‘(2A)A person commits an offence if he offers or gives an animal to another person as a prize.
(2B)A person does not commit an offence under subsection (2A) where the prize is offered or given in a family context.’.
Amendment No. 170, in clause 9, page 5, line 1, leave out subsection (4).
Amendment No. 16, in clause 9, page 5, line 6, at end insert
‘and who has responsibility for that person.’.
Amendment No. 171, in clause 9, page 5, line 7, leave out subsection (5).
Amendment No. 17, in clause 9, page 5, line 13, leave out subsection (6).
New clause 11—Transfer of animal by way of prize to any person—
‘(1)A person commits an offence if he enters into an arrangement with a person where that person has the chance to win an animal as a prize.
(2)For the purposes of subsection (1), entering into an arrangement includes selling or transferring, or agreeing to sell or transfer, ownership of the animal in consideration of entry by the transferee into another transaction.’.
This is another attempt to resurrect the draft Bill and reject the version before us. The amendments deal with the issue of pets as prizes. I do not pretend that the clause is the most important part of the Bill, although it is significant, but the subject has been covered, on and off, in the newspapers for a considerable time. If the papers are to be believed, views on the matter have been expressed by both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One cannot help feeling that the withdrawal of the proposals in the draft Bill reflects a wish on the part of Downing street not to be seen to be banning things. I hope that that is not the case.
To leave that to one side and look at the merits of the case for amendment No. 15, which I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), the Minister will know that there are no laws at present to prevent animals from being given as prizes. When we think of animals being given as prizes, we think of goldfish at fairs, but the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has on record cases of animals such as ponies and pigs being given as prizes. Obviously, there are significant welfare implications for such animals—as, indeed, there are for fish.
The purpose of prizes is to encourage people to want to win them, so the case of pigs and ponies is very specific; many people would not want to enter a competition in which they would be lumbered with an animal that they did not want at the end, so I think that goldfish are the main concern.
Goldfish are certainly the main animals given as prizes, but theoretically it is possible that a person who entered a raffle might end up being given some sort of animal. I imagine that in those circumstances the animal would not come with detailed guidance about how to look after it. Indeed, any attempt to impose such guidance on someone who had won a prize might be doomed to fail. It is hardly likely that someone will be told, “Congratulations, you have won a prize, now you must sign this code of conduct and agree to undertake these conditions before you can accept your prize.” I have never seen that occur.
When animals are given as prizes—particularly goldfish, as the hon. Gentleman said—they are often not treated seriously. There have been horrific examples of animals simply being discarded when they are not wanted. If someone wins an animal as a prize, it is at least possible that they had not anticipated getting that animal, had no wish to have it and have no knowledge of how to treat it. They might then discard it without a second thought for the consequences for the creature.
The Bill makes it an offence for a person to give away an animal as a prize to a child under 16 unless that child is accompanied by someone over 16. That offence is a new introduction since the draft Bill. There should be an absolute ban on the giving of pets as prizes, for the reasons that I have given. There can be no guarantee that even somebody over the age of 16 would deal responsibly with such a prize.
Without prejudice to amendment No. 15, amendment No. 16 would qualify the position set out in subsection (4)(b), which states that a person is permitted to give prizes to someone accompanied by a person over 16. There is no indication in that subsection of what the relationship might be between the person under 16 who is being given the prize and somebody over 16 who may happen to be with them. The under-16-year-old could be accompanied, for example, by a 17-year-old friend who had no family connection with them or responsibility for them. There would thus be no guarantee that the person over 16 would exhibit any responsibility towards the person under 16 who was given a pet as a prize. The fact that a child happens to be with somebody over 16 is no defence; it will not ensure that the animal is properly cared for. That would be the case only if the person over 16 had responsibility for the one under 16; in other words, if they were a parent, guardian or of a similar relationship so that they could be held responsible. Otherwise, I can envisage somebody under 16, who happens to be accompanied by somebody who is 17, winning a prize and then behaving irresponsibly. How could one hold the person over 16 responsible in that situation? It would not wash.
