‘(3)In giving directions which specify the manner in which an animal is to be disposed of, the court may not direct the disposal of an animal to any person except—
(a)a licensed breeding establishment,
(b)a licensed pet shop,
(c)a licensed Scottish rearing establishment,
(d)a veterinary surgeon, or
(e)any other person of who the court is satisfied has the appropriate training and qualification in, and experience of, animal welfare.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 131, in clause 32, page 16, line 45, after ‘regard’, insert
‘to the interests of the animal and’.
No. 112, in clause 32, page 16, line 45, at end insert
‘(aa)the interests of the animal.’.
No. 32, in clause 32, page 17, line 7, after (3)’, insert ‘(aa)’.
I shall speak only to amendments Nos. 179 and 131. The former would add to the Bill a list of ways in which an animal may be disposed of. My concern is that animals be disposed of in a way that is in their best interests. Subsections (3) and (4) make no mention of how an animal is to be disposed of and instead focus predominantly on protecting its value. In my opinion, we should predominantly be concerned with protecting the animal’s welfare first. Its value is also important, but should be secondary.
The amendment would restrict the persons into whose care a court could dispose of an animal. We would not want an animal to be disposed of to a person whose animal welfare credentials, although not questionable, were still unproven. For example, if a court is to dispose of a cat in the context of its being re-homed, and even if another cat owner would like to take possession of it, the first person who should take care of the animal should be an accredited animal carer. That would unquestionably preserve the animal’s best interests, which is what this brief amendment is designed to do.
Amendment No. 131 is similar and supports the arguments that I have made for amendment No. 179. We need to ensure that the Bill states that we are acting in the animal’s best interests. I hope that the Minister accepts this helpful addition to his drafting.
Amendments Nos. 131 and 112, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), are driving in the same direction. It is important that the interests of the animal are recognised, if not paramount. I am bound to say that the way in which the clause is written strikes me as belonging to a previous era, rather than the one that we are trying to usher in with the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to the direction of travel set out in the Liberal Democrat and Conservative amendments, and that, if he is not happy with the form of words used, he will at least undertake to consider the concept and to return with something that would satisfy us.
Before I address the amendments, I will just mention that for, technical reasons, we are reviewing the wording relating to the reimbursement of expenses in the clause. If necessary, we will present amendments on Report, but they will not mean a substantive change.
Amendments Nos. 32, 112 and 131 would require a court to take account of an animal’s interests when exercising its powers under clauses 31 and 32. As with amendment No. 130, which we discussed on Tuesday, I am happy to reflect further on these amendments, although I have some reservations and will wish to ensure a coherent approach throughout the Bill.
Amendment No. 179 attempts to restrict the category of people to whom the court can direct an animal to be disposed of. That would be an unnecessary restriction on the freedom of the court to make a judgment in each case about who is the most sensible person to take on the care of such an animal. The person to whom the animal was given would become at least temporarily responsible for it and therefore subject to the welfare offence. The courts will make it their business to consider whether the person who is given the animal is capable of caring for it properly. The amendment also appears to consider only companion animals and would, for example, prevent the courts from sending farm animals to market or slaughter. I can reassure hon. Members that, should it become obvious in the future that the absence of this requirement was causing animal welfare problems, we would issue appropriate guidance to the courts.
Subsections (3) and (4) are necessary to ensure that the interests of the owner or keeper of a seized animal are protected. That is particularly relevant in the case of farm animals, where a whole herd or flock may be seized. On the basis of those arguments, I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments.
The Minister has already said that he is thinking about the matter. Perhaps when the clause was drafted, farm animals, rather than companion animals, were at the front of the drafter’s mind. We are most grateful for the Minister’s assurance that he will consider the issue. We recognise some of the difficulties with the wording of the amendments, but if he has taken on board our concern that the court should regard the interests of the animal as paramount, I am more than content to withdraw my amendment. I look forward to seeing what comes forward on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.