise might have done, as it may be helpful to members of the Committee. It may be helpful also if I intervene briefly on my hon. Friend to assure him and   others who might speak before I respond to the debate. There is no question of there not being an exemption to the ban on mutilations which would otherwise prevent the docking of dogs' tails for medical or therapeutic purposes. Let us be clear about that. I think that there is consensus in the Committee about it. When Members speak, it would be helpful to me if they were as clear as possible about which of my hon. Friend's three options they prefer: the status quo, the total ban or an exemption for working dogs. That is where the Committee needs to reach some level of clarity.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 4:30 pm, 17th January 2006

I thank my hon. Friend who, as always, has clarified the situation for us well. As I say, I would go for a complete ban but could be persuaded that in the case of some working dogs—this is the difficulty with the question of what is prophylactic—the nature of the work that they do mean that they could be threatened by a failure to deal with the issue.

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

I do not normally like to intervene, but when the hon. Gentleman says that he can be persuaded I feel I have to try at least to offer him some guidelines. I share his view, as I am no big fan of docking for show dogs. However, we are now down to prophylactic docking only. That is where the argument lies. The Minister is right: therapeutic docking is not something that we have to worry about. It is a question of whether we exempt working dogs from what will be, essentially, an overall ban. If the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) thinks that a dog may at some stage split or damage its tail, at what stage should the owner make the decision to protect the dog from future pain? That is where I have been wrestling with the issue. If one knows that one's dog is likely to split its tail or have an injury, does one dock it when it is born or wait for that to happen? The good news is that that rather nasty decision does not apply to a great number of breeds. Nor does it apply in every instance.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention has become a speech.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I get the drift. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is that that is where the professionalism of the veterinary surgeon should come into play. It should not be up to the person bringing the animal to the vet; it should be for the vet to say whether it is appropriate that the tail is docked. That is why the provision must run alongside a future veterinary surgeons Act so that we clarify the importance of the role of the vet in making such decisions.

I have nothing more to add other than to reinforce my original point, which is that we need to know the detail of the statutory instrument and the papers that accompany it. We have not had the time to go through those in detail, and those who have had time have found them difficult to break through and not necessarily pleasing. I hope that the Minister will accept that they should be working documents rather than tablets of stone; they have to be got right by the time we reach Report; otherwise, we will have missed an opportunity.  

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Picking up on the last point about the papers, I do not want to be churlish but it is difficult to absorb large quantities of material on specialist subjects at short notice, particularly when, as in my case—other hon. Members may be in the same situation—we have had engagements and other activities between the two Committee sittings. If we are to have papers we ought to have them 48 hours in advance so that we can look at them properly. That would make for a better discussion and a more well-informed Committee than I suspect that we will have this afternoon, having just skimmed through what the Minister has provided. Having said that, I am grateful that he has provided it.

I, too, want clarification of how the matter will be decided. There is a large body of opinion in the House that feels strongly about the issue one way or the other. That was apparent on Second Reading. We have to be clear about what kind of decision process there will be. If we have a proposal on Report that stems either from a number of options presented by the Government or from sympathy for an amendment tabled by a Member, that will be satisfactory. If not, we ought to discuss it and vote this afternoon. It will not be satisfactory if we end up squirreled away in the Committee corridor with a normal statutory instrument. By statute, Governments refuse to accept amendments to statutory instruments; there is normally a whipped vote, and we end up with something unsatisfactory. The statutory instrument process does not work well.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether his party is likely to have a free vote on the issue on Report? I understand that the Conservative party is to do so, and it is likely that the Government party will be allowed one too. I hear what he says about squirreling away the decision into a Committee considering a statutory instrument. Should we not, therefore, ensure that we have a full debate on the Floor of the House so that all hon. Members can express their views on this controversial subject?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am sorry if I did not make myself clear; I would prefer it if we had a proper vote in the House. I was saying that if such a vote were not possible for a technical reason with which I am not familiar, then it would be best to deal with the matter here. My preference is for all hon. Members to have a say on Report or elsewhere, and for them to have a free vote. I can tell the hon. Lady that, of course, Liberal Democrats, like others, will have a free vote. I asked the Minister at the beginning of this morning's sitting to clarify the Government's procedures for whipped and free votes. Perhaps he will comment on the general issue and that matter in particular when he responds.

I am persuaded, should I have to choose one of the three options, that there should be a complete ban. Instinctively, I am uncomfortable about interfering with an animal without good reason. I am sure that we would all accept it if a good medical reason were given, but it is difficult to justify it otherwise. The Minister will be aware that bans have been introduced in many states in Australia as well as in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Cyprus,   Israel, South Africa and Luxembourg, so the principle of introducing a ban has been widely established across the world.

We have also heard the view of the British Veterinary Association, which the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) rightly referred to in his introduction. There is also the question of whether the alternative—to exclude working dogs—would stand up in practice. Working dogs do not necessarily work. Therefore, if we were to go down that road, the definition would have to relate to the practice in which dogs were involved rather than their breed.

Clearly, there are health downsides to the docking of dogs' tails. There is evidence that it causes them distress, and on Second Reading, hon. Members discussed in great detail issues relating to the ability of dogs to wag their tails, and the mental suffering that they might endure if unable to exercise themselves in a way that is second nature to them. I support the ban as suggested, with the therapeutic exception with which the whole Committee agrees. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Stroud that the practice will go under ground. It is difficult to hide the fact that a dog has had its tail docked—it will be rather apparent—so that is not a good reason to object to a total ban.

Finally, if the mutilation really were for cosmetic purposes, I wonder whether it would qualify as unnecessary suffering under clause 4.

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

I am pleased to speak to my amendment, No. 152. I agree with many of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. I am greatly troubled by the tail docking of working dogs and—for cosmetic purposes—of show dogs. I am troubled because I have neither seen nor heard any evidence to convince me that it is needed at birth. A seven-year study by Edinburgh university has come to no absolute conclusion on the matter. What is more, we are talking about hypothetical injuries to a dog. Our debate this morning was sometimes amusing, but we were right, none the less, about the pain felt by octopuses. If we continue to dock the tails of puppies, we shall be saying that we agree with cutting through muscles, tendons and up to seven pairs of highly sensitive nerves, and severing bone and cartilage connections. If we are concerned about pain caused to octopuses, why are we not concerned about pain caused to puppies? That is where the issue of working dogs comes in. I do not wish to be emotive about it, and I do not think that it is necessarily an emotive issue. It is part of our care and concern for the welfare of animals. My problem with exceptions for working dogs is how we tell whether a puppy will end up as a working dog.

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

If we get rid of docking for all dogs other than working dogs, people will have no reason to dock a dog's tail unless they have a working dog. I cannot think why anyone would prefer to have a dog with a short tail rather than a long tail, unless they were worried that they would have a huge vet's bill in the future for the proper docking of the adult dog's tail. That might be the only reason why somebody would choose to have a docked puppy.  

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but it does not help me tremendously. At the moment, even though fewer than 1,000 vets are involved in tail docking, huge numbers of puppies are having their tails docked. The tails are being docked by someone, but not necessarily by vets. Questions are not being asked, and measures are not being implemented. If we allow exceptions for working dogs, tail docking will continue and people will interpret the term ''working dog'' very widely. Show dogs should not be considered working dogs, but that is one of the interpretations that might arise, and I am extremely concerned about it.