Amendment No. 17 is intended to seek clarification from the Minister on the phrase “in a family context”. I notice that the amendment is supported by the hon. Members for Leominster and for Stroud, who may also want to speak to it. I am concerned about what the phrase means, and would welcome clarification on that point. Although the phrase may be useful, it is nevertheless helpful to explore in Committee what the Minister understands by it. It may mean that it would be normal behaviour, for example, for a parent to give a child a dog or cat for Christmas. They may do so responsibly, giving the child good guidance and ensuring that the animal is properly cared for. Nobody wants to eliminate such activity, and we are making no attempt to do so.
The phrase “in a family context”, however, could be deemed to mean something less satisfactory. It could mean, for example, that a distant aunt, uncle or cousin could give a dog or cat to someone who was not expecting it and had no wish to have it, which would mean that the consequences of giving an animal as a prize would apply. There would be no follow-through or guidance, and the person who gave the animal might simply disappear after Christmas lunch and never reappear on the scene. The phrase “in a family context” needs more exploration to ensure that it relates to a continuing relationship allowing continuous care for the animal, not to the temporary context of someone not in the immediate family who will not necessarily have any interest in the animal or even in the person under 16 to whom they have given it.
Amendments Nos. 169, 170 and 171 are probing amendments that have been suggested by the Kennel Club. Along with the British Veterinary Association, the club was concerned that the Bill would leave under-16s still able to win prizes. It pointed out that, although the sale of animals to under-16s is banned, it is contradictory to have a situation in which, when accompanied by an adult, under-16s can win an animal as a prize.
To resolve that situation, the club wants to ban the giving away of any animal as a prize, which is why it has asked for subsections (3), (4) and (5) to be removed. Alternatively, it would like clarification, which I hope that the Minister can provide. My understanding is that the intention of the Bill is that there always be an adult over 16 responsible for any animal. I hope that the Minister can confirm, despite the unclear wording of the clause, that its intention is not that under-16s be obstructed from looking after an animal, but that the ultimate responsibility should be with an adult. We want to encourage young people to take responsibility for animals, but we want adults to take responsibility for those young people’s activities.
I once won a goldfish at a fair, and that is what triggered my fascination with fish that ended up with my being a volunteer keeper at London zoo aquarium. Unfortunately, at a similar fair, I noticed young people dropping bags of goldfish from the big wheel and, at that point, I recognised that the number of enthusiasts created by winning a goldfish as a prize is far lower than the number of acts of cruelty that may follow from such prizes. That is why I support the Bill on that point.
There seems to be a loophole in the Bill that would enable people classed as family to transfer ownership of an animal to a person under the age of 16. As drafted, the Bill would leave the courts with a problem as to the definition of a family. Would it include non-blood relatives or situations in which a child lives in foster care? There are wide-ranging and diverse definitions of family, so it may be unwise to include such a subsection. As the hon. Member for Lewes said, people may appear on the scene, accompany a child, and then disappear. Without the subsection, children would still be able to care for pets, but responsibility would remain with an appropriate adult. Why should one rule apply to one set of people and not to another? Amendment No. 17, which I believe that we proposed in parallel, would ensure legal consistency and prevent any confusion around the child ownership of animals.
The arguments have been well made, and I accept from the outset that new clause 11, in my name, is less preferable than amendment No. 15 in the name of the hon. Member for Lewes. As has already been mentioned, we are looking at a relaxation of the position in the draft Bill, inasmuch as I thought that we were trying—which is difficult because the law cannot do everything—to eliminate the notion that a pet is anything other than a responsible motivation in somebody’s life when they are given one or when they purchase one. However, the idea of pets as prizes goes contrary to the idea of responsibility and parades the worst aspects of prurience, in that one may use animals as a gimmick.
To return to the point about goldfish, that illustrates most simply what is wrong; it must be wrong to give something as a prize that could never be cared for, because the vast majority of people do not have the means to deal with it in the necessary time. I hope that we will tighten that up and I am happy to listen to what is said, but I think that it is repugnant in this day and age to continue to allow prizes—rather than giving—in the context of an Animal Welfare Bill that is designed to promote responsible pet ownership.
