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Clause 7 - Fighting etc

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 19th January 2006.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:00 am, 19th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 164, in clause 7, page 4, line 3, after ‘arranges’, insert ‘or knowingly publicises’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 86, in clause 7, page 4, line 3, at end insert—

‘(aa)distributes promotional material for an animal fight;

(ab)willingly accepts promotional material for an animal fight;’.

No. 165, in clause 7, page 4, line 5, at end insert—

‘(ba)knowingly participates in the publicising of an animal fight;’.

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

Good morning, Mrs. Humble. How nice it is to be back here under your chairmanship.

The amendment seeks to tighten up the proposals to deal with those involved in animal fights. My belief, which is shared by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and, as we heard on Second Reading, by many hon. Members, is that those who have any involvement in the organisation of animal fights must be subject to powers of prosecution under this Bill. It goes without saying that someone publicising an animal fight is playing a significant role in its arrangement and organisation. They are also enticing others to break the law. This practice must be stopped: the present draft does not deal with these offenders, but this amendment will.

Amendment No. 86 also seeks to tighten the proposals to deal with those responsible for the organisation of animal fights. Although the present draft of the Bill contains provisions to prosecute someone who is responsible for arranging an animal fight, it does not address the promotion of such fights. Some people will not have arranged for an animal fight to take place, but will have informed others about it. I feel that those who promote animal fights, whether through word of mouth or, as is common these days, through text messaging and the internet, should be subject to punishment under these laws. After all, a person who promotes an animal fight is causing as much damage as those who arrange it and should be subject to the same law.

Animal fights are among the most cruel and barbaric acts to which we can subject our animals. Amendment No. 165 seeks to make publicising such fights an offence akin to causing an animal unnecessary suffering. There is no separate offence of   publicising an animal fight in this Bill and, as I said before, it is a notable absence. Publicising animal fights can only encourage those people who are not repulsed by the idea to take part and commit an offence. It must be stopped. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.

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

Welcome back to the chair, Mrs Humble. These amendments and amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11, which we will come to later, seek to take clause 7 back towards the draft published in July 2004, which listed a series of specific acts related to animal fighting that were to be offences. Since that draft was published, that list has been removed to simplify the Bill. There is now a more general offence in subsection (1)(b) if someone

“knowingly participates in ... arrangements for an animal fight”.

I should like to say a few words on the drafting of clause 7 as a whole. These comments will apply equally to the later group of amendments. I understand why hon. Members might have concerns about this drafting because it moves away from the current law on animal fighting, which is very specific as to the activities that constitute offences. The use of a general offence is novel to enforcers of animal welfare law and naturally there are concerns that the drafting should be wide enough to be capable of encompassing all the activities that the previous legislation covered.

The Government share the hon. Gentleman’s concern to ensure that all forms of animal fighting and preparatory or associated activities are outlawed by the Bill. The Government consider animal fighting an abhorrent activity and we do not want the Bill to introduce any loopholes that allow the activity to continue in this country in any shape or form. I should like to reassure hon. Members of our view that the phrase

“making or carrying out arrangements” is capable of a very wide meaning, not just planning in the prospective sense but any form of culpable involvement in fighting where a person has participated or carried out arrangements for a fight. That could include activities such as distributing promotional material or publicising a fight. In other words, participating in such activities is already envisaged as being covered by subsection (1)(b).

Proposed subsection (1)(ab) in amendment No. 86 would create an offence of willingly accepting promotional material for an animal fight. With respect to the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), I do not think that we should aim to cover that. Let us say that a person is handed a flier in their local pub, puts it in their pocket without thinking, and may have no intention of attending the fight being advertised. We cannot consider that to be as reprehensible as the actions of a person who attends the fight and makes a bet on it. We have probably all accepted promotional material simply when walking down the street, usually without giving it a second thought. To criminalise that would be disproportionate to the evil that we are trying to get at. The amendment goes a little too far, as   possession of promotional material does not imply an intention to get involved in the activity being promoted.

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

I understand the point that the Minister is making, and I agree that although the intention of the amendment is right, the definition is wide and would have the consequence that he has described. However, does he accept that there is a legitimate question as to whether there should be an offence for someone who accepts promotional material in another way—for instance, displaying a poster in a shop window or knowingly allowing a billboard to be used for such a purpose? That would be different from the situation that he correctly described.

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

I accept that point, and I think that it is covered in the clause. However, participation in distributing promotional material, or publicising a fight—this addresses the point that the hon. Gentleman just raised—are activities covered by the Bill.

I am grateful to hon. Members for proposing the amendments, as they have highlighted one possible oversight in subsection (1)(b). I understand their concern that the subsection may exclude cases in which the involvement of a second person cannot be proved. The term “participates” necessarily implies the involvement of another. To that extent, I take the point that the current wording of the subsection may not be sufficiently clear to achieve our policy aim. I would like further to consider whether clarification of the clause is required.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

One of my concerns is about people who put material on the internet either to advertise a fight that is about to be organised or to show it graphically. Will my hon. Friend assure me that there are controls to deal with such people and that they can be apprehended?

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

I believe that to be the case. We will come to issues of the internet and videoing a little later.

Having expressed a desire to clarify the issue of participation, I believe that the general approach of subsection (1)(b) is correct. As we have discussed, returning to the original draft of the clause, in a list format, would be prejudicial to prosecutors seeking a conviction for activities not explicitly mentioned. A more general clause can capture a broader range of activities that may not share all the characteristics of those mentioned in the Protection of Animals Act 1911. A specific list runs the risk of being incomplete, and inevitably fails to take account of new developments. The Bill is drafted in accordance with modern practices: where a general, more succinct formulation is adequate, it should be preferred to a specific and unwieldy list of activities, which may become out of date.

I am grateful to hon. Members for raising the point, and if they agree not to press the amendments, I will contact them before Report with a considered view of the Government’s position on ensuring that someone making or carrying out arrangements for an animal fight has committed an offence, even when there is no   evidence of the involvement of others. On that basis, I urge the hon. Member for Leominster to withdraw the amendment.

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

I understand why the Minister has sought to simplify the Bill, and his point about lists. There is only a cigarette paper’s difference between us on the point in question, so we are down to the devil in the detail. I was concerned that somebody might send the Minister a text message saying “Dear Ben, there is an animal fight at 7.30 at Bradshaw’s farm; don’t go there, it is disgusting, or perhaps you would like to picket outside.” That is tantamount to advertising, but in a negative way and it is a trick that people might perform to promote that sort of violent, evil activity. People ought to be prosecutable for that, as well.