I thank the Minister for providing the statutory instruments. He is right to do so. I looked through them as thoroughly as I could, although it is difficult to read the tables at the back. We do not have a colour version, so it is quite hard to separate out some of the evidence. I am disappointed by the lack of recognition of public opinion on tail docking. The public consultation to which the statutory instruments refer appears to come mainly from breeders. We should pay more attention to what the general public are saying about tail docking; they do not seem to feel that it is necessary.

The first version of the proposals does not move the issue any further forward. I looked through the second version, and it contains just one difference: in schedule 9, the condition for tail docking is that a veterinary surgeon certifies that the dog is intended to be a working dog. Again, what is the definition of a working dog? I would want to see it before I could agree to that exception. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I think that the exceptions would have to be very tightly defined before we could agree to them. At the moment, I am not persuaded.

Amendment No. 152 states fully how I feel. Unless there is further, concrete evidence, I cannot see why we should allow the docking of dogs' tails for anything other than therapeutic reasons. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

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

I said earlier that I hoped to intervene early in this debate. I hope that my doing so will help the Committee.

As has already been acknowledged, tail docking is a particularly controversial procedure. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading, the Government have been inclined not to alter the current position. Under the provisions, the docking of dogs' tails is permissible in law but may be performed only by a qualified vet. We know from the consultation process, pre-legislative scrutiny and debate on Second Reading that there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument, both among the public and in Parliament. It is not a party political issue; views both for and against are held in all parts of the House, and the Government have repeatedly made it clear that it is an issue for Parliament to decide.

Clause 5 defines and sets out a general ban on mutilations. The Bill's clear presumption against animal mutilations is an innovation that I think is welcome to hon. Members from all parties. However, in framing the provision, we have acknowledged that   some procedures do need to be exempted from the general ban on mutilations, as they can be necessary, for the overall welfare or good management of an individual animal or flock. Again, there is broad agreement on that principle and the means by which the Bill gives effect to it through the regulations, specifying exemptions. Clause 5 and the regulations will act together to provide a clear legislative basis for such procedures.

We also made it clear on Second Reading that one of the Bill's key principles is to create legislation with the flexibility to respond to scientific developments, public opinion and evolutions in animal husbandry and welfare. Inevitably, the list of exempted procedures will change over time. The Bill requires us to consult publicly on all such exemptions and gives Parliament control over the regulations through the affirmative procedure. The Government do not believe that we should fetter the scope of the power in subsection (4) at this point. To single out tail-docking would be inappropriate. Our strong preference would be for the House to endorse our view that the matter is best left to regulations.

I want to continue to listen to the balance of argument in Committee today, and I offer my assurance that the Government will reflect that view in the draft regulations that they will put forward for consultation. To that end, I have given you, Mrs. Humble, and members of the Committee copies of draft regulations. Version 1 has been drafted to achieve the Government's preferred position and permits all tail-docking of dogs by exempting the procedure from the general prohibition on mutilations. Version 2 would permit the docking of working dogs' tails only. I refer hon. Members to the box on schedule 9 of version 2, which makes it clear that such procedures would mean that a vet would have to certify that such a dog was intended to be a working dog. We can go into that in more detail later if hon. Members would like to.

A third version, which, to save paper, I have not circulated—I beg the pardon of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, but it will become clear why it was not necessary to do so—would not list the tail-docking of dogs in either schedule 1 or schedule 9. That version would have the effect of prohibiting all docking of dogs' tails by not providing for any exemption.

I should point out that, in all circumstances, whichever form of regulation is made, the mutilation of a dog's tail for the purposes of its medical treatment would always be acceptable. The final part of clause 5(3) ensures that. That is particularly relevant to amendments Nos. 7 and 152.

Let me also give the Government's view on the technical aspects of the amendments. In our view, they are all technically flawed in one way or another. I can explain that in more detail later if Members would find it helpful. Amendment No. 162 would also have the effect of exempting the removal of a dog's dew claws from the prohibition on mutilations. Placing such a restriction on the scope of the power in clause 5(4)   would create inappropriate inflexibility for the same reasons I outlined on tail-docking. The question of dew claws is more properly dealt with by regulations, which will have full consultation and parliamentary approval. The Government are opposed to that provision, and do not accept that it should be in the Bill.

Let me repeat my earlier assurances. I shall listen closely to what hon. Members say and to the balance of opinion on the Committee. The common thread in all three options that I have outlined is that they leave untouched the principle of a flexible legislative framework. I am at liberty today to proceed with any of the three versions of the draft regulations, according to which best reflects the views of the Committee. At this stage, I reiterate the plea that I made earlier for every member of the Committee who has a view to express it. Now is their chance.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health 4:45 pm, 17th January 2006

I am extremely glad that the Minister said that and that there is a third version. It was extremely confusing, but I have to make it clear to him that I would support the third version.

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

That is very helpful. I would urge the same level of clarity from other members of the Committee. It is for that reason that I have intervened early in the debate, Mrs. Humble, and I hope that you may give me the opportunity to come back later when I have listened to the views expressed by hon. Members.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I welcome the debate that the amendments have triggered, although I make my contribution in the hope that they will be withdrawn because, as the Minister pointed out, this is an enabling Bill; it is the statutory instruments that seem to be the real basis for the discussion.

However, I ask the Minister to give further clarity on how the statutory instrument will be chosen. He has cited the balance of opinion today as the basis for making that judgment, but at some point, somewhere, a vote will be taken on a statutory instrument, and what if, in terms of the balance of opinion of this Committee, the wrong one is chosen? I am confident that the Minister would not allow that to happen, but the Committee has to feel confident that the right statutory instrument has been chosen and will be voted on later by another Committee. I seek that reassurance.

My views are pretty straightforward: I favour a total ban on the docking of dogs for the reasons outlined by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on Second Reading and by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon today. There is no point in anticipating that an animal—even if it is a working dog—may suffer pain or injury at a later stage in its life; it is more logical and straightforward to believe that a painful procedure such as the docking of a dog's tail should take place only if absolutely necessary because the dog has happened to suffer injury. I take the evidence mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon as the basis for my opinion and hope that the Minister will have due regard to that evidence, as he has promised.  

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

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments early on in this debate. We all recognise that this is a contentious issue. He invited us to be straightforward and to take our chance, so I will: I am in favour of a ban on tail-docking, save for working dogs. I am very keen to have the debate on why there should be that exemption. The position is helpfully summarised in the Government's own regulatory impact assessment; paragraph 15 does a remarkable job of summarising the situation in the space of a few sentences.

Along with the hon. Member for Leominster and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I was a member of the Select Committee that considered the draft Bill. We received a great deal of evidence. There were deep and different views on the subject, but it is interesting that the Select Committee unanimously came to want a ban on tail-docking save for working dogs. The Select Committee's recommendations—I appreciate that not all hon. Members have had the opportunity to look at them—are set out on pages 89 to 90 of the Select Committee report, which picks up on concerns that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) raised. They include how we know whether a dog is a working dog or whether the exemption is being used as a device, and the notion of the vet bringing forward a certificate, being named and being in control of the situation, which I think is important.

If we are to seek an exemption for working dogs, we ought to bear in mind the caveats of the Select Committee, which could clearly be worked into an amendment or a statutory instrument. There are fairly compelling cases for exempting working dogs when it comes to shooting, but of course shooting is not the only issue. The police and Customs and Excise use dogs. My discussions with Customs and Excise suggest that there is no clear position on the subject, but dogs that sniff for drugs in airports are in fairly contained spaces, and there is certainly a view in Customs and Excise that its dogs should be exempted.

