Clause 56 - General interpretation

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 26th January 2006.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:00 pm, 26th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 188, in clause 56, page 29, line 32, at end insert

‘“sale” includes hire, barter and exchange, and related expressions shall be construed accordingly.’.

The amendment is intended to tidy up the Bill, many parts of which relate directly or indirectly to the sale of animals. Either through the activities that will be subject to licensing and registration under the clause or through the disposal of an animal detailed in the part of the Bill dealing with post-conviction powers, the Bill will have implications for the sale of animals and, as such, should include a definition. The definition provided by the amendment is consistent with the definition of “sale” in other legislation, including section 27 of the CITES licensing and bird registration under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and section 14 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The amendment would include hire, barter and exchange in the definition of sale.

I hope that the Minister will accept this minor amendment, as it brings the Bill in line with other legislation.

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

Clause 9 aims to protect animal welfare by prohibiting commercial and private vending to children under 16. We are not aware of any compelling reason to ban the hiring of animals to children. To the extent that there is a market for that, it is rather limited and already regulated. Riding schools, for example, which hire out ponies or horses to children, are subject to licensing requirements and will continue to be so under the Bill.

We believe that the case for regulating the exchange and barter of animals in transactions involving or taking place among children is also extremely weak. If two children aged 14 swap a hamster and a gerbil, why should they be criminalised? Does it make a difference if an 18-year-old barters his guinea pig for a 14-year-old’s two mice? To the extent that the animals being exchanged are a species that may be legally exchanged,   they are transactions in which the Bill should not interfere. In all those cases, the animals are protected by the welfare and cruelty offences.

The hon. Gentleman said that in other pieces of legislation it is necessary to protect a particular species or type of animal. The law already bans, as he said, the bartering and exchange of badgers or live wild birds. The reasons for those bans are the conservation and protection of the animals concerned—the hon. Gentleman mentioned CITES—but we see no need to extend them universally. The definition of “sale” in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 is not appropriate to the Bill.

In the second set of circumstances to which I have referred, the Bill grants the courts the power to sell animals that have been taken into possession because they are in distress, animals whose owners have been deprived of the right to own them or animals in relation to which a disqualification order has been breached. In all those cases, the courts have a discretion to dispose of the animals in accordance with the provisions in the Bill. It is highly unlikely that a court would seek to hire out the animals, and the possibility of exchanging or bartering such animals simply does not arise. Why would a court engage itself in such transactions? Therefore, we believe that the definition is inappropriate in the context of the Bill and I urge the hon. Gentleman to seek to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:15 pm, 26th January 2006

I should just like to make a couple of points. I accept that perhaps the drafting is not quite right. I also accept the Minister’s argument on hiring a pony, for example, because if you hire one it is presumably under the protection of its owner. However, although I hate to say this, swapping two mice for a guinea pig is not altogether such a minor thing. My dear mother, for example, hates mice, and my returning home, as I often wanted to, clutching my new pet mouse, would not have been met with the same affection as my returning with a guinea pig. We are in the same sphere as when a small child, or even a large child, buys a pet—

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

Indeed. It is wrong to exclude part-exchange if there is a significant change in terms of responsibility. If people can swap their animals, other than animal for animal, they are essentially getting round the part of the Bill that prevents children from buying animals. I hope that the Minister will consider that. I recognise that the amendment is, perhaps, not drafted correctly. I accept that and I am happy to withdraw. However, it is odd that animals that are protected in the way that badgers or very rare animals are protected are excluded.

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

One of my concerns, which the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned, is the possibility that those who wish to engage in sales, but are aware of the legal restrictions that properly apply to sales, may seek to construct another arrangement taking the place of   a sale, but with the same effect. For example, people did not used to be able to charge for entrance to sporting events on Sunday, so they would charge for the programme. People are inventive in getting round rules. It is possible, under the Bill, for someone to hire something for an extended period, which is effectively a sale.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right, which is why I tabled the amendment, although it is possible that we have not drafted it quite correctly. The spirit of the Bill says that people cannot acquire animals. How they get round the definition of “sale” is a problem. The Minister may tell us that, for a court case, the definition would include barter or exchange. I doubt that the hamsters-for-mice scandal that may hit the press at any stage will ever get to court, but the principle behind the Bill is affected by this matter.

Although it is odd that this matter has been missed out, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

We now come to amendment No. 206. The issue relating to suffering was fairly extensively debated under clause 4. Ordinarily, this amendment would have been grouped with the amendments relating to clause 4, but it was tabled after that debate took place, which is why it is being called now. It is entirely proper that a debate takes place on the amendment now, but it would not be proper for it to be extensive or repetitive.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I beg to move amendment No. 206, in clause 56, page 29, line 32, at end insert—

‘“suffering” is not confined to physical suffering;’.