I very much would like to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes, and I hope that he presses it to its conclusion, or that the Minister gives ground. We are now in the 21st century, and I do not think that the great British public want it to be legal to give animals as prizes, and if the Bill is about anything, it is about giving animals dignity.
The Committee will know that, at present, there are no laws preventing animals from being given as prizes. We all know that the animals most commonly given as prizes are fish, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster said, other animals such as ponies, puppies and fish are also given away. A number of local authorities have introduced a policy of not allowing animals to be given as prizes at any fundraising activities held on or in council-owned land or buildings. Sadly, one local authority—I am sure that there are others—has reported seeing a young boy winning a fish at a fairground, then flicking his friends with the water and proceeding to throw the fish on the ground and drive over it in a dodgem car.
The alteration of the clause from the draft Bill is a serious weakening of the Bill, which, as we appreciate, has the concept of responsible animal ownership at its heart. The winning of an animal by chance does not allow the prospective owner sufficient opportunity to find out about the needs of the animal, make the necessary preparations for it, or to assess their ability and commitment to care for it. The individual obtains the animal through chance, rather than as a result of making a conscious, informed decision. The prize winner may not have had any prior experience of caring for the species and is unlikely to have the appropriate environment to house it, especially in the short term. Attempts by the prize giver, if any are made, to impose conditions for the animal’s care, are unlikely to be effective. It seems incongruous that the Bill, as drafted, allows a child under 16 to acquire an animal as a prize provided an over 16-year-old is present, but prohibits a child under 16 from purchasing an animal, whether or not so accompanied.
I am delighted to hear the strong support for banning, at last, the giving away of pets as prizes, including goldfish. Hon. Members may be aware that that has been Liberal Democrat party policy for some time, and something for which certain people from other parties used to mock the Liberal Democrats. However, I am sure that that does not apply to any hon. Members present today. It is an important issue in terms of the balance, which is always there, between individual liberty and, with this Bill, the rights of animals. I hope that, at last, we may be able to come down on the right side on the matter.
I welcome this clause and thoroughly welcome making it illegal to sell pets to under 16-year-olds; it a welcome step forward. However, the clause is thoroughly confused and muddled in its intent, because it involves two separate issues. There is the issue of not selling pets to under 16-year-olds, and that of not giving away pets as prizes. I disagree with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Stroud. I think that he was right in the first place: this should be a separate clause in the Bill, because it is a significant issue.
There is a need for people who look after animals to have a sense of responsibility: it is a choice of individual liberty. There are positive parts of the Bill that deal with that, although there are areas where it could be dealt with better. However, if the Bill believes in the duty of care, it must promote responsible pet ownership, which cannot happen while we continue with the position in which pets can be given away as prizes, where people have not requested them, do not necessarily want them and certainly have no idea about how to care for them. The only way to resolve the issue is simply to ban outright all pets being given as prizes. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider that.
I wish to add my support to these amendments, because I think that in the 21st century, it is time that we banned giving pets away as prizes. I am sure that, every year, many parents are greeted by the horrific scene of their children returning with friends from a fair with a pet fish. The parents then wonder how on earth they are meant to take care of it. It is an involuntary, unacceptable and unnecessary way of becoming an owner.
Although my normal instincts would be to ban as little as possible because I do not like to interfere in people’s lives, animals cannot make the choice about whether they are prizes, so there is a need to legislate. It is time that the Bill stood as a whole, which means ensuring that we protect animal welfare as well as we can. Therefore, banning pets as prizes is appropriate.
Amendments Nos. 15 and 169 to 171 seek to remove the minimum age restriction of 16 years at which a person can win an animal as a prize. Amendment No. 15 and new clause 11 seek to replace the restriction with a complete prohibition on the giving away of animals as prizes. The proposed age restriction in the Bill is consistent with the prohibition in the clause on the selling of animals to persons under 16 years. I am pleased that the Committee has widely welcomed that. The clause also rectifies an anomaly in existing legislation whereby a child under the age of 12 cannot purchase an animal as a pet, but an unaccompanied child of any age may win one as a prize.