I am grateful for having my attention drawn to a remark made by Peter Vaughan, a senior member of the Association of Chief Police Officers who speaks on dog issues for that organisation. He stated:

''Forces with their own breeding programmes in place may decide for operational reasons as opposed to aesthetic or cosmetic purposes to dock the tails of puppies in order to minimise the risk of injury to dogs.''

It is not just the shooting sector that is arguing for an exemption but law enforcement agencies as well.

The case must be carefully thought through. I am still not clear about the process and timetable for decision making. Perhaps the Minister will help with that. He is rightly canvassing the views of the Committee—I am grateful for that opportunity—but other Members and the wider audience outside Parliament would like to be consulted on this contentious issue. I am also grateful to have the opportunity to consider the draft statutory instruments, and I am grateful for the Minister's view, but I note the next to final paragraph of his letter, which states:

''I should emphasize that these are draft regulations. As we have made clear in public there will be a full public consultation before we  laid them in Parliament. I also attach a draft RIA. Again I should emphasize that this is a partial RIA and will also be part of the public consultation.''

That contains a clear commitment for a wider discussion outside Parliament, but I am confused about the timetable. I hope that no member of the Committee will push the issue to a vote today. As I said, a wider group of Members has strong views on it. As the regulations have been tabled only today, those who follow our debates and who have good, professional knowledge and strong, different views on the matter need time to study them and comment on them.

It would be impossible for a situation to arise in which we went forward on what I believe is the Government's preferred route and bring the statutory instruments before a statutory instrument Committee. My impression is that there will be a temptation during the passage of the Bill, although it is an enabling Bill, to bring the matter to a conclusion. After all, the Minister and the Secretary of State have invited MPs to express their view. I am anxious to hear when the Minister thinks a vote might be taken on the issue. There is a real possibility that an amendment will be tabled on Report, and it is important that we should have a device—an appropriate hook—to allow a sensible discussion then.

Many of us remember the difficulties that the Commons gets into when it is offered a series of options. When it came to reform of the House of Lords, we could not decide on any one preferred option. [Interruption.] Perhaps we should go for a ban there. I shall not be drawn into discussing tail docking in the House of Lords.

We must be more precise about the timetable for discussion and the process. I am interested in what the Minister has to say. As I said, the Bill is important to a range of organisations outside Parliament, and there are different views. If we are to have a vote on Report, the organisations that listen to our views must have an opportunity not just to read the draft regulations but to comment on them. That has been the commitment of the Government throughout, and it is important that we honour it in this case.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry 5:00 pm, 17th January 2006

I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Humble. I understand that this is the first Bill that you are taking through Committee, so we shall be gentle with you. I wish you well.

I want to speak on this subject because the Minister invited us to say which of his three options we prefer. He kindly provided us with the two draft statutory instruments, and there is the non-existent third option, which I interpret as the total ban. My preference is for the non-existent third option: the total ban on tail docking of dogs except for therapeutic reasons.

There are certain things in the statutory instruments that are helpful. We are focusing on tail docking at the moment, but the draft SIs contain an awful lot more, and clarification on matters such as castration is helpful. I am keen that we have a free vote on the   Floor of the House on tail docking, and I intervened on the hon. Member for Lewes to explain that that is vital. We should have that vote instead of deciding the issue by voting in Committee, which might constrain us. We may end up with an option that we do not want debated on the Floor of the House. We should have a debate, but I hope that we do not press the matter to a Division because we should have a full and frank exchange on the Floor of the House where all hon. Members are able to express their views in a vote.

Tail-docking is controversial and I have never supported the practice. I can see no good reason for cosmetic tail docking. I am unhappy with the suggestion that there should be exemptions for working dogs. All welfare organisations with which I have discussed the matter are against cosmetic docking, and whatever our views on prophylactic and therapeutic docking, most of us find it easy to say that cosmetic docking should not be allowed and that the practice should not continue.

Very few vets support docking. Some 92 per cent. want a ban. That is a problem. Even at the moment, puppies are transported quite long distances for the purposes of docking, including cosmetic docking. I am very unhappy that that is going on. Therefore, the first option—the status quo—is wholly unacceptable. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon said that few vets carry out the procedure. Certainly, very few young vets do it, but some people are clearly carrying out docking that is against the law. It must be tackled.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

This point goes back to my discussion with the hon. Member for Leominster. If dogs are being tail docked and vets are not doing it, there should be prosecutions, but there have not been many. Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is that the existing law is not effective?

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

I certainly agree that the existing law is not effective in respect of those carrying out docking who are not legally entitled to do it. A lot of information says that puppies do not feel pain because their nervous systems are not fully developed. That is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever heard. Babies cannot speak, but they can certainly suffer pain. It could be argued that the nervous system of babies is not fully developed because they cannot speak.

Docking is usually carried out on dogs between the age of three to seven days. The Minister may correct me if I am wrong, but a vet can dock without anaesthetic at any time before the puppy's eyes open. That is why I am so against tail docking. In this day and age, when we are considering an Animal Welfare Bill, it is completely unacceptable for animals to be mutilated without anaesthetic.

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

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I refer her to version 2 of the SI. On page 15, it states that tail docking of dogs is allowed without anaesthetic before the eyes open. That confirms her view that such practice would continue if we accepted that version.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying that point. It is unacceptable that we allow amputations on living creatures without anaesthetic. How can the Minister justify that practice continuing?   The Countryside Alliance briefing on tail docking states:

''The earlier a puppy is docked, the better and many vets like to carry out the procedure before 3 days of age''.

That briefing was sent to members of the Committee to justify the continuation of docking, but when I read it I thought that the alliance was justifying even more pain by saying that vets like to carry out docking on young dogs without anaesthetic. That is why a ban is needed.

There are inconsistencies in the status quo and the exemptions, as there are in the information about working breeds that do and do not have their tails docked. Some tails of non-working breeds and long-haired breeds are docked, while some are not. There is not even consistency among docked breeds. The arguments of supporters of docking, such as the tails of some dogs wag quicker than others and some tails are hairier than others, do not hold water.

My family are from the wilds up in the west of Scotland where collies are used as sheepdogs. They certainly go through a lot of rough ground. Their tails are not docked, so the argument that the tails of spaniels have to be docked if they are flushing out game is absolute nonsense. Collies have to deal with brambles, gorse and heather. It is exceedingly rough terrain and their tails are not docked.

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

The hon. Lady is making an emotional speech as well as misunderstanding the subject. Sheepdogs are not one of the breeds that would be docked. They might be working dogs, but we should not describe the dogs that we are discussing as working dogs. We should really refer only to spaniels, a breed that has terribly thin skin and light hair on its tail. That is why sheepdogs are not docked, and they never have been. She is becoming a bit muddled.

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

I am not happy with talking about species. That was suggested earlier and we would get into dangerous ground if we gave exemptions for species.

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

Forgive me, I have a cold. If we give exemptions for breeds, cosmetic docking could continue. The hon. Gentleman says that that would not happen, but of course it would. Those who want to keep docked breeds would see an exemption as their way of doing so.

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

I have also been troubled by this. I rang the Kennel Club and asked whether a dog's having a tail would count against it as a dog breed, and the Kennel Club said no. However, the Kennel Club could do more for dogs with a fault in their tails, because such faults can count against show dogs. If that provision were removed, there would be no reason why anybody should not have an undocked dog in any breed.

