3.2 pm

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 19th January 2006.

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Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

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

At some point in his reply, will the Minister say exactly what his policy is on free votes for Labour Members? I have raised the matter twice so far, but have not yet had a reply. We have had three or four votes when Labour Members have expressed concerns, yet the voting has been along party lines. I am not complaining if that is how matters are, but it would he helpful to know exactly what freedom his colleagues have. Keeping primates as pets is a free-vote issue for Liberal Democrat Members. It would be useful to know whether it is for Labour Members.

That Government have admitted that primates are not suitable for the general pet trade. That emerged from the consultation paper on the use of powers under article 8.2 of EU regulation 338/97, which prohibits the keeping of CITES specimens. But paragraph 26 of the regulatory impact assessment that accompanies the Bill states that the Government do not have any intention of using the Bill to ban the keeping of primates on welfare grounds. There seems to be a contradiction, which raises the question whether any subsequent code of conduct that might be introduced would have that effect.

The equivalent Bill that is being scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament—the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill—has a specific clause allowing a Scottish Minister to make regulations to prohibit the keeping of certain animals. I understand from my Scottish colleagues that clause 25 of that Bill was deliberately inserted to deal with primates. Of course we do not always have the same rules and regulations north and south of the border—that is the purpose of devolution—but there is a strong case for dealing with keeping primates as pets, which is reinforced by the position that the Scottish legislature is taking.

The hon. Member for Leominster asked how many such primates there are. Experts believe that as many as 3,000 marmosets, lemurs and other monkeys are being kept as pets in the United Kingdom. The only legislation on licensing ownership of primates as pets is the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, but even that Act does not require licensing for the most commonly kept primates—marmosets—and the Act is rarely adhered to. The Minister should be aware that a study commissioned by DEFRA in 2000 estimated that there was 85 per cent. non-compliance with 1976 Act. He should also be aware that that Act was introduced primarily to deal with health and safety issues—predominantly the safety of the public—rather than with the welfare of the animals concerned. It would be inappropriate to rely on that Act to guarantee any welfare conditions for primates kept as pets.

The Minister will freely recognise that primates have a particular place in the animal kingdom. They have a high level of intelligence and therefore a greater capacity for unexpected or difficult behaviour, as well as a greater capacity to suffer when relegated to a poor or inappropriate lifestyle. The Minister and the Government have recognised the special position, for example, of great apes, which are now excluded from   being used in scientific experiments as a result of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Government voluntarily took steps to recognise the special position of those animals, so it is legitimate to raise the question of primates here. If the Government recognise the special position of certain primates in that situation, we should ask them to do the same thing here again.

Primates are difficult to deal with as pets. It is different from having a cat as a pet, even—dare I say it—if the cat is the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), whom we have recently seen on television. Having a primate as a pet imposes particular requirements on the owner or person responsible. The animal’s needs are complex and frequently more difficult to discharge, and if they are not discharged the animal can suffer more as a consequence, particularly given the high capacity for suffering and understanding that primates have.

We are dealing with an amendment and a new clause that have the same effect. Amendment No. 197 was tabled by the hon. Member for Stroud, and new clause 1 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West. I ask the Minister to respond to the serious issues that have been raised. It is not clear that the Government intend to do anything, given the statement in paragraph 26 of the regulatory impact assessment. I hope that I am wrong about that, but if he relies on a code of conduct, that poses difficulties. The cat code consisted of 17 pages about cats, which are obviously less complex to deal with than primates. Any code about primates would be a long code of conduct, which would be difficult to adhere to; but if it were the same length as the one for cats, it would not acknowledge the complex nature of the animals’ needs in question.

