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.