I understand the motives of those who wish to see a complete ban on the giving of an animal as a prize; however, the Government believe that it would be overly intrusive of them to dictate that an adult is not capable of making the informed and responsible decision that he or she is able to care for an animal on offer. The hon. Member for Leominster gave a couple of examples from his own experience of animals that are given at agricultural shows. There has been no mention of other examples, such as teenage girls entering gymkhana competitions for which the prize is a pony.
And racehorses. The Government did not feel that it was proper to interfere in that right and that process, as long as the ultimate responsibility is taken by the adult.
Of course adults are responsible and able to make decisions, but an adult going to a shop or wherever to purchase an animal has taken a conscious decision to take responsibility for, and look after, the animal. The adult has a good chance—I hope—of identifying the animal’s needs before they take the decision to purchase. The situation is entirely different if the animal is given as a prize. In certain circumstances, the parents may have entered a competition knowing that an animal would be given, but it is equally possible that they will have been given an animal without expecting or being prepared to win.
The circumstances that the hon. Gentleman described at the end of his remarks would be highly unusual. In the vast majority of the very few cases, such as gymkhanas and agricultural shows, where this practice occurs, the people who have entered the competitions are well aware of the prize being offered. I shall come on to what would happen if they were not.
The Minister makes a valuable point. The parents may be aware, but they may not expect to win. Parents who are pressured into participating by their small children may end up with a nasty shock when their ticket is drawn out of the bag.
Again, the question is about how far the state should intervene in the decision of an adult. Unusually for the hon. Lady and myself, I take a more libertarian position than she does. She says that she does not like banning things, but she is a bit of a banner on this issue, if I may say so.
I should highlight that the Bill places a duty on those responsible for animals to take steps to ensure that their welfare needs are met. That will include those people looking after animals that will be given as prizes, and those people who also win an animal or are responsible for a child who wins an animal as a prize.
Turning to amendment No. 17, the purpose of subsection (6) is to allow a prize to be offered in a family context—for example, from one family member to another, as a reward or a prize for good work: “If you do well in your exams, I will buy you a gerbil.” The Government should not regulate such harmless arrangements within families. There is no justification for interfering in an arrangement when the person who will be held legally responsible for the care of the animal on the child’s behalf can be assumed to be aware of the arrangement and to have taken responsibility for ensuring that the welfare needs of the animal will be met.
Amendment No. 16 seeks to ensure that if an animal is given away as a prize to a child accompanied by a person over the age of 16, that person must be responsible for the child. I suspect that hon. Members are aiming to ensure that the accompanying adult must also be a parent or guardian or someone to whom the parent or guardian had clearly delegated responsibility. I acknowledge that this is a difficult issue and we have had to balance the welfare needs of animals with the role of the state in interfering with the choices and behaviour of individuals. Under the Bill, clearly a parent or guardian takes ultimate responsibility—this goes back to clause 3—for animals looked after by children for whom they are responsible. However, that parent or guardian may delegate responsibility by allowing a child to go away for a weekend to stay with an uncle, godfather or friend, for example. That uncle, godfather or friend then has actual care and control of the child temporarily and under clause 3 assumes responsibility for any animal the child has with them during the stay.
Even if they were just a friend, they would still have temporary responsibility under clause 3 because, as the person over 16 present, they would be in charge of the animal.
In the scenario that we are considering, the circumstances are more varied and, for example, when the child plays a fairground game, the care and control of that child may, as the hon. Gentleman said, temporarily and wholly or partly be with the adult accompanying them. It will depend on the circumstances, but in any case the court would decide exactly which adult was responsible for the child and thus the animal. That adult would be responsible for the welfare of any animal won in a game unless and until the child and the animal returned to the care of another adult who was usually responsible for the child.
Are we arguing that when children take pets into school the teacher would be in charge of the pets while they were in the classroom? Taking pets to school is quite common practice and teachers in school are in loco parentis.
