Schedule 1 - Transitional provision relating to primates

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 16th November 2021.

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Amendment made: 71, in schedule 1, page 34, line 7, after “regulations” insert—

“made by the appropriate national authority”.—(Victoria Prentis.)

This amendment provides that regulations under paragraph 1(1)(a) of Schedule 1 are to be made by the appropriate national authority.

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

I beg to move amendment 115, in schedule 1, page 34, line 15, leave out—

“basic welfare needs of the primate” and insert —

“welfare needs of the primate as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Code of Practice for the welfare of privately kept non-human primates”.

This amendment would clarify that keepers must meet the Animal Welfare Act requirements and the associated Code.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 114, in clause 15, page 8, line 29, leave out—

“basic welfare needs of the primate” and insert—

“welfare needs of the primate as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006”.

This amendment would clarify that keepers must meet the Animal Welfare Act requirements and the associated Code.

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

We are obviously disappointed that we are on to these amendments, because we hoped the strength of our arguments would see the overwhelming weight of the Government machine defeated. We are where we are, but I say to Conservative Members, the Government are not that scary—though perhaps they are scary actually, as I am terrified.

Labour will continue to work in collaboration with animal welfare groups, zoos and primate experts in pushing for a full ban. That will remain one of our key animal welfare policies, and it may well become an issue at any future election. However, if the Government are determined to steam ahead with—as we call it—this manifesto-breaking primate-licensing system, it is important that we get as good a system as we can, so we will begin to go through the proposals in detail.

I have one observation, which I will probably come back to: given the numbers of people to whom this licensing system might apply, we will spend a lot of time and effort on a very complicated system. Furthermore, I notice that, under a clause later in the Bill, the system could be modified for use for other creatures. Is this something of a Trojan horse? The Minister looks entirely innocent, of course.

We might need to think about the system in those terms, however, because a system that is suitable for primates might not necessarily be suitable for other creatures. Given how this place works, such changes can be made through regulations and, even though we euphemistically say that that is subject to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny, we know full well that for anything in regulations to be overturned is rare—it is hard to do—so we are thinking about the measure in wider terms than just primates. I cast that as a warning.

Our amendments 115 and 114 seek to improve the welfare of primates by altering the language of the Bill to ensure that, during the transition period proposed by the Bill and during suspension periods, keepers are obliged to ensure that primates’ welfare meets the standards required by the Animal Welfare Act, to which I have referred. The Act sets out a broad set of principles that will be useful in the Bill, to apply to any licensing system such as this one. I hope the Government do not have a problem with our proposal. The wording in the Bill seems a touch meagre, because it requires keepers to fulfil only the

“basic welfare needs of the primate”.

The amendments strengthen the schedule

I hope that the Minister will explain the thinking behind the temporary, transitional registration approach. I found the extra level slightly hard to follow. I understand the concerns about a possible sudden rush, and about how we do not wish to create a welfare crisis, but if the system only lasts for a year, the real danger is that we just postpone the point at which that rush and the problem begin to happen.

I might have misunderstood the nature of the proposal, which may not be there just for a year, in which case it becomes a permanent transition—[Interruption.] The Minister is shaking her head, so I possibly have understood it correctly. In the evidence sessions, the Committee did not explore that as closely as we perhaps should have done, because we will have a licensing system and a transitional registration system.

We will not press our amendment to a vote. This is a genuine attempt to understand what the Government propose. I continue to fear that it has not been thought through fully, in part because the problem is so difficult. I will welcome the Minister’s comments.

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

Amendment 114 states that primates kept under direction must have their welfare needs met as laid out under the Animal Welfare Act, as the hon. Gentleman said. We all agree, of course—but we disagree with the need to restate it. Requirements under the Animal Welfare Act are not negated by the Bill; they simply do not need to be repeated by the Bill.

Amendment 115 requires keepers to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act—of course—and to the code of practice for primates, which I made reference to earlier. Primate keepers are already required to do both those things. The code explains what keepers must do to meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Again, that does not need restating. I would, however, like to take the opportunity to allay some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the transitional period.

The Government acknowledge that there will be existing primate keepers who cannot meet the licensing standards to obtain a private primate keeper licence, and we expect that some existing primates will need to be rehomed. The transitional provisions, outlined in schedule 1, allow existing keepers, local authorities and rehoming centres time to adapt to the new legislation. Existing keepers will have two years to either meet the standards and obtain a primate licence or rehome their primate with a licensed keeper. The one-year period relates to the application for the licence; they then have another year to ensure that they can meet it. During the second year, they must register their primate with the local authority and meet its basic welfare needs.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:00 am, 16th November 2021

I hear that, and I am grateful for the clarification that it effectively adds up to two years. However, I still do not understand where the Government think these creatures are going to go.

