With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 3, in the schedule, page 4, line 38, leave out “except” and insert “including”.
This amendment would allow animals, held by those who are suspected of committing an offence under the Act, to be seized.
Effectively, new clause 2 and amendment 3 continue the theme we explored in our debate on new clause 1 about the potential seizure of animals. They seek to ensure that there are powers to seize an animal in the event of continued breaches of the Bill. Fundamentally, the constituents I represent want to know that, in the event of such a breach, it will be possible to take the animals to a place of safety. That is really important to them and, I imagine, to many Members.
New clause 2 would introduce a power to seize an animal in the event of a breach and would confer that power on an inspector or, as the Minister pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, a constable. Amendment 3 would amend the schedule, which includes a curious form of words. It effectively states that an inspector may remove a number of things from any property where there is a wild animal, except the animal itself. Seizing evidence in support of a prosecution makes a lot of sense, and I imagine we all agree with that, but the schedule does not allow the removal of the animal itself. At what point does it become possible to rehome the animal in a safe and secure way? The Opposition are concerned that it is not clear that the Bill contains any powers to seize animals and ensure that they are rehomed satisfactorily.
New clause 2 and amendment 3 would set out clearly in the Bill that, in the event of breaches—in the event that wild animals are subjected to continued cruelty by being held in small cages in environments that are not suitable for their continued care—the animals can be seized and rehomed. From my understanding, that is not included in the Bill, and I would be grateful if the Minister set out under what circumstances he envisages any wild animal being seized and taken to a place of safety, from the commencement of the Act. I imagine that most people watching these deliberations would want to know that in the event of a breach, those animals are safe.
New clause 2 and amendment 3 seek to provide inspectors with powers to seize animals and make alternative arrangements to care for them. Although we understand the concern that, in some situations, animals might need to be removed from the premises on safety or welfare grounds, such powers are already provided for in existing legislation. As such, the amendments are not necessary.
The inspection powers provided by the Bill are only those that inspectors need to properly enforce the ban, including powers to enter and search premises, to examine animals and to seize objects. In this context, “premises” includes any vehicle, tent or moveable structure. In addition, inspectors have powers to video or photograph an animal, which would provide sufficient evidence of an offence.
We have not provided powers to seize animals during the course of an investigation or post-conviction penalty. In respect of pre-conviction seizure as evidence, that is because it is unnecessary. If there are welfare or public safety concerns, animals can be seized under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
To use an analogy, it is often the case that if someone who owns a large tree that they want to remove hears that a tree preservation order is about to be placed on it, they will chop it down before the order can be placed. Is there not a real danger that if it is not possible to seize animals under certain circumstances when they are about to be removed from a circus, they may be destroyed before they can be rehoused?
That is an interesting point, but I think it is unlikely. There are protections, so if a circus owner was minded to do such a thing, I would have thought that we would have seen evidence of animal welfare concerns, which would be dealt with under the 2006 Act. I will explain in more detail as I proceed why we have come to that conclusion, which will hopefully answer the question more fully.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 permits seizure if an animal is suffering, or if they are likely to suffer if their circumstances do not change. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 permits seizure of certain types of animals, including camels and zebras, if they are being kept without a licence under that Act or if a licensing condition is being breached. There is also no need to seize an animal to prove an offence has been committed under the Bill. As the Bill bans the use of animals in circuses, the evidence would need to establish that use. Simply establishing that the circus had a wild animal would not be sufficient.
We do not think that the seizure of an animal is appropriate post conviction. The only offence that a circus operator will have been convicted of is using a wild animal in a circus. To deprive them of the animal entirely would be unprecedented and clearly disproportionate, and would lead to the threat of or concern about legal challenge. I appreciate that there may be concerns about repeat offending, but there is no limit to the fine that can be imposed by the courts, as we discussed in relation to disqualification. The way to tackle the challenge is to escalate fines over time, so a repeat offender would soon find themselves out of business.
As I have already outlined, where there are welfare or public safety concerns, the Animal Welfare Act and Dangerous Wild Animals Act provide the powers to seize animals. On those grounds, I urge the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport to withdraw the new clause.
Based on the reassurances that the Minister has given, that the welfare of the animals can be looked after, I am happy to withdraw the clause. However, I think there is a strong point about ensuring that none of the animals can be used should there be any breaches, and the welfare of those animals must be paramount. The reassurances that the Government Minister has given are sufficient to send a clear message on that point, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.