Clause 10 - Regulations to promote welfare

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 19th January 2006.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30 pm, 19th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in clause 10, page 5, line 18, at end insert—

‘(1A)Provisions promoting the welfare of animals under subsection (1) may only be made if the appropriate national authority is satisfied, on the basis of public scientific evidence, that those provisions are in fact necessary to promote such welfare.’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 75, in clause 10, page 5, line 26, after ‘more’, insert ‘independent, expert’.

No. 76, in clause 10, page 5, line 27, after ‘to’, insert ‘scientific’.

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

The amendment seeks to clarify the regulatory framework that will follow enactment and to set statutory requirements for the consultation process beforehand. This part of the Bill has attracted much criticism from within and outside Parliament. Many criticisms relate to the unclear nature of the powers that bodies established under future regulations could have. Other concerns relate to the fact that nothing in the Bill guarantees that regulations will be made on the basis of scientific evidence and fact. Including such a provision would follow the precedent in clause 1(4).

Amendment No. 75 seeks to ensure that any bodies that are created under the Bill with functions concerning advice on animal welfare are expert and independent. The Bill does not clarify the nature or composition of the bodies that will be established under subsection (2)(c). I am concerned that, unless it is made clear by statute that they must be expert and independent, they may become mere tools of charities or persons with prejudices. For instance, if those sitting on such bodies had past links with organisations that have certain prejudices about animal welfare, a conflict of interest could arise and questions would be asked. It is true that a degree of flexibility is required when making regulations, but they must be made on the basis of sound and objective science, and by persons whose integrity and independence are beyond question.

Amendment No. 76 seeks to guarantee that regulations made under the clause are done on the basis of science. That is not clear in this clause, whereas clause 1(4) makes it clear that decisions about the animals to be covered by the Bill should be made on the basis of scientific evidence.

On Second Reading, when justifying the need for the Bill, the Secretary of State eloquently stated that existing laws have failed to keep up with scientific advances. Clearly, if the Bill has been drafted in the spirit of science, I see no reason why that should not be stated when it comes to making decisions that are essentially scientific. Therefore the amendment is in keeping with the spirit of science engendered in other parts of the Bill and the comments made by the Secretary of State.

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

Clause 10 provides powers for the appropriate national authority to make regulations for the purpose of promoting animal welfare. The amendments seek to restrict that power in what we believe is an inappropriate manner. Amendment No. 73 is unnecessary as neither national authority would attempt to introduce a regulation unless it was satisfied that that was necessary to promote animal welfare.

The reference to “scientific advice” could have the effect of preventing the authority from making a regulation even when there was good cause to do so. While we will, of course, take into account the latest scientific evidence when assessing the level of regulation that should apply to a particular activity, there are other issues—we have already discussed good practice—that we will also want to consider. The amendment would not allow the appropriate national authority to consider those.

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

Could the Minister or his officials come up with an example of where a national authority might want to legislate without the support of scientific advice?

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 saying that we would want to legislate without the support of scientific advice, but that is not the only criterion that would need to be taken into account. Indeed, we have had discussions about where we draw the line in the definition of “animal”. It is the nature of life that science is sometimes uncertain; there are grey areas and there are boundaries. A future Government may wish to take a decision based on good practice where there is no hard and fast scientific advice available.

Amendment No. 76 suffers from a similar defect. We do not think that it would be sensible to restrict a body established under clause 10 to advising only on scientific matters. Although a large proportion of any such advice may well be of a scientific nature, we do not see any benefit in restricting the role of the bodies in such a way. An appropriate national authority may at some time want a body to advise on the social or other aspects of animal welfare and it would not be clear under the amendment that it would be able to do that.

The Government do not consider amendment No. 75 to be necessary. In deciding to establish organisations to offer advice on animal welfare, the relevant national authority would wish to consider the relevant expertise of the organisation concerned, so I do not believe that it is necessary to include such a reference in subsection (2). As long as a body possesses the relevant expertise and has the resources to carry out the work, I am not convinced that it necessarily needs to be independent, although obviously that is sometimes essential.

