Clause 54 - Crown application

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

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:00 pm, 26th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 43, in clause 54, page 28, line 41, leave out subsections (6) and (7).

Many of us who have been in this place for some time are interested in exemptions that apply to the Crown. I came across one this week, when a row of fantastic trees in Lewes was felled by Lewes prison on the basis of a Crown exemption. That would not have been allowed by anyone else, as the trees had an amenity value. I wish, if possible, to restrict Crown immunity. I admit that the clause sets out the terms that normally apply, but I particularly wanted to ask about subsections (6) and (7), which refer to the monarch in her private capacity. I am not quite clear why an exemption for private estates should be specifically written into the Bill. On all sorts of occasions, we have heard, and been given reasons why, things should not be written into Bills, and, here, we are talking not about estates held by the Crown—Buckingham palace, or whatever—but about private estates. Obviously, animals will be held on those estates, and we want to look after animals there as well as those anywhere else. I am interested to know what justification there can be for that inclusion.

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

Committee members may be interested to know, if they do not already, that the existing legislation—the Protection of Animals Act 1911—exempts all the Crown estate, including the sort   of premises to which the hon. Member for Lewes referred, such as prisons and anything that comes under what is commonly known as the Crown.

This Bill provides an exemption only for the Queen and her private estates. That is because the Queen cannot be criminally liable, because, under our unwritten constitution, she is the prosecutor. That does not mean that inspectors will not be able to gain access to her private estates when permission is given, just that they will not be able to demand it. There are also security considerations in respect of her private estate. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear such things in mind and withdraw his amendment.

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

I am interested by the Minister’s response. I acknowledge our constitutional situation and the prosecution arrangements, but it would seem more equitable if the power of entry were the same for private estates owned by the monarch as for any other piece of land. The question of prosecution is separate from that.

I am particularly concerned because of the limitation at an earlier point on the power of entry. There is no restriction on the power of entry to the Prime Minister’s house or that of the head of MI5. Lots of people with good reason for restricting entry to their premises are covered by the Bill, but the monarch in her private capacity is not. I leave the Minister with that thought. I think it dangerous, inequitable and unfortunate to set up such exemptions in legislation.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.