Clause 7 - Fighting etc

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 19th January 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

Thank you, Mr. Gale, and welcome back to the Chair. We had an interesting and important debate, as you say, and I shall keep my comments short. We need to decide carefully whether the clause stands part of the Bill not because of what is in it, but because of what is not. I hope that during the break the Minister had a chance to think carefully about the feelings in the Committee on what recorded information is legitimate.

We understand the difficulties of drafting such a clause, and we know that the Government already propose to introduce controls on certain types of obscene materials in other legislation. I hope that the Committee has been something of a pathfinder in identifying what is obscene to us in animal welfare terms rather than in a pornographic or sexual manner. We face that problem specifically with dog fighting. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he has reconsidered his position and has positive comments to make. He controls all the tools necessary to draft something that would go some way towards alleviating the Committee’s fears.

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 dwell on the less contentious aspects of the clause, but I shall say a few words about the part that was the subject of most of the debate this morning: the recording of fighting. I listened carefully to what was said in the Committee, and I hope that Members accept that the making of a recording is covered by the provisions on participation in, or presence at, a fight. However, I will reflect, in discussion with others, on whether it would be possible to make changes that would reassure hon. Members that even the private distribution of recordings was covered, bearing in mind the difficulty of proving whether the activity recorded took place in this country.

On the possession of a recording, I outlined to the Committee some of the difficulties of criminalising the mere possession of an image, given that the possession of far more serious images is currently not criminalised. I will reconsider whether it would be possible to tie that possession to an event that had taken place in this country. The difficulty of proving that was why this provision was dropped from the draft Bill.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. He has gone a long way towards alleviating our fears. He is becoming a bit of a master at changing direction in the Committee, which we welcome. I said on Second Reading that I hoped he would not become entrenched. He has not, and we are grateful for the progress that he has made.

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

I want to re-emphasise that point. I am pleased that the Minister has reflected over lunch—or been beaten up by his colleagues, I am not quite sure which. Either way, I am pleased that he has decided to reflect on the issue. There was, and is, genuine concern among all three parties and all members of the Committee about the potential loophole, which we want to see closed. We are happy for the Minister to reflect on that point and come back with something in his own time. If the Bill proceeds without some measure to prevent the recording of dog fights for distribution or private consumption, we will not be happy. It is therefore important that the loophole be closed.

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

I intervene to echo the comments about the Minister being prepared to reconsider the issue. We need to ensure that the clause relates not only to animal fighting but to any act of cruelty. I am keen to see whether that will be taken forward as part of the debate.

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

I understand that point, and doubtless the Minister will reflect on it, too. I welcome his statement; it would be churlish to do otherwise, because we want to see movement from him. How long does he think he will need to reflect on the matter? Will he have reflected sufficiently by Report, or will he still be reflecting during the Committee stage in the House of Lords?

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

We shall endeavour to reflect by Report. One point I made during my remarks this morning is that sometimes the reason the Government cannot formulate a particular provision is the difficulty or impossibility of formulating it in an enforceable and practical way. I did not hear any practical suggestions this morning, and that is why we need to undertake discussions with some organisations that might have an idea of what is practical and enforceable. If we can do that, we intend to do so before Report.

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

I welcome you, Mr. Gale, to the Committee’s afternoon sitting.

I deprecate all forms of cruelty, including any cruelty to my hon. Friend the Minister. I should like to reassure him of that. His statement reassures us that he   takes seriously what we say, and I welcome his assurance in this stand part debate that he will consider what can be done. The Committee is particularly concerned about dog fighting, and if he can liaise with his Home Office colleagues about what are known as squish videos, that may be useful, too.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Before we proceed, may I make a request to all hon. Members? If they wish to speak, will they please make every effort to stand? This room is particularly difficult to chair, because the sight lines from the Chair are appalling. One Front-Bench spokesman on his or her feet can effectively obliterate the entire Committee. It also helps the Chair if you indicate in advance that you want to speak. As a matter of interest, if you can catch my eye, or that of Mrs. Humble, while somebody else is speaking, it gives us a clue. We are blessed with many talents, but second sight is not one of them.