If I may, I will write to my hon. Friend with a proper legalistic response. This is sticky territory, but my guess is that the answer is yes because, as she said, the school is in loco parentis and the adults in the school would have temporary charge of the child who brought the animal. If I am wrong, I will write to my hon. Friend and correct that for the record—[Interruption.] I have an instant response. Only those with actual care and control of a person under 16 would have responsibility—that is not actually helpful. I will write to my hon. Friend and copy my letter to the Committee.
While I sympathise with the motives behind the amendment, I believe that it would be disproportionate. An adult is already responsible for any animal that is won and could be guilty of an offence if its welfare needs are not met. The amendment might place unnecessary restrictions on who might accompany a child at a fairground at which an animal could be won. For example, an older brother who has been told that he can take his younger brother to play a game and that if he wins a goldfish, he should bring it back to perhaps an uncle or aunt to be looked after would no longer be able to do that even though everyone was acting responsibly.
I will issue a direct challenge to the Minister. He has outlined situations in which there might be justification for winning animals as prizes. I do not agree with that, but he made a good case on gymkhanas and so on. However, the situation concerning goldfish at fairs is complicated, so will he adopt Liberal Democrat policy and specifically ban the giving away of goldfish at fairs?
I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I was not aware that that was still Liberal Democrat policy, but I am pleased to hear that it is. I seem to recall—perhaps I am wrong—one or two senior members of the Liberal Democrat party arguing that that was exactly the sort of policy that brought the party into disrepute. However, I am pleased that it is still their policy. I do not recall seeing it in the manifesto, but I stand to be corrected if the goldfish ban was in the manifesto.
I am the member of my party responsible for animal welfare policy, and that is still Liberal Democrat policy from our last policy paper on animals.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. In a moment, I shall say something about goldfish that has not been mentioned; I hope that it will reassure the Committee.
The amendment would make an unreasonable demand on the stallholder to reach a conclusion about the relationship between an adult and a child every time the child competed for a prize. The last thing that a stallholder at a funfair would want to do is to start questioning adults about the degree of their responsibility for the child.
Members of the Committee have overlooked the fact that goldfish, too, would be subject to the welfare legislation. Organisations such as the RSPCA might like to test whether keeping a goldfish in a small plastic bag on a funfair stall for a long time would be compatible with its welfare. I suggest that provisions in the Bill might affect that long-standing Liberal Democrat party commitment.
I am troubled by the idea of giving goldfish as prizes. It is probably unnecessary in this day and age. As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said, people who win them find that the ownership is thrust upon them; they did not volunteer for or want it. It is a difficult area. I had hoped that the definitions would have been tidied up, but the Minister has not done so sufficiently. I also look forward to hearing what the Liberal Democrats would do; my recollection is that they would not allow under 16-year-olds to own goldfish.
I will go backwards over our three amendments and first deal with amendment No. 17. Unless I missed it, the Minister did not clarify what is meant by “a family context”, and whether it opened the possibility of a distant family member giving another family member a pet, and subsequently not being in a position to exercise responsibility. I will leave that with him for a moment; he may want to intervene on me at some point.
I understand the Minister’s comments on amendment No. 16. He has a case, but so do I. The fact that, legally and technically speaking, a 16-year-old who accompanies a school friend who is 15, is responsible for the animal given to the 15-year-old, is meaningless. Any attempt to make that person responsible would not wash—assuming of course that our 16 and 17-year-olds are so up to date with the law that they would be aware of their position. I ask the Minister to look at that issue again. The link between someone who is responsible for a person, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, is important, but I do not believe that someone who happens to be a school friend, who might be just a few months older, can be deemed to be responsible.
The main point of the debate is the giving of pets as prizes. I am not entirely convinced by the Minister’s case. I accept that the situation is not as black and white as some would have us believe. Raising the issue of gymkhanas or whatever was fair enough, but the point that the hon. Member for Putney made in her intervention was equally fair—that even if people are fully aware of the prize on offer and desire it at the time, they may be totally unprepared for receiving it and may not genuinely want it. It is perfectly possible for a parent under pressure to say, “All right, I’ll buy a raffle ticket for you,” and be totally surprised, and almost disappointed, to be successful. That is very different from marching into an establishment and purchasing an animal, when the matter will have been fully weighed up, all considerations taken into account, preparations made and the necessary care for the animal considered. None of that may have been done if an animal is being given as a prize.