I am grateful for the Minister’s offer to go away and think about how he is going to finalise the Bill, so I am more than happy to withdraw my amendment. I look forward to hearing from him about how he is dealing with the matter. 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. 125, in clause 7, page 4, line 4, leave out from ‘for’ to end of line 5 and insert ‘the fighting of animals’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 126, in clause 7, page 4, line 12, leave out from ‘which’ to first ‘with’ in line 13 and insert

‘the fighting of animals takes place.’.

No. 127, in clause 7, page 4, line 14, at end add—

‘(4)In subsection (3), “the fighting of animals” means the placing of a protected animal’.

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

These probing amendments are intended to obtain reassurances from the Government about specific aspects of the animal fighting offence. The drafting of the Bill has led to some expressing concerns to me that, although the clause is strong on combating animal fights when they are about to take place or are taking place, it is weak on legislating against those who are preparing for the fighting of animals. We know that people who engage in animal fighting sometimes train their animals vigorously for weeks and months before they fight. Clearly, if there is evidence to suggest that an animal is being used, or is being trained to be used, for fighting, we should be able to intervene in the animal’s interest at the earliest opportunity. That very sentiment about intervening early is what is behind the duty of care. The amendments are worded to cover the general scope of the fighting of animals and are designed to fulfil the important aim of stopping all activities connected with the preparation for animal fighting.

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

I welcome you to the dawn shift of the Committee, Mrs. Humble.

The amendments are vital. I recognise that the hon. Member for Leominster says that they are probing amendments. The clause refers to “an animal fight”. According to my reading, a magistrates court could deem that to be a specific fight. I would like to see that   term expanded on or changed in this clause so that we have a more general term. The whole clause needs to be considered, rather than just line 4, as in the amendment. Rather than saying, “arranges an animal fight”, the Bill should say, “arranges the fighting of animals”. As has been said, there is quite a difference and the wording is important. Keeping the term “an animal fight” might make enforcement slightly more difficult. I hope that the Minister will go away and ask his officials and those who draft these words to consider the clause. This is serious. It is not just a case of a simple probing amendment. I would like to see something come forward on Report from the Government to change the clause in that respect.

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

Due to concerns that were expressed earlier in the Bill’s drafting, we have already done that. I seek to reassure both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Leominster that this is about how we generally draft in today’s world. Where there is a general and more succinct formulation that is believed to be adequate, that is preferred. The term “an animal fight” is another example of the modern drafting practice that is intended to capture both the singular and the plural. My officials have already been back to parliamentary counsel to seek their assurance on this point. They are confident that the proposed alternatives make no difference to the substance of the clause.

The term “an animal fight” does not mean that the prosecutors have necessarily got to establish the taking place of a particular event, whether in the past or the future. To prove participation in arranging an animal fight, one would have to prove, for example, only that a person had agreed with another that they would fight their dogs. Someone might overhear their conversation and report it, but one would not have to prove that the persons had agreed to fight their dogs in the shed behind the Queen’s Arms on 29 February. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:15 am, 19th January 2006

I said that the amendment was a probing one. I am sorry that the Government have had to go to the drafting team to ensure we have got it right, but the matter is important enough to justify that sort of due diligence. I hope that the Minister’s advice is right; I am not a professional draftsman myself. In the spirit of consensus and co-operation and to further the progress of the Bill, I shall take the Minister at his word and 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. 9, in clause 7, page 4, line 9, at end insert—

‘(e)receives money for admission to a place which is being used for an animal fight.’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 10, in clause 7, page 4, line 9, at end insert—

‘(e)keeps or trains an animal for the purpose of an animal fight.’.

No. 11, in clause 7, page 4, line 9, at end insert—

‘(e)has in his possession anything capable of being used in connection with an animal fight with a view to its being so used.’.

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

May I just accept the point that the Minister made in his earlier comments? The rationale behind the amendment is as he describes, so the question is whether a specific list or a more general approach is to be preferred. There is an argument for a more general approach, which I am happy to accept. Over the years, we have seen legislation that is deemed to be out of date and inappropriate because it relies on a specific list. Telephone tapping, for example was covered by legislation, but it did not pick up bugging, and the invasion of privacy was the same. A general approach, rather than a specific list, is to be welcomed.

One has, therefore, to be very sure that the general description used is adequate to cover all the offences that we want covered. There is no difference of view between members of the Committee on what we should do: we must clamp down firmly on this disgusting activity. We do not want any loopholes. I am grateful that the Minister will reconsider subsection (1)(b), which he is relying on. It is a very short provision—barely one sentence—so we have to make sure it is absolutely right.

I ask the Minister for his assurance, which I think he will be prepared to give, that amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are covered by subsection (1)(b). I hope that they are, but it would be useful to have it on record. Amendment No. 9 probably is covered. Amendment No. 10 partly relates to our previous discussion. However, I am not entirely happy that the provisions of amendment No. 11 are covered. The Minister knows that the possession of fighting equipment is currently an offence, for example, in relation to cock fighting under the Cockfighting Act 1952. That Act will be repealed by the Bill so the safeguard will go. I am keen to ensure that the possession of equipment, whether spurs for cock fighting or breaking sticks for dog fighting, will be picked up by the general description in subsection (1)(b). Effectively I am trying to create a “going equipped” clause. According to the wording of amendment No. 11, it would not just be a question of possessing such material, but a question of possessing it

“with a view to its being so used”.

There would be a requirement to demonstrate the purpose of holding such material because some of it could be held for legitimate purposes, and I would not want to catch that. I am not convinced that the possession of such material is covered by subsection (1)(b), and I ask for the Minister’s reassurance about that.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I want to follow up the hon. Gentleman’s points; I would like to see clarity. From memory, I think that a number of the points raised in the   amendments were in the draft Bill, and I would like to ask the Minister on what grounds the offences in question were not included in this Bill.

I am sure that hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong, but I recall that the Select Committee considered whether the intention to hold a fight was as serious as holding a fight. The issue exercised us greatly. Obviously, terminology to deal with offences such as keeping or training an animal for the purpose of a fight, receiving money, which could, of course, be taken in advance of a fight, and so on are important because of the nature of this activity and those who indulge in it. They are very organised, and it is possible that they may not necessarily carry out fights, for all sorts of reasons, but still be guilty of, for example, training dogs to be able and ready to fight. As far as the Select Committee was concerned, that certainly was worthy of prosecution.

How would prosecution occur if there are not grounds in the Bill to allow the authorities to pursue it? Will the Minister explain the difference between this Bill and the draft Bill, which was more extensive, and why the changes were made?