The simplest approach is to say that in the 21st century it is odd to keep primates as pets. We have moved away from that sort of arrangement. Quite rightly, because of public disquiet, we do not have the same range of animals in circuses that we used to have; no doubt that subject will come up later in consideration of the Bill. There is generally higher respect for animals, greater understanding among the public at large about animals’ needs, and greater unhappiness about people keeping primates as pets than there used to be, so I hope that the Minister will respond sympathetically to both the amendment and the new clause.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud in suggesting a specific prohibition on the keeping of primates as pets. We can easily understand that nobody in Britain can possibly provide an environment suitable for a polar bear in a private house, but there is still, unfortunately—although we no longer have the chimpanzees’ tea parties—a lot of misconceptions about the nature of primates. They are still seen as being very like humans, whereas in fact they have immensely complex social and physical needs which nobody can provide for. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of ignorance about   their needs and a temptation for people to see them as something rather exotic and playful that will amuse the children, without having any conception of the difficulties that that might cause later on. For that reason, the Bill must explicitly prohibit the keeping of primates as pets.

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

We all agree that primates do not make suitable pets. They are not allowed in the general pet trade and imports are already limited to zoos, scientific institutions and specialist private keepers. I am sure that hon. Members will be familiar with the work of the International Fund for Animal Welfare on this issue. Some Members may have been lobbied by the fund. On Second Reading, I made it clear that we have sympathy with the aims of the amendments and the new clauses.

The Government have acknowledged the problem. DEFRA’s global wildlife division is considering the feasibility of measures under article 3.2 of CITES to tackle the problem on the basis of conservation. I encourage hon. Members to remember that the Bill is primarily aimed not at banning any particular animal-keeping activities, but at ensuring that the welfare needs of animals are met and, through the introduction of the welfare offence, that someone is responsible for them. Legislation will be backed up by codes of practice and regulations that are appropriate to the types of animals concerned.

I can tell the hon. Member for Lewes and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) that, as a priority, the Government intend to develop a code for the keeping of primates. Its likely effect will be to restrict their keeping to zoos, scientific institutions and specialist keepers.

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

Is the Minister saying his officials have advised him that when the welfare tests are available, the keeping of primates as pets will in effect be banned, that this is enabling legislation and that after it is introduced with regulations, no primates will be kept as pets?

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

Yes, exactly so. I was going to assure the hon. Member for Lewes that the Bill allows us to introduce such secondary legislation.

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

We would have to consult on that and make the decision in relation to secondary legislation. There is an example in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), of somebody who has great experience of offering a good environment for the keeping of primates, some of which have been rescued from people who have been unable to keep them as pets. It is a sort of monkey sanctuary. I should not want to pre-empt the possibility of such facilities remaining open. We shall discuss that sort of thing when the secondary legislation is made.

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

I have been to that monkey sanctuary and I would not want to restrict the splendid work that it does. However, the Minister is relying on a code of practice. Clause 12(3) deals with codes of practice, stating:

“A person’s failure to comply with a provision of a code of practice issued under this section shall not of itself render him liable to proceedings of any kind.”

If we are to rely on codes of practice, we must be sure that they are effective in securing the improvements that we want.

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

The same point could be made about anything under the welfare offence. I entirely agree.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about devolution, I wanted to reassure him that clause 10(2)(a) will allow the restriction or a ban on the keeping of a certain species of animal, including primates, under secondary legislation if such action is considered necessary to protect their welfare. We are mindful of concerns about that, but following discussions with our draftsmen, we think that the scope of existing delegated powers has already been confirmed. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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. He is sympathetic and recognises the reasons why it is inappropriate for primates to be kept as pets, as they have been in depressingly large numbers in this country. He knows that the public at large support that view. A MORI poll conducted in October 2005 showed that 79 per cent. of the public thought that the keeping of primates as pets should be made illegal, so there is clearly a head of steam among the public for a ban.

The Minister is trying to avoid bans. At least I know the reasons for that approach. Without rehearsing the arguments of the last debate, I point out that he wants to rely instead on a code of practice. He seems to be saying that the code of practice will be written in such a way as to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for an ordinary member of the public to keep a primate as a pet. That is a convoluted and long-winded way of achieving a ban. If the code achieves one, fair enough, but it would be simpler to be straightforward about it.

If the code of practice were to result in a ban, that would be welcome. The Minister said that he will introduce a code at an early stage—that is on the record—and that also is welcome. I reiterate my earlier point about the length of such documents. He will cause a great deal of work to be thrust upon his officials, who have to produce the code, despite a simpler solution being available through the amendment or new clause. However, that is his choice.

