Clause 5 - DETERMINATION OF APPLICATIONS

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16th November 2021.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:30 am, 16th November 2021

I beg to move amendment 110, page 3, line 27, leave out “veterinary surgeon” and insert

“competent veterinary surgeon with appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of the species the licence relates to”.

This amendment would require premises inspections for licence applications be conducted by a competent veterinary surgeon with appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of the species the licence relates to.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 111, page 5, line 10, leave out “veterinary surgeon” and insert

“competent veterinary surgeon with appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of the species the licence relates to”.

This amendment would require that premises inspections for licence renewals be conducted by a competent veterinary surgeon with appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of the species the licence relates to.

Amendment 112, in clause 10, page 6, line 20, at end insert—

‘(1A) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(a), a “suitable person” means a person with appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of the species the license relates to who is—

(a) a competent veterinary surgeon; or

(b) a competent zoo inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.”

This amendment would require enforcement inspections to be conducted by a competent veterinary surgeon or a competent zoo inspector appointed by the Secretary of State who has appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of the species the license relates to.

New clause 9—List of competent veterinary surgeons and zoo inspectors—

“The Secretary of State must compile a list containing the names of competent veterinary surgeons and competent zoo inspectors with appropriate specialist expertise in the health and welfare requirements of primates and make this available to local authorities.”

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The amendments are about the level of expertise required of a veterinary surgeon. Our view is that more specialist expertise is required for primates. Looking to expertise in the room, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border may wish to comment.

All veterinary surgeons have skills and qualifications, but given that this will be a relatively unusual occurrence one wonders whether they will be in the right place to do what is needed. I understand that a range of organisations, including Born Free, the RSPCA, Wild Futures, the British Veterinary Association, the Ape Alliance and others have expressed concern that premises inspections for licences, renewals and check-ups should be conducted only by competent veterinary surgeons with suitable knowledge and experience of primates. We have discussed how infrequent those checks could be. We do not know what the geographical spread will be, so it is possible that people will be doing this very rarely. Therefore, the question is: do they fully appreciate what is required?

I hinted earlier that the Government have failed to spell out the ideal conditions. I understand that further work may be done in regulations and so on, but, as we have just been reflecting, these creatures have extremely complicated welfare needs. They are long-living, intelligent —highly intelligent, in some cases—social animals. It is hardly surprising that many animal welfare organisations believe that a high level of expertise should be a prerequisite of assessing whether a keeper will be able to provide the right environment for a primate.

Amendments 110 and 111 address the aspects of the Bill that cover premises inspections for licence applications and renewals, which under the Bill currently can be carried out by a veterinary surgeon. An average veterinary surgeon will have a broad and extensive knowledge of a wide variety of animals, but how rarely will this arise? I genuinely do not know how many primates the average vet sees, but I guess it is a few. I shall happily take an intervention from a vet. How many primates does the average vet see?

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I declare an interest as a veterinary surgeon. I am not competent or experienced when it comes to treating or examining primates, and that is the nub of the point that the hon. Member for Cambridge is making. I am sympathetic to what he is saying.

When veterinary surgeons train, certainly in this country, they have the potential to practise on any species; they are described as being omnipotential. That is very different from being omnicompetent. The hon. Gentleman’s amendments are very sensible, but I respectfully disagree with the detailed wording. Committee members will recall the evidence we took from the president of the British Veterinary Association about the term “specialist”—unfortunately, the amendments contain the word “specialist”. In the veterinary world, that will conflate and confuse the issue. As the president of the BVA said, she is not a specialist as per the definitions, but she is experienced in zoo medicine, having worked in it for many years.

The intention behind the amendments is good and I strongly urge the Government to take the sentiment behind them and adapt it by not using the term “specialist”. Using the word “competent” and referring to a veterinarian who has the appropriate expertise or experience in the relevant species would be a helpful and sensible change. The people who look after such animals and inspect their premises need experience in dealing with them. The term “specialist” would rule out many people who have experience in looking after primates. If the Government could consider the amendment holistically and remove the word “specialist” and substitute it with “competent” and “experienced”, we would have a resolution of the issue.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:45 am, 16th November 2021

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his expertise. When I looked through the amendments last night, I sighed, realising that he was very likely to make exactly the point he has just made.