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

I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), particularly those on amendment No. 11. Like him, I refer to what the Minister said about the scope of subsection (1)(b). I do not believe that it covers the offence of possessing equipment; indeed, the RSPCA consulted its lawyers and is not confident that it is covered.

I need not go into the horrors of animal fighting or persuade anybody on this Committee that the offence of fighting is, as the Minister said, abhorrent. I shall confine my comments to pointing out that amendment No. 11, which deals with the possession of equipment, may not stand in a court of law; it is not precise enough to be included in the Bill. I ask the Minister to comment on it and to consider tabling an amendment containing a new subsection on Report.

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

To respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I go back to what I said about the earlier group of amendments and the general philosophy behind the change. Contrary to what has been said about widening the scope of the law, the Bill could, in fact, limit it if it were more specific. That point has been touched on several times in this Committee. The Government would not try to simplify the Bill in this way if we felt that we were ruling out offences that we wanted to cover. Our legal advisers stated strongly that the Bill deals with the concerns expressed by the RSPCA and others. It covers someone who knowingly participates in arrangements for an animal fight, someone who receives money for admission to a place which is being used for an animal fight, someone who keeps or trains an animal for the purpose of an animal fight or someone who keeps equipment for use in animal fight activities. We are strongly advised that all those things fall within the scope of subsection (1)(b).

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

I am listening to the Minister with interest and am grateful to him for giving way. Clearly, there is some legal doubt. If the RSPCA lawyers say that there is a difficulty with the wording of the Bill but the Government lawyers say that there is not, surely the precautionary principle would require us to try to remove the doubt, as there is no doubt that the people who will be prosecuted under this offence are, generally, organised criminals rather than members of the public. Therefore, they are likely to be aware of any loopholes in the law, and able to exploit them.

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 agree that there are loopholes in the clause. The issue of keeping equipment was raised at rather more length by the hon. Member for Lewes. In the absence of evidence for the equipment’s lawful purpose, the act of keeping equipment is strong evidence of an arrangement for a fight. The hon. Gentleman gave the example of a pub landlord who had animal fighting equipment on his or her wall. We should want to catch the person who held the equipment not because they thought that it was a curiosity, but because they intended to use or had used it for a fight.

The simplification of the clause will improve the Bill and broaden its scope to cover the activities about which hon. Members are concerned. As I said in my response to the earlier group of amendments, we accept that there may be a problem with the wording about participation. I shall return to hon. Members on Report with what we hope will be a solution to that.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. My fears have not been entirely allayed by his response to amendment No. 11. The pub landlord in the example would not be prosecuted or successfully prosecutable under my amendment, because it would require motive as well as possession to be demonstrated. However, the sensible action at this stage is to withdraw the amendment and see whether the clause’s new wording, with which the Minister will return on Report, allays my fears about this and earlier matters. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Before we move to the next group of amendments, may I take this opportunity to remind Members who wish to contribute to the discussion to rise early in order to catch my eye? I shall then call them in the debate.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in clause 7, page 4, line 10, leave out

‘he is present at an animal fight’ and insert—

(a)present at an animal fight, or at an activity where there is a reasonable likelihood of such a fight taking place;

(b)makes a recording of an animal fight;

(c)has in his possession or distributes—

(i)a recording of an animal fight

(ii)a copy of such a recording, or

(iii)material from such a recording; or

(d)publishes material from a recording of an animal fight.’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 166, in clause 7, page 4, line 10, leave out

‘he is present at an animal fight’ and insert—

‘(a)he is present at an animal fight;

(b)he makes a recording of an animal fight;

(c)he has in his possession or distributes—

(i)a recording of an animal fight,

(ii)a copy of such a recording, or

(iii)material from such a recording; or

(d)publishes material from a recording of an animal fight.’.

No. 87, in clause 7, page 4, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2A)A person commits an offence if, without lawful authority or excuse, he—

(a)produces a visual record of an animal fight,

(b)is in possession of a visual record of an animal fight, or

(c)distributes a visual record of an animal fight.’.

No. 167, in clause 7, page 4, line 14, at end add

‘and “recording” means a record from which visual images or sounds may, by any means, be reproduced.’.

No. 13, in clause 7, page 4, line 14, at end add—

‘(4)For the purposes of this section “recording” means a record from which visual images or sounds may, by any means, be reproduced.’.

No. 118, in clause 20, page 11, line 26, after ‘8’, insert

‘[Recordings of prohibited conduct],’.

No. 119, in clause 28, page 13, line 26, after ‘7’, insert

‘or [Recordings of prohibited conduct]’.

No. 120, in clause 29, page 14, line 8, after ‘8’, insert

‘or [Recordings of prohibited conduct],’.

No. 121, in clause 30, page 15, line 36, after ‘8’, insert

‘section [Recordings of prohibited conduct](1)(a),’.

No. 122, in clause 36, page 19, line 2, after ‘7’, insert

‘or section [Recordings of prohibited conduct](1)(a),’.

No. 37, in clause 36, page 19, line 18, at end insert ‘including recording equipment’.

No. 185, in clause 36, page 19, line 18, at end insert

‘or in arranging, publicising, recording or distributing a recording of, an animal fight.’.

No. 123, in clause 36, page 19, line 18, at end insert—

‘(e)in the case of conviction for an offence under section [Recordings of prohibited conduct](1)(a), to anything used, designed or adapted for making a recording.’.

New clause 5—Recordings of prohibited conduct—

‘(1)A person commits an offence if, without lawful authority or excuse, he—

(a)makes a recording of prohibited conduct;

(b)has in his possession or distributes—

(i)a recording of prohibited conduct,

(ii)a copy of such a recording, or

(iii)material from such a recording; or

(c)publishes material from a recording of prohibited conduct.

(2)For the purposes of subsection (1)(b) and (c), “prohibited conduct” means—

(a)conduct, wherever it takes place, which contravenes (or would if taking place in England and Wales contravene) section 4(1);

(b)a prohibited procedure within the meaning of section 5(3), wherever carried out, other than in circumstances specified in regulations made under section 5(4) as regards section 5(1);

(c)an animal fight within the meaning of section 7(3), wherever it takes place; or

(d)an act, wherever it takes place, which contravenes (or would if taking place in England and Wales contravene) section 69(1) or (2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (intercourse with an animal).

(3)For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), “prohibited conduct” means conduct specified in subsection (2)(a) to (d) which takes place in England and Wales.

(4)A person who has matter in his possession through his use of a computer in England and Wales commits an offence under subsection (1)(b) notwithstanding that the matter in question is received from a computer outside England and Wales.’.

