The purpose of the amendments is to strengthen the functions of local authorities under the new licensing regime. Amendment 4 will ensure that the premises where the primate is kept are stated on the licence. Amendments 10 and 14 allow local authorities to take into account any previous failure of the applicant to meet licensing standards, and any other conduct of the applicant that is deemed relevant, when deciding whether to grant or renew a licence.
Amendment 12 allows local authorities to decide whether to grant an application to vary the licence of an applicant who wishes to reduce the number of primates specified on their licence. That may not always be appropriate, as primates are social animals and a minimum social grouping size may well be needed to ensure that they thrive.
Amendment 11 makes it clear that licence holders may apply to vary the specified premises on their licence only when the new premises are located in the same local authority area. Amendment 13 provides that where the licence holder moves the primate to new premises, the local authority will be required to arrange an inspection before granting the application. Amendment 18 ensures that any guidance issued to local authorities on the implementation of the primate licensing regime is made publicly available.
This amendment would reduce the length of a licence from six years to two.
You will be delighted to know, Ms McVey, that this is not a complicated amendment. This is basically the question of how long the licence exists for. We think that six years is too long. I think that evidence was given by some of the witnesses that agreed with us on that. We think that two years might be a more appropriate period. I suspect that, under other amendments, we will come to the issue of who is really suited to do these kinds of checks. My suspicion is that the average local authority, because it is a district local authority, is going to struggle to have this expertise. To some extent, it could be argued that if it were going to struggle every six years, it would struggle even more every two years, but we think that this is a flawed system and that six years is just too long. We would rather the checks be more frequent, although overall, as I have said before, we would rather the provision not be needed at all.
We believe that six years is the right length for a primate licence. The length of the licence and the number of inspections, which I will detail in a minute, is in line with the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Before a licence is granted in the first place, the primate will be assessed by a veterinary surgeon. The six-year licensing period then involves at least two more inspections by an inspector appointed by the local authority. We anticipate that those inspections will be spaced relatively evenly over the six-year period.
We are also looking very carefully at, and working with expert groups on, what we can put in the regulations about the care of primates. For example, we might look at making an annual vet visit a requirement. I therefore ask that the hon. Gentleman withdraw the amendment.
Is the licensing scheme aimed at encouraging people to no longer keep primates as pets? Perhaps six years gives the impression that this is an okay practice to continue in perpetuity, while two years would perhaps accelerate the process of people no longer wanting to keep primates as pets.
For the reasons we set out in earlier debates, the aim of this legislation is to ensure that primates are kept to very high—at least zoo-level—welfare standards and that those who keep them comply with those conditions. It is for that reason that we put in the six-year period, in line with other zoo and dangerous wild animal licensing regimes. We very much view this provision as part of that package. There will be regular inspections throughout that period, and the main thing is to ensure that the primate is properly kept.
I assume that the licensing will provide some financial benefit to local authorities so they are able to undertake this work. Will the pricing of the six-year licence guarantee that they are able to provide the necessary services? Would a two-year licence not provide more income for local authorities so that they can do the work asked of them?
That is a fair question. Local authorities will be able to charge fees, both for any initial licence application and for registration under the transition scheme that we talked about. They will also be able to charge fees in respect of any inspections carried out under the licensing regime. The fees will enable the local authority to recover any costs that it incurs as a result of carrying out these activities. We hope that the ability to charge fees will minimise the burden placed on them in implementing the legislation, although I accept that they will have to do additional work.
We are very much co-developing the guidance on the implementation of these primate measures with local authorities. That work has already started and the group is discussing issues such as the appropriate level for fees to be set at, what sort of help local authorities will need and what training inspectors might need to enable them to comply with the provisions.
It is interesting listening to the Minister, because there is a fundamental difference of opinion here. Of course, the welfare of the primate is paramount, but I took her to say that we are talking about having high enough standards for primates to be allowed to be kept under a licensing system—that goes back to the opening debate. However, there is a fundamental difference of opinion here: we do not think that primates should be kept—full stop. In zoos, and in some research establishments sadly, we still need them—in zoos, they are for specific conservation and educational purposes. However, I do not see the case for this licensing system. There is a clear divide here.
Six years is far too long. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam said, it is an encouragement. Essentially, it says, “It’s okay. If you have the money and you can afford to do it, it is okay.” Well, it is not okay, and we do not think that it should be happening, so we will press this amendment to a vote.
As we have heard, the clause specifies the number and type of primate that licence holders are permitted to keep. It will ensure that licence holders keep neither more primates than they are capable of caring for nor species that they do not have the facilities or expertise to keep.