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

The hon. Gentleman says that there would be no reason for people not to have an undocked dog in any breed, but I have had communications from quite a number of constituents who support tail docking. They tell me that their dogs are not working dogs, but pets, and that they have to   be docked to maintain the integrity of the breed. That is the strong feeling among constituents, despite what the Kennel Club says. I think that it is nonsense, however, because people do not need to dock a dog's tail to maintain the integrity of the breed. I understand that there are standards for docked and undocked dogs when dogs are shown at Cruft's.

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

I shall try to help out the hon. Lady. Apparently, there is no difference, and the dogs go into the same class and compete against one another. The only negative point that I have found to support her argument is that if the tail has a fault, that will be held against the dog. Therefore, if a dog has a fault in its tail, the owner might want to dock it. If we could get rid of that provision in the Kennel Club rules, there would be no problem.

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

I am not sure that this debate is the place to start dealing with Kennel Club rules. Although we have gone in an interesting direction, my point was that collies in Scotland go through rough terrain, but are not docked. There are many breeds of dog apart from springers that go through thick brambles. Therefore, it is completely and utterly wrong to argue that we have to maintain mutilation for some breeds of dog because they go over rough terrain.

There are problems with the statutory instruments. The first does not move us any further forward, and it would be difficult to enforce any of the offences. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud says that we do not currently prosecute those who are not authorised to carry out docking, so the first statutory instrument is a no-go.

The second statutory instrument allows the docking of working dogs, but how does a vet know which dogs in a litter will be turn out to be working dogs? It is rare for a whole litter to become working dogs. Even if all the dogs were intended to become gun dogs, not all springer spaniels, for example, could be trained to do the work; some dogs do not like the sound of guns, so it would not be appropriate to use them. If we go for the second statutory instrument, however, those dogs will have their tails docked even though they do not become working dogs. That is another reason why we should reject the exemptions and go for non-existent version 3.

My biggest worry about the second statutory instrument is that it creates a huge loophole. If we have an exemption for so-called working dogs, it will be the avenue down which people who wish to continue docking will go. They will dock the dogs, saying that they were intended to be working dogs, and we shall not end their suffering. As I said, vets are permitted to dock puppies' tails without anaesthetic if it is done before their eyes are open. This is an Animal Welfare Bill. There is a duty of care. We have talked about mental and physical suffering. Mutilating a young animal without anaesthetic is tantamount to cruelty and we should stop it now.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party 5:15 pm, 17th January 2006

Thank you, Mrs. Humble. It is an honour to serve on a Committee chaired by you.  

I am pleased to speak about tail docking. We need to keep in mind what the Committee are trying to achieve, which is the maximum animal welfare provision for, in this case, dogs. We face a pretty straightforward choice. First, I can see no justification for cosmetic docking. It is not needed for therapeutic purposes, and we should therefore ban it. Therapeutic docking is in the interests of the dog, so it should be allowed where an expert—a vet—deems it necessary. There is a key question surrounding the docking of working dogs. There is insufficient evidence at present to take a decision on whether it is a good or a bad idea. We need some hard facts and data.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Is this not a matter of straightforward logic? A rugby player may lose his front teeth, but he does not have them removed in anticipation of their possible loss so why should we do the same to dogs?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

I am grateful for that intervention because I was about to come on to some logic that might help explain my position. We need to understand how many dogs of the working dogs breeds are, in practice, working. There is some evidence that it is a minority, which suggests that we tend to take a precautionary approach towards banning the docking of working dogs. However, as an MP being offered a free vote on this matter, I do not feel that there is good enough evidence about whether those working dog breeds that are working sustain injuries so great that their tails would have to be docked in later life.

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

My hon. Friend has just been offered the rugby analogy. People who play rugby wear gum shields. The equivalent would be to put some sort of sheath on the tail of the dog every time it went into a bramble patch. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) knows that that is impractical. That is why working dogs are docked.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

Clearly, we are getting to the heart of the issue. This is an extremely emotive subject. We need to take out the emotion and look at the pure facts of what impact a ban on docking in working dogs that actually work would have in terms of animal welfare. I urge the Government to follow the RSPCA's suggestion, which is to engage some hard scientific research to help the House decide when the free vote finally comes.

The British Veterinary Association is reported as saying that

''we would all accept that dogs injure their tails, but they also injure their feet and their ears, and until somebody produces some good, hard scientific evidence that injuries to the tail are either more frequent or worse in some way than injuring any other appendage, it should be left on.''

That is my starting position, but I accept that there is still some doubt. It is up to the Government to remove that doubt and to provide that evidence.

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

The hon. Lady may find this helpful. It seems that she does not feel in a position to give a view herself at this stage as to whether she would prefer a total ban or an exemption for working dogs.   That supports the argument that the Government have made, which I will make again, for the issue to be dealt with by regulation. If it is dealt with by regulation, there will be an opportunity—I will come to the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping)—for further consultation and to analyse the research. There is quite a lot in the regulatory impact assessment. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has had a chance to read it yet, but it may help her and other Members who intend to speak.

We estimate that 1 million dogs out of a total dog population of 6 million in this country are docked. Some 300,000—in other words, about a third—are of a type of dog that may end up as a working dog. If we assume that dogs live on average for about 10 years, about 33,000 dogs of a working type are docked each year. The hon. Lady is, however, absolutely right to highlight the fact that we would expect a very small minority of those dogs to be put to work. We have no accurate figures, but I hope that that gives her some idea of the difference between the impact of a total ban and the impact of a ban with an exemption for working dogs on the number of dogs that would no longer be docked.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

I thank the Minister for his very helpful intervention. I should clarify my position. I believe that it is up to the Government to justify why we should not have a ban on docking working dogs and to provide the scientific evidence to justify why it is not an issue.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley

Like my colleagues, I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that he wants to listen closely to the balance of views on the Committee, which gives us an important opportunity. Many hon. Members were quite clear on Second Reading about how they felt about the matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood said, there are points of principle and points of detail about how we go about what we shall do. I shall stick to discussing the points of principle so that the Minister has our views. I should say up front that I am for a total ban. I have heard quite a lot of detail from other hon. Members, and I talked about the matter on Second Reading. Many hon. Members expressed a view on Second Reading that is shared by many members here that dogs need tails for communication and for balance, and that any decision to remove a tail must take that into account. I give great weight to that opinion.

Having read and re-read the briefings that we have been sent from various organisations, I am not convinced by the argument that tail docking in certain breeds helps to prevent injury. There does not seem to be any compelling evidence, and given the number of countries that have banned docking, evidence would start to emerge if it was compelling. Certain details were quoted, but they did not convince me.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) that it seems self-evident that tail docking would cause puppies pain. There is   no doubt about that. There is anecdotal evidence of what happens to puppies while the procedure is being carried out. Breeders do not like it, many vets do not like it, and many people find it very disturbing.

It is almost strange that we have to enter into that debate. In our discussion on an earlier part of the Bill this morning, we worried about octopuses and lobsters and other creatures of that sort. Given the number of dogs that the Minister has said we own in this country, it is absurd to inflict pain on those creatures in the very first days of their lives. It seems from everything that I have read that certain breeds are being docked in many cases for cosmetic reasons. That is unjustified—a view that is starting to have some purchase.

It seems from the figures that the Minister has just quoted that of the 77,000 puppies that it is assumed were docked in 2004, only 33,000 are estimated to be working dogs, and those figures do seem to be estimates. That means that 44,000—in other words, most of the dogs that are docked—do not become working dogs but have pain inflicted on them and are, in effect, being mutilated, as the tails with which they communicate and achieve balance are removed for the whole of their lives for no good reason.