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

This group of amendments, too, stems from concern that the clause does not cover activities that I am sure the Government do not want to occur, and their purpose is at least to establish whether that is the case. The Minister knows that provisions for activities related to the recording of animal fights and the possession of such material appeared in the draft Bill, but that they have been excluded from the Bill before us.

Amendment No. 166, in the name of the hon. Member for Leominster, is almost identical to mine. That is an extraordinary coincidence, and the fact that we have independently come to the same conclusion using the same wording shows the value of amendment No. 12, and adds weight to my argument.

The issue of whether an animal fight is recorded merits separate consideration. I am not convinced that it is covered by subsection (1)(b). I am even less convinced about the clause than I was during the previous group of amendments. Someone with a mobile phone may pass an animal fight, having no prior knowledge of it, see the fight taking place and subsequently send a picture of it to their friends using their phone.

That person has not arranged an animal fight, as in subsection (1)(a); they have not knowingly participated in making, or carrying out, arrangements for an animal fight, as in paragraph (b); they have not accepted a bet, as in paragraph (c); nor have they taken part in an animal fight, as in paragraph (d). That person is outside an animal fight; they are recording it and distributing the recording. Under those circumstances, the clause does not cover such people.

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

The problem with the clause is that it talks about the process of an animal fight—the preparation and the engagement—and stops in the wrong place. It should cover related events that may take place after the fight. The nub of the problem is that the process of an animal fight has not been captured fully by the clause, which is why it should be extended to include recording and viewing.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:30 am, 19th January 2006

I agree. Subsection (1) is designed to pick up those who have organised and participated in an animal fight; it is not designed to pick up those who have come along and observed such a fight and who then exploit it.

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

Is it not also the case that someone who comes across an animal fight and records it on a mobile phone could forward that recording to the police? The clause may be admirable, but needs amending to make that clear.

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

That may well be a reasonable point. If the Minister wants to come back with a composite provision to take it on board and provide for a reasonable defence as to why a recording was made, that might be the answer and I would be happy to consider it. However, I want to know from the hon. Gentleman whether someone in the circumstances that I have described would be prosecutable. I do not think that they would be.

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

I tabled many of the amendments in this group and I shall speedily go through them. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is little difference between two of them. However, there is a difference in wording, which is why both were selected.

As the hon. Gentleman said, amendments Nos. 166 and 87 have been sought in various guises by a number of interested groups, including the RSPCA. There is currently no specific offence to deal with photography and filming, and I think that there should be. I accept that much of this will be covered in legislation relating to obscene material. I am nevertheless concerned that the absence of such an offence from this Bill will hamper investigations into animal fights, which is the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith).

Including a recording offence would also mean that convictions could be sought in respect of those possessing or distributing such material, even if the content of the material was produced outside the time limit for bringing a prosecution. People who keep records of animal fights must be punished; otherwise they will spread their sadistic activities to others, who could also end up involved in such sickening activities. Considering the opportunity that the internet can offer people to publish material from the recording of an animal fight, it is especially important that we stamp down on that practice. Ultimately, as the hon. Member for Lewes said, the amendment would close a loophole that may have permitted those involved in animal fights to escape justice.

It is probably worth mentioning that fights recorded abroad would be outside the scope of the Bill, but, under the proposal, the recordings would fall within it. We know that the Government feel passionately that people should be able to be held for a long time without charge, so that the police have time to investigate the evidence before a charge is brought against them. The Government made the point that the police needed time to dig through the ways in which people can now hide information. I am thinking of recordings or files that contain such information. As a result, we need to include the type of offence proposed.

Amendment No. 167 was written in conjunction with the other amendments. It states that

“‘recording’ means a record from which visual images or sounds may, by any means, be reproduced.”

That is fairly clear, so I will not take up too much of the Committee’s time banging on about it.

Amendment No. 118, relating to recordings of prohibited conduct, would ensure that inspectors and constables who had been authorised with a warrant could enter premises to search for recording   equipment. No provision is currently in place to restrict or ban the use of recordings of prohibited conduct, so it is necessary to add such a provision, and it would be right and appropriate to give constables and inspectors the power to enter and search premises to find evidence of the recording of crimes. I have touched on the Government’s views on that. The amendment is essentially a tidying-up measure.

Amendment No. 119 follows on from amendment No. 118. As I mentioned, the Bill does not contain provisions to deal with those involved in recording activities. In my opinion, recording animal welfare and cruelty offences is a crime as serious as the offence itself. The amendment would insert language covering recordings of prohibited conduct.

Amendment No. 120 is another in the group dealing with such recordings, and would make adjustments to the Bill to facilitate insertion of my new clause. People who record animal fights are sick individuals and the legislation must include provisions to deal with them. Those who commit such acts must be punished—I use that word seriously—and animals in their care should be protected. If a police officer found that people had been recording acts constituting offences of animal cruelty under the proposals, they would be punished. Such people are unfit to care for animals, and the amendment would make sure that they can lawfully be deprived of the animal in the interests of protecting it.

Like amendment No. 120, amendment No. 121 would ensure that those who have made recordings of conduct prohibited by the legislation can be disqualified from keeping animals. I acknowledge that such individuals may not have recorded their own animals, but as they would have participated in activities that the Bill seeks to prohibit, there is a strong and convincing case to be made that they pose a genuine, dangerous threat to the well-being of all animals. The best way to deal with them is to keep them away from animals, and we must always ensure that the animal’s welfare comes first. The measure would provide for a helpful extra punishment whereby people recording such sick activities would not themselves be able to keep animals in future.

As with previous amendments, amendment No. 122 deals with the integration of my proposed new clause on the recording of prohibited conduct. The amendment would mean that those who committed offences under that new clause risked having their equipment taken away and destroyed. The Committee will understand that we are really going after such people in every way we can.

I am grateful for Members’ patience as I scamper through these amendments. In amendment No. 185, which complements amendment No. 122, we seek to widen the scope of the sanctions available to punish those who seek to keep records of animal fights, either for their personal use or for promotional purposes.

The Bill contains no sanctions against those who indulge in recording animal fights, which we all believe are wrong and should be prevented. One way of successfully preventing them is through criminalising their promotion and recording. As there does not seem to be a desire to outlaw recording of animal fights, I   feel it is important to punish those who record such fights with sanctions similar to those imposed on the people who let their animals fight. Promoters of animal fights, and those who record them, are as bad as those who perpetrate the crime of fighting itself.

Amendment No. 123 is also concerned with the integration of my proposed new clause. I hope that, like the others, that amendment will be given due consideration by the Committee and be included in the Bill. It deals with articles used, designed or adapted for making a recording, in the case of conviction under the recordings provisions. It follows amendment No. 122 and complements amendment No. 185, and it specifically relates to the use of recording equipment in animal fights and the sanctions that should be applied to those who partake in recording such activities. I do not need to repeat my feelings about those activities. The amendment makes sure that if people own specific equipment related to fighting, it will be treated in the same manner as equipment used in the actual fights.

