Clause 12 - Codes of practice

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 24th January 2006.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:45 am, 24th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 79, in clause 12, page 7, line 4, leave out subsection (3).

This is probably one of the most brief but important amendments that I have tabled, because it seeks to ferret out from the Government exactly what they mean by the codes of conduct. The amendment would seek to delete clause 12(3) so that a failure to comply with a provision of code of practice shall not lead to proceedings taking place against that person.

When we consider that the codes of practice to be made under the Bill, as stipulated in clause 12(1), will inevitably relate to the promotion of welfare and the prevention of harm, surely a failure to comply with the code of practice would automatically mean a failure to comply with the Bill and its future regulatory framework. When we consider what is stated in subsection (4), it becomes clear that subsection (3) is even less necessary and could be removed from the Bill. I am looking for the Government to lay out clearly what happens if one breaks the code of conduct.

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

I echo those concerns and remind the Committee that I raised a similar concern from a different angle on clause 4, which deals with unnecessary suffering. The Committee may remember that, in clause 4, a great deal of weight is put on the codes of practice to provide evidence for unnecessary suffering. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) quite rightly says, what is important is that the codes of practice have some teeth in them; otherwise there could be a serious loophole in the Bill.

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

The hon. Member for Leominster omitted some crucial words in his reading of the subsection that he seeks to delete.

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

I forgive him.

Subsection (3) says that a

“code of practice issued under this section shall not of itself render him liable to proceedings of any kind.”

Those words are crucial.

I will explain the legal status of codes of conduct. It is not possible for a code to impose legal obligations that are capable of attracting a criminal sanction. That can be done only in primary or secondary legislation, such as the Bill and regulations made under it. In the interests of legal certainty, we need to make this plain in the drafting, so that people know to whom the codes apply.

Subsections (3) and (4) define the legal status of codes of practice. Subsection (3), which closely mirrors section 3(4) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, ensures that failure to comply with the code does not in itself make someone liable to proceedings. In other words, failure to follow the code is not in itself an offence. However, subsection (4) ensures that such a failure may be relied on in the courts as tending to establish liability in proceedings for any offence under the Bill or its welfare and licensing regulations.

To remove subsection (3) would render the status of codes of practice unclear. That would not be acceptable, as the person would be unaware of the consequences of their actions, including whether they were criminally liable. I hope that helps to clarify the issue and that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

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

If I understood the Minister correctly, this part of the Bill seeks to take the codes of practice and says that they are not laws themselves, but that if someone breaks them, they will be prosecuted. I hope I have understood that correctly. I looked at the draft cat code that we were shown, and it said that the cat must always have access to drinking water, which is perfectly reasonable. But there is an aspect that is not clear: either someone gets prosecuted or they do not—the Minister shakes his head.

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

I thought that I had made things clear. The meaning is exactly the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman suggests. A breach of the code of conduct will not necessarily mean a prosecution, but a court would be able to use it as evidence for a prosecution of a welfare or cruelty offence.

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

I am grateful; I think that I have sufficiently clarified what the Minister is trying to do, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.