It is important to flag up clause 12. If we are to rely on codes of practice, we must be sure that they are enforceable and that there are no get-out clauses. The fact that, in itself, there is not a prima facie case for a prosecution is a little worrying, but doubtless we shall come to that in clause 12. I do not intend to take the   matter too far in this discussion, but Members should be aware of the provision in that clause when they are considering this one.

I ask the Minister to give more details about clause 12, particularly clause 12(3), when we get to it. Under the circumstances, I reserve the right to move new clause 1 later in the proceedings, if I may do that, Mr. Gale. I believe that it is in order to do that.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 3:30 pm, 19th January 2006

Strictly speaking, the hon. Gentleman ought to indicate now when he wants to move new clause 1. It could be moved formally later at the appropriate place in the proceedings, but he ought to indicate now if he wishes to do that. I shall let him ponder that, but perhaps he could let me know by the end of the afternoon.

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

I am grateful, Mr. Gale, for such unusual flexibility from the Chair, which is helpful. I am not trying to threaten the Minister with new clause 1, but nor do I want to close down my options later. I shall therefore reflect on the matter, as you suggest. Doubtless the hon. Member for Stroud will have a view on his amendment.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am looking for absolute clarity from my hon. Friend the Minister on how the process will operate. Let me take him through how I see events occurring, but he may wish to intervene on me. There has been a clear indication from the Committee of its views, so it does not seem to need to vote. On Second Reading, perhaps there was not such a clear indication.

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

I drew the Minister’s attention to what is meant by a proper keeper, or a person who would be fit to keep primates. For example, a zoo keeper who brings up young gorillas, chimps or any other primate that has been rejected by their mother may look after them at home. If the zoo were to go bust, the keeper would probably be first in line to try to take care of the monkey or primate afterwards, so I do not favour a total ban. The Minister probably has the degree of flexibility right. If the code of practice is sufficiently robust, I, like him, suspect that few primates, if any, would be kept.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That intervention is very helpful. I would never want to fetter the Minister such that, in extremis, we caused additional cruelty rather than prevented it. We do not know what situations could arise.

Let me take the Minister through what I envisage will happen. As a result of my choosing not to press the amendment, I presume that the Government will subsequently make clear, if not before Third Reading, the nature of the secondary legislation that they intend to introduce in several areas. That secondary legislation will set out, with clarity, what the code of practice will be and that code will be enacted as a matter of urgency. We have already discussed the secondary legislation for tail docking, which may follow later this year and that is good to hear. I know the Minister does not control the business programme, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural   Affairs may think that that issue is so urgent and important that it will push hard for the Government to take a slot for a measure to deal with it.

This issue is equally important, but perhaps not so pressing. I hope that the Government will see fit to find the necessary legislative slot for the code of practice in due course. If that is the case, I will withdraw the amendment with alacrity, because we would be making progress. I see this enabling Bill as being fit for purpose if it does the things that we want.

Norman Bakerrose—

Mr. Bradshawrose—

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Minister first.

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

I urge my hon. Friend to leave some us flexibility to achieve what he and other members of the Committee want through a code of practice, which would be quicker than secondary legislation. As I emphasised earlier, that would be perfectly possible. In the end, it may be quicker to have a legally enforceable code of practice under the welfare offence. I beg him not to tie my hands too much because insisting on secondary legislation might take longer than a code of practice.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is very useful. The hon. Member for Lewes may want to come in, but I will first respond to what the Minister said. I want to be clear about the matter, which I hope will provide greater clarity for the Committee. I do not mind whether we take the secondary legislative route per se or the code of practice route with statutory underpinning; I just want the issue to be progressed as a matter of urgency.

Both secondary legislation and a code of practice would have to be undertaken following consultation, which brings me back to what the hon. Member for Leominster said. If there are exemptions that need to be spelt out in the code of practice or secondary legislation, that is the time to do it. I do not want to limit consultation, as we want to ensure that we get things absolutely right.

We have made progress. I am now clear about the matter although I hoped that the Minister would say whether the Government preferred the code of practice or secondary legislation. I believe that it is the former, and the hon. Member for Lewes will now help me in that respect.