New clause 5 seeks to establish a new offence of recording prohibited conduct to have a positive effect in reducing animal cruelty. It will punish those who indulge in filming some of the most sickening and stomach-churning activities imaginable, and will complement and strengthen the whole Bill. When the 1911 Act was passed, there was little mass access to recording equipment, which was undoubtedly why recording was not even considered as something that should be included in it. The 21st century will be a century with even more such communication technologies, and considering that the Bill is intended to update animal cruelty laws, it is appropriate to add the new clause and its related amendments.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

I speak in favour of the amendments for several reasons. First, clause 7 does not cover the issue of fights; it deals with what happens before and during the fight, but not what happens after it. The clear message about fighting being illegal will send some people underground to make such recordings and to promote their activities. That is why it is particularly important that we send out a clear message that that is totally unacceptable.

I am also very concerned about an obscene fascination with lurid images that seems to be growing, particularly among young people. Sometimes, the very fact that they can gloat about something and show the images to their friends in the most obscene fashion goads them on to participate in activities that are quite despicable. We are not talking here about formal fights, but about more informal activities in which people indulge, to provoke and goad animals in order to create despicable images to pass on to friends. We must send out a clear message that that is completely unacceptable, and ensure that young people in particular are not tempted to indulge in such activity simply because they can glorify in it afterwards through the images that they produce.

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

Welcome back, Mrs. Humble. I respect and support the amendments, but I can see a problem with them, which I hope that the Minister will address. It concerns the malicious distribution of video clips or e-mail clips. Those of us who have been on the receiving end of malicious distribution, not wishing to receive clips of pornography or anything similar, know that we would destroy such clips. However, there would still be a record of them that can be unencrypted on computers and video phones. These are probing amendments, and I hope that the Minister will be able, after reflection, to introduce amendments that keep to their spirit, while protecting people who receive malicious distribution of clips. At present, the wording of the amendments would make those people guilty of an offence.

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

The Committee’s feelings about the recording of animal fights are clear. We could argue about the wording of each amendment, what it may or may not achieve, and what problems it would create. However, it is important, as with the issue of tail docking, that the Minister goes away and get the draftsmen to consider how the clause can be worded to take into account the serious concerns that have been raised.

The recording of animal fights is absolutely integral to a loathsome subculture, from which it cannot be divorced. That is why members of the Committee are concerned that we ensure that the Bill tackles it. There is an analogy with child pornography: people videoing, distributing or possessing it are guilty of a crime. We must consider such parallels and try to get something in the Bill that captures those who video or record such cruelty, as well as those who purchase or keep it. That should not relate just to animal fighting. The Bill should cover the recording and distribution of any animal cruelty because, in addition to betting, that is how these subcultures that feed on suffering and cruelty make their money.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:45 am, 19th January 2006

The hon. Lady is making a passionate speech and she has got it right in some respects. However, we do not want the Government to say that such films are the equivalent of child pornography or any other obscene literature, because the minute that happens they fall outside the scope of the Bill. We want the reference to the equipment and storage of information to be in the Bill so that action can be taken; we do not want people to get away with it.

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

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the analogy with child pornography was intended to demonstrate that the videoing, recording and distribution of images is integral to this vile subculture. It is serious. Therefore, it must be tackled in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond to what members of the Committee are saying. I am worried about the time limits in the clause for the prosecution of offences, which I may raise in the stand part debate.

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

The discussion has clearly shown a significant gap in the Bill as drafted, as I hope the Minister will accept. I echo what the hon. Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) said, and I support a separate clause to cover the recording of acts of animal cruelty. There are commercial videos, recordings and internet distribution of animal fights, but it remains legal to record and possess images of acts of animal cruelty of the kind that the hon. Member for Llanelli mentioned—the equivalent of happy slapping.

We all know that, unfortunately, there are some twisted people in society who seem to take pleasure in the abuse of animals and, in this day and age, that often means that they record that abuse. That must become an offence. We must tighten the loophole by which an act of cruelty, such as an animal fight that is filmed abroad but possessed by someone in this country, is legal. The Bill needs a separate clause on the issue of recording and possessing images of acts of animal cruelty. I hope that the Minister will take note of what has been said in the debate and think about introducing such a proposal.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I support the amendment and urge the Government to take our concerns extremely seriously. The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 prohibits the public exhibition or supply of a film for that purpose if its production involved the cruel infliction of pain or terror on an animal or the cruel goading of any animal to fury. However, that Act was designed to cover films shown in cinemas; it does not cover the exhibition or supply of recordings for viewing in private homes or by tight-knit groups of individuals where admission is by invitation. Furthermore, it does not cover the possession, as opposed to the exhibition or supply of, recordings involving cruelty or fighting, and there is no record of a prosecution having been brought under that Act.

Under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, it is an offence to publish or have an obscene article for gain, but that does not cover possession for personal viewing or even viewing with a group when there is no evidence of a charge being made for viewing. An article is obscene if

“its effect is ... such as to tend to deprave or corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.”

That is a notoriously difficult test to apply and extremely difficult to prove. I understand that the RSPCA, through its best endeavours, has secured just one conviction under the Act when a judge ruled that a so-called squish video was obscene. The limitations of the Act in relation to animal welfare are obvious. In addition, not all recordings of animal cruelty will be considered “obscene” and it is extremely difficult to prove that publication was for gain, especially when only one video is found.

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

Given the number of Committee members who have expressed concern about the matter and given the speech made by the hon. Member for Putney on Second Reading, I shall spend a little time trying to reassure hon. Members that the Government are doing the right thing.

First, I emphasise that we sympathise with the legitimate concern about the recording of animal fights, cruelty and bestiality. I agree with the description of those activities that the hon. Member for Lewes gave on Second Reading that they are disgusting. However, there were many reasons why the offence relating to the recording of animal fights was taken out of the draft Bill published in 2004 and they apply equally to recordings of cruelty and bestiality.

I shall deal quickly with the point about making a recording. If someone is making a recording of a fight, they are likely to be present at the fight and to have participated in carrying out the arrangements for the fight. It is possible that someone could make a video of an existing electronic image of an animal fight, but that is probably not what the hon. Gentleman was considering and, anyway, in general it will be covered by the comments that I shall make on distribution and possession.

