Clause 47 - Zoos

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 18th November 2021.

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

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 84, in schedule 5, page 44, line 12, leave out from “to” to “education” and insert

“a broad range of conservation activities (including species recovery work both in situ and ex situ,”.

This amendment aims to ensure that any conservation measures laid out in the new standards will include the conservation work, such as species recovery work, undertaken within zoos, as well as externally.

Amendment 119, in schedule 5, page 44, line 14, leave out lines 15 and 16.

This amendment would remove a provision that would allow different standards to be applied to different descriptions of zoos.

Amendment 122, in schedule 5, page 44, line 15, at beginning insert—

“(1A) Standards relating to conservation may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”

This amendment would require standards relating to conservation to be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

Amendment 83, in schedule 5, page 44, line 16, at end insert—

“(3) In drawing up standards of modern zoo practice, the Secretary of State must—

(a) consult the Zoos Expert Committee (ZEC), and

(b) issue a public consultation seeking the views of zoos, aquariums, and other interested parties, and the Secretary of State must publish the responses to these consultations.

(4) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the standards of modern zoo practice before Parliament.”

This amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State’s standards for modern zoo practise are subject to full consultation and scrutiny, both when published and if any further changes are made, by Parliament, zoos and aquariums, other interested parties, and the Zoos Expert Committee.

Amendment 121, in schedule 5, page 44, line 16, at end insert—

“(3) The standards of modern zoo practice must define “conservation” for the purposes of the standards and, in drawing up that definition, the Secretary of State must consult the Zoos Expert Committee and publish its advice.”

Amendment 120, in schedule 5, page 45, line 15, leave out “a specialist” and insert “an expert”.

That schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.

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

It is a pleasure to be here again, Mr Davies. I am going to speak once on zoos, unless I need to answer anything specific: there is a lot to get through, and it is quite technical.

There are over 300 licensed zoos in England. A zoo is not just the classic setting that we might think of: it is an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public for more than seven days a year. This can be a range of different settings, such as a traditional zoo, a park, a farm park, an aquarium, or a bird of prey centre. All zoos are subject to the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. Most of the licensing requirements are set out in the standards of modern zoo practice. As part of their licensing conditions, all zoos are required to carry out conservation, education and research. Some of our zoos do incredibly valuable work in those areas, but others, frankly, should do more. The changes set out in this Bill should help to deliver that.

The current conservation requirements in the Zoo Licensing Act were introduced in 2002, and have not been updated since. They have been criticised as being on the weak side. All other standards for the management of zoos and the animals within them are set via the standards created by section 9 of that Act. This Bill makes changes to move the conservation requirements out of the Act and into the zoo standards.

Turning now to the Zoos Expert Committee and amendments 83 and 121, I reassure the Committee that ZEC already plays a significant part in the drafting of the new zoo standards, and has been involved very much in the production of that new document. ZEC is an expert committee of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh Governments. DEFRA and ZEC are currently in the process of updating the full package of zoo standards, which will be put out to consultation by the end of this year. That process has involved the full spectrum of zoo industry specialists. We therefore do not feel that amendments 83 and 121 take us any further.

When it comes to defining conservation, as is done in amendments 84 and 121, we feel that conservation should take its normal meaning, which of course will include both in situ and ex situ breeding programmes involving endangered species. One of the reasons why we have not defined conservation is that its meaning has changed over time, and we want any new zoo standards drafted by the ZECs of the future, with input from the zoo sector, to continue to reflect the latest best practice on consultation, so we are trying to future-proof this legislation.

We do not feel that the amendments dealing with ZEC transparency need to be in legislation. However, we have acknowledged the purpose behind some of these amendments, which is that the work of ZEC should be more transparent. In order to deal with that issue, we have recently provided ZEC with its own online presence on gov.uk, and that website is where we will put reports from ZEC and, where appropriate, responses from the Secretary of State. We believe that the process we have put in place—standards are drafted by the expert advisory committee, then put online to be transparent—means that the parliamentary scrutiny suggested would not add much in this area. We therefore do not believe that it is necessary.

The zoo standards are detailed technical standards that set out what is required of zoos. They are drafted by ZEC, which is made up of vets, inspectors, animal welfare experts and zoo operators, who all have detailed knowledge of the zoo sector. The same welfare standards will apply equally to all specimens of a species, regardless of the size of the zoo in which they are kept, so the provision for different standards for different types of zoos is aimed only at the new standards relating to conservation, education and research.

I understand the concerns—I will pre-empt them—about how the term “specialist” may have a separate meaning in the veterinary profession. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border was going to mention that, but we have heard him mention it before. However, we are satisfied that the term “specialist” will be commonly understood to mean a person trained in a particular branch of a subject.