However, the need to ensure absolute independence of a body from Government, animal keeping, or any other animal interest, may unnecessarily restrict the relevant national authority’s ability to appoint an appropriate body to carry out that work. Furthermore, consultation, pre-legislative scrutiny where appropriate, and parliamentary debate as part of the affirmative procedure set out in clause 55 would   ensure that any proposals from the Secretary of State are fully debated in an open and transparent fashion. This will also help to ensure that inappropriate or unnecessary regulations would not be introduced. On that basis I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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

The Minister made a fair point on some of these amendments, but I am very unhappy that he has abandoned the vital role of scientific evidence. I hope that he is right. I have made the point repeatedly that we must stick to the science because that is the only way we can justify some of the changes that we want to bring about. I understand why he said what he said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I beg to move amendment No. 194, in clause 10, page 5, line 22, at end insert—

‘(aa)make provision for the specification of certain training methods and devices to be used in the training of animals,’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

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

No. 199, in clause 10, page 5, line 22, at end insert—

‘(aa)make provision imposing prohibitions (including provision making exception from a prohibition);’.

No. 201, in clause 10, page 5, line 22, at end insert—

‘(aa)make provision for licensing when or under what circumstances it is permissible to release game birds and wild fowl into the wild;’.

No. 159, in clause 10, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(d)make provision to enable a person who has an abandoned animal in their care to seek an order from the courts establishing legal ownership of the abandoned animal.’.

No. 193, in clause 10, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(d)make provision regarding the treatment of animals which have been abandoned, including power to authorise that such animals be taken into possession by a local authority or a body with functions relating to the care of animals;

(e)make provision for prohibiting the keeping of animals of a specified kind in specified circumstances;

(f)make provision for prohibiting the use of animals of a specified kind for a specified purpose;

(g)make provision that where an authorised person considers that animals are being kept in a way which is likely to cause unnecessary pain, suffering or injury, or in which their needs are not being met in contravention of section 8, he may serve a notice on the person appearing to him to be in charge of, or responsible for, the animals requiring that person, within the period stated in the notice, to take any action that the authorised person considers to be reasonably necessary to ensure compliance with the provisions of this Act and the authorised person shall give his reasons for requiring that action to be taken.

In this paragraph “an authorised person” means a person authorised by the Secretary of State or by the local authority.’.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am pleased to be able to speak to this group of amendments. The nature of the clause leads us to seek clarity from the Government, but I will not divide the Committee on the amendment. Some issues were clearer in the draft Bill, and we want to get the   wording right. I want to draw out the Minister’s thoughts on this part of the Bill, and I shall listen carefully to what he has to say.

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

Thank you for your explanatory comments, Mr. Gale, which I, as a new Member, found most helpful.

Amendment No. 201 is primarily concerned with the welfare of game birds and wild fowl bred for shooting, and the effect of their release on the health of wild birds. I enjoy the products of shoots so it would be hypocritical of me to be anti-shooting and I do not wish the amendment to be seen as such. However, the licensing of release would help shoots.

There is a secondary issue in addition to the welfare of the birds involved: the potential risk to human and animal health in light of concerns about avian flu. Licensing on the release of game birds would ensure that it could be better regulated.

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

The hon. Lady’s opening remarks were very welcome. She will be aware that everyone who goes on shoots is already licensed because they have a gun. She will also be aware that the time period for release would be quite short. The most important thing is that the people engaged in these sports are also targets for animal welfare nutters, therefore making the information public puts them at risk.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments but I do not necessarily agree with him. The licensing of individuals who have guns is one thing; the licensing of the release of game birds is different—it relates to shoots.