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

To pick up on participation, which I know the Minister is reviewing, if someone is walking down the street and sees something occurring and videos or records it on a mobile phone, they would not be participating in that fight and would not be covered. I suggest that they would have a good defence in law.

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

Let me make my remarks on distribution and exhibition as opposed to just possession. Several statutory safeguards covering distribution and exhibition already exist, as the hon. Gentleman said. The Obscene Publications Act 1959 prohibits the publication and distribution of material that tends to deprave and corrupt and much of the material causing concern today would be covered by the Act for prosecution.

The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 prohibits the exhibition and supply of any film involving cruelty or infliction of pain or terror on an animal and as such would cover films of animal cruelty, fights and many mutilations.

The Video Recordings Act 1984 prohibits the supply of a video recording that has not received a classification by the British Board of Film Classification. The BBFC is not allowed to give a classification to any material that contravenes the Obscene Publications Act 1959 or the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, such as the recording of an unlawful activity, or an animal fight, cruelty or bestiality.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The problem is that the first two Acts do not apply directly to an offence of recording animal welfare abuse when viewed in a private home, and despite the best endeavours of the RSPCA, only one prosecution has been brought under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

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

I shall come to the difficulties of criminalising possession or viewing in a private home in a moment.

In addition, other regulatory frameworks prevent the distribution and viewing of such recordings, including the Ofcom broadcasting code and the BBC’s editorial guidelines, which ensure that such scenes are not broadcast to the public in the UK. The Government are satisfied that the commercial distribution and exhibition   of such material is controlled. However, I accept that private exchanges take place outside that regulatory framework. When that is for commercial gain, again it is likely to be in breach of the 1984 Act, but I appreciate that the Act does not stop this happening. However, making it an offence under the Bill is not likely to do that either. The way to stop the underground trade is to prevent fights happening in the first place.

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

I am puzzled by the Minister’s comments that making such behaviour an offence will not stop it happening. Surely if the law is strengthened so that people can be more readily prosecuted, that is precisely the effect that it will have.

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

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I will come on to the difficulty of formulating and enforcing a law in the way in which she suggests in a moment.

There is no existing offence of possessing, as opposed to distributing, recordings of animal cruelty, animal fights and bestiality. On reflection, after the draft of the Bill was published, the Government concluded that the case for criminalising the mere possession of such material had not been made. Under current legislation, we have criminalised the possession of images only in exceptional circumstances. It may be helpful to remind hon. Members of the current area where the mere possession of images is an offence: indecent photographs of children. That is the only area. The Home Office is currently consulting on a proposed new offence of the possession of extreme pornographic material. That will concern the possession of material covering bestiality, necrophilia, serious sexual violence and serious violence in a sexual context.

I do not particularly want to go into any of those topics in more detail at this time in the morning, but the points that I wish to illustrate are, first, that possessing scenes of bestiality is already being considered elsewhere and it would not be appropriate to pre-empt that consultation and, secondly, that the Home Office is consulting now on proposals to criminalise the possession of abhorrent material involving the abuse of humans, which it has been illegal to distribute for many years. The wide range of responses that it has received indicates that there will be huge difficulties in criminalising the possession of such images. Quite a number of respondees considered the proposals to be a major increase in powers and unnecessary when such imagery is legal in many other parts of the world. If we are still in the process of considering proposals to criminalise the possession of what we believe to be abhorrent scenes of necrophilia and brutal, violent rape, how do we justify criminalising possession of scenes of animal cruelty and fighting?

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley

The additional point that some Members have referred to and that I want to draw out is that we have to admit that there is a deplorable trend in society to record certain events on mobile phones or hand-held videos—it could be by chance, but is not. Members have referred to happy slapping. The problem with what the Minister has said   about the Home Office consultation is that we know that such behaviour is happening now. There is a deplorable trend of provoking something cruel—involving humans in the case of happy slapping, or animals—so that it can be recorded. That is a recent trend and it is not covered by what he is talking about. The Committee feels that it has a chance to stop that deplorable trend. In some ways, animal cruelty is extended by technological capabilities—

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

Order. I think that the Minister has got the drift of the intervention.

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

I understand my hon. Friend’s point completely. We all deplore the trend, but simply because right-minded people deplore a trend does not necessarily mean that it is always easy or even possible to legislate against it. The provocation that she referred to would be covered in the Bill. I am trying to explain why—I will elaborate on this—it is difficult to criminalise the mere possession of certain images in the way that hon. Members suggest.

I draw hon. Members’ attention to the television without frontiers directive, which means that we cannot prevent television broadcasts into the United Kingdom from abroad without meeting a very high test. In simple terms, the test is whether the images could cause physical or mental harm to children. Although one cannot envisage any scene of bestiality that does not meet that threshold—and the distribution and publication of such scenes is already banned by the Obscene Publications Act—I do not think that we can be so categorical about scenes of animal fighting or animal cruelty, the nature and context of which could vary widely. Some would meet that test, but, to take a recent example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport took the view that she could not prevent scenes of bull fighting in Spain from being broadcast into the United Kingdom. I am sure that hon. Members would agree that it would be odd if one could sit at home and quite legally watch scenes of bull fighting on a satellite channel or the internet, but it would be an offence if one videoed it to watch later.

The amendment might also catch the UK representative of the office of the satellite or internet provider and would risk being incompatible with EU law.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (International Development) 10:00 am, 19th January 2006

There is a terrible flaw in that argument. In the internet era we all know that there are images of a quite remarkably disgusting nature—things that we could not imagine and would not want to—which could be broadcast into each and every one of our homes if we went to look for them. Just because things are available in British homes does not mean that we in British law should not say that they are wrong and try to prevent them in every possible way, even if we cannot always prevent them in every situation.

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 is not drawing a distinction between what we might deplore and what we might feel able, in practical terms, to legislate   against. The amendment would also make it an offence to possess a holiday video of an animal fight watched perfectly legally abroad. Bull fighting is the obvious example. There are strongly held views on whether bull fighting is acceptable and the Bill makes it plain that it will remain illegal in the UK, but that does not mean that it is appropriate to make it an offence to possess a video of such an event, which has been watched legally and openly in another country.

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

I hear what the Minister is saying about bull fighting in Spain, but he is taking us away from the Committee’s core concern, which is animal fighting in the UK. Fair enough, he mentions bull fights. But nobody is going to take a case on that to the courts in this country. I doubt whether the RSPCA would use its resources to try to get a prosecution because someone has an image on their mobile phone of a bull fight in Spain. We are talking about one of the most serious forms of cruelty in this country. It is a vile and violent subculture. The Minister must get back to that. Surely it is up to the courts to decide, not the Committee saying, “Well, what about a bull fight? We had better not do anything about dog fighting because we might criminalise someone coming back from their holiday.” The Minister is deflecting us from the key concern.