I shall take your words to heart, Mr. Gale. The amendment was tabled in light of the comments made by the Minister during our earlier discussion about suffering, which, as you rightly say, ranged widely. Many hon. Members were keen to see mental suffering dealt with in the Bill. The Minister told us that such an amendment was not necessary, but he said, on the suggestion that there should be an amendment to clause 56:

“I will think carefully about that suggestion.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 17 January 2006; c. 34.]

I hope that the Minister has had a chance to think about that and will respond positively.

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

As Committee members will remember, when we met on 17 January, I indicated that we would consider carefully the suggestion that we needed to do something in relation to the definition of suffering. We have some slight difficulty with the drafting of my hon. Friend’s amendment, because it seems to suggest that suffering never consists only of physical suffering, whereas it might, in some cases, and we would not want to create that loophole.

If my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw the amendment, I will consider the matter further and table an amendment on Report.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am grateful for the Minister’s very generous comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 124, in clause 56, page 29, line 40, leave out from ‘dwelling’ to end of line 42 and insert

‘are to a part which is wholly or mainly occupied as a private dwelling.’.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 44, in clause 56, page 29, line 41, leave out ‘yard, garden’.

No. 54, in clause 56, page 29, line 42, at end insert

‘except insofar as any yard or outhouse may contain an animal to which section 17(1) may refer.’.

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

Groundhog day hits us again, because here we are, talking about dwellings; the Minister helpfully clarified the part about private dwellings earlier. Clause 56 does not specify what is meant by a private dwelling, and the explanatory notes are of little help. Moreover, the Government have made no changes to it, despite the criticisms made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The Government may seek to make those changes later, although consequently I believe that it is necessary to amend the clause accordingly to prevent confusion from arising over the powers of entry once the Bill is enacted.

It is important that constables and inspectors know what they can and cannot enter, especially when an animal is in distress. An outhouse or a yard could be deemed to be a private dwelling. I believe that the Minister has said before that if someone has turned their garage into a stable, they can no longer expect it to be considered a private dwelling. It is not clear, however, whether there would be some dispute about that if someone had left a pushchair, a load of children’s toys and various other household items in the garage as well. If the Minister can throw some light on the matter and we can tidy it up, that is all well and good.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I do not want to push my luck with the Minister, but we have made some progress, and we had a good discussion about the notion of a private dwelling when we last considered the matter. Since then, the RSPCA has examined the cases that it has brought. It remains concerned about the notion of a private dwelling and will provide the Minister and his team with some statistical information. I urge the Minister to keep his mind open about this point.

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

I speak to amendment No. 44 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), which offers a halfway house between what the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) suggests and the Government’s stated position so far, although I must say that I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s presentation.

My hon. Friend and I tabled the amendment to delete the words “yard, garden” because there is a clear difference between something that is visible and something that is not. The contents of a garage or an outhouse are not visible, so the occupier of a house could construe a garage or an outhouse as a private dwelling, whereas a yard or a garden, even a backyard, as the Minister suggested on the other occasion, is much more likely to be treated as an open space, albeit a private one. It is very common for such yards and gardens to be visible, at least from outside the property, to those who pass by and to the neighbours of that property.

It is difficult to believe that one cannot use the powers of entry in clauses 16 and 17 if one sees, from a public place, an animal in distress in the yard or garden. I ask hon. Members to bear it in mind that one probably cannot see an animal in distress if it is in a garage or an outhouse. I do not believe that privacy is infringed in the same way at all if a person enters someone else’s yard or garden for those purposes as it would be if they entered someone’s garage or outhouse, or even their house itself—that is in a different category altogether. One has a right to expect the garage, outhouse or house to be private. They will probably be locked, and access will be denied in that way. Yards and gardens will not be locked in that way, and there is a strong case for deleting those two words.

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

An example that brings that point home is the situation in which a postman or a door-to-door salesman could enter a front garden perfectly legally, but under the Bill an animal welfare inspector could not enter the same garden without a warrant.

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

My hon. Friend makes a very valuable point. It would not be appropriate for a postman, a travelling salesman or a political canvasser to invade someone’s outhouse or garage, but it is perfectly acceptable for them to go into the front garden so that they can knock on the front door. It would be helpful if the Government looked again at excluding yards and gardens. That would go some way towards meeting people’s genuine concerns about the clause on the grounds of animal welfare.

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

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) said about the new statistics that the RSPCA is compiling; I shall certainly look closely at them.

At this stage, I am not convinced that we have got the balance wrong. Speaking for myself—maybe I am unusual—I am not sure that in determining my private space, I would make a strong distinction between my small back garden, which I have to go through the house to get to, the shed at the end of the garden and a garage. I do not have a garage, because I do not have a big enough house, but I am not sure that most people make that sort of distinction between enclosed spaces and enclosed gardens. It could be argued that if a space   is enclosed, it is more worrisome that something a bit dodgy might be going on inside, which one would want to do something about.