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

Having heard the exchanges, I am happy to give notice that I will not pursue new clause 1. I hope that helps you, Mr. Gale.

Does the hon. Member for Stroud accept that if the Government decide on the code of practice, it is important to deal with animals that are already kept as pets in order to ensure that they are properly cared for in the new regime? I would not want anyone to feel that an animal for which they have responsibility does not meet the terms of the code of practice and thus it will suffer as a result, perhaps by being destroyed. We must   have the flexibility to ensure that guidance is given to people who already have pets, as well as to those who may wish to acquire them.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is very helpful. I would not want to tie the Government’s hands. If they have good intentions, we must support them; it is about making the proposals as effective as possible. The code of practice should be introduced as a matter of urgency, as much as anything so that we can see what is in it and know whether further amendment is needed before it goes to consultation. If that process is as clear and transparent as possible, the measure will be as effective as it should be. 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. 74, in clause 10, page 5, line 23, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 195, in clause 10, page 5, line 26, leave out ‘establishment’ and insert ‘appointment’.

No. 77, in clause 10, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(2A)Regulations made under subsection (2) may not be designed to empower non-governmental organisations to the extent whereby such organisations’ powers extend into both animal welfare promotion and initiating animal welfare prosecutions.’.

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

Amendment No. 74 has been tabled because worries have been expressed to me about who will be affected by the power in the clause. The Bill does not suggest who may or who may not be affected by the provision nor does it suggest how co-ordination will take place. I am worried especially that the provision can hand over a vast range of unchecked powers to the Secretary of State. Indeed, paragraph 44 of the Bill’s explanatory notes states that subsection (2)

“provides a non-exhaustive list of purposes for which the regulation-making power in subsection (1) may be exercised.”

I am not sure that I can endorse that approach.

For example, it is not clear whether it would mean that the appropriate national authority could use taxpayers’ money to subsidise the activities of charities or other organisations. It is not clear if it would mean that future regulations could be passed that would abrogate powers that are exercised exclusively by the police to non-governmental groups. It is with that in mind that I tabled the amendment. It would prevent regulations from getting out of control.

Amendment No. 77 would ensure that established organisations and bodies not under the direct control of a local authority or the Government could not hold dual powers to promote animal welfare and bring forward prosecutions.

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

No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way. The amendment is sensitive and complicated. It is not an attack on the RSPCA, and that will become clear. I shall be delighted to give way after I have finished what I have to say.

In its present form, the Bill is both vague about the nature of the powers that can be granted under the regulations. The amendment would set boundaries on the powers that can be granted. It would also prevent the Government from regulating to give organisations such as the RSPCA powers that involve a conflict of interests between welfare promotion activities and welfare prosecution activities. That would clearly create a conflict of interests, whereby bodies such as the RSPCA may well pursue prosecutions against certain individuals that are based on their own ideas and interpretation of the law.

Indeed, in order to prevent such conflicts of interest from happening, 20 years ago the then Conservative Government recognised that such matters may impact on the state’s ability to dispense justice, as a result of which they separated the majority of the police powers of prosecution and established the Crown Prosecution Service. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recognised that conflict of interest and no longer pursues prosecutions, preferring to refer them to the Crown Prosecution Service. Moreover, the RSPCA’s counterpart in Scotland, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, leaves prosecutions to the direction of the procurator fiscal. Clearly, it would be unacceptable for an unaccountable charity with its own agenda to be empowered by the Government through regulations.

As it stands, the RSPCA pursues both welfare activities and prosecutions, but it is not empowered by the Government to do so. It is allowed to do that, as it so wishes. That is the fine line.

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

It seems that the hon. Gentleman is trying to change the present arrangements whereby the RSPCA promotes animal welfare and initiates prosecutions. I am not aware of particular problems with that. Can he give an example of a problem?

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

The hon. Gentleman has not read the amendment clearly. It states:

“Regulations made under subsection (2) may not be designed to empower non-governmental organisations”.

That is the fine line. Yes, the RSPCA undertakes such action at the moment. I should be happy to send him a file full of examples, but that is not what the matter is about. I am talking about controlling. An inherent part of the Bill would be clarified by the two amendments that suggest that the Government should not empower NGOs and what is done with taxpayers’ money. I hope that I have answered his question.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 3:45 pm, 19th January 2006

Why is “establishment” is used instead of “appointment”? The bodies will, in effect, be appointed. I want to understand what the difference is in law and am sure that the Minister will be able to explain. Does the wording make any difference to the responsibilities of those who oversee the welfare of animals? Those will be important roles and subject to challenge, as will the individuals concerned. We need to get things right.

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

I rise to speak about amendment No. 77. Of course, I assume that the hon. Member for Leominster has good intentions, and his amendments so far have demonstrated that he has a strong commitment to animal welfare, as I hope do all people in the room. However, the way in which I read amendment No. 77, notwithstanding the explanation given, is that it would severely curtail the powers of bodies such as the RSPCA in a way that would be detrimental to the delivery of good animal welfare. Historically, the Government, intentionally or implicitly, have relied on the RSPCA to undertake prosecutions. The vast majority of the prosecutions work done on animal offences has been carried out by the RSPCA. We would be much worse off if it was limited in what it could do.

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

I am reminded that the hon. Gentleman intervened on me on Second Reading on this very point. Empowerment is the key. Yes, the Government do rely on the RSPCA to undertake the bulk of prosecutions. The amendment is designed to prevent the Government from empowering NGOs of any sort. The RSPCA is obviously the one doing the job, which is why we are discussing it.

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

Perhaps I will let the Minister deal with that point, but my initial reaction is that an organisation must be empowered to take action, otherwise it cannot take that action. It is not given a duty to take action, which is perhaps the point that the hon. Gentleman wants to make; it is given the power to do so. That power already exists, or else the action that has been taken could not have been taken. I am at something of a loss to know why this matter has been raised. I asked the hon. Gentleman to give me examples of where there has been a problem. If there is a problem, let us hear about it. No examples have been given so far. As far as I am concerned, the RSPCA has done a very good job of promoting animal welfare and undertaking prosecutions. I do not really see what the problem is.

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

One of the most important features of the Bill is the flexibility to respond to future circumstances. That will allow us to keep our animal welfare laws and enforcement practices up to date much more easily than previous legislation did. The published draft contained an extensive list of situations in which it would have been possible to exercise the power. In the interests of simplicity, we removed many of those from the final Bill as they are clearly included in the power in subsection (1) without the need to specify them individually. However, there are some important powers that it was felt might not otherwise be covered by subsection (1) and which should, therefore, still be listed as examples of how the overall power could be used. One of those is the power that the hon. Member for Leominster seeks to delete by means of amendment No. 74.

Throughout the long gestation of the Bill, I have heard many times the concern that there is too much inconsistency in the way in which animal welfare is enforced across the country. This provision is included to give the appropriate national authority the ability to   take action to respond to those concerns if necessary. It could prove to be important for the essential enforcement of the Bill. Things are improving in this regard, and statutory and voluntary agencies concerned with animal welfare, including local authorities, are making good strides in moving towards a more focused and co-ordinated approach to their work. The database that we propose to introduce to aid enforcement will also help to improve consistency. In spite of that, there is still a case for making sure that it is clear that subsection (1) gives the appropriate national authority the power to make provision to facilitate or improve the co-ordination of functions relating to animal welfare.

As for amendment No. 77, I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Lewes. Although the hon. Member for Leominster said that the amendment was nothing to do with the RSPCA, it certainly has not been interpreted in that way by the RSPCA, as it has told me. I agree with the hon. Member for Lewes that the RSPCA does excellent work in enforcing animal welfare legislation, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to it for that. It has played a crucial role in the enforcement of animal welfare since the middle of the 19th century, and it would be a huge blow for animal welfare if it were to cease to do that work.

The RSPCA’s enforcement role stems from the fact that animal welfare legislation is—as is much other law in this country—common informers legislation, meaning that anyone can consider bringing a prosecution if they wish. The RSPCA currently investigates cases and brings prosecutions in a private capacity, and it will be in a private capacity that it will continue to do so. I have already emphasised on Second Reading that the RSPCA does not seek additional powers, and I hope that that is now finally understood.

The first of the hon. Gentleman’s amendments on this subject, and indeed his winding-up speech on Second Reading, indicated that he is concerned about the potential conflict of interest around the RSPCA investigating and prosecuting animal welfare cases. His intention in proposing amendment No. 77 appears to be to prevent the Government from appointing the RSPCA, or any other non-governmental organisation, as enforcers under secondary legislation if they are also going to prosecute offences.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s desire that enforcers be open, accountable and free from any conflict of interest, and we will certainly ensure when the regulations are put in place that every step is taken to ensure openness and accountability of our nominated enforcers. However, I have to disagree that this is the way to achieve it. Let us carry the implications of his amendment through using an example.

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

Does what the Minister just said mean that it is his intention to empower RSPCA inspectors as enforcers?

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

They are already empowered under current legislation. The hon. Gentleman does not seem quite to have grasped that.

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

My reading of the Bill is that it empowers local government inspectors, not the RSPCA, which acts as a charity and has asked for no more powers, wants no more powers and is prepared to initiate prosecutions privately. I read what the Minister has said as different from that, which is why I query it.

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 seems to be confusing the issue of the role and definition of inspectors, which covers local government and SVS employers, and the power of the RSPCA to investigate and prosecute cases, which exists at present and will continue to exist under the Bill.

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

I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the nature of what is being proposed. I was about to give another example to the Committee. Let us put the RSPCA to one side for a moment so that he can perhaps better understand the implication of amendment No. 77. If we were satisfied in future as to the capability of the National Greyhound Racing Club to see that regulations relating to the welfare of racing greyhounds were enforced, it would seem imperative that it should have the ability to bring prosecutions against those of its members who failed to comply with the requirements of the law. Likewise, turning to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes, if we were satisfied that the Performing Animals Welfare Standards International could regulate the performing animals industry itself, it would surely be imperative that it had the ability to prosecute its members for welfare violations.

The effect of the hon. Gentleman’s first amendment would be to bar completely any form of effective self-regulation, by preventing regulators from bringing prosecutions. It would also be contrary to better regulation to have to duplicate effective self regulation by local or central Government action. Often bodies such as industry associations, many of whom issue excellent codes of practice for their members, are best placed to identify problems and take corrective action. Normal duties of a prosecutor would apply.

Were the amendment accepted, there would be total confusion when it came to enforcement of the law. The RSPCA would under Clause 8 be able to investigate and prosecute the welfare offence but would be barred from enforcing secondary legislation passed to support the requirements of clause 8. Its ability to enforce the law would be undermined. Animal welfare is, and always has been, common informers legislation, and to change that position would put an unreasonable burden on our police and Crown Prosecution Service, and it would not be in the interests of animal welfare. In reality, the extent to which those who breach animal welfare requirements could be brought to justice would be seriously diminished if the amendments were approved.

I agree that it is right to look critically at the work of any enforcement body. We have done so with regard to the RSPCA, and we have considered carefully whether it is appropriate to continue the long-established common informers regime in the new legislation. We have concluded that it is clearly in the interests of animal welfare to do so. I consider that the RSPCA’s record is impressive, as are those of many other animal welfare organisations. To take away its ability to investigate and prosecute would be an unnecessary and retrograde step.

Amendment No. 195 would provide that the appropriate national authority could establish bodies to have functions with regard to providing advice on animal welfare, should there be a need in future. The difference between “established” and “appointed” is that one appoints a person and one establishes a body. I hope that helps clear the matter up for my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud.

On the basis of my remarks, 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 am glad that we have had this discussion because the amendments were intended seek clarification as to how the Government would spend taxpayers’ money and who this clause would empower. The Minister did not choose to tell me about that. Instead, he focused on the worst possible interpretation of the amendment. Nothing in it would prevent the RSPCA from doing anything that it is doing today or from doing more under the Bill.

I am prepared to take the Minister’s advice that I may have got it wrong, but I was not satisfied with the other part of his answer. The current situation is quite clear, but it is also clear that in a perfect world the police would prosecute through the Crown Prosecution Service. It is not a perfect world and there is a shortage of facilities and resources. To some extent, the Government have allowed the policing of animal welfare to be carried out by the charity sector. For practical purposes, the Minister is right to pay tribute to the RSPCA; it does a very good job, although there will always be those who do not agree. A group gave evidence to the Select Committee that felt very passionately about the matter, and I suspect that in every case involving a large organisation, someone will get over-enthusiastic and create a bad impression. I know that the RSPCA goes to a great deal of trouble to investigate and put such situations right where possible.

This group of amendments would have included in the Bill a proper and clear guide to what empowerment means. If someone has the ability to do something, that is not empowerment. The amendments would have given extra powers or funds to an organisation; that is why I felt they were valid. I fully accept some of the Minister’s arguments. The debate has clarified some of my points, so I think that we should make progress. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 202, in clause 10, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(2A)Regulations made under subsection (1), in reference to subsection (2)(a), shall include the requirement for the provision of approved information leaflets about the animal and its needs to those buying pet animals from commercial vendors.’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 203, in clause 10, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(2A)Regulations made under subsection (1), in reference to subsection (2)(a), shall include the requirement for pet vendors to issue a document declaring pet ownership, to be signed by vendor and buyer to be issued upon the purchase of an animal and with a copy to be retained by the seller for a period of 6 months.’.

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

I am glad that the Committee managed to hang on until I returned. I had to pop out to do a television programme. As a journalist outside the Committee Room noticed, I am wearing make-up, but hon. Members can be assured that that is why.

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

Thank you. Apparently, it makes me look a little darker.

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

The hon. Lady will be reassured to know that it was not tested on animals.

I hope that the Minister understands why I have tabled the amendment. We are all aware that the Bill is an enabling one, and we understand the reasons for that. Nevertheless, the Minister is aware that we are concerned that we may miss opportunities in some areas. In this case, I wanted to raise the opportunity to introduce positive, educative measures to encourage good practices regarding animal welfare.

The most significant and welcome element of the Bill is the new duty of care introduced by clause 8, which makes people legally responsible for the care and welfare of their animals. If that responsibility is not communicated at the point of purchase or before, it is unlikely to be accepted or understood.

All of us here have a passionate interest in this subject and we all agree that for much of the Bill to work and to address the issue that I am raising—neglect of domestic pets—there needs to be greater responsibility among pet owners and vendors. I know local pet vendors who do not take their responsibility seriously enough.

Current legislation makes it a legal requirement to provide instructions for all electrical goods, foodstuffs, cleaning products and even bathroom items such as soap when they are sold, but not for a domestic pet. People receive a certificate of ownership when they buy cars, land, guns, some antiques and even some Star Trek original memorabilia—I do not have any—but not when they buy a cat or even a dog.

In other policy areas, the Government are often prepared to use legislation to try to encourage positive, responsible behaviour, and sometimes that is welcome; for example, the citizenship agenda in schools. Legislation can sometimes be simple to   implement, easy to monitor and inexpensive in terms of public expenditure, as in this case. That is why I tabled the amendments, and I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he considers secondary legislation. I hope that through that process we can engender more responsibility among our citizens for the care of domestic pets.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 4:00 pm, 19th January 2006

I do not intend to speak for long because I know that the Committee wants to finish. However, it is necessary to say something in support of the spirit behind the amendment, although I feel that the subsection to which it applies probably covers the eventuality already. It is worth making the point that many pet owners and potential owners need information about the standard of welfare that the Bill will put in place and they need to understand that at the point of purchase.

The draft cat code that was issued to us on Tuesday is excellent—it is very detailed—but it is not readily accessible by every pet owner or potential pet owner. Leaflets and guides that outline the duty of care must be concise, illustrated and pitched at a level that everyone can understand. For a number of years, I taught English and literacy to adults with literacy needs; the code would not be read or understood by a significant proportion of the population. I do not intend in any way to insult the population, but I want to point out that it is essential to have the information presented as concisely and clearly as possible. That is critical to ensure that the duty of care means something rather than just being on the statute book. Having the law in place is one thing; making it work is another. The spirit of the amendment suggests how we can make it work.