I have read the arguments about exemptions for prophylactic docking in working dogs, but the Select Committee juggled with that one, and it seems that the practice could be abused. It seems that the current law is being abused: if most vets are not happy and think that the procedure is inhumane, yet thousands of dogs' tails are being docked, who is doing it? It is clear that if we allow an exemption, it will be abused. It will be possible to get docking done by going down a country lane and handing over cash.

The quote from the BVA is compelling. Vets are the professionals who work with pets and working animals, and we should take cognisance of the fact that the majority of them consider tail docking to be inhumane to the extent that they do not even teach it any more. Many other European countries have already banned it. We should also consider the relevant European convention. As I said on Second Reading, the practice is outdated, unethical and unnecessary, causes pain and is against an animal's welfare. That is why I am for a total ban. I would be in favour of the third statutory instrument, the invisible one that we have not yet seen.

It is time to ban cosmetic mutilation, as a number of hon. Members have said. I am not convinced about the tail docking of breeds. I do not think that there is evidence for it, and we should return to letting vets deal only with the tails of the small number of working dogs that develop problems. That would be the right way forward.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (International Development)

This is my first Standing Committee, Mrs. Humble, so let me welcome you to the Chair. I shall try to address you correctly, not calling you, bizarrely, Ma'am, or even Joan, as I would in a Select Committee, but forgive me if I do.

I played rugby for several years and was an amateur Rugby League enthusiast. My enthusiasm was probably far greater than my talent. However, I never wore a gum shield in all the time I played, and   I am pleased to say that I have all my front teeth. That might be because I played on the wing; in those days I was a lot faster than perhaps I appear now.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

You never played in west Cumbria.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (International Development)

I played in Lancashire and in the Pennine league, which is possibly not as tough as Cumbria, but tough enough, and tougher than the other code, which we will not mention. I did lose a tooth during my rugby-playing career. When I broke my jaw, I lost a wisdom tooth, and had it taken out. However, I would not have considered it justified had somebody suggested to me that they should take my wisdom teeth out before I played, just in case I broke my jaw.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (International Development)

I did not want to wear one. One cannot shout at the opposition with a gum shield in. The hon. Member for Leominster made an interesting point, perhaps without realising it. If the clause is really about protecting tails, why not invent a sheath for dogs to wear? That is surely not beyond the realms of science. For how many hundreds of years have we had the humble horse shoe to protect horses? If that is what it is about, why can we not find a more scientific solution?

I was not going to speak, but I shall do because the Minister asked all of us for our opinions. I believe that dogs' tails should be docked only for therapeutic purposes. However, I should like to make one point on the key issue of prophylactic docking. If the clause is about docking working dogs' tails, why do people not wait until they know that the dogs are going to be working before making the decision? Why are the tails of every puppy in a litter docked before the puppies are 10 days old, regardless of what their future might be? That is the fundamental flaw in the argument for the Bill as it stands. Will the Minister go away and think about that? Perhaps we will end up with a clause that allows the docking of working dogs' tails. That is not what I would support, but it might happen. If it does, it should not do so in a way that continues to allow the blanket tail docking of certain breeds, which is the reality at the moment. I do not believe that many people would be happy with that.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare) 5:30 pm, 17th January 2006

This has been a very useful and interesting discussion. I am grateful to all Committee members who have expressed a view. I note that one or two have not, but if they had a strong view, I hope that they would have expressed it. I take their non-contribution—I hope, rightly—as an indication that they do not have a strong view either way, in which case, had they expressed their view, it would not have affected the balance of opinion on the Committee. They still have a chance to intervene on me if I am wrong. [Interruption.] I was not thinking of the Whip. There is one Member on each side of the Committee who has not spoken, but that is their prerogative.

I shall deal with some of the content of our discussion. First, I respond to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood about how   the statutory instrument process would work and its timing. I hope that I am being clear: none of the provisions of the Bill that are affected by secondary legislation would come into force until that legislation is passed. We hope that any secondary legislation on tail docking would be passed by the autumn. That timetable is ambitious, but if not by the autumn, there are two times in the year—October and April—when secondary legislation relating to the Bill could be passed, so it would happen by next April by the latest.

I hope that the way in which the clause has been debated reinforces the Government's view that regulation is the best way of dealing with the matter, not least because of the debate focused on the docking of working dogs' tails for prophylactic purposes. I would say only that an amendment to propose a total or partial ban would make it difficult to change that position in the light of evidence. If we have a total ban, and it transpires that serious damage is being done to working dogs' tails, there is no easy way of retreating from that position. Similarly, if there is a partial ban with an exemption for working dogs, and research from other countries shows that such a ban is not justified, that will not enable us easily to move towards a total ban.

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

The Minister is talking about what we would do if, after a ban, it turns out that there are increases in injuries. Can he tell me if his Department has examined the bans in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Cyprus, Israel, South Africa and Luxembourg?

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

We certainly examined some of those. In particular, reference is often made to the experience of Sweden, including, at one stage, by the hon. Member for Leominster. Claims have been made that, for a particular breed, the impact of the total ban has been negative. However, the advice that I have been given by officials is that that was not a scientifically conducted survey. There are still some who would argue—although I am not doing so myself; I am simply pointing it out to my hon. Friend—in favour of prophylactic reasons. I urge her and other hon. Members not to lock ourselves into a particular system that would deprive us of the flexibility that this enabling Bill gives us, not only on tail docking but on a lot of other issues. We may want to revisit such issues later.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am trying to keep an open mind, but the problem that I now have is how we define a ''working dog''. I can be persuaded that there is a prophylactic reason for the docking of a dog's tail. What I have difficulty with is the notion that we can specify in law—one is reminded of the smoking debate—that a compromise may be possible at the end of the day, but we may not be able to legislate for it. Will the Minister help me through that dilemma?

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

I acknowledge the difficulties that a number of hon. Members have highlighted relating to how one would enforce an exemption for working dogs. I accept that that is difficult; when it was being discussed as the Government's preferred option, we had many in-depth and lengthy discussions about it.   Were it the preferred option of the Committee—I have to say that that does not seem to be the case—we would have to do more work on the statutory instrument to satisfy people as far as we possibly could.

We would not be able ever to satisfy people completely that there would not be some loopholes, including certification by a vet or the family history of the dog concerned. The person applying may be a member of a gun club or shooting organisation. We would have to do what we could. I accept that it is difficult to envisage a situation where such exemptions and guarantees could be made watertight.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May I go back to the point concerning the way in which the matter is to be decided, which the Minister was discussing before he took one or two interventions? He will have heard from the Committee a wish for all MPs to have a say, if that is possible. We all share that view; many MPs will feel disempowered if they are not able to have a vote at some point.

Does the Minister recognise that there is a strong wish to have a vote on Report? Would it not be better if the Government facilitated that in terms that they thought credible, and which would stand up to legislative scrutiny, rather than relying on an amendment from somewhere else in the House that may end up being passed? It will be difficult to persuade Committee members not to take the matter forward on Report, including those in his own party, if there is a free vote.

If the Minister will not do that, will he at least give an undertaking that when the statutory instrument is produced, it will be debated on the Floor of the House? That is perfectly possible: it has been done in the past, with the beef on the bone ban, for example. Discussing the statutory instrument on the Floor of the House would be one way of meeting concerns.

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 will appreciate that it is not in my power to decide what, if any, amendments may be debated on the Floor of the House on Report. I simply repeat the Government's strong preference for the issue to be dealt with by regulation for the reasons I have already outlined. I shall stress that preference again on Report. If the hon. Gentleman waits until my concluding remarks on the balance of feeling in the Committee, he may feel slightly differently.