I hope the Minister has heard the broad gist of what has been said. We do not know the numbers who will come forward through the licensing system, but even if it were the upper limit of 5,000, there are, I am told, 10.8 million cats in the UK. That gives one a sense of how likely it is for any individual vet to be asked to provide an opinion on these cases and it offers a comparison with what they do in their normal daily work.

Amendment 110 is as drafted on the amendment paper, but there may be scope down the line to revisit the issue. It is important that we get this right. We can help local authorities by making sure that the Government sort out a list of people who have the necessary skills. As I have already hinted, I worry that the average district council will consider the issue and wonder how it will cope with the provisions in the Bill. Clearly there are parts of the country where zoos and rescue centres have the necessary experience, but there will be other parts where they do not. If they came up against an application, they would struggle and it would make it far simpler if the Government did what we are suggesting and compiled a list of the names of competent veterinary surgeons and zoo inspectors who have the skills to carry out the work.

Despite the suggestions from the hon. Gentleman, we think the issue is sufficiently important for us to push it to a vote. We know what the outcome will be, but we want to put it on the record that the Government should take another look at the issue. When the Bill is passed, we hope it will have been improved in this regard.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We all agree that those carrying out inspections should be competent to do so. With his depth of knowledge, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border reminded us that vets have established competency standards. It is important that the regulations use the right terminology—competency, experience and expertise—as they are developed.

We have provided flexibility in the Bill about who can undertake inspections. The aim of that was to avoid creating delays to licence processing, which could be bad for primates awaiting inspection. We are looking to support training for vets and inspectors so that they have the right knowledge to carry out inspections. We hope that the training will increase the pool of people local authorities can call upon. I say once again that primates vary enormously: someone with expertise in one type of primate may well not be competent to deal with another.

We will certainly include material on the selection of inspectors as part of our guidance for local authorities—the list that the hon. Member for Cambridge wanted—and we intend to ensure that local authorities are given details of suitably qualified inspectors, including specialist vets and vets who have undergone primate training.

Local authorities already undertake a lot of that work for us in the space of zoo inspection and dangerous wild animal inspection. They can already request information on competent zoo inspectors from the Animal and Plant Health Agency. We do not need to include that in the Bill, but I will look carefully, having heard the debate, at the language that we use in regulation. I respectfully ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This has been a helpful discussion—hopefully, we will come to a sensible resolution. I hear what the Minister says about the advice and guidance. My reflection, having been some years ago a district councillor in a rural area that had some areas that needed to be licensed, is that we struggled with expertise.

Much of the discussion in the end is not so much about primates but about licensing, and how we go about it. Having spent a number of years trying to get the taxi licensing system improved, I am beginning to draw on my conversations with the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers; I remember some of the complexities that can be brought up. None of this is simple or easy. We need expert advice, and the right people. If we do not have them, we will not get a very good outcome. We think that amendment 112 is sufficiently important to vote on, but I will withdraw the others.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I support the Government on this issue, but we heard evidence last week that the number of veterinarians with the relevant competence and expertise to look at primates is unclear, but in the order of 50. If we had the word “specialist” in the Bill, we could whittle that down to single figures—or it could be 10 or 20 —because that term means that a person has either their royal college boards or their European college, American college, Australasian college or many others, and that then the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has accredited them as a specialist.

The current wording would really complicate things. I strongly urge the Minister and the Government to take on board the Opposition’s comments about competence and experience so that the licensing protocol is not merely a box-ticking exercise by someone who will potentially be very much out of their comfort zone.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 10, in clause 5, page 4, line 1, at end insert—

“(4A) For the purposes of subsections (2) and (3) a local authority may take into account—

(a) any previous failure by the applicant to meet the licensing standards, and

(b) any other conduct of the applicant that is relevant.”—

This amendment allows a local authority to take previous breaches of the licensing standards, and other relevant conduct, into account when making determinations under clause 5(2) and (3).

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The clause outlines the steps that local authorities will take when determining an application for a primate licence. The clause ensures that a licence is granted to those who have demonstrated that they are able to keep primates to the required standards, while ensuring that local authorities have the flexibility to make allowances for those who are very close to those standards but have not yet quite met them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.