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

I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East that that is indeed our intention. We propose to do that in secondary legislation rather than in the Bill for the reasons that we have discussed at length. We intend to require pet vendors to provide care leaflets for the species that they sell and we will encourage private keepers to do the same. The secondary legislation will set out the necessary detail of how that will operate. I hope that, on the basis of that explanation, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

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

I thank the Minister for his comments and hope that he appreciates why I raised the matter. I made it clear that I expect the provision to take that path. I have made my point and 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. 78, in clause 10, page 5, line 45, at end insert—

‘(6)The appropriate national authority shall make regulations only when it is apparent that—

(a)any existing voluntary regulations are not effectively safeguarding animal welfare consistently, or

(b)attempts to establish a voluntary set of regulations to safeguard animal welfare have failed.’.

The amendment is designed to promote self-regulation and limit Government intervention. The Bill places no onus on organisations to self-regulate. I believe the Minister drew the Committee’s attention to that idea just a few moments ago.

Governments should let individuals make rules for themselves, and politicians should intervene only when the rules are insufficient. There are also clear benefits to promoting and facilitating self-regulation, as it will reduce the burdens on Government and parliamentary time. Moreover, it will enable those with sufficient expertise and experience to establish regulations, free from the political influences that contact with politicians can all too often have. The amendment does not prevent the Government from regulating. It does, however, improve non-governmental participation.

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

The amendment, as the hon. Gentleman said, seeks to limit the use of delegated powers in clause 10 to situations in which self-regulation has failed. In deciding whether to make regulations, the Government will, of course, need to follow the general principles concerning the proper use of such powers, including the need to ensure that the degree of regulation is proportionate. As hon. Members know, self-regulation is one of the cornerstones of this Government’s better regulation policy and is preferred to regulation by the state.

Mr. Holloboneindicated dissent.

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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is laughing will support us when we resist, as I am sure we will have to in future, calls for regulation before the options of self-regulation on certain issues dealt with by the Bill have been exhausted.

We would bring in regulations only if self-regulation were not working. Furthermore, consultation, pre-legislative scrutiny where appropriate, and parliamentary debate as part of the affirmative procedure set out in clause 55 will ensure that any proposals are debated fully, openly and transparently. That should also help ensure that unnecessary regulations, such as those that amendment No. 78 seeks to prevent, would not be introduced.

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

Can the Minister confirm that this is not a free-vote issue for his party and indicate when free votes are applicable to his colleagues?

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 intend to bite the hon. Gentleman’s bait on free votes. The Government have made their position clear, particularly on tail docking, to which he referred. We had a long debate on that matter on Tuesday afternoon. We listened; we said that we would listen to the views of Parliament. I think I said on Tuesday that, should the issue be raised in the Chamber, we would not consider it an appropriate one for Government whipping. However, if the hon. Gentleman is asking me to say that we would not strongly encourage Government Members to resist him hanging lots of baubles on the Bill and other issues, I am afraid that I cannot satisfy him in the affirmative.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Some of us do not need the provocation of free votes, or otherwise, to make a point.

To be helpful to the Minister, the Committee has worked quite consensually. We have had a limited number of votes. I do not see the point of having votes for the sake of it. The Minister can take it from me that he is doing a good job and we will vote accordingly when we need to.

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

That is very kind of my hon. Friend.

On the basis of what I was saying earlier about the need for better regulation, I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster will withdraw his amendment.

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

As I understand it, the Government are intending to do what I have asked them to do on this matter of regulation anyway, which I hope will make the amendment superfluous.

I hope that we have handled satisfactorily the delicate issue of regulation, which needs to be considered carefully. People have enormous emotional attachments to their pets and they fear the way that they are to be policed. I hope that we have covered sufficiently the causes of their fears. This is the end of the sitting and I do not want to delay the Committee any more, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Tony Cunningham.]

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes past Four o’clock till Tuesday 24 January at half-past Ten o’clock.