With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 181, in clause 34, page 18, line 15, leave out ‘destroyed’ and insert ‘disposed of’.
No. 183, in clause 34, page 18, line 31, at end insert—
‘(6A)In this section, references to disposing of an animal include destroying it.’.
I will not dwell on the amendment because I am keen to make progress as this is our last day. The matter was touched on in the discussion on clause 29. I just want to reiterate that the issue in this case is clarity. As the clause stands, it does not specify what
“other than the interests of the animal” refers to. It is rather worryingly vague. We are trying to make it clear that there needs to be a reason, and the reason that we suggest is a threat to public safety. Will the Minister go over the arguments again?
In the same vein as what the hon. Gentleman has just said, we want to change the word “destroyed” to “disposed of” in the case of fighting dogs, and indeed any other animals. As we have already discussed this morning, we want to ensure that the court does not default to destroying the animal and will instead consider disposing of it if that is safe and possible. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment refers to threats to public safety. My amendment is intended to ensure that the court can dispose of the animal.
The Minister said that in the case that we have just discussed, he would, if necessary, issue guidelines to the court. I suspect that that would be satisfactory. However, we should ensure that, under the Bill, the court has the maximum flexibility to deal with those poor creatures that have been so abused, rather than automatically destroy them.
There needs to be clarification of what the process will be if a dog is taken into care, which is what would happen. One would hope that this line would not be taken, but we need to be clear about what we mean by the process, if there has to be one, of disposal rather than destruction. Will the Minister clarify the issue?
Clauses 33 and 34 allow a court to order the destruction of an animal that has been the subject of an offence. Orders under the clauses could be made against either a convicted owner who had not been deprived of his animal—in which case the animal would be destroyed, but he would be entitled to its value—or in relation to any animal to which the conviction relates, even if the person convicted of the offence in relation to that animal is not its owner. If I mutilated my neighbour’s cat, a court could convict me under clause 5, and, if it were in the cat’s interests, order its destruction under clause 33. If I made my dog fight, a court could convict me under clause 7 and order its destruction under clause 34.
Hon. Members are concerned that clause 34 is the only post-conviction power relating to fighting animals and that if an animal has been involved in a fight, its destruction will be automatic. I reassure them that that is not the case. If the convicted person owned the animal, he could be deprived of it under clause 29 and it would be disposed of under that clause. That would not only involve destruction.
Whether the convicted person owned the animal or not, if the animal were injured and suffering, it could be destroyed in its own interests under clause 33. Clause 34 is not a single route, but one of many ways of dealing with fighting animals. It gives an additional power, not available under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, to ensure that the courts have all possible means of dealing with fighting animals.
Amendment No. 34 is unnecessary; we can have faith that the courts will not destroy fighting animals unless compelling considerations of public safety override the animal’s interests. We do not think that that needs to be explicitly stated. On that basis, I urge hon. Members not to press the amendment.