With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(g) their social grouping.”
This amendment would add the social grouping of primates to standards that can be included under licensing conditions.
Amendment 108, in clause 3, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“(g) microchipping of any primate kept under the licence.”
Amendment 109, in clause 3, page 2, line 22, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
This amendment would require microchipping of licensed primates, and require licence holders to provide specific information to local authorities.
I am slightly surprised that we needed to table this set of amendments, which concern the limited scope and lack of clarity on what the standards will be. We have discussed before what should be in the Bill and what should be left to regulation. In time-honoured fashion, I suspect that the Opposition want more and the Government want less. We may well find our positions reversed in a few years—who knows? Although I understand the case for flexibility and the need to adapt to changing circumstances, we think that more could be put in the Bill, which would give people more confidence that the welfare concerns that we all share are being addressed properly.
It is disappointing that the standards that the licensing system will be expected to achieve are not being published. As you know, Ms McVey, we do not think that the licence system is the way to go, but if we are to have one it needs to be tough and robust. I thought that there would be more on that in the Bill than there appears to be. Again, those of us who have been on Bill Committees before have discussed the distinction between “may” and “must” on many occasions. It is a familiar debate and, I suspect, one that the Minister will respond to in the traditional fashion. We would like to see the language toughened up so that these things must be there.
The options listed in the Bill are:
“(a) the environment and accommodation that primates need;
(b) their diet;
(c) provision for their behavioural needs;
(d) their handling;
(e) their transportation;
(f) protecting them from pain, suffering, injury and disease”, all of which, of course, we strongly concur with. However, any licensing standards supposedly as high as those of a zoo will surely need to include standards on all those things and more. The theme that has perhaps come through in our debate this morning is the difficulty of distinguishing between the levels and standards in the various places in which primates might end up residing: zoos, sanctuaries, rescue centres, or private accommodation. There lines between those are fairly hazy.
At the end of this process, one of the questions that anyone looking at the legislation in the round will be asking themselves is whether those criteria have been accurately set out and defined. I am not convinced that they have been. If one were being generous to the Government, which of course I am, one would say that this can be achieved through regulation, but sceptics would then say, “That’s not much of a guarantee.” We are here to try and make sure that it actually happens. As such, our amendment 106 would alter the language in the Bill to ensure that the Secretary of State includes in the licensing conditions all the fundamental welfare requirements I listed earlier. However, we do not think that list is exhaustive. Following discussions with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, we think it is essential that provisions covering the social grouping of primates be included in the licensing standards.
I suspect that Members on all sides of the House will agree with what I am about to say: we know that primates, including ourselves, are highly social creatures, and to prevent primates from socialising adequately with other primates causes a great deal of suffering and lasting damage. I am told that isolated primates may mutilate themselves, become severely depressed, pluck their own hair, or show abnormal behaviours, and some even die prematurely. I do not think any of this comes as a surprise to us, because we know how close those creatures are to us, and we know that all those things happen when people are subjected to solitary confinement, which is effectively what we may be risking without specifying these provisions for primates. As such, our amendment 107 is essential to ensuring that any licensing system for primates takes into account their social groupings and, at the very least, prevents any primate from being kept on its own. Other than the fact that the Government refuse to ever accept amendments, I cannot see any logical reason why an amendment like this should not be accepted, but I live in the real world.
Finally, I will briefly discuss amendments 108 and 109 which, taken together, would require all primates kept under licence to be microchipped. We will probably come back to microchipping later in the Bill, but we think it would be sensible to include microchipping in the licensing standards. Microchipping has become an essential part of animal care. It is a safe, effective and permanent way to identify individual primates, and would ensure the traceability of any primates kept under the new licensing scheme. That is quite an interesting point. I think there is a further clause that touches on some of this, which we will come on to in a moment, but clearly we are relying on the keepers to provide the information. Given that not all of them are necessarily to be relied upon, and some are trading for financial gain, it would seem sensible to have a way of identifying the individual creature.
My understanding is that this proposal received broad support in the consultation on the keeping of primates as pets, so I was surprised to find that such a measure was not included in the Bill. I hope we can help the Government by proposing these sensible amendments, which I am sure they will adopt.
The code I referred to earlier, which I would be delighted to share with the hon. Gentleman, already applies. It goes into some detail about the importance of social interaction for primates and the way in which they should be kept. As I said, the regulations will develop the specifics and we are actively working on them with experts in the field. I would be delighted to share with the hon. Gentleman the details of that process as it continues.
We intend to introduce microchipping for licensed primates, but not where that is harmful, which it may be in a few exceptional cases. Microchipping primates is a significant procedure. It can require anaesthetic and carries a degree of risk to more vulnerable primates. There will be cases where exemptions to microchipping are needed—for example, if a primate is elderly or in ill health. As the hon. Gentleman said, primates are closely related to us and I sympathise with that position. Microchipping will be set out in the regulations, however, and we need to work slowly and carefully with the sector to come up with the right set of exemptions.
We also think that licence holders should provide key information to local authorities, including on primate births, deaths or transfers. That can be set out in secondary legislation, after we have worked with relevant experts. As we develop our standards, we are consulting widely. We want to set the bar high and aim for zoo-equivalent standards, and we need to ensure that the standards include species-specific requirements. Some of these are set out in the code, but learning has developed since the code was written, and it is important that we have the most up-to-date advice.
We need to work in a collaborative and expert-led way. I do not want to presuppose exactly what the standards should be now, so we will introduce our licensing standards via regulations made under the affirmative procedure and Parliament will be able to scrutinise their detail. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
I want to talk a little more about social groupings. We do not need to be experts in the field to know that this is an important standard that should be met under any licensing conditions. It is incredibly important that it is on the face of the Bill and I would be pleased if the Government thought again.
On the issue of microchipping, I accept that there might be some stress for certain animals, but “may” is too weak a word. If we are asked for exemptions, and as long as the exemptions are clear, “must” is entirely acceptable.
Although microchipping can help us trace animals, I am concerned that there is no standard way in which it is done across local authorities. As we know from other types of microchipping, there has been confusion about different systems. Given the nature of primates, without a microchipping system or some other relevant form of identification, I am concerned about how people would know if the primates they are looking at today are the same primates they looked at five years ago,.
I listened to the Minister carefully and I too would not want to go against expert advice on this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam just said, we would like to see the issue addressed more strongly in the Bill, rather than in guidance and advice, but I hear what the Minister says.
We will have a longer debate about microchipping in relation to other parts of the Bill. It is complicated, not least because of the way the various databases have grown up, probably in a rather disorganised and difficult way, which makes access to them complicated for vets.
I heard the Minister’s point about the difficulty of microchipping primates. The Whips do not yet have plans to microchip MPs, have they? I am looking at the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. I am sure it could be useful under some circumstances.
Yes. We will all do exactly as we are told.
I understand the Minister’s arguments, so we will not press this amendment to a vote, but I hope she heard our points. There are challenges involved in dealing with creatures that are so close to us. We want to make sure they are treated properly and respectfully. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendments made: 6, in clause 3, page 2, line 22, 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 7, in clause 3, page 2, line 28, 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.
The clause sets out that the Secretary of State will provide licensing standards via regulations for the care and management of primates kept under the licence. They will be developed in close collaboration with experts on primate welfare. The licensing standards will be introduced via regulations made via the affirmative procedure and we will have the chance to scrutinise them.
To reprise the debate: as ever, the danger with licences that may include things is that they may not. While we have no reason to not trust the Government on that, we would much rather it were stronger. We see no reason it could not have been strengthened in the Bill and although we will not push to a vote, we continue to worry that far too much has been left to regulation.