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

My hon. Friend says that what is debated on the Floor of the House is not up to him. Does he agree that if there has been a lengthy debate and a vote in Committee, amendments on that subject are statistically less likely to be called by the Speaker on the Floor of the House? That is one reason why I have encouraged people not to press the matter to a vote in Committee.

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

I note the point that my hon. Friend makes and her preference. I hope that other Committee members have noted it as well.

It may be helpful if I clarify some of the figures I gave earlier because I may have given them in a rather confusing way. The total population of dogs in   England and Wales is about 6 million. Of that total, 1 million are currently docked: about 100,000 puppies a year. Of that million, about one third are of a type that may end up as working dogs. That is about 0.3 of the total, or 33,000 puppies a year. We would expect only a small proportion of that number of dogs to end up as working dogs. That gives some idea of the figures, but I acknowledge the concerns that several hon. Members have raised as to how one could create a foolproof and enforceable system, were there an exemption for working dogs.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

To be clear, the Minister said 1 million dogs then referred to a third of that figure, which is 330,000 rather than 33,000. Is that right?

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

It is 33,000 a year, given that the average dog lives for 10 years.

Perhaps I can outline what I felt to be the balance of opinion in the Committee, and I invite hon. Members to intervene and correct me if they think that I am wrong. Of those who expressed a view, my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon made very clear her preference for a total ban and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough expressed a similar view, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud; although he seemed to suggest that he might be persuaded to go along with an exemption for working dogs, he did not sound convinced.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is the nub of the problem. I am prepared to be open-minded, but implementing that approach would be a legislative nightmare. That is why the issue is now a black and white issue.

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

That is very helpful and I thank my hon. Friend. My hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes and for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) also favoured a total ban. Both Liberal Democrat Members expressed, I think, a preference for a total ban. That leaves the hon. Member for Leominster and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Sherwood as the only members of the Committee to express any support for an exemption for working dogs, along with the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who said that it would be up to the Government to convince her that there should be such an exemption.

As I have said, we do not think that it is the Government's job to try to convince anyone. What we do is listen to the balance of opinion on the Committee. I intend, on the basis of that balance of opinion, to introduce a statutory instrument.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

I want to pick up on the Minister's comment that it is not the Government's role to convince anyone. It is, to an extent, their job. I cannot do the necessary masses of research and visit Sweden and all the other countries where such a ban has already been imposed. The Government have a vital role to play in providing information for us on which to base the decisions that we are asked to make.

Mr. Bradshaw rose—

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

Before the Minister makes up his mind, on the basis of what he has heard, I hope that he will also listen to my closing comments.

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. Member for Putney that there has been quite a lot of discussion   during pre-legislative scrutiny and in the reports prepared by the EFRA Committee. Of course, in the Government's preferred statutory instrument procedure, there would be another full round of public consultation and an affirmative resolution in the House. There would be plenty of time for the hon. Lady and other hon. Members to express a view, and to inform themselves. The Government would do their best to put the information in the public domain. There is already quite a lot of information in the public domain, and I do not think that the hon. Lady can accuse the Government of not having tried to facilitate an open and honest debate.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May I try, in a loaded phrase from a Member on the Opposition Benches, to be helpful? There is a serious wish in the Committee to wrap up the matter as soon as possible. People's views are quite clear. I think that an amendment will be tabled on Report, whether by a Labour Back Bencher, a Liberal Democrat or someone else. The Minister's idea that he can introduce a statutory instrument and that there will be all sorts of consultation may be the best solution, but in practical terms, it will not work. He should come up with an amendment on Report to reflect the view of the Committee—something that will stand up, having been dealt with by the parliamentary draftsmen. If he does not, an amendment that will not work may be passed. In an attempt to be constructive, I offer him the suggestion that he give us an undertaking, or guarantee, that his statutory instrument will be debated in the House, which can be done, as happened, for example, over beef on the bone. If he insists that it should be dealt with in Committee, up here in the corridors, that will not get past his own hon. Friends.

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

I shall certainly consider that idea, although I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any assurance about a statutory instrument. The Government will not be able to control what amendments are debated on Report: that will be up to Mr. Speaker. However, both sides have made it clear that if the issue is raised, it is not one on which the Government would be right to whip Labour Members. For the reasons that I have given, it is our strong preference that the issue should be dealt with by statutory instrument. Going by the balance of opinion in the Committee, we would bring forward a statutory instrument based on the invisible version 3, which would implement a full ban on the tail docking of dogs.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:45 pm, 17th January 2006

It has been an interesting debate. There have been several misunderstandings among members of the Committee—for instance, about the fatness of a dog's tail and the various questions raised by research on bobbed breeds. A dog may naturally have no tail, but how could one not prosecute the owner? Some dogs genuinely have very short tails. There is some confusion over what is a working dog—whether it is a sheepdog, which it is not in this case; whether it is a spaniel; and whether labradors are working dogs, which they are not in respect of docking. There is a great deal of confusion.  

I am really impressed, however, by the fantastic performance of our Minister. He came here this afternoon with the blessing of the Secretary of State to leave the status quo as it was, and he has turned it round in a magnificent fashion. He took the temperature of the Committee, he sought our opinions, and he came up with a completely different conclusion to the one that he started with. He was right at some stage in the middle.

Far be it from me to say that I like the middle way, but on this occasion the Minister genuinely got it right. He recognises that a statutory instrument backed with proper research—something that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney has called for—could give us the sort of science that would make us sleep easier about this thorny issue. I think that that is probably the best way forward.

The comments of the police and Customs and Excise, and the idea that a vet should have some say over whether a dog should have its tail docked can all be achieved if the Government so wish. Those who want to dock their dog's tail because they want it to be a working dog or because its parents are prone to splitting their tails could be made to apply for a licence. Or it could be regulated in a totally different way. We could ensure that everyone with a dog that had a docked tail had a certificate showing that it had been docked by a vet. The Government could call upon an awful lot of facilities if they wanted to do so, but the Minister has not drawn on the resources that his Department could have offered him in order to get a proper and satisfactory solution.

It is worth bearing in mind that if the Swedish experiment is right—I do not know whether it is—then 16,500 dogs a year will have serious damage done to their tails. As the Minister said, that figure is supported by the statistics. I know that if the Committee cares about animals as much as I do, it will not want that any more than it would want to see a continuation of cosmetic docking. We are agreed on that.

There is a lot going on in our debate, and the Minister could do a great deal more if he had the time and the scientific evidence to support it. We all agreed at the start, when speaking about the octopus, how we should proceed. If we were prepared to go that far and base the provisions on science, the Minister could make them happen. He should not have to carry out a straw poll in a Committee with at least one member absent. He could do it with the backing of science, and I hope that that is where he will go.

The Minister has done a marvellous job in getting out of the pickle that I saw opening up this morning. He is a skilled Minister, but he is in a difficult position. If he uses certification for licensed docking, if he uses proper scientific evidence on what might be its consequences and if he uses statutory instruments and gives himself the ability to be flexible, we could make progress.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; the Minister sat down before I could intervene.   One issue not yet covered that would need to be dealt with by statutory instrument—I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees—is the deliberate export of dogs if a ban prevented the owners having their dogs' tails docked here. The same would apply to the import of dogs that have been docked in other countries. That would need to be covered. Even if he does not agree with the concept of what I propose, clarity in the legislation is essential.