I have been racking my brains to think of an occasion when someone might want to win such a prize. A racehorse is probably the only example I can think of. Someone might be an owner for a race and never meet the horse. Certainly, if it does not win, they would never meet it in the winner’s enclosure. I am not sure whether that sort of prize would be covered. What does the hon. Gentleman think?
If I were the Minister, that is the example that I would be trying to push, because, frankly, it is the one with the most credibility. Someone who wins a race horse is likely—not always—to be in a position where it is cared for. There may well be other racehorses and stabling arrangements already in place. That could possibly be an acceptable arrangement, but it is difficult to find an alternative example that justifies the giving of animals as prizes. It may well be that there should be an arrangement whereby someone who enters a competition for a prize needs to demonstrate that they are capable of dealing with the animal in the event that they win it. That might be an alternative approach that commends itself to the Minister. There are alternative ways forward.
We have heard that there is disquiet about the giving of fish—that was the example given—and, essentially, about circumstances that apply when animals are given almost as an afterthought and are not considered by those who are trying to score less than 21 when playing cards or to throw a dart, or whatever they are doing at fairgrounds, and are suddenly successful and get given a fish. That is the first time that they think about it. They do not want to bother taking the fish home. They want to go on the big wheel or the dodgem cars. The last thing that they want to do is wander around with a goldfish in their hands for an hour and a half, so it gets thrown away.
The Minister has said nothing about how that would be dealt with, other than to mention a theoretical case that the RSPCA might bring—it shows no indication of wishing to do so—relating to whether the goldfish is kept adequately by the person behind the stall. Even if it is kept adequately by the person behind the stall, it does not necessary follow that it will be cared for after it is given away.
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. The Bill focuses on prevention, which is why I am in favour of the amendments. The point is preventing animal welfare issues from arising in the first place. A pet as a prize is by definition an unexpected occurrence. Surely the risk that it carries of somebody who is ill prepared becoming an owner and of animal welfare suffering as a result is something that we want to minimise, rather than allow to persist.
That is right. I want to pick up on a phrase that the hon. Lady used: the winning of a prize is an unexpected occurrence. The Minister shook his head at that point. Unless he is fiddling with the draw, of course winning a prize is an unexpected occurrence. Presumably, a large number of people will enter the draw. Normally, the sale of the tickets covers the cost of the prize. Of course it is unexpected to win a prize, because the chances of doing so are pretty minimal. By definition, people have an expectation that they will not win and so they are not prepared when they do.
The Minister came up with a reasonably good draft Bill in this respect. It made a lot of sense in terms of animal welfare and it held together. Then there was a reaction, beyond his Department, from the Prime Minister and others, who do not like the word “ban”. None of us likes the word “ban” as a matter of fact.
No, as a Liberal, I do not like the word “ban”, but there are occasions when a ban is necessary. A reaction against the word “ban” has moved the pendulum far too far so that on occasions when a ban is justified, Ministers pull back from imposing one. They need to reflect further on that.
I shall not press the amendment to a vote, as I intend to bring it back on Report. I believe that there is wider support in the Commons than the Minister appears to think, and I do not want to lose the opportunity to achieve something. For that reason, and that reason alone, I shall withdraw the amendment, but I ask the Minister, who I hope is doing a great deal of reflecting today, to reflect on the comments from both sides of the room—from Conservative Members, from Members of my party and, indeed, from his own colleagues. To sum up the debate, there is support for a ban of some sort on giving pets as prizes.
If the Minister has not drawn that conclusion, he has misheard the comments of his colleagues and others. I hope that he will seriously consider what further action needs to be taken, and that he will do so on the basis of animal welfare, rather than trying to turn this into a party point-scoring matter, as he unfortunately seems to be doing. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.