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

I am eternally grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving way, and I welcome her comments. We could add to the Bill the term “competence” or “experience” in the relevant species, in accordance with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ guidance. For any vet who deals with animals, there are separate guidelines within the Royal College guidance that talk about what they should be dealing with as a veterinarian. If we added Royal College guidance, that would help.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know that he feels very strongly about this issue, but I reassure him that we have tried to use the normally understood meaning of the word “specialist”.

Schedule 5 makes various amendments to the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. Some of the amendments are technical in nature—for example, including the Council of the Isles of Scilly, which for some reason was not included before. I really have no idea why that was the case. Schedule 5 also removes circuses, because that reference is now obsolete following the passing of other legislation, and increases the available penalties. Importantly, schedule 5 amends the 1981 Act to ensure that each zoo will have a condition on its licence that it must meet the standards specified under section 9 of the Act. Currently, local authorities must only “have regard to” the standards produced under section 9. We think this change will make the standards easier to follow and enforce. On that basis, I hope the hon. Member for Cambridge will not press his amendments to a Division.

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

This is a short clause, but it is complicated, as the Minister said. I am grateful to her for her introduction, and she has clarified one or two points that I still want to pursue. I will start with amendments 121 and 122, which have been tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friends, but I also want to speak to amendments 83 and 84 and new clause 4, which were tabled by my hon. Friend Sarah Champion and Andrew Rosindell, both of whom spoke on these issues on Second Reading. I am sure the Minister was listening closely, as she always does, to the Second Reading debate, in which considerable concern and interest, and some unease, was expressed by Members of different parties about some of the proposals.

Despite the Minister’s reassurances, our amendments seek to ensure that there is greater oversight of the Government’s zoo advisory body, the Zoo Expert Committee, and the process for setting future conservation standards. Amendment 83 would make a full consultation with appropriate stakeholders on any future standards changes not just a matter of best practice, but a requirement. We will probably labour this point a bit: it is not that we do not trust the Government, but who knows what future Governments will do? We think that is an important point, as others have expressed, and it should not be left to discretion; it should absolutely be a requirement.

As the Minister has set out, the Government are making promises, and although we have no reason to disbelieve them, we want the legislation strengthened. There is no statutory requirement on future Ministers to consult on further updates. The role of the Zoos Expert Committee is a dilemma, frankly, because we have had cause for concern in other areas when reports from expert committees have not necessarily always been published. That is why people are pressing for a stronger system. We think it important not only that there is a consultation, but that everything is done transparently. The Bill does not currently provide for a statutory requirement on future Ministers to involve the Zoos Expert Committee as part of any review of the conservation standards, or to formally respond to that committee’s guidance.

Amendment 83 would ensure that any advice provided by the Zoos Expert Committee, and the response by Ministers, is transparent and open to the public. I have heard what has been said about a website, but I am afraid we have seen examples of that not working—they are almost always controversial cases, quite frankly, and those are the ones that people are interested in. If that transparency is good enough for the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which is coming our way soon, it is good enough for this Bill, so we think that the amendment makes a reasonable demand. Amendment 121 puts it slightly differently but also requires the Secretary of State to consult the Zoos Expert Committee and to publish its advice.

Amendment 84 deals with the vexed issue of conservation. The Minister is right that the understanding of the term “conservation” has changed. I am grateful to both Chester Zoo and the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums for their advice. Both have expressed concern about the need for the Bill to provide a clear definition of “conservation”, because they fear that future definitions may not fully capture the breadth of the work done by zoos. I am told that zoos globally contribute more than $350 million annually to species conservation programmes in the wild, making them the world’s third-largest funder of species conservation after the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Nature Conservancy.

I am also told that UK zoos contribute 10% of that global zoo total, so we are making a big contribution. Most of that funding comes from the large charitable zoos, which I am told receive no direct public subsidy, and generate the surpluses for conservation through visitor revenue. They support more than 800 projects in 105 countries, providing direct conservation action for 488 species of animals and plants. They believe it important that the Government’s definition of zoo conservation accurately reflects the wide range of work.

Amendment 84 would ensure that the Bill recognises

“a broad range of conservation activities” and that, alongside education and research, it explicitly includes “species recovery work”, both in situ and ex situ. Although in situ species reintroduction and overseas field projects, for example, are vital to zoo conservation efforts, they alone do not fully capture the extent of the work that takes place or the impact that zoos have. To put it simply, that excellent work cannot be achieved without a lot of back-up within the zoos themselves., including the world-class care by keepers, the feed, the bedding, the veterinary attention, the facilities, the scientific development and the carefully planned and co-ordinated breeding plans. I perhaps got slightly confused by “ex situ” and “in situ”, but basically, the ex situ work is an essential component of a holistic planned approach to species recovery.

Amendment 84 would ensure a broad understanding of zoo conservation, and that the standards accurately reflect the different ways in which zoos achieve conservation impacts, helping to ensure the continuation of the vital work that zoos undertake in support of international conservation efforts. Put together, the amendments would ensure parliamentary scrutiny of future changes to conservation standards. We think that is important because, despite the Government’s decision to take the standards out of primary legislation, those standards are to become a core part of the zoo licensing and conservation requirements, so we believe that there should be democratic oversight of them.