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

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The problem with blanket bans is that they result in exceptions. That is why I agreed with the Government's position that a statutory instrument and regulation was the right way forward. The problem for the Committee, and for the House on Report, is that if we are prepared to trust the Government and allow them to introduce a statutory instrument, we shall want to know the Government's intention behind the statutory instrument.

The Minister told us today that now his intention is a total ban. I hope that he will recognise that many people who favour a total ban favour it on the basis of conscience. That is fine, unless the Swedish evidence turns out to be true. A figure of 16,500 tail injuries is not acceptable. If the evidence is true, the Minister needs the flexibility of statutory instruments. I hope that he will consider his other options. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 160, in clause 5, page 3, line 22, at end insert—

'(4A) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply in such circumstances as mutilations lawful prior to the commencement of this Act may be required, for the purpose of lawful activity, for the benefit, safety and welfare of the animal.'.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 84, in clause 5, page 3, line 25, at end add—

'(6) This section does not affect the right of an owner to mark appropriately his animal for identification purposes, but does enable appropriate regulations to be made under subsection (4).'.

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

The amendment is designed to ensure that mutilations that were lawfully carried out in the best interests of the animal would still be permitted. As the Bill is drafted, there are no exemptions made for circumstances in which animals may need amputations or the taking of samples of soft tissue and bone. For medical reasons, it may be necessary and appropriate for an animal to undergo such procedures.

For example, a cat who has suffered an eye injury may require its removal. If the owner or the vet fears that they may be prosecuted under clause 5 for taking that course of action, they may choose to leave it. If the eye heals, they have made the right decision; if it does not, the situation may become more serious and dangerous to the well-being of the cat. The amendment would protect people who, in such circumstances, may have to make a tough decision about their animal's welfare and safety.

Amendment No. 84 seeks to ensure that owners who tag or microchip their animals cannot be accused of committing an offence under the terms of the Bill, based on the assumption that the tag does not interfere   with the sensitive tissue or bone structure of the animal. As the Bill is drafted, such tagging could be banned and interpreted as mutilation, because of the off-chance that the tag could interfere with the animal's sensitive tissue or bone structure. Research carried out by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the UK's second largest pet insurer, states that one in three dog and cat owners have had their pets go missing, and that the use of tags or microchips would help to identify those animals.

Moreover, when read alongside clause 4, the amendment would not mean that an owner was exempt from prosecution once it was evident that a chip or tag was causing suffering to the animal and no action had been taken. Anybody who tagged their animal and saw that the tag was causing problems would have a duty to correct it. The amendment would ensure that the important task of identifying animals was not prevented by future provisions under this clause.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I shall not rehearse my earlier point, but I seek absolute clarification. I am always concerned about who makes the decision about such issues, and that is why I would be concerned if the amendments were agreed to. They imply that the owner alone would make the decision about whether the mutilations are allowable. I seek clarification from the Minister, perhaps restating what he has already said. The treatment should always be instigated professionally, even if an owner has brought the animal to the vet with that sole purpose in mind. Will he clarify that the vet will always make such decisions? If so, that would be why the amendments are unnecessary.

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

The intention of the hon. Member for Leominster with amendment No. 160 may be to give a blanket exemption to any procedure that is currently commonly performed by a vet as part of a medical treatment that is lawful. I understand the problems that Members have had previously in considering the clause in the absence of the draft exemptions regulation. I am pleased to have been able to share the draft with the Committee. It shows that I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns to ensure that essential procedures remain lawful. I do not believe that all currently lawful procedures should necessarily be allowed to continue.

As Members will see from the draft regulation, I intend to exempt mutilations if they are necessary to achieve an overall welfare benefit or if they contribute to good management practice. The approach of prohibiting all mutilations and making specific detailed exemptions gives greater clarity to individuals and enforcers than would broader general exemptions, and will ensure that all unacceptable mutilations are banned while allowing acceptable ones to be performed. Amendment No. 160 would not give such clearly defined exemptions.

I also point out that, under subsection (3), anything that is done as part of an animal's medical treatment is automatically exempt from prohibition. There are no circumstances under which it would be possible for something reasonably done for the purpose of an   animal's medical treatment to be a prohibited mutilation.

On amendment No. 84, I understand and fully share the hon. Gentleman's concern that acceptable methods of marking an animal for identification purposes should not be prohibited by clause 5, and I appreciate why he tabled the amendment. However, as he has now seen the draft exemption regulation, I hope that he will agree that the amendment is not necessary.

All currently acceptable ways of marking an animal for identification will be exempted from the prohibition on mutilations. Specifically, those mutilations that are necessary to mark farm animals for identification purposes will be allowed to continue. We will exempt freeze branding of horses and cattle, tattooing, ear notching, ear clipping, ear tagging, hot branding of horses, and ear tipping of cats. Of more general application, the use of microchipping will also be exempted.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that it is appropriate to deal with this matter through secondary legislation. We do not know what advances will be made in the technology of animal identification in years to come. My approach makes clear which procedures are acceptable and which are not. It gives us the flexibility to make adjustments to the list of acceptable mutilations if and when circumstances change.

The approach that the hon. Gentleman proposes would not give the same clarity. I am sure we all agree that ear tagging of cattle is marking in an appropriate manner but that chemical branding of a horse is not acceptable. Under the amendment, it would be open to the owner to argue that it was his or her right to do that if it was for identification purposes. That would lead to confusion and, possibly, the courts' finding that some unacceptable mutilations should be allowed.

All acceptable mutilations for identification purposes are to be exempted from the prohibition. My approach gives clarity and ensures that unacceptable procedures will be banned. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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

We have been over this ground earlier, particularly in respect of the exemptions for vets. I believe that the Minister will have taken the point that if an electronic bolus or device is causing the animal pain, it is within the Bill and the duty of care for the owner to sort out the problem. Now that I have heard the Minister's explanation, for which I am grateful, I agree that the bulk of that is covered by the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 83, in clause 5, page 3, line 25, leave out

'as the authority considers appropriate' and insert

'and make available the evidence provided'.

This amendment is not a million miles from the last one. It seeks to make the consultation process for regulations under subsection (4) more transparent. As   drafted, the clause places no statutory obligation on the Government to consult all interested persons—they must consult only those whom they consider appropriate. That could leave open the possibility that certain interested persons could be excluded from the consultation process. That is something that we debated at length on a different subject earlier today.

It is essential that Parliament is able to discuss any draft regulations on animal mutilation, and it will be able to do that efficiently only if there is a statutory obligation on the Government to make available the details of the consultation. This is especially important, given that such decisions must be made on the basis of scientific evidence and fact, not on the basis of political opportunism. In that way, Parliament can more effectively check the Executive and ensure that any regulations have come about as a consequence of thorough consultation.

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

Clause 5(5) is one of the changes that the Government made to the Bill in the light of the recommendations of the EFRA Committee on which the hon. Member for Leominster sat. That Committee recommended that a duty to consult should be introduced into the clause. We responded positively to that recommendation, which has improved the Bill.

Amendment No. 83, however, would not improve the Bill. It would have two effects, neither of which is desirable. First, it would make the consultation requirement wholly disproportionate. Subsection (5) requires the Secretary of State or the Welsh National Assembly to consult only those people whom they consider appropriate. If that discretion were removed, the Government and the Welsh National Assembly would be obliged to consult all people representing any interests concerned, even if it were manifestly inappropriate to do so. That could result in unnecessarily burdensome and unprofitable consultations. An unlimited commitment such as that would be a waste of resources.