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

Part of the issue, as we heard in evidence, is that we are not clear on how many primates are in private ownership. That is why we thought very carefully about the new licensing system. As people will initially have to register their primates, we will then know the extent of the problem. We are working extremely closely with rehoming centres and zoo centres to make sure that within that two-year period there will be places for all the primates that need to be rehomed. The system will give local authorities time to determine the scale of ownership, and rehoming centres willing and able to take on new primates will have time to prepare to do this once we know the scale of the problem in each area.

That is why, instead of an outright ban as suggested in previous amendments, we have selected this licensing system as the most humane way to go, and the way that we hope will lead to healthy primates not needing to be euthanised. I therefore respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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

This has been a useful exchange, although it also shows some flaws in the way we do things in this House, in the sense that we are having to divine the Government’s thinking through pulling apart legislation. It would be helpful to have an overview of what is trying to be achieved. I have genuine sympathy, as this is a very difficult problem. However, I remain unconvinced. In the evidence session, I asked a witness—I believe it was the RSPCA, right at the beginning—that if I were to wander around my constituency, would I randomly come across people who keep primates? To my astonishment, the answer was yes, although I will not be breaking into people’s gardens to look.

However, I am sceptical about the likelihood of the kind of people who behave like that coming forward to register in a timely manner to allow the local authority to respond in a rational way. I fear it is far more likely, as is often the case with new legislation, that a few law-abiding, sensible people will come forward, but the vast majority will not. Therefore, we will end up—at the halfway point or at two years—with the exact same problem we had at the beginning. I do not think we will have come any further forward. I do not have a clear solution to this problem, but I am sceptical as to whether the Government have a solution to it either.

We will not push this amendment to a vote, but I do think we have learned something. I suspect that as we continue this process, there will be more discussion, more thought, and maybe some suggestions as to how we can resolve it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 72, in schedule 1, page 34, line 19, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “appropriate national authority”.

This amendment relates to the application of Part 1 to Wales. See the explanatory statement to Amendment 3.

Amendment 73, in schedule 1, page 34, line 23, leave out from “who” to “may” in line 24 and insert,

“meets the application condition in relation to a primate”.

This amendment relates to the application of Part 1 to Wales (see the explanatory statement to Amendment 3), and provides that an application for registration under the Schedule may be made if the application condition (see Amendment 76) is met.

Amendment 74, in schedule 1, page 34, line 25, after “regulations” insert,

“made by the appropriate national authority”.

This amendment provides that regulations under paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 1 are to be made by the appropriate national authority.

Amendment 75, in schedule 1, page 34, line 26, after “premises” insert,

“in which the primate is kept”.

This amendment provides that applications under this Schedule are to be made to the local authority in whose area the primate is kept.

Amendment 76, in schedule 1, page 34, line 26, at end insert—

“(1A) “The application condition”, in relation to a primate, means—

(a) in the case of an application to a local authority in England, that the individual kept the primate in premises in England or Wales immediately before the date specified under paragraph 1(1)(a) in regulations made by the Secretary of State;

(b) in the case of an application to a local authority in Wales, that the individual kept the primate in premises in England or Wales immediately before the date specified under paragraph 1(1)(a) in regulations made by the Welsh Ministers.”.—

This amendment sets out the condition that must be satisfied for an application under paragraph 3(1) of the Schedule to be made.

Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the First schedule to the Bill.

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

The schedule introduces the transitional registration scheme that we were just talking about, for those who keep primates before the prohibition in clause 1 comes into force. The schedule will cease to have effect one year after the prohibition of keeping a primate under clause 1 comes into force.

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

I do not have much to add, other than that I am not sure the general discussion has fully appreciated the role that this schedule plays in the transitional process. As I have already suggested, I have some worries as to how successful it is likely to be. I suspect the numbers will be low. I hope I am wrong. I am not sure how the Government plan to promote this, or how people who should register will know about it or how they will be prompted. A range of questions comes to mind. I can see what the Government are trying to do with this measure, but I am sceptical about its chances of success. Let us hope it helps us find a way out of this tricky situation.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, accordingly agreed to.