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

I am not seeking to deflect the Committee at all. I am simply trying to concentrate the minds of Members on the possible implications of the amendments and new clauses. As my hon. Friend knows, commoners can prosecute under the Bill so it would be up to her. If she deplored bull fighting, she could take out a case. She would not have to rely on the RSPCA.

Let me deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) on Second Reading. She said that it should not matter whether the recording took place in the jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales. All one would need for the offence to be committed would be the possession or distribution of a recording in England and Wales. If the fight took place outside England and Wales, it is not an animal welfare issue of the type the Bill is intended to address.

The proposed offence attempts to take universal jurisdiction over the welfare of animals in other countries. I do not consider that justified in respect of bull fighting in Spain, and one could think of other examples to highlight the fact that such activities may be perfectly legal in the country where they are filmed. Furthermore, it would be difficult to prove that the animals involved were harmed. The fight could be a computer-generated image, which is an increasing problem with today’s technological advances.

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

My hon. Friend says that it is difficult to show whether an image is computer-generated or an actual fight. That is not true. It is quite easy technologically to distinguish between the two.

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

I take my hon. Friend’s point. The advice I have been given is that that could cause problems. I will explain why. To anticipate the objection that the distinction should not matter   because the evil that we are trying to address is copycat behaviour by viewers, I simply point out that we should be well into the realms of public morality if we were to criminalise the possession of computer-generated images of animal fighting on that basis.

I draw Members’ attention to the current film “King Kong”, which contains graphic scenes of animal fights, albeit computer-generated, and is rated 12A and likely to be seen by a wide and possibly impressionable audience. Neither King Kong nor tyrannosaurus rex is a protected animal and, obviously, they are computer-generated, but I am sure that Members will understand the point and agree that that is not what we are trying to capture with the Bill.

I applaud Members’ intentions and share their concern about the morals of people who like to watch recordings of animal fights, but I am not convinced that the amendments and new clause are sensible or practical ways to regulate such matters. It is far more effective for the Bill to focus on preventing animal fighting by deterring those who can clearly be shown to be directly connected with that appalling activity.

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

I understand what the Minister is trying to say, but I do not accept his arguments at all. First, there is a world of difference between a computer-generated image of animal cruelty and an image that is created through genuine animal cruelty, which is what the amendment seeks to tackle.

Secondly, if the amendments were included in the Bill, we might find that people who get sadistic pleasure from watching such images would instead watch computer-generated ones, which might mean that animals would not be injured in the preparation of such images. People could feed their sick, immoral intentions without harming animals. Therefore, I do not understand the Minister’s argument. In many respects, what he is saying proves why the amendments should be included; indeed, there is even greater reason than we had cause to think before.

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

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but her argument does not address the issue of bull fighting in Spain, to which I referred earlier. For those reasons, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

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

I understand that the Minister is fighting a tricky corner. Only a few days ago he took the temperature of the Committee on the thorny moral issue of tail docking. If he had done the same today, he would have learned that the Committee is not at all happy with his valiant defence, which is based on simple practical difficulties.

I do not think that bull fighting falls into the same category as dog fighting—dog against dog—which is a prime concern of the Committee. The abject cruelty that goes with that practice bothers all members of the Committee. Yes, of course, there are practical difficulties in prohibiting something that could be widely interpreted to include bull fighting—I understand that—but that is the challenge that the Government brought on themselves when they introduced the legislation. That is the challenge that they must meet, and that is why they have resources   such as draftsmen and the bright and capable people who support them when they introduce Bills. They should turn to those resources.

There is no reason why people should bring back videos of dog fights from abroad, as the prime cause of that cruel practice is betting. If we do not stamp out that sort of recorded material, even if we stop some of the dog fights that happen in Britain, we will not deal with the root of the problem, which is gambling. Therefore, we must try to make such material illegal in this country.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I hear clearly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I hope that the Government also hear it and come back with an amendment on Report, even if the Minister is not minded to do so at present. Does the hon. Gentleman accept the Minister’s argument that a possible solution would be for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to tighten up the law on visual images? I know that it is difficult for one Department to rely on another in such cases.

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

That is an important point and I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

The Minister talked about bestiality and said that we should not be pre-emptive. We are not talking about that, actually; we are far more concerned about dog fights and other sorts of animal fight. A problem we face as a Committee is what to do about films such as “Lassie”, when one sees dog against puma—or whatever creature Lassie is saving a child from. Such scenes in those films do not mean that the animals in question end up wounded or injured. We are not really dealing with the same kind of film.

To return to the point about bestiality, it will fall under the Home Office’s obscene publications remit because it involves people.

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

I must point out that the line of argument used by the Minister and the hon. Gentleman is absolute nonsense. No one is suggesting that we outlaw computer-generated imagery of animals, whether imaginary animals or real ones, in films any more than anyone is suggesting that because of snuff movies—which we all agree are terrible and evil—we should ban depictions of violence in fictional films. The argument is absolutely spurious.

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

The hon. Gentleman is trying to make the point that there is a difference between violent dog fighting films and those such as “Lassie”. I agree, but I do not think the argument spurious; it is an important one because it is the defence the Government have used.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Presumably, “Lassie”, “King Kong” and the images of a tyrannosaurus rex are covered by the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 anyway.

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

That is helpful; my hon. Friend is right. The point we need to drive home to the Minister is that the Committee is concerned. We are not content to allow films of dog fighting to be kept by people and to   be shown again and again. We want that vile and unpleasant activity stopped across the board. A huge raft of amendments have been tabled that would make it extremely difficult to make such films, to hold on to the necessary equipment, to retain the films at home and to make bets based on the information that can be held.

I hope that the Minister will not stick to his guns on this issue, but will listen carefully to our concerns. If there is a vote I shall support the hon. Member for Lewes and I reserve my right to press new clause 5 to a vote because it deals best with the problem.

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

We have had an interesting exchange. It was one of those occasions when the longer the Minister was talking, the less I was convinced by his arguments. I began with the concern that the generality of subsection (1)(b), which we rely on to cover all the various offences that were in the draft Bill, may not cover recording. I believe that it does not, but I expected the Minister to stand up and say, “Hon. Members are wrong. It does cover recording for the following reasons.” He said nothing of the sort.

The Minister actually said that the subsection does not cover recording and that we cannot deal with that because parliamentary draftsmen would find it too difficult to draft something that covered such an offence, so the Government do not want to pursue the matter. He said that although they do not agree with animal cruelty or with people distributing such disgusting images—he accepted the word I used—somehow the parliamentary draftsmen, who are paid very well, cannot come up with a form of words to deal with the issue, so he is letting it go.