I listened closely to what the Minister said about amendment 119 and I was reassured by what she said. It is a technical point and it depends how the draft Bill is read. We are concerned that different standards of animal welfare might be applied to “different descriptions of zoo.” The Minister made it clear that is not what is meant.

However, on page 44, paragraph 9 of schedule 5 of the Bill—I am glad to see Members are following carefully—it is not entirely clear to me to what draft subclause 2 in paragraph 9(4), which is about different standards, is intended to apply. It could be read as applying only to the standards set out in paragraph 9(3)(b), but I think the Minister confirmed that it applied to both paragraphs 9(3)(a) and 9(3)(b). In that case we are satisfied, which I will take as a victory.

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

No, please don’t, because obviously that would upset the Whip and then it would have to be changed.

Finally, we come to amendment 120, which I really hoped was going to be a final victory and was written with guidance from the British Veterinary Association. We have discussed the amendment and the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border put things very well, although I wait to see whether his helpful suggestion about amending it further will be well received or not. The issue is around “specialist” and “expert”. We cannot see why the Government cannot just change that word, so, Mr Davies, we will press this amendment to a vote.

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

Again, we are coming back to this issue of specialist competency and expertise. As a new Member of Parliament, I am new to the system but I wish to put on record the frustrations with how we are drafting law. Obviously, we cannot change hundreds of years of history relating to how we do it, but it is very frustrating to have amendments from both sides of the House—from Government and Opposition—when if there were consultation with members of the Bill Committee, in a similar way that Select Committee members agree the final wording of a report, I am sure we could nail all the different issues and agree a sensible form of wording. When amendments are tabled and there has not been any discussion about them, then those amendments may pass or fail depending on the wording. If an amendment is incorrectly worded, then we cannot support it. If we could get together, consult and agree on wording, then we would pass better law.

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

That is a very sensible suggestion. I fear we are not quite in that world yet, although it is miraculous how things, as they go through, can sometimes change. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the message has been heard on this side, but we will still press the amendment to a vote. One never knows—we might even win. On that basis, I do not wish to pursue any of the other amendments.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I declare an interest as I am a member of the zoos and aquariums all-party parliamentary group and I have Twycross zoo in my patch, in regard to which I have spent a lot of time and effort.

I was intrigued to hear my hon. Friend the Minister’s comments at the start. Would she be kind enough to expand a little further? As put across by the Opposition, there is some concern about the definition of conservation. I was pleased to hear that it will be kept broad, fluid and future proof, because I think that is important. I am also pleased to hear that there is more transparency with regards to ZEC and that opening up. That will go a long way to alleviate concerns that may be there.

It is fair to say there is a rift within the zoo community and the wider conservation community about where things should and should not be kept, and how they should be looked after, so there is wide agreement that the welfare aspect of the Bill is important. The reason there is an interest in the definition of conservation is around the question of what is deemed to be conservation. Are zoos arks? Are they exhibits? Should they have no place at all? That is one of the threats that the zoo community may be feeling.

I have no truck with zoos with low standards. They should not exist and the Bill provides legislation to drive up those standards, which is well founded. However, if the definition of conservation is too narrow and not all encompassing, there is concern for purely monetary reasons because of positions with turnover and with money being given out just to specific areas. As Twycross zoo has recently got £19.9 million in the levelling-up fund for an education, science and conservation centre, the hope is that we will have a regional and national centre of excellence training the top-level conservationists of the future. That is obviously something very good for us locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and it needs to be recognised for the work it will contribute to saving species in the future.

I was pleased to hear that the Minister can confirm that species recovery, both in situ and ex situ, can be included—I think it was hinted at. I was also pleased that the Minister will take away the fact that such consideration must be out there; getting that information out to the broader zoo and conservation community may help relieve a lot of the angst that is felt.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

The Minister is in listening mode and is going to respond now.

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

I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth—and for Twycross zoo, if I may put it that way—for his intervention. I am thrilled about the recent grant from the levelling-up fund. I know that Twycross is going to do important work to study the four great apes and over a hundred endangered species in this new, purpose-built unit. As I said earlier, it is important that both in situ and ex situ are covered by the new standards, and I reassure the Committee that we will work with zoos to ensure that the new conservation standards are appropriate and achievable. All zoos will be consulted on the new standards, including the new conservation standards, and we will assess their likely impact before deciding how long zoos will have to bring in those standards. The new standards will also seek to reflect the size of the zoo, because larger zoos are likely to be expected to do more in the conservation space. As my hon. Friend said, there will be no difference in welfare.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 47 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Amendment proposed: 120, in schedule 5, page 45, line 15, leave out “a specialist” and insert “an expert”.—(Daniel Zeichner.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 9 Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill — Clause 47 - Zoos

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Schedule 5 agreed to.