As I said earlier, in extreme cases, in which enforcement officers see that an animal is about to die, they may use powers of entry and intervention. It is not such a big deal to get a warrant in less serious cases.

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

Although I accept that the sort of private, enclosed back garden the Minister is talking about is distinct, could we not look at the wording again and perhaps omit the blanket definition of “garden”? I accept what he says about enclosed private space, but could we look at the clause again to avoid the patently ludicrous situation that I referred to?

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

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the point that the hon. Member for Lewes made about access to front gardens by postmen, newspaper boys and so on, I understand that such delivery people have an implied licence only to deliver the post and not to do anything else. I do not think that there is a parallel. As I said earlier, the definition makes it quite clear that for such outhouses, sheds or garages to constitute a private dwelling, they would have to be used primarily in connection with activities happening in a private dwelling. If they were used just to store things or to keep animals in, they would lose that qualification.

I accept that it is difficult to define such things. I do not wish to make the powers of entry associated with violations in the Bill more permissive than powers associated under existing laws with other, much more serious crimes, and I do not think that other Committee members want to do so either.

Norman Bakerrose—

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

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Could you clarify whether I am summing up or the Minister is giving way?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

For the sake of convenience, I am construing it that the Minister has given way.

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

I am sorry to come back to a point that I made during debate on an earlier clause, but the Minister said then that it will be possible for outhouses and garages not to be construed as private dwellings if they are not being used for that purpose, and that implies that the Bill, in general terms, will apply in those situations. However, the point that I made to the Minister earlier, to which I did not hear him respond, was that yards and gardens are invariably regarded as private property and part of the dwelling. It is therefore academic to suggest—

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

I cannot give way, because I am intervening on the Minister.

It is academic to suggest that an outhouse might not be part of a private dwelling when it is always necessary to have access through a private dwelling,   namely the yard or garden—words that my amendment would remove from the clause—to get to the outhouse. What the Minister said is no comfort.

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

We are getting our knickers in a bit of a twist over the issue. Many of the new housing developments in my constituency are open-plan, which creates problems of definition. Such estates have no front gardens as we would normally define them; they are completely open-plan. We might inadvertently cause problems for such areas by being prescriptive in our definitions. Does the Minister agree?

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

I agree. We could spend the rest of the afternoon talking about the layout of various types of house and garden.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:30 pm, 26th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 134, in clause 56, page 30, line 21, at end add—

‘(7)Any power conferred by this Act (or by an order of a court under this Act) to destroy an animal is a power to destroy the animal in an appropriate and humane manner.’.

The amendment makes an important point. We seek to ensure that, in the unfortunate event of an animal needing to be put to sleep, the act will be performed with dignity and in a manner that does not cause further undue suffering. There is no explicit reference in the Bill, as drafted, to the methods that could be used to put an animal to sleep. Clauses 33 and 34 use only terminology such as

“Destruction in the interests of the animal”.

The RSPCA alerted me to situations in which shovels or bricks were used for the purposes of destroying an animal—not a horse, I hope. We do not want that to continue when the Bill is enacted. I would feel more comfortable if the terminology used in the appropriate clause, and applying throughout the Bill, was more explicit in stating that when an animal has to be put to sleep, it should be done in an appropriate and humane manner.

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

I have some sympathy with the amendment, but the Minister might argue—I am sorry to anticipate him—that the general cruelty provisions cover the point.

There is a difference with destruction, however, which is why it might be helpful for the Bill to be more specific. When one is confronted, sadly, with an animal that needs to be destroyed, there might not be much time to consider matters. That person, therefore, might resort to crude methods—perhaps for the best of reasons—such as those that the hon. Member for Leominster described. However, with more time for consideration, one might not pursue that course of   action. Relying on the general cruelty provisions in the Bill might not be sufficient, so it would do no harm to agree to the amendment.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right: the Government’s view is that any unnecessary or inhumane destruction of animals would be caught by clause 4 as a cruelty offence. Although we understand and sympathise with the motives behind the amendment, we do not think that the Bill will authorise inhumane destruction. It goes without saying that destruction must be carried out in an appropriate and humane manner.

In most cases, we are talking about officially sanctioned destruction, but let us cast our minds back to the debate about a car driver who runs over an animal and is then faced with a dilemma. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Leominster would want the Bill to catch such people, but that would happen if the amendment were passed. That would make it harder for the driver to decide whether to deal with the animal humanely or to let it suffer for a perhaps considerable period.

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

I do not think that we want the driver to reverse over the animal and finish the job, and that is why the provisions should include the word “humane”. The amendment would emphasise that key point. We are dealing with a difficult subject. The Government’s intention is that any destruction should be done humanely to prevent further suffering. We do not need to take the debate further, but they might wish to reconsider and include the word “humane”. That would send the right signal to anyone reading the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 57 and 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.