That does not seem a satisfactory way forward and it is resiling from the intention of the draft Bill, which perfectly properly identified the issue as important. Rather than find a form of words with which we are happy, the matter has been dropped altogether. The Minister is saying that people can go out, record such events and distribute them with the blessing of the Government because there is no offence—

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

If the Minister wants to intervene, I will happily allow him to. What discouragement exists in law to prevent people from doing that?

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

I mentioned in my address legislation that covered recording and participating in distribution. The difficulty is criminalising the mere possession of an image when other images, which most reasonable people, including most Committee members, would consider far more serious, are not currently criminalised.

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

What we have from the Minister is a long list of legislation that does not apply in any shape or form to the recording or distribution of material for private purposes when it is shared with people and no charge is made. The Obscene Publications Act does not apply, as we have heard, if no charge is made—it applies only to cases of gain. We   have the evidence of the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, which does not apply unless the recording is a film. The Minister has, to my mind, dealt satisfactorily with the issue of commercial distribution, but not at all with the issue of personal and private distribution.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:15 am, 19th January 2006

The other point that the Minister has not satisfied us on is that the Government may intend to bring in further bans on different types of activity, but there is no reason why this Bill should not lead the way on a specific offence.

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

Absolutely. That is perfectly true. The most that we have been given by the Minister, who is shaking his head and saying that he will not bring the matter back on Report—Government Members should understand that—is a loose promise that, in future, some other Department might have some sort of consultation that will be designed for a different purpose and might suddenly, possibly, be used to deal with this activity. No sensible or detailed promises have been made. We are buying a pig in a poke, if I can use an animal welfare term.

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

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s summing-up, and as he can tell from what I said earlier, I feel strongly about the matter. However, there are some drafting issues with his amendment. Given what the Minister said, would he be able to go back and come up with something that deals with what the Minister says? I am trying to find a way forward with his amendment.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is trying to find a way forward, who feels strongly on the matter and who wants, as I do, to have legislation that works, that is competent and that has no loopholes.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab) rose—

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

I will deal first with the hon. Lady’s point. If the Minister had said that he recognised the issue and the strong feelings of the Committee, and would bring back a form of words that dealt with the matter, ensuring that people could not record or distribute material of this nature, I for one would be standing here saying “Thank you very much. I will withdraw this amendment.” However, he has said nothing of the sort; he has said that he will not bring the matter back on Report, and that he is convinced that the present arrangements are satisfactory.

Under those circumstances, what should the Committee do? I suggest that if I now withdraw the amendment and let the matter go, it will not return in any form because the Minister has set his face against it. The only way—I say this to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes—to achieve progress is for the Committee to support the amendment. The Minister will then have to go back and come up with a form of words that he finds satisfactory.

Paddy Tippingrose—

Mr. Drewrose—

Justine Greeningrose—

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

I have three people trying to intervene on me, so I shall take the hon. Member for Sherwood first.

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

I do not think that this is the only way forward, but I have listened carefully to the debate, and there are strong views on the matter. The Minister has made his position clear. I would not ask him to bring something back on Report but I would ask him to reflect on the debate to see whether he and his officials can find a way forward. The appropriate way forward is to think about it more, reconsider the issues involved and see whether anything can be done to redraft the Bill.

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

We have not even had that. The hon. Member for Sherwood is a notoriously reasonable person.

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

The only people who will leave this Room feeling happy as the Bill stands are organised criminals, who are happy making and distributing recordings of the animal fights that they organise. That is a ludicrous situation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if there is a loophole, we should at least try to close it, rather than just fall over backwards and admit defeat?

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

Absolutely. I must come back to the Minister’s arguments, which were—I do not mean to be offensive—spurious in some regards. We were told that King Kong and tyrannosaurus rex are not endangered or protected species under the Bill.

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

They are extinct—King Kong is not real—so it would be difficult to protect them. It is ludicrous that that point has been weighed in defence of the Minister. It is perfectly possible to separate cinema and films from the activities in real life that we are trying to deal with. For example, plenty of Quentin Tarantino movies, which I do not find in any way attractive, depict significant violence against human beings that if carried out in reality would be an offence, yet no one suggests that Quentin Tarantino is guilty of actual violence. It is clearly fictional. Weighing in with the film “King Kong” to defend the Minister is beyond belief.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Although we feel strongly about this issue I wish to show how difficult it is by raising the matter of material that has been accumulated for the purpose of a prosecution by the RSPCA or trading standards. We have all seen such evidence because its collection is the only way that a prosecution can be effected.

I signed the amendment because, as I said, I want the intention as well as the actual event to be important. Will the hon. Gentleman say what he thinks would happen if the RSPCA took a video and could subsequently be prosecuted for holding that video?

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

That is why I would prefer the Minister to come back with a response. The point about a defence if someone is making a video for police purposes was mentioned earlier, and the hon. Gentleman has made a similar point. I would prefer the Minister to say, “Yes, we are going to deal with this issue and I will come back to the Committee with the appropriate words”, but he has not done so. What do we do now? Either we let it go or we accept the amendment and the Minister will be forced to table a form of words that meets our legitimate points, which is what I suggest. Bull fighting is a red herring, if I may mix my metaphors. I am not even sure that it is an animal fight, as only one animal is involved.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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

I am sorry but I have no time.

The Minister has given a poor answer on a serious issue and we will not make much progress as he has set his face against the proposal. The only way for members of the Committee to improve the Bill is to vote for the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

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

On a point of order, Mrs. Humble. Did the Minister have a chance to speak? [Interruption.] If I am wrong, I will be told.

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

May I clarify whether the Minister wished to speak at this late stage in the debate?

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

Further to that point of order, Mrs. Humble. It is for the hon. Member who moved the amendment to sum up the debate. May we now please move to the vote?

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

As the question has been put, I have to proceed.

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

Further to that point of order, Mrs. Humble. The hon. Member for Lewes asked the Minister to answer various questions. I realise that towards the end of his summing up, the hon. Gentleman did not take interventions. Therefore, if the Minister could possibly respond before we vote on the amendment, it would assist the Committee greatly.

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

The Minister did not indicate that he wished to speak when the hon. Member for Lewes finished speaking. I therefore put the question to the Committee. I fear that having done so, the Committee must reach a decision on the proposal.

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

NOES

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Before we proceed, will the hon. Member for Leominster clarify whether he wishes to move new clause 5 at a later stage?

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

Yes. It will give the Minister a chance to think again. I reserve the right to move the new clause later.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.