The second part of the amendment is obscurely drafted, but I presume that its intention is to require the appropriate national authority to make available to the public the evidence provided by persons consulted under subsection (5). We do not believe that such a requirement should appear in the Bill. All Departments are already required to follow the Government's code of practice on consultation. That includes accompanying the draft regulations with a regulatory impact assessment that sets out the evidence. Criterion 4 of the code requires Departments to

''give feedback regarding the responses received and how the consultation process influenced the policy''.

Furthermore, information provided by the public in response to consultations has to be dealt with in accordance with the access to information regimes, which are primarily those under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.   If respondents request that information given in response to a consultation be kept confidential, that is possible only if it is consistent with freedom of information obligations. That said, on rare occasions it may be appropriate for responses to consultation not to be made public or not to be made public in total.

In other words, the normal presumption is that responses to a consultation will be made available under the freedom of information regime. Hon. Members will know that that is exactly what was done following the consultation on this Bill. It would be inappropriate to try to reproduce the complex provisions and safeguards of the access to information regime with a summary requirement of the type suggested. On those grounds, I urge the hon. Member for Leominster to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:00 pm, 17th January 2006

I am grateful to the Minister for his answers. I do not think that there is any point in fighting this battle any further. It would be nice to have a reference to the information being publicly available, but as long as the Government continue to produce it, we can be satisfied with that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in clause 5, page 3, line 25, at end add

'(6) Regulations made under subsection (4) shall not have the effect of permitting the fitting to game birds of masks, or other attachments that pierce the nasal septum.'.

This is an opportunity for the Committee to consider the welfare of game birds—a matter that legislation has, by and large, neglected over decades—to refer, in particular, to a couple of practices that I find questionable in animal welfare terms and to establish what, if anything, the Government intend to do about such practices. I stress at the beginning that this is not an attempt to limit shooting. It is simply an animal welfare matter that I am raising with regard to how the birds are reared. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation itself has expressed concerns about some of the practices in parts of the country, so there is an issue.

Traditionally, the public perception has been that game birds are out in the country, are free range and are living their lives until such time as they are ended by a shot. However, that is not always the case. Game birds are also kept in cages in a way that we would not tolerate for poultry. The cages are often very unsatisfactory. The hon. Member for Leominster is shaking his head, but I am expressing some of the concerned passed on by the trade body itself.

The amendment would not permit the fitting to game birds of masks or other attachments that pierce the nasal septum. That is important. Such attachments are fitted because there is a danger of bird-on-bird violence, if I can call it that, which is caused by stress, in my view, and by overcrowding. It is the stress and overcrowding that should be dealt with, rather than the symptoms caused by overcrowding. In other words, we should address and eradicate the causes, rather than trying to deal with the problems subsequently.  

Members of the Committee might want to know that specs are blinker-type devices that clip into the nostrils of the bird and prevent forward vision. One variety pierces the nasal septum with a pin. That is illegal for domestic poultry but not for game birds. Masks are metal masks that cover the face and attach at the nostrils. Again, some designs include a pin that pierces the nasal septum.

I believe that such devices have negative welfare implications. Indeed, the Government have concluded—or a Government have, I am not sure whether it was this one or an earlier one—that such devices, when used in poultry, have a detrimental effect on the welfare of birds. The Government code of practice for the welfare of farmed chickens states that

''forms of device fitted to bird's heads (such as spectacles, contact lenses and nasal bits) may also cause welfare problems and should not be used.''

The Government have recognised a problem with poultry and it is difficult to justify a position where there are restrictions on what can be done to poultry but not on what can be done to game birds. There is an inconsistency that the Government ought to deal with. In general terms, the welfare requirements of game birds have not been addressed in the same way as those of some other animals that are farmed—effectively, game birds are farmed if they are being kept in cages.

In general, we have seen a welcome move forward in the past 15 years in welfare for farmed animals and those that are kept in cages. Sometimes, we go further forward with one species than with another—there is an issue about broiler chickens that the Minister has been dealing with. We have certainly lagged behind when it comes to game birds. It would be of benefit to the industry, as many inside it recognise, if we brought in some sensible animal welfare provisions for game birds. That would give the industry more credibility and popular support than it has in some quarters. I hope that our modest proposal will be received sympathetically by the Government and the Minister today. I have highlighted one particular practice that I find objectionable, but I hope that the Committee will respond to the generality of the comments I have made.

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

In so far as amendment No. 8 is intended to ensure that there is a ban on fitting masks and other applications that pierce the nasal septum of a game bird, I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns. As he and his colleagues will see from the draft regulations, the Government will not exempt procedures that pierce the nasal septum of a bird. He is right to point out that such procedures in farm birds are already prohibited by the Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations 1982; the general prohibition in clause 5 will ensure that that prohibition extends to all birds.

I am determined, as I have repeated ad nauseam during this Committee, on Second Reading and even before, that we will not turn the Bill into a Christmas tree and start hanging lots of our favourite baubles on it. I strongly believe that to single out the procedure would not be appropriate. Where the 1911 Act failed to do so, the Bill aims to create the flexibility to respond to changes in society's values or in scientific   knowledge. It would not be in keeping with that principle to put in the Bill a provision that restricted in any way the ability of the appropriate national authority to exempt procedures from a general ban on mutilations. Any proposal from the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to accept procedures would have to be fully consulted on. For England, it would also need approval by Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure.

Fitting a bird with a mask that does not pierce the nasal system would not constitute a mutilation as it would not interfere with the sensitive tissue or bone structure of an animal. Those devices are therefore not prohibited by clause 5 and it would not be possible to exempt them from a ban that does not cover them. I should take this opportunity to inform members of the Committee who do not already know that the Government have commissioned a study into the use of bits and spectacles that do not pierce the nasal septum in the rearing of game birds. That research began on 1 June last year and should be completed by the end of this year. The Government will review the position on the appliances when the research has been completed. Hon. Members should be reassured that the regulation-making powers in clause 10 would allow the appropriate national authority to regulate the use of such devices were the research to show that that was necessary on welfare grounds. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

As my hon. Friend will know, the Select Committee told the Government that the farming of game birds had not been taken terribly seriously and urged them to consult more widely on the issue. Do the Government have the matter in hand? Will there be a proper and comprehensive consultation before potential changes are introduced in secondary legislation or elsewhere?

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

Yes, I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. It is absolutely right to say that the issue has gone unregulated. As we discussed on Second Reading, pheasants do not come under farmed animal regulations and they are being regulated for the first time in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood raised the issue of intensive rearing using raised cages, and we have given assurances in the past that we shall address it.

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

The hon. Member for Lewes said earlier that I was shaking my head, but that was because he implied that large numbers of game birds were hatched from eggs in raised cages. In fact, the number is very small. I agree with what the Minister and the hon. Gentleman said about piercing the septum, but is the Minister not already working with the National Gamekeepers Organisation, which has a code of conduct? Is he not likely, as a result of the research that he is doing, to base his code of conduct on the existing code, which already bans that practice?

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 want to pre-empt the outcome of that research, but any future code of conduct would certainly build on the very good existing code. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it already bans the procedure that most exercises the hon. Member for Lewes.  

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the Minister for a constructive reply. If I understood him correctly, he is telling me that the Bill will outlaw the mutilation that so concerns me, and that is a welcome assurance. I quite accept that, as the Minister says, the Bill is not a Christmas tree, but he must expect people to present baubles on which he can comment before they are subsequently rejected—I am not quite sure what the metaphor should be, but I am grateful for the Minister's assurance. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.