The amendment would give officials the power to decide in what circumstances the birds can be released into the wild. We may need better regulation, relating not just to the health of wild birds but to the health of people and animals. Sometimes we can see that there are artificially high numbers of birds released into the wild in a short space of time, as the hon. Gentleman said. That increases the risk of infection, especially in connection with mallards, which inhabit ponds where there are other domestic or wild fowl. There is no official record of the number of mallards released into the wild, although the Game Conservancy Trust suggested that on average it is just under 35,000 a year. That is a huge number of birds and it causes difficulties for the welfare of both sets of birds.

The British Veterinary Association identified ducks as being the greatest risk of avian flu in this country; they show no sign that they have avian flu, but that is a second issue.The intensive rearing of game birds and wild fowl may produce birds that are unable to survive in the wild for adequately long periods. This is a probing amendment, as there are several licensing issues in respect of game birds being released into the wild which I hope the Minister will reconsider before Report.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45 pm, 19th January 2006

First, 35,000 ducks is a very small number. There are several farms in my constituency which have more than 1 million chickens at any one   time. Secondly, the ducks about which the hon. Lady is worried—the ones that may carry avian flu—are wild ducks coming from Russia rather than tame ducks released domestically or for shooting. Finally, for ducks to be of a shootable quality they must be looked after properly and able to fly sufficiently well. Their welfare standards do not therefore present a risk. She is right to be worried about the problem of avian flu, but in this case the worry is not justified.

Amendment No. 159 is designed to help those who take abandoned animals into their care to become the legal owner of those animals. The Bill makes no provision for the rehoming of animals, other than that in clause 18(1)(b). Many organisations and individuals do such noble work, and we should recognise their wish to become the owners of the animals in question. That position is supported by the International League for the Protection of Horses. We must ensure that the process is smooth and consistent manner, and that there is a reasonable period before such transfer of ownership can take place. That would avoid the case of an owner, having gone on holiday and left their animals in someone else’s care, being unaware of the animals’ new circumstances.

Additionally, in the event of kennels being closed down under the Bill, time will be needed to locate the owners of the affected animals before the transfer of ownership. The amendment would enable regulations—possibly different ones for different animals—to establish criteria and responsibilities for those who want to care for animals in such a situation.

The issue of rehoming is important. I have received all sorts of horrid and heart-wrenching stories about rehoming, and the rules for dogs seem different from those for horses. I suspect that that is where problems arise. I received an e-mail today, from someone who experienced the agony of losing a cat, on the speed at which animals can be rehomed. A week or two can fly by. That person took a long time to come to terms with losing a pet. When they returned home they walked around putting up posters, giving out leaflets and talking to neighbours and cat collectors. They experienced the frustration of people taking delight in sending them further into the depths of despair by telling them off for not having a cat collar, chip or similar.

We need to clarify the process of rehoming. We want abandoned animals to be rehomed as quickly as possible, but we do not want a rehoming regime that is too draconian and causes people undue misery or, worse still, causes them to find that their animal has been rehomed nearby and they are not legally able to get it back. The amendment is intended to draw the issue to the Government’s attention. It is an important point and I hope that the Minister will be able to say some constructive and helpful things, particularly about the rehoming of horses. The period before which horses become eligible for rehoming can be very long. Equally, it is awful when people lend their animal to someone for the period of their holidays, misleading that person into thinking that they are rehoming it. As   soon as they return they claim the animal back and cause a great deal of suffering for people who had genuinely good intentions.

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

I shall deal first with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove). I am advised that clause 11 provides powers to license the release of birds. As she will know from our discussions on Tuesday, or perhaps on Second Reading, there is a planned code of practice that will cover game rearing and consider such issues. On the health risk from avian flu, I believe that if a game farm were within the area of an outbreak, immediate restrictions would, for animal health reasons, be put on any release. I hope that that addresses the concerns that she expressed.

