With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 4, in the schedule, page 5, line 34, after “vehicle,” insert “including caravans, trucks and trailers,”.
This amendment would ensure an inspector’s power of entry includes caravans, trucks and trailers.
Our amendment seeks to include the words “caravans, trucks and trailers” after “vehicle”, which comes under the broad definition that the Minister has mentioned in his previous remarks about movable structures. It aims to ensure the comprehensive nature of the schedule, and to ensure that all the areas where a wild animal could be stored or transported are covered by this legislation.
As we heard from yesterday’s evidence, some animals require larger travelling cages, and—I imagine—some require smaller travelling cages. Not knowing the precise size of a travelling cage for a raccoon, I imagine it is considerably smaller than that of a zebu. That means we need to make sure that the different types of vehicle that could transport and store any of those wild animals at any time are sufficiently encompassed in the law that we are scrutinising.
I am slightly concerned about this from a legal point of view. Surely a vehicle is any instrument of conveyance, so if we qualify it by talking about “caravans, trucks and trailers”, are we not narrowing the definition?
I am grateful for that point; I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has got to the nub of what I am trying to get at with the Minister. I am trying to set out clearly what is included in the definition. We do not seek to qualify what a vehicle is; we stress “including” to make sure that definition includes those different movable structures and vehicles that could be home to any wild animals at any point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has correctly identified my ruse: getting the Minister to put on record that all those different vehicles and movable structures would be included, to make sure that there can be no hiding place for any wild animal in the event of an inspection by an inspector or, as we heard earlier, a constable enforcing the requirements.
Amendment 4 seeks to add further clarity to a term that itself is already part of a definition. However, the Government do not believe the amendment is necessary. Paragraph 12 of the schedule provides a definition of premises, which already includes “any place”, but also
“in particular, includes—
(a) any vehicle, and
(b) any…movable structure.”
“any tent or movable structure”,
and those definitions are not further defined in the Act. Listing “caravans, trucks and trailers”, as in amendment 4, would not add anything to that definition, as those are already either vehicles or movable structures.
The purpose of a list within an inclusive definition is to extend that definition beyond what it might ordinarily be thought to include. It is not a list of examples, and including such a list runs the risk of inadvertently narrowing the definition, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire has said. Specifying only vehicles that people might live in—a caravan, a truck or a trailer—suggests that the definition does not include, for example, cars or motorcycles. Again, I hope that this is a probing amendment, or at least one that seeks to clarify, and that the Committee is content that the explanation I have given means that further defining the phrase “premises” is not necessary. As such, I hope that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will not press the amendment.
I thank the Minister for the reassurances he has given. I wanted to make sure that it was clearly set out on the record that any vehicles or potential locations where a wild animal could be stored were included in the definition, and I am grateful to the Minister for having set that out.
I do not wish to detain the Committee for any great time, but the point made by the hon. Member for Ipswich about the power of police constables in relation to the exercise of search and seizure options is substantial and deserves the Committee’s attention. I come at it from the point of view of someone who, many years ago, made a living in the criminal courts as a solicitor, having worked as a procurator fiscal depute in Scotland and later as a defence solicitor.
I am aware of the presence of the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire, who is a much more eminent source and should be taken much more seriously than me on these matters, but there is a small advantage from never having achieved such eminence: one perhaps has a better and fuller understanding of how things work at the sharp end and the practicalities of these matters. I am influenced in my thinking in particular by my experience working as a prosecutor, where the overwhelming number of reports we received—well in excess of 95%, I would guess—came from the police. However, there was always a small number from other reporting agencies including the Health and Safety Executive, the RSPCA—occasionally—the television licensing authority and the British Transport police.
It is fair to say that the approach taken by the other reporting agencies was not always as focused on a proper understanding of the laws of evidence as that evident from police reports. I say that gently, and not in any way to criticise those other bodies, because they all existed principally for other purposes. People do not become RSPCA inspectors or health and safety inspectors to gather evidence for prosecutions; people generally become RSPCA inspectors because they care about the welfare of animals, so that other focus is secondary.
To put it bluntly, people often do not understand the full legal significance of the way in which they go about their business. For that reason, there is substantial merit in giving police constables powers under the Bill. It is not necessarily desirable to leave it to the choice of the inspector to take along a police constable as one of the two other people they may take with them. If police constables are to be brought into inspections on a multi-agency basis, they should be there in their own right, able to exercise their own professional judgment as police officers and gatherers and observers of evidence, not simply as a bit of muscle behind the inspectors who have powers under the Bill.