On amendment No. 159 and proposed subsection (4)(d) in amendment No. 193, I am aware of the concerns about abandoned animals. My officials have worked closely with animal welfare organisations responsible for sanctuaries, for which, as hon. Members know, we propose to introduce a registration scheme. Representatives of sanctuaries have talked to my officials about some of the difficulties, which include the transfer of ownership of stray abandoned animals and the problems that can arise when the original owner, who may have failed to care for the animal properly, attempts to reclaim it. I can assure hon. Members that my officials intend to explore the matter further and that clause 10 provides sufficient power to make secondary legislation if it is decided that regulation is necessary.

Proposed paragraph (d) in amendment No. 193 is more wide-ranging but, again, the clause allows regulations to be made regarding the taking in of animals for welfare reasons. We also propose that guidance relating to the care of animals in sanctuaries, including their rehabilitation, will be dealt with through the welfare codes. The contents of a code will be subject to wide consultation, taking in sanctuaries, welfare organisations and others interested in wildlife matters. On proposed paragraphs (e) and (f), I can assure hon. Members that the clause contains sufficient power to make regulations concerning the relevant matters.

On proposed paragraph (g), I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for raising the point regarding the provision of a system of discretionary improvement notices. We consider that clause 10 already allows for that. It includes, in subsection (3)(f), the power

“to make incidental, supplementary, consequential or transitional provision or savings”.

I take the view that the provision about enforcement is incidental to regulations to promote welfare and does not need to be spelled out. Indeed, regulations on the welfare of farmed animals include a power to issue improvement notices, which we want to retain. However, there are further amendments on improvement notices to be reached later in our deliberations, so if I may, I shall say a few words on the matter now.

As we all know, prosecutions for animal welfare offences are brought by a variety of bodies. The mains ones are the state veterinary service, local authorities and the RSPCA. Under the Bill, it will continue to be possible for the RSPCA to prosecute and for private persons to prosecute, although that is rare. That gives rise to special difficulties with devising a system of improvement notices. The RSPCA has indicated that it will issue written advice before prosecuting, which we welcome. One important consideration is whether failure to observe an improvement notice should in itself be an offence. In other words, should the notice have teeth? If it does, we need to consider whether there should be a right of appeal against the notice. The situation then becomes administratively burdensome for the enforcement agency.

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

I have strong feelings about this issue. There are now offences in respect of both cruelty and the duty of care, whereas previously there was only one. When it comes to duty of care, an improvement notice would be far more satisfactory than a prosecution. I think that it should be statutory that if an act of cruelty is taking place, there is no need for the measure that we are considering, but if it is a duty-of-care issue, there should perhaps be a parking ticket-type warning. We all understand how parking tickets work. It is possible to appeal against one, but that is rare. That type of safeguard would mean that pet owners could be confident that if they went wrong—probably inadvertently—they would be brought right quickly, rather than prosecuted. That extra security is an important freedom that we all deserve.

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

That power already exists. I am simply trying to spell out some of the difficulties and some of the matters that we need to examine when considering whether we need statutory improvement notices.

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

On one hand, there is the written advice, which does not have that statutory function but nevertheless gets across the concerns and enables the person with responsibility for the animal to improve its care. On the other hand, there is the improvement notice. Is it not a concern that such a notice would, as the Minister says, include a right of appeal, which could mean that the animal was kept in unsatisfactory conditions pending the appeal being heard?

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

I agree and I would not want to tie someone’s hands if the RSPCA or the SVS wanted to go straight in and make a prosecution. I would not want to insist that they go through an improvement notice system first.

If an improvement notice does not have teeth, it is the same as written advice. Public authorities, such as local authorities or the state veterinary service, that carry out inspection of farm animals will, as a matter of good practice, give such advice before considering prosecutions. I would expect and always encourage them to continue to do that through a code of practice,   if necessary. The area is complex and has already been considered at length, not least during the pre-legislative scrutiny process. I am happy to reflect on it further, but I am not yet convinced that we need to include such a provision.

In short, the act of abandoning an animal will still be an offence under the Bill. There is no explicit provision for it because we do not want to make the Bill longer or more complex than it has to be and we do not consider that such a provision would add anything. That does not in any way downgrade the offence. The same penalties are available under the Bill as are available under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 if the animal is caused unnecessary suffering. In fact, the Bill adds another layer of protection because of the welfare offence.

Clause 10 already provides for the powers in amendments Nos. 194, 199 and 201 should the appropriate authority consider them necessary. It is therefore not necessary to provide for such regulatory powers in the Bill. On that basis, I urge my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I hear what the Minister is saying. I used the probing amendment as an opportunity for him to clarify the situation. I am more than satisfied, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I beg to move amendment No. 197, in clause 10, page 5, line 22, at end insert—

‘(aa)make provision for prohibiting the keeping of primates (including provision making exception from a prohibition);’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to take the following:

New clause 1—Prohibition on keeping certain animals

‘(1)The appropriate national authority may by regulations prohibit the keeping at—

(a)domestic premises, or

(b)other premises, of primates.

(2)For the purposes of subsection (1) “other premises” means premises of such other type as are prescribed.

(3)Any regulation made under subsection (1) must be for the purposes of securing the welfare of primates.

(4)Regulations made under subsection (1) may include, in particular—

(a)provision for the enforcement, other than by way of proceedings for an offence, of the regulations;

(b)provision—

(i)that breach of any part of the regulations is an offence, and

(ii)for penalties as respects the offence;

(c)provision for and in connection with post-conviction orders in relation to an offence under the regulations;

(d)provision conferring on persons of a specified description powers of entry, search, inspection and seizure in connection with breaches (and suspected breaches) of provisions of the regulations;

(e)provision—

(i)that obstructing a person in the exercise of a power conferred by the regulations is an offence, and

(ii)for penalties as respects the offence;

(f)provision (whether or not subject to specified conditions) for exemptions from, or qualification to, an offence under the regulations.

(5)Before making regulations under subsection (1), the appropriate national authority must consult—

(a)such persons appearing to them to represent relevant interests, and

(b)such other persons as they consider appropriate.’.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Perhaps I will not be quite so amenable about this amendment; I may not be quite as brief as I was in speaking to the previous group. Amendment No. 197 and new clause 1 are crucial. The Government have made their intentions clear: they see the Bill as enabling legislation. To repeat the Minister’s well-used analogy, it is not a Christmas tree. I sympathise with that view, but I do not totally go along with it, and this is one of the areas where I do not go along with it.

Some of us were able to meet the Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA yesterday. For many years, the one thing they have clearly asked of us is a prohibition on the keeping of primates as pets. As far as the Bill is concerned, I go along with the Government in every regard bar tail docking and this issue. The Government have to stand up and be counted on this. In this day and age, there is no reason why someone should keep a primate as a pet. I hope that the Government will spell out their intentions as clearly as possible.

I shall listen to what the Minister says, but I hope that he will introduce such a provision on Report. I hope that it is the overwhelming view of the Committee that the keeping of primates as pets in the 21st century is totally unacceptable. We are talking about a small number of animals, between 1,500 and 3,000. Why is prohibition needed? It is not just a question of cruelty, suitability and appropriateness, but of animal diseases. We all know that the rarer a species, the more likely it is to be a carrier of complex diseases. In a sense we are trying to bring the provision into the Government’s disease control strategy.

There are many reasons why clause 10 needs to be amended. I would prefer the Government to state in the Bill—otherwise they should introduce secondary legislation as a matter of urgency—that the keeping of primates as pets is banned. That would receive overwhelming support from all but the very small number of owners who choose to keep such animals as pets for whatever reason. I accept that we must be clear about what we mean by a pet and about location, or there may be difficulties with zoos and sanctuaries, although not so much with circuses nowadays—we are eternally grateful that they seem to have moved on. The Minister would have to consider carefully how the provision would be worded in secondary legislation, but I am looking to him to do the decent thing and to make it clear in clause 10, having clearly spelt out the Government’s intention and having taken the temperature of the Committee, that it is no longer proper to keep a primate as a pet.