The right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire points out, quite fairly, that anybody who is with an inspector has the powers of an inspector, but that is to be exercised under the direction of the inspectors, so in effect the only way in which a police constable can exercise the powers of an inspector is if they do so at the instruction of an inspector.
Again, my own background is as a procurator fiscal depute, so it was part of my job—because that is how the criminal justice system works in Scotland—occasionally to direct the police in an investigation. One always did that with extreme care and humility, because the police are exceptionally professional, but I, as a professional prosecutor, had a good understanding of the laws of evidence and that was how I was able to do it.
I just venture to suggest that an inspector given powers by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under this schedule would not necessarily have the necessary background and understanding of the laws of evidence and procedure, and that ultimately, if things went wrong procedurally, we would not see successful prosecutions, which should be the outcome of a criminal offence.
I do not ask the Committee today to reject the schedule being agreed to as the schedule to the Bill, but I will say to the Minister that this is a serious matter requiring further consideration and that he should, if he can, undertake to give it that consideration. Otherwise, the House will, I think, want to revisit the matter on Report. Failing that, it will be, I suspect, given more rigorous and learned scrutiny in the other place.
Following the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, which I largely concur with, I think that I ought briefly to make clear my view on this matter. We have a society in which people expect the rule of law to be maintained by the police. At the moment, the police face all sorts of problems, not least the lack of resources and of police officers. However, I think that most normal people in this country would expect that if any law were being broken, a police officer would be able to enforce that law, whether or not they had been invited in by somebody from DEFRA. I urge the Minister to think again about why it should be necessary for an inspector from DEFRA—an appointed inspector—to invite a police officer along with them before that police officer would be able to uphold the law.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. I just want to make a couple of points. It is true that in days gone by, there was perhaps a lack of attention to detail, but in recent times the Whitehall Prosecutors’ Group has come together to try to ensure that there are high standards of training and effectiveness among prosecutors of all sorts. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with me that it is perhaps worth just mentioning to one of the Law Officers what has been said, just to ensure that this matter is brought to their attention and that there is proper superintendence of this legal process.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions and I can assure them that we take seriously the comments that have been made, will review the points that have been made and will make sure that the most senior Law Officers look at this. They have done, and the general view that we have at the moment is that we do not believe that it would be appropriate or necessary for the police to enforce this legislation but, again, we will review that, based on comments that have been made. However, DEFRA-appointed inspectors are likely to be better qualified in identifying and, probably, handling species of wild animal. They have expert training and experience.
Given that the offence in clause 1 would have to happen in public, we do not believe that there will be many cases that will need investigating. It is quite an open offence that will be publicly obvious. It is also important to remember that police constables, when invited to take part in the inspection, if “in the company of an inspector” had been set out in the Bill, would have the same power of seizure of evidence as an inspector. They would be able to support the activities that go on there.
As I said, the primary matter to bear in mind is that there is a degree of expertise. That point was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth, who is not with us today: a number of experts in DEFRA have experience of dealing with animals. Although we respect the work that the police do—an amazing job across a wide range of activities—to expect them to have the same expertise as highly qualified DEFRA inspectors might be challenging. Notwithstanding that, I take the points that have been made, in what has been a very full and frank debate, and I will give that further investigation and review.
On a point of order, Mrs Moon. I am attempting a nebulous point of order so as to put on record my thanks to the DEFRA officials for the work that they have done. I also thank the animal welfare organisations and all those people who have fought for the ban on wild animals in circuses. Every wild animal matters. I hope the Minister will continue to push in his efforts to get the Bill through as fast as possible, so that we can get the six reindeer, four zebras, three camels, three raccoons, one fox—not for hunting—one macaw and one zebu into a place of safety, where they can enjoy the rest of their lives in as close to their natural habitat as possible.
Further to that point of order, Mrs Moon, regarding an oversight by the Minister in not recognising the important work by DEFRA officials who have been incredibly helpful in taking this forward over many years. I am grateful to countless Members of Parliament, who have not only supported this Committee and our work in the debate that took place about a week ago, but those who have campaigned tirelessly on the issue. It is right to have done that and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport for bringing that to our attention. I also share in his thanks to those who participated in our evidence sessions and to you, Mrs Moon, for chairing our debate so well this morning.
WAC 23 Petra Jackson, animal carer at Circus Mondao
WAC 24 Andrew Lewis
WAC 25 The Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (The SHG)
WAC 26 Joint submission from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS)