Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 23rd February 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:15 am, 23rd February 2006

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3894, in the name of Ross Finnie, on the general principles of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill represents a significant step forward for animal health and welfare in Scotland. The bill is the outcome of a process of engagement with the public and stakeholders over several years and is an important component of the animal health and welfare strategy that the Executive published in 2004.

Before dealing with the principal provisions, I will comment briefly on the background to the bill. We live in a world in which the risk of an outbreak of an exotic animal disease is—regrettably—ever present. It is clear that our first defence here in Scotland must be to prevent an exotic disease from entering the country. The Environment and Rural Development Committee's stage 1 report on the bill highlighted the importance of that, and preventing disease from entering Scotland is a principal pillar of the animal health and welfare strategy.

Hand in hand with that, veterinary advice suggests that we must be prepared to respond quickly and robustly to any incursion of an exotic animal disease into Scotland. We have learned lessons from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, from the resultant inquiries and from continuing engagement with a wide range of stakeholders.

The bill reflects those lessons. The health part of the bill will amend the Animal Health Act 1981 and reflects the changes and advances in science and risk assessment that have taken place since 1981. The bill is forward looking and is based on science. It will introduce several new animal disease control measures to enhance our ability to respond quickly to disease threats, to minimise their impact and to protect animal and human health.

The foundation of our current legislative framework for animal welfare—the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912—is nearly 100 years old. It has proved remarkably enduring, but it has failed to keep up with our developing understanding of animal welfare and society's expectations. The pace of change requires flexible legislation and the welfare part of the bill will deliver that. It creates a more flexible statutory framework. It sets out key principles and delegates detailed matters to secondary legislation. That flexibility is critical if our legislation is to keep pace with future advances in animal welfare and provide the framework for the next 100 years.

I welcome the committee's support for the animal health part of the bill and I will now discuss the key animal health provisions. The bill provides for additional powers of slaughter over animals for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease. The committee considered those provisions in detail and I was pleased to note that the consensus of its scientific expert witnesses indicated acceptance that those powers are needed as a potential disease control tool.

The slaughter powers provided by proposed new schedule 3A to the 1981 act are specifically for

"preventing the spread of disease".

It follows that ministers must establish the existence of disease before assessing how best to prevent the spread of that disease in terms of the 1981 act. Any minister who wishes to discharge the responsibility to establish the existence of disease and to determine how best to prevent the spread of disease would need to consider the opinions of a wide range of relevant experts.

I am bound to say that I understand the sensitivity of slaughter, but in so far as the exercise of the power is inextricably linked with the need to establish disease, I continue to disagree with what the committee's report says on the point. A reference to the role of veterinary and scientific advice simply in relation to slaughter overlooks the fact that the powers cannot be used unless the existence of disease has been established and unless they would prevent the spread of disease.

Bringing together animals from different ownership poses a risk of disease spread. To minimise that risk, the bill will introduce the power to license animal gatherings. In most circumstances, that power will apply to farmed animals, including poultry, but will not extend to horse or dog shows.

The bill provides the legal framework to allow the Executive to harness the basic principles of the national scrapie plan should BSE be found naturally occurring in sheep. How that would work in practice is set out in the United Kingdom's contingency plan.

As highlighted in our response to the committee's report, we are sensitive to the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in respect of any measures that impact on rare breeds and companion animals.

I move to the key provisions in the welfare part of the bill. The bill will introduce for the first time a general duty on a person to ensure the welfare of any animal for which they are responsible. To comply with that duty, owners and keepers will need to understand their responsibilities and take all reasonable steps to provide for the needs of their animals to the extent that is required by good practice. Most responsible pet owners do that already.

The bill will impose a statutory ban on all mutilations of any animal and provides for exemptions in secondary legislation to that general ban. The exemptions will permit procedures that are necessary for the overall welfare or good management of an animal, such as neutering and ear tagging. The ban and the exemptions will be brought into force together.

The docking of dogs' tails is a controversial practice that is currently permissible in law when undertaken by a veterinary surgeon. Initially, we proposed to exempt working dogs from the general ban. However, we have been persuaded by the evidence that was provided at stage 1 that that exemption is unnecessary, so I intend to prohibit the docking of all dogs' tails.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I agree with much of what the minister said, but what evidence did he take from vets on tail docking and on their concerns about the long-term welfare of working dogs whose tails are mutilated later in their lives?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I think that the member is aware—perhaps he is not—that, in response to our announcement that we would ban all tail docking, we had the whole-hearted support of the British Veterinary Association. That is persuasive.

A principle of the bill is that responsibility for animals must lie with adults. For that reason, the bill makes it clear that parents or guardians are responsible in law for the treatment of their children's animals. The bill will also raise the minimum age at which children can buy pets from 12 to 16 years. That will help to prevent the buying of an animal on a whim and ensure that proper thought and consideration go into such purchases. Consistent with that approach, the bill will ban the offering or giving of animals as prizes. The acquiring of an animal should not depend on a game of chance; it should be a deliberate and conscious decision.

The bill will establish powers to set up licensing or registration schemes. Those powers will replace a range of statutes that regulate activities such as the running of pet shops, of riding schools and of animal boarding establishments and dog breeding. In addition, it is proposed to regulate through secondary legislation other activities and facilities that are currently unregulated, such as animal sanctuaries, greyhound racing, pet fairs and livery yards.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Will the minister reassure members that people who are under 16 will be able to own animals? I am thinking in particular of youngsters on a farm who have a lamb to rear and subsequently sell. Of course, I do not invite the minister to say that such ownership should be unsupervised, but I would like some reassurance.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The principle that the bill will establish is that responsibility for an animal rests with an adult. It will be the adult's responsibility to ensure that the undertakings in the bill are met. That duty of care is essential to improve welfare and to enable us more easily to bring a prosecution.

Importantly, the bill will allow inspectors for the first time to take pre-emptive action to remove an animal from situations in which it is likely to suffer. That is a significant step forward from the existing law, which allows action to be taken only if it can be proved that an animal has suffered.

Our society is increasingly—and rightly—intolerant of acts of violence towards animals, yet recent press coverage has revealed horrific examples of animal abuse. From the evidence that was given to the committee, I know that the public want us to provide the courts with tougher penalties for offenders. Therefore, I shall lodge an amendment at stage 2 to provide that the maximum penalty for causing unnecessary suffering will be a fine of £20,000, 12 months' imprisonment, or both.

Following discussion and evidence that was given to the committee at stage 1, I also intend to lodge an amendment that will create an offence of recording an animal fight. Organised animal fighting is perhaps the most heinous criminal activity that the bill covers, and there is evidence that recordings of animal fights can be used to promote that unsavoury activity.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Will the minister clarify that not only selling recordings of animal fights will be an offence, but that recording them will be an offence, too?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Indeed. Recording animal fights, selling those recordings and using them for promotional activities will be offences. Recordings of animal fights have been shown publicly, and there has been illicit gambling on the results of those fights. It is right that such an abhorrent activity is made as difficult as possible and that it should attract a severe penalty under the legislation.

The bill is wide-ranging. I thank the Environment and Rural Development Committee and its clerks for their clear and comprehensive report on it and welcome the committee's endorsement of its general principles. It represents a significant step towards supporting and raising animal health and welfare standards.

For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise the Parliament at this early stage that, having been informed of the purport of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill, Her Majesty has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill. [Interruption.] Obviously, we are grateful that the Scottish National Party thinks that that announcement is important. I am glad to recieve its whole-hearted support.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 9:27 am, 23rd February 2006

The SNP whole-heartedly supports the general principles of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill because it offers a modern framework for the implementation of effective and enforceable legislation on animal welfare.

The approach of the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Scotland brings back memories of horrific scenes and of the distress that was caused to many families and businesses in our rural communities. In that context, and with the threat of bird flu hanging over the nation, we acknowledge the importance of the issues that we are discussing. Preventing diseases from occurring in Scotland in the first place—and preventing them from spreading if they do occur—is the key. I hope that all members accept that Governments need the ability to act swiftly to implement radical and sometimes extreme measures.

The SNP welcomes the many measures in the bill to prevent the deliberate infection of animals, such as the licensing of livestock markets and animal gatherings and the creation of new offences. We agree that there will be times when the limited slaughter of animals and the burning of carcases may be necessary, but I hope that we all accept that such courses of action are a last resort. There are alternative routes to go down, such as vaccination, controlling human and animal movements and implementing biosecurity codes.

I think that all members of the Environment and Rural Development Committee accept that one issue that is causing great concern among the various interested parties outwith the Parliament is the inclusion in part 1 of extended powers of slaughter. There is a real fear that if the bill is not amended it will provide the minister with a licence to kill without the necessary safeguards being in place to ensure that that licence to kill is not misused. After all, we are talking about the possible slaughter of healthy animals.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Will the member please explain something in developing that point? It is expressly set out in proposed new schedule 3A to the 1981 act that slaughter powers can be used only for the purpose of

"preventing the spread of disease", which seems to me to open up all sorts of challenges. Ministers must demonstrate that they have used the powers for that purpose.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The bill will give the minister enormous discretion, as I am about to illustrate. Many people think that the schedule to which the minister refers will not prevent other situations from occurring.

As the Environment and Rural Development Committee's report states, the committee heard many concerns that the new powers will give ministers

"wide discretion to slaughter any animal as they 'think fit'."

The report also states that the bill will give new powers that

"provide for the slaughter of animals that may not be affected, suspected, exposed or in contact with disease" and that

"Ministers may also authorise the slaughter of non-farmed animals that could transmit disease to farmed livestock in a disease outbreak."

There are two main reasons for the concerns. First, ministers will have powers but will not be required to take the appropriate advice. Secondly, the power to slaughter will be exercised solely on the basis that ministers consider it "fit" to slaughter. The report states that many witnesses said to the committee that

"aspects of the culling carried out during ... 2001 ... are now considered to have been unnecessary" and it quotes the Scottish Agricultural College, which said to the committee:

"Being wise after the event, we now find that perhaps the degree and extent of the cull was excessive."—[Official Report, Environment and Rural Development Committee, 23 November 2005; c 2424.]

Slaughter is therefore sometimes unjustifiable. Surely we can use the bill to ensure that unjustifiable slaughter does not happen again, but safeguards are lacking. We are left with an act of faith. The minister told the committee that ministers should be trusted not to authorise a random slaughter of animals. We have been asked to trust the minister. We accept that the minister needs flexibility. In response to the committee's report, he said that

"the Executive does not believe that it is necessary to include the role of veterinary and scientific advice on the face of the Bill" and that he

"would require to have regard to all the prevailing circumstances, including the opinions of relevant experts."

The question that many people outwith the Parliament and members of the Environment and Rural Development Committee have asked is why that requirement cannot be in the bill in order to give the safeguard that many people request. There is enormous concern that wildlife could be slaughtered on a massive scale. Any mass culls that took place would cause anger throughout Scotland. Of course, that raises biodiversity issues, which the minister has already addressed and which will be vigorously debated in the forthcoming stages of the bill.

In preventing the spread of disease, such measures may not be effective, never mind popular. We must take on board public acceptance. We know that public acceptance of bonfires of carcases back in 2001 was limited, but the widespread destruction of wildlife would be disastrous and would lead to an understandably enormous backlash from the public. We welcome the fact that the minister has acknowledged that he would take into account the impact on the wider rural economy, tourism and the environment, but, again, there are no safeguards in the bill.

The ability to slaughter companion animals is a sensitive issue. Such slaughter would lead to a public backlash. Many organisations have said to the Parliament that there should be higher tests for such a measure in the bill. Perhaps only companion animals that are infected by a disease should be slaughtered. The minister should address such issues at stages 2 and 3. He was encouraged to put such safeguards in the bill, but he has declined to do so.

We must stop diseases coming into Scotland in the first place. The committee took unconvincing evidence from HM Revenue and Customs on whether it is doing enough to stop illegal imports coming into Scotland. The National Audit Office recently issued a report—five years after the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease—that stated that 11 recommendations should be implemented to tighten things up. I hope that the minister is investigating those issues and ensuring that Scotland is able to police illegal imports.

I turn to the welfare part of the bill, which the SNP welcomes. We pay tribute to organisations that have been involved in welfare issues over the years, such as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That 8,000 investigations had to be conducted last year alone shows that the issue of animal welfare must be addressed in Scotland. We welcome many of the measures that the minister outlined in his opening speech.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The minister announced that a 12-month sentence was likely for people who commit violent crimes against animals. Given that the Executive is concerned about overfilled prisons and that it is considering alternative sentences for violent crimes against individuals, how effective will such a sentence be?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member is referring to the maximum penalty, of course. There is widespread agreement that cruelty to animals that causes pain and suffering must be addressed, which is why the bill has been widely welcomed. Of course the measures must be enforced, which is why the penalties have been widely supported.

I will talk briefly about mutilations. Many SNP members support the minister's statement that mutilations cause unnecessary pain and suffering and should be outlawed. On tail docking, I welcome the minister's response to the committee's report that he will take a tougher stance. Should evidence be produced that banning tail docking has caused more pain and suffering, secondary legislation can be introduced to address the changed situation. There is no doubt that there will be vigorous debate on tail docking as the bill proceeds.

We ask the minister to take on board the concerns that have been expressed by sanctuaries. We must improve the welfare of animals in sanctuaries, and it should not be just the 50 biggest sanctuaries that are subject to the bill; it should be all sanctuaries.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

No. The member is in his last minute.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I apologise. I am in my last minute and cannot take any interventions.

Internet trading is another issue that was brought to the attention of the committee, and we welcome the fact that the minister has acknowledged our concerns about that as well.

The trading and advertising for sale of pets on the internet will be addressed in Scotland.

In conclusion, I reiterate the SNP's support for many of the measures in the bill. There are many vigorous debates ahead at stage 2 and stage 3. In particular, the unfettered ability of the minister to impose orders for mass slaughter without there being any safeguards in the bill will be a key battle in the stages ahead. Gandhi said that

"the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

If we pass the bill after it has been appropriately amended, the Parliament will have played a great role in ensuring that moral progress is made in Scotland in terms of animal welfare.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 9:36 am, 23rd February 2006

With avian flu perhaps only days away from detection in these islands, it is timely that this stage 1 debate on the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill should take place now. I shall return to avian flu later. It is absolutely vital that the proper framework for animal health and welfare is achieved in Scotland. We are not only a major agricultural and aquacultural nation; we also operate a valuable and healthy game sport industry. We are also a nation of pet owners, pigeon fanciers, dog breeders and the like, and equestrian sports play a large and growing part in Scottish life.

The existing legislation is outdated and confusing. Although aspects of the proposed new legislation might also lead to confusion, I am in no doubt that what is proposed is a considerable improvement on what exists. The evidence that the committee took was wide-ranging and, if at times contradictory, it was challenging and, most important, up to date. The bill makes proposals for both the health and the welfare of animals, and a similar bill is currently making its way through the parliamentary process at Westminster.

On such a wide-ranging bill, it will be possible for me to deal with only some of the legislation that is proposed. That does not mean that Conservative members are not broadly in favour of the general thrust of the bill. The Conservatives will support the bill at stage 1, although there are aspects of the bill that we cannot support. Some of the proposals need further clarification and others are simply wrong-headed, demonstrating yet again the Executive's failure to engage in genuine dialogue with countryside interests and those who have detailed knowledge of animal welfare in rural situations.

On animal health, we agree with the Executive that a key objective in any disease control strategy is to minimise the number of animals that need to be slaughtered. We accept that the minister may have to act with great speed in deciding on extended powers of slaughter. However, despite what the minister said this morning, we cannot understand why he is opposed to the inclusion of a phrase to the effect that such powers would be taken by the minister only after appropriate scientific and veterinary advice had been taken, as the committee recommended. If, as the minister claimed to the committee, it is unthinkable that a minister would take such action without first seeking advice from the appropriate authorities, why is he reluctant to allow wording to that effect to be included in the bill?

There are also issues in relation to vaccination. The Executive's preferred action, when a policy of culling susceptible animals on infected premises is insufficient, is vaccination to live. Despite raising the point with the minister during question time, I am still not reassured that vaccinating beef cattle to live would make them acceptable for export under European Union legislation. No doubt, the minister will seek to clarify that. I understand, too, that the Executive has access to relevant UK and EU vaccine banks for certain diseases. Perhaps he can tell us what the situation is in relation to vaccine supplies for avian flu. I acknowledge the fact that the Executive does not see vaccination as a reliable control tool in connection with avian flu; however, if it changed its view, would the supplies of vaccine be available? Perhaps the minister can give us a response on that.

On the animal welfare part of the bill, I confess to some confusion in relation to the section on responsibility for an animal. During evidence taking, it was stated that reared game birds became wild when they were released from their pens—that is, the rearer had no further responsibility for their welfare once they were no longer under his or her direct care. However, the Executive's response to the committee's report states:

"Simply releasing young pheasants does not absolve the person responsible for them of their duty of care. ... They are still 'protected animals' because they are not, at that stage 'living in a wild state'."

How long is the transition stage before the birds are judged to be able to fend for themselves? Nowhere does the bill offer any guidance on that point.

Next, I come to the Executive's decision this week to abandon its previous policy that the tail shortening of working dogs could be decided on a litter-by-litter basis. We now learn that all tail shortening is to be banned. As we have heard, tail shortening is an emotive issue, and the committee heard conflicting evidence on whether docking or shortening puppies' tails caused pain. We also had to assess whether the eventual pain that some retrievers and other breeds experienced through damage sustained to unshortened tails meant far more pain at a later stage, as has been shown in examples from Sweden. My view has been influenced by my many years of following guns and watching working dogs in action in rough country. I am in absolutely no doubt that the tail shortening of working dogs is appropriate and proper. That was also the view of most of the witnesses who had experience of dogs in working situations.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Does Ted Brocklebank agree that the docking of working dogs' tails is all about welfare? I cannot think of any other reason why people who have working dogs would dock their dogs' tails.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I agree absolutely with what Mike Rumbles says. That is the whole point. People who use and are involved with working dogs look after the welfare of those dogs. The whole point of the exercise is to make life better for the dogs and to make them work better in rough situations.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I respect the member's personal opinion. However, does he accept that vets devote their lives to animal welfare and that the British Veterinary Association has given its overwhelming support to the measures in the bill and to the statement that we have made?

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Yes, indeed. I heard that evidence. However, as the minister will know, many other veterinary witnesses who gave evidence took a totally opposing view—especially vets who work in the field and perhaps understand these matters rather better than people sitting in the ivory towers of the British Veterinary Association's headquarters. Frankly, I do not see the problem in allowing vets to decide, on a litter-by-litter basis, at an early stage in the dogs' lives, whether tails should be shortened. Many vets are perfectly happy to do that, and many vets have done it over many years.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

No, I will make some progress.

Country vets know which puppies are intended as genuine working dogs. The fact is that we will still dock pigs' and lambs' tails, and we will still carry out appropriate de-horning of cattle and domestically reared deer. Why are working dogs to be treated differently?

That is what I mean when I say that the Executive is now widely viewed to be anti-countryside and wilfully opposed to genuine dialogue with rural interests. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the British Deer Society and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, along with many other groups, all wanted tail shortening to be continued in certain circumstances, but their counsel and vast experience have been totally dismissed. The minister will, doubtless, be aware that members of the Countryside Alliance are here today to demonstrate against the contempt that the Executive has shown for their views. I assure the minister that, at stage 2, the Conservatives will press for an appropriate exemption for working dogs from the tail shortening ban on a litter-by-litter basis.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 9:45 am, 23rd February 2006

I thank the clerks of the Environment and Rural Development Committee for their work on the bill—sterling, as usual. I also thank all those who gave evidence to the committee.

It is apposite that we are debating the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill at a time when we fear the approach of an especially virulent strain of avian flu that has the power not only to annihilate wild birds and domestic flocks, but to threaten the life of humans who work closely with birds without having taken the necessary precautions.

At the moment, the skies around the Moray firth are filled with skeins of geese that have been overwintering. They pose no present danger, but they serve as a warning of how vulnerable they are and how vulnerable we may be by the autumn. We must have a strong strategy and a sound contingency plan to deal with the challenges of disease control, whether through biosecurity measures, vaccination or slaughter.

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease still resonates. During the recess, I drove through Longtown market, which will be forever remembered as the animal gathering point that sent foot-and-mouth disease around the country. The mass slaughter of animals that followed, the closing down of the countryside to tourists and the arguments over vaccination are all fresh in the mind, certainly for those of us who represent rural constituencies or regional areas. I am sure that Dr Elaine Murray will have much to say on that.

There is a horror of slaughter, but it is necessary in some circumstances. I welcome the minister's affirmation, in his response to the committee, that he would have to have regard to all the prevailing circumstances—including the opinions of relevant experts—before mass slaughter was ordered. The minister does not believe that such a provision is needed in the bill, but including it would give some comfort to farmers in the event of a mass slaughter policy. I therefore ask the minister to reconsider. I would not regard the inclusion of the provision as a safeguard, because I accept that such decisions would never be taken lightly, but I would regard it as a reassurance.

Vaccination to live would be preferable where it is available, but there seems to be a perception that there would be resistance among the general public to buying vaccinated meat—although they are probably buying it anyway if they buy meat from South America. Farmers are nervous about public perception. We already see in Europe people eschewing poultry and eggs, quite unnecessarily, because of avian flu.

What we cannot do is, suddenly, during a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak or other epidemic, try and persuade people to eat vaccinated carcases—in the face, I presume, of a hostile press. If vaccination is going to be our policy, we must educate people well in advance.

We cannot pretend that vaccination can replace slaughter. Some diseases do not have a well-developed vaccine; some diseases may travel too quickly; and vaccination may mask the symptoms of a disease. I therefore believe that the Executive is being responsible in its proposals in the bill.

I welcome the sanctions against those who deliberately infect their animals. There was certainly anecdotal evidence in the foot-and-mouth outbreak of some farmers doing that to access the generous compensation payments—the level of which is also being addressed in the bill.

We have to be fair to the farmer, fair to the taxpayer and fair to the wider rural community. I remind the minister that many of us felt that there was inappropriate closure of some Highland estates to walkers during the foot-and-mouth outbreak. For example, there was a certain estate in Skye that contained one animal only—an elderly stag. I hope that there will be a more realistic use of biosecurity codes and that—rather than the imposition of a blanket ban—risk would be assessed on an estate-by-estate basis.

I turn to animal welfare issues. The bill places a duty of care on those who are responsible for animals. That has been generally welcomed.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Owners of working dogs who shorten the dogs' tails do so to secure the animals' future welfare. How does the member square that with the minister's publicly declared intention to remove the exemption for working dogs?

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I will address that point later in my speech; I hope that Alex Fergusson will not mind waiting until then.

The first issue to consider is the definition of animal. The bill excludes non-vertebrates, and much has been said about the potential suffering of lobsters, crabs, shrimps and squid. The bill is not about how to cook animals or slaughter them, but about their welfare when they are kept in our control. It is about keeping animals and transporting them. We have to retain a sense of proportion. Many of our remoter communities depend on transporting lobsters and crabs, for example, efficiently to market. I would not wish to jeopardise that.

I thank the minister for, in his response to the committee's report, clearing up some grey areas. For example, we now know exactly which animals are protected: they are defined as animals that, by habit and training, live in association with man. The definition includes pet rabbits but not wild rabbits, and it does not include wild animals that can be farmed, such as deer and pheasants. I also thank the minister for defining responsibility and for pointing out how it can be phased out—for example, when reared pheasants are released into the wild. I am sure that any gamekeeper could tell us when pheasants are ready to look after themselves. The definition also helps us to understand the scope and definition of abandonment.

The issue of the docking of dogs' tails elicited one of the biggest postbags that I have ever seen; the issue is obviously still contentious. People on both sides of the argument expressed their views passionately and I believe that they all had the welfare of dogs at heart. I had some sympathy with the view that certain working dogs should continue to have their tails docked to protect them from later damage. Docking could be regarded as the lesser of two evils. However, it became clear that it is not possible to identify with certainty which dogs will become working dogs and which will not—even among dogs in the same litter. I therefore support the total ban on docking.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

What Maureen Macmillan says leads to another question: will it be illegal to work working dogs with natural tails in the certain knowledge that their having a tail will inflict pain on them?

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I do not think that there would be "certain knowledge".

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I do not think that the Swedish study was all that robust.

The Executive addressed to my satisfaction the questions that the committee raised on animal fights, inspection of premises and the selling of animals via the internet, but will the minister reconsider the inclusion of smaller sanctuaries? The committee heard evidence that smaller sanctuaries were often the most problematic.

The bill is full of details and it was important to ensure that they covered all possible instances in which animal welfare is a concern. I believe that the Executive and the committee have worked to ensure that they did that.

Mike Radford of the University of Aberdeen said in evidence that this bill has the potential to protect animals from abuse, ignorance and neglect and to promote high standards of care and treatment. I agree, and I support the general principles of the bill.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I call Sarah Boyack in her capacity as convener of the Environment and Rural Development Committee.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 9:52 am, 23rd February 2006

Thank you, Presiding Officer. We are delighted to put the committee's views on the record this morning. This is a departure from our normal way of working, and I understand that it is an experiment. If this speech goes totally awry, I think that only two other members will get to do what I am doing now. I hope that it works. As convener of the committee, I hope to raise some issues that have not been raised so far in the Parliament.

I thank everyone who gave evidence to the committee, both in writing and orally. As members will have realised, some issues were controversial and views on them were expressed passionately. However, one thing that came across strongly was the overall support for the main principles of the bill—shifting responsibilities so that people look after animals proactively and ensuring that animal welfare is given top priority.

A challenge that is thrown up by the bill is that of ensuring that people understand their responsibilities. I will come back to that point, because we learned in evidence that people did not really understand the interaction between the bill, the policy memorandum and the statutory instruments that will likely appear at some uncertain future date. People have to understand not only individual sections of the bill, but how those sections relate to other sections.

Colleagues have spoken about part 1 of the bill. Although there is general acknowledgement that the minister must have effective powers to deal with outbreaks of disease, and that such powers would be exercised in emotional and potentially difficult situations, concerns have been expressed about the exercise of those powers. The minister has given us some assurances about safeguards and protocols and has made some concessions on greater parliamentary scrutiny of some aspects of those powers. We will return to the issue in more depth at stage 2; given the level of concern, it is right that we should do so. We must ensure that there is nothing further that the bill must include.

There was widespread agreement that we must focus not only on what happens once an outbreak has occurred, but on what can be done proactively to prevent disease and ensure that biosecurity measures work. In the light of the minister's response to our report, we need to give further consideration to several issues in that area. Animal gatherings are a crucial issue, which I do not think that any member has mentioned so far in the debate. In paragraph 86 of our report, we asked the minister to provide further information and guidance on how he plans to address the identification of animal gatherings. Ross Finnie referred to licensing and regulation, but I do not think that his response to our request went beyond a general commitment to provide control mechanisms. The committee wants more detail on what the criteria for the use of those mechanisms will be.

The slaughter of companion animals is another matter on which the minister's response was not sufficiently detailed. That was a hugely sensitive issue during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Although the minister acknowledges the emotional attachment to companion animals, his response does not address specifically our recommendation at paragraph 37 on compensation orders. We would like to obtain more information on those issues before we reach stage 2. We also want more information on import controls and the current technological developments. We said that we would welcome more feedback from the minister on progress on those matters but, as yet, the minister has not indicated that any such information will be provided, other than the report on illegal meat seizures that is currently before the Parliament.

I turn to part 2. Some of the issues have already been discussed in depth by colleagues. The key point is that there is overall support for the consolidation, updating, modernising and strengthening of the law on animal welfare, which has been widely welcomed by members of all parties, by civic Scotland and by all the organisations that have made representations to us. The stage 1 evidence-taking process was helpful in clarifying issues on which people were unclear.

However, I want to make a general point about the Scottish statutory instruments that will put into effect the detail of what organisations and individuals expect to be implemented. The committee is concerned about the timescale that the minister has said will be adopted for the laying of those SSIs. Although some of them will start to kick in in 2008, there is an issue about the length of time that it will take to deliver the secondary legislation.

As convener, I am concerned about such delay, especially as although the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 was passed in the spring of that year, we are still waiting for the consultation on the snaring provisions, which was expected to have taken place by the autumn of last year, but which has yet to go ahead. That is a problem because some people are not happy about the provisions that they think will be included in the relevant statutory instruments. The absence of those provisions has meant that there has been a lack of clarity. Colleagues have mentioned the duty of care in relation to animals that are released into the wild. It would be helpful for us to see the snaring provisions before we embark on stage 2 consideration of the bill. Perhaps the ministerial summing up will be able to move us forward in that regard.

During our stage 1 discussions, the minister expressed his willingness to bring forward some of those timescales. I make the general point that if a bill adopts a framework approach, which in this case is entirely right, the longer it takes to implement the statutory instruments that provide the content of the bill and its detailed provisions, the more difficult it is for people to know exactly what their responsibilities will be. In his opening speech, the minister rightly placed a great deal of importance on eliminating the cruelty to animals that leads to local authorities and the SSPCA having to deal with a large number of cases every year. It would therefore be helpful for ministers to reflect on whether it would be possible to bring forward the introduction of some of the statutory instruments and to give them greater priority so that people can see the whole of the bill and not just the framework that it sets out.

Colleagues have raised several other issues, but I do not think that the minister's commitment that animals should be protected from unnecessary mental as well as physical suffering has been mentioned. That commitment is welcome, because the matter was not dealt with in previous legislation on animal welfare. It is entirely right that that should be part of a bill for the 21st century.

The intention to prohibit mutilations has been generally welcomed. Many members have spoken about the need to be clear about which practices—especially those relating to farm management—can be exempt. Some witnesses felt that there was a lack of clarity in the bill as drafted and they were not sure exactly what it meant. The process of detailed discussion at stage 1 and stage 2 will provide clarity for the people who have such responsibilities. It is worth commenting that those management practices will change over time. The detail that is provided after the bill has been passed will be crucial. I hope that it will offer the chance for best practice to be adopted.

I turn to the tail docking of dogs.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It is clear that tail docking was the most contentious issue at stage 1. There was unanimity on the committee that we did not agree with the minister's position on how it would be ensured that specified litters of working dogs could be exempted. We were not happy with the minister's proposals. On the basis of what has been said this morning, I suspect that when we return to the issue, our view will not be unanimous. I can anticipate what the position of the majority of the committee will be, but it is appropriate for us to consider the matter further at stage 2.

I have run out of time. There are a number of issues that we raised in our report on which we would have liked to receive a more detailed response from the minister. If it would be possible for us to receive such information before stage 2 begins, that would help the detailed discussions that I expect we will have at that stage.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 10:01 am, 23rd February 2006

I declare my interest as a paid-up member of the SSPCA. I welcome the bill, which is wide ranging and places on individuals a duty of care towards their animals.

I will confine my remarks to companion animals. I welcome the fact that the bill deals with animal sanctuaries, although it is not only the largest 50 sanctuaries that need to be addressed. As members may know from their constituencies, well-meaning people sometimes set up so-called sanctuaries that let down the animals, regardless of their intentions. I sometimes wonder whether I have an animal sanctuary. I have three cats of my own, but a few more are making a big effort to move in by nestling into the kitchen sofa. One of them is black with white paws. At some point, in spite of my wishes, I might find my house turning into an animal sanctuary. There is an issue about definition. When does the home of someone who takes in a few cats, willingly or otherwise, become an animal sanctuary?

I welcome the important provision that only someone who is aged 16 or over will be allowed to own an animal. We should educate our young people on the purchase of animals and the time that needs to be dedicated to them, whether the animal in question is a hamster or a dog. I welcome, too, the sections in the bill that deal with the sale of animals—especially exotic animals—on the internet, which is a serious issue.

I will mention tail docking briefly. My instinct is to agree with the minister's position because it is difficult to define when a dog becomes a working dog. We should not offer a huge loophole for the docking of dogs, which is done, in the main, for purely cosmetic purposes. I will listen carefully to the arguments that are made at stage 2 and stage 3; I am open to persuasion. I see that a farmer is rising to his feet.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

As a solicitor, Christine Grahame will understand the point that I am trying to make. I want to know whether it will be an offence to make a dog with a natural tail—an undocked tail—work in a situation that will inevitably cause it pain.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I hear what the member says. That is why I remain open to listening to the arguments. However, I will have to be fully persuaded that providing an exemption for working dogs would not create a loophole that would allow dog owners to continue to get their dogs' tails docked purely because they think that their dogs look better that way, which is the reason for the majority of the docking that takes place. I like to see dogs wagging their tails.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I can assist with that. The committee has not asked the people who have working dogs why they dock their tails. The whole point is that the animal's welfare is the only reason for doing it.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I hear what the member is saying. The issue is difficult. I have entered the debate on the bill only at this stage and I want to hear fully the arguments on either side. If—and it is a huge if—I am persuaded that, on balance, it is in the interests of a particular working dog for its tail to be docked to save it pain and suffering, and if the mechanism of tail docking is such that there is no pain and suffering to the dog and tail docking can be defined, I may be persuaded of the argument.

I know that there were a lot of ifs and buts in what I have just said, but I need to be persuaded on the arguments. I remain open on the issue. Tail docking is not SSPCA policy. I am not in the chamber to argue its case but, if the questions that I have posed are answered, I can be persuaded. However, if I am to support the measure, those issues would first require to be addressed.

I turn to an issue that the minister knows is close to my heart, which is the transportation of puppies to Scotland for sale in this country. The minister has undertaken to introduce measures with regard to that in the regulations that will follow on from the bill. We cannot regulate the trade, because it originates in the south of Ireland and comes into Scotland through ports in the south of the country via Northern Ireland, but I want to make the scale of the issue plain. We are not talking peanuts: the dealers who bring the puppies into the country make hundreds of thousands of pounds. They charge £500 per puppy and yet bring them into the country in horrendous conditions. Five or six puppies of different breeds are often packed into carriers—small and large puppies squeezed in together—and yet we cannot prevent that from happening because the trade originates in another country. However, we can regulate for what happens in Scotland. I welcome the fact that the minister has undertaken to introduce measures by way of regulations.

When the puppies arrive in this country, they are often very ill. Puppies have been found to be suffering from conditions and diseases including fleas, lice, diarrhoea, dehydration and urine scald; some have been found to have the deadly parvovirus. People buy them nonetheless; they look pretty—I have a picture of one with me—and people always love pretty puppies. People buy a puppy only to find that it is ill and, despite large veterinary bills, they often keep the animals and are heartbroken at their situation. People are trapped into supporting the trade.

Anyone in Scotland who acquires a puppy for resale, either as an individual or as a trader, should have a record of the animal's life history. They should know where it started out, how it was transported, who its dam was and so on. The animal should have a microchip and veterinary checks should be done on arrival at the establishments where the puppies can be bought. Again, on arrival, the puppy should be vaccinated unless there is documentary evidence that that has been done in the country of origin. Perhaps, by regulating the trade in that way in Scotland, we can prevent the horrendous breeding of these animals in the south of Ireland.

We have many issues to debate at stage 2 and stage 3. As usual, given that much of what is proposed will be introduced by way of regulation, the devil will be in the detail. I hope that we do not end up with a debate that focuses on tail docking, serious though that issue is, and that all the other issues are debated fully. My speech focused on animal welfare and did not touch on animal health, but that issue, too, is important, given that it impinges on animal welfare. I welcome the bill.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 10:08 am, 23rd February 2006

I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group on animal welfare and as a lifelong vegetarian. Members will therefore not be surprised to hear that, in the main, I will address part 2 of the bill.

So far, the debate has been a good one. Members across the political spectrum have made interesting points. I hope that we can develop and discuss those points further as we proceed to stage 2 and stage 3. I want to highlight some of the positive aspects of the bill. Given that this is a stage 1 debate, I hope that I can also identify a few areas in which there may still be scope for further discussion on areas of concern.

Richard Lochhead has stolen my Ghandi quotation. I will not repeat it other than to say that the way in which we treat animals is a measure of a humane society. The bill represents a significant and important step forward in driving up animal welfare standards; it will effectively bring animal welfare legislation into the 21st century.

As we heard from the minister, the bill will update and strengthen a variety of legislation, some of which dates back to 1912. The bill will introduce, for the first time, a duty of care for animals; that measure will enable local authorities to take further action that could lead to the conviction of animal keepers who provide inadequate care that leads to suffering.

My main point concerns animals in circus performances, an issue on which I have received significant correspondence from constituents. I wrote to the minister to enquire about the possibility of including provision for such animals in the bill. In his reply, the minister stated:

"under the Bill, the duty of care, provided for in section 22, may mean that it will be more difficult for circuses to use animals in their performances."

However, he also said:

"the Scottish Executive has no intention of banning circus performances using animals."

He went on to say that

"it will become an offence if a person does not take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of" an animal in their care are met "to the extent required" by the bill. He made specific reference to the fact that those needs include:

"a suitable environment; a suitable diet, to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and also to be protected from suffering, injury and disease."

It would therefore be worth while for us to consider and debate the issue further. Surely no one could argue that forcing a wild cat, elephant, tiger or lion to parade around a circus ring on a leash and live in a cramped cage at all other times is conducive to protecting the animal's basic welfare needs.

The minister's response leads me to conclude that we can do something about this issue. If there is a will and a desire to do so, I hope that discussions and debate on the subject can take place during the stage 2 debate. Further attention should be given to the point.

My next point concerns an animal's mental welfare and suffering. Sarah Boyack also raised that issue. The point is inextricably linked to the issue of live animals being used in circus performances. It is clear that the bill should include a definition of unnecessary suffering in relation to an animal's mental health. I understand that SSPCA inspectors have pursued successful prosecutions on the basis than an animal was terrified. The point is relevant to circus animals.

The bill allows for Scottish ministers to make regulations for the licensing and registration of many animal-related activities. Surely there is scope for circuses to be included in the regulations that will be made to license livery yards and pet dealers. Another option would be to include circuses in the proposed register of animal sanctuaries. Perhaps the minister, in summing up, will make a commitment to look further at those suggestions.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

On that point, I note in the explanatory notes to the bill that

"By taking a risk based approach to inspection visits" of premises

"such as pet shops, animal boarding establishments, livery yards and riding establishments", the Executive will make a 30 per cent reduction in inspections. How does that proposal go hand in hand with improving animal welfare?

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

That question is one for the minister to answer. I am not a member of the Environment and Rural development Committee, so I was not party to the evidence that it took. Perhaps the minister will deal with the point when she sums up.

Animal welfare organisations have raised a point about the definition of animal. My colleague Maureen Macmillan also mentioned the point in her speech. The organisations are concerned that the definition does not include octopus, lobsters and crabs, for example. The minister is aware that a growing body of evidence is emerging, not least from the European Food Safety Authority panel on animal welfare. As recently as December 2005, the panel concluded that such creatures can experience pain and distress. I am aware that section 14 gives ministers the power to change the definition of animal over time, but I would like further consideration to be given to the issue before the bill is passed.

I am running out of time, but I want briefly to mention tail docking. I had intended to ask the minister to ensure that there are no exemptions from the provision. The debate on the issue will run on throughout stage 2, but I am delighted with the statement that the minister made on that issue.

The bill is welcome and will, no doubt, advance the rights of animals in our society. As such, it will be welcomed throughout Scotland, but particularly by young people. When I visit schools and receive visits from young people to the Parliament, they often raise animal welfare issues with me. I am happy to support the principles of the bill.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 10:15 am, 23rd February 2006

As we have heard, the bill's key aims are to enhance the ability to respond to exotic disease outbreaks; minimise the risk of disease spread; introduce a duty of care for those who keep animals; and allow animals that are either suffering or in danger of suffering to be seized. No member has argued or will argue against those aims but, as is so often the case, the acceptable title, front cover and opening chapters of the book mask a few less acceptable elements in the plot. I will focus on two of those—other members have mentioned them, but I make no apology for repeating them.

The first is covered in paragraphs 90 to 94 of the Environment and Rural Development Committee's report, which are on section 10 of the bill, on livestock genotypes. The section deals specifically with TSEs—transmissible spongiform encephalopathies—which are sometimes known as prion diseases, of which the most prominent in this country has been bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is supposedly linked with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and new variant CJD. In dealing with BSE and, in more recent times, foot-and-mouth disease, ministers of different political persuasions depended heavily on scientific advice in their decision-making process. They were right to do so, even if many of the scientific claims surrounding BSE, especially those involving its ability to jump species and to transmit to humans, have never been conclusively proved. Increasingly, many scientists and others question the prion theory and believe that it is just that—a theory on the cause of CJD that became accepted by the establishment but which has yet to be conclusively proved.

I do not question ministers' right to lean heavily on the available science when confronting the difficult decisions that must be made when dealing with a TSE outbreak; indeed, they have a duty to do so. If that duty is generally accepted, what possible reason can there be not to include in the bill a provision to require ministers to consult veterinary and scientific advisers before they use the extended powers to slaughter livestock that will be available if the bill is passed? Over the years, I have had many differences with Advocates for Animals, so I am pleased that representatives of the group are in the public gallery to witness me agreeing with the group that ministers will be able to slaughter animals "if they think fit" in much broader circumstances than they can currently and without having to provide justification.

Paragraph 7 of proposed new schedule 3A to the Animal Health Act 1981, which will be inserted by section 1 of the bill, will allow ministers to order animals to be slaughtered whether or not they are infected by disease, have been in contact with infected animals or have been exposed to the disease. In anybody's language, those are fairly draconian powers. I agree with the committee's desire and that of other members to have reassurances in the bill with regard to those new powers.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The member has referred to proposed new schedule 3A, but does he accept that the words that follow that are that the ministers have to demonstrate that the slaughter is for the purpose of controlling disease? There will not simply be an utterance on the part of ministers; they will have to demonstrate that that is the purpose of embarking on such a course of action.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I accept what the minister says 100 per cent, but that simply underlines my point. I cannot understand his reluctance to include in the bill a provision requiring scientific advice to be taken. I have absolute faith, more or less, in the present minister—

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I was close to getting carried away. I just about have absolute faith in his decision-making powers, which were proven during the foot-and-mouth outbreak. However, with the greatest of respect, he is unlikely to remain the minister for ever, which is why we need reassurances for the sake of future parliamentarians and ministers.

My second concern is over the issue of tail docking, which, as has been proved this morning, is highly emotive. My concern is based on a lifetime's experience with dogs working in the countryside. I have no problems whatever with a ban on cosmetic docking and the removal of the whole tail. However, there is a huge difference between that and a ban on tail shortening for working dogs, which will result in far more distress and welfare problems than arise at present. Members are being seriously misled in that regard. Unlike cosmetic docking, which, I repeat, involves the removal of the whole tail, the shortening of working dogs' tails involves the removal of only about a third or a half of the tail. I point out for Christine Grahame, although she is not here, that the tail can still be wagged. The purpose of the procedure is not to be fashionable but to be practical; the aim is not to be cruel but to prevent future harm and distress.

Ministers rightly place great importance on individuals' responsibility towards their animals' future welfare. Owners of working dogs shorten their tails to secure that welfare, not to harm it. The procedure is both painless and bloodless, using modern techniques. Frankly, anyone who has witnessed the very sad whimpering of a spaniel with a broken tail or the blood loss that is caused by a damaged tail would never countenance the removal of the proposal to exempt working dogs, with a right of veto in the hands of the veterinary profession.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I am afraid that I do not have time.

I cannot believe that the minister can dismiss so off-handedly the figures from Sweden following its outright ban on tail docking in 1989, which show that 35 per cent of working gun dogs suffer tail injuries by the time that they are two and a half years old. In the UK, a Kennel Club survey of undocked working gundogs showed that 75 per cent of Clumber spaniels, 20 per cent of English springer spaniels and 25 per cent of wirehaired Vizslas suffered tail damage. If the minister persists with the removal of the proposed exemption, I am sorry to say that he will be responsible for an increase in cruelty when he is rightly trying to bring about the opposite. If he is being driven by advice, it is not based on experience; if he is being driven by Westminster, as some have suggested, he is not half as sensible as I believe he is. I urge him to be driven by experience and leave well alone a system that currently works perfectly well and maximises animal welfare, which is otherwise well addressed in the bulk of the bill.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 10:23 am, 23rd February 2006

We have had an interesting debate in which there seems to be general consensus about what should happen. I generally welcome the bill and the impetus behind it to establish a duty of care on all animal owners. I hope that the duty will be used to deal with problem issues such as the keeping of animals in captivity in circuses and other establishments, about which many people in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK are rightly concerned.

As I represent a rural constituency, it will be no surprise to members that I am concerned about the Scottish Executive's decision to introduce an outright ban on tail docking for all dogs. I have had working Jack Russells all my life, every one of which has been docked. I regard that not as cruel, but as necessary for their welfare. However, I do not support the docking of dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons. We must recognise that it is legitimate for, and a responsibility of, working dog owners to dock their animals for welfare, not cosmetic, reasons. Owners have a duty of care. An owner who does not dock a working dog puts it in danger of pain and suffering as a result of damage that it may incur in its working environment.

I fully supported the Executive's original proposal to allow exemptions for working dogs. A number of people have discussed the issue with me in recent months and there are good and practical reasons to allow such exemptions. I am disappointed that the plan has been rejected by the ministers because the Environment and Rural Development Committee concluded that a system of exemptions would be too difficult to implement and would not guarantee that some tails would not fall through the net, as it were. No system will guarantee 100 per cent compliance and I am sure that even if the Parliament bans tail docking, the practice will not stop. It would not be beyond the wit of man or even of the Environment and Rural Development Committee to come up with a system that is workable and effective, ensuring that most docking is done for justifiable reasons. Nevertheless, the Executive and the committee have recommended an outright ban. That surprises me. The bill should be amended at stage 2. We have heard from the convener of the committee that the debate is on-going; amendments may well be accepted at stage 2 to allow the docking of working dogs' tails, under strict controls. I am sure that all members would welcome that.

The aim of the bill is to establish a duty of care to all animals. Our duty of care to working dogs is to save them from the severe suffering that a damaged undocked tail can cause, of which there is plenty of evidence.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The tail docking of working dogs is important because it is a welfare issue. There are two sides to the argument, both of which are for animal welfare. Will John Farquhar Munro join me in pressing the minister to grant a free vote to members on this issue, just as there will be a free vote on the issue in the UK Parliament?

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

Michael Rumbles makes an interesting point. I have always suggested that the Parliament would work much better if we all had a free vote on every issue, but that has not been allowed. It is a debate for another day.

With the proviso that the minister and the convener guarantee that the stage 2 debate will consider the issue of tail docking for working dogs, I am prepared to give the bill my whole-hearted support.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 10:28 am, 23rd February 2006

On behalf of the Greens, I welcome the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill. The principles are sound and the legislation is a long overdue addition to the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912. The Edwardian animal welfare acts were born out of a growing belief that a civilised and indeed a liberal society should treat those that are most vulnerable with compassion and care. Animals, in their multiple roles, form an intrinsic part of our society and need to be shown respect. Perhaps the most significant provision in the bill is the establishment of a duty of care on those who control animals.

I recently went out with an SSPCA inspector on his rounds and I saw many examples of horses in particular being left in muddy, overgrazed fields, in poor condition, with little food or water, poorly fenced in and with inadequate shelter. Such cases are difficult to prosecute at present because they are borderline under the definition of animal cruelty, but the new duty of care will allow such cases to be brought to court. It is clear that animals are suffering at the hands of people, whether that is as a result of ignorance about how to keep animals or plain insensitivity to their needs. That cannot be tolerated in 21st century Scotland.

It is clear from the animal health part of the bill that some lessons have been learned from the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, when mathematical modelling ran amok in the countryside. Ross Finnie said in the committee that it was inconceivable that ministers would not consult scientific and veterinary advice over slaughter, but the minister is asking of us a blind act of faith. There are no legislative requirements and no limits to the powers of slaughter in the bill. Judicial review should be a last resort rather than a routine backstop in the middle of a disease outbreak. Likewise, the powers over vaccination are welcome in moving the way in which we treat disease forward, but I would like the provision for seeking veterinary and scientific advice to be mirrored in the powers over vaccination as well as slaughter.

The slaughter of companion animals needs to be approached differently from the slaughter of farm animals; the approach that is taken should be sensitive to the needs of owner and animal. Likewise, the slaughter of wild animals needs to take full recognition of situations in which entire species may be resident in only a few locations around the globe. Those are both areas in which protocols need to be established through the bill. Of course ministers need to be able to move fast in the middle of an outbreak, but that means effective contingency planning in advance. There is no framework for that contingency planning process in the bill, but the minister should consider enshrining the best practice into legislation to require our preparedness to be the best that it can be in the event of an outbreak.

The second part of the bill concerns animal welfare. There was a great deal of focus in evidence taking on the issue of mutilations, in particular the tail docking of dogs. It is unsurprising that there has been vigorous debate on that subject this morning. As somebody who worked as a volunteer in a veterinary surgery in my teens, who grew up in the countryside and whose parents kept and bred working dogs, I was initially open to the idea that in some situations working dogs could benefit from having their tails docked. Throughout the evidence, though, I observed a weak case for docking that was based on nostalgia and tradition rather than a robust welfare case. The contradictions in the docking argument are rife. We are told that working breeds with thick, heavy tails are susceptible to damage, yet docking standards are applied to dogs with thin tails such as spaniels. As we all know, working breeds with long ear flaps are susceptible to cut ears when they are working in cover, but there is no breed standard for docking ears. Why is there a breed standard only for docking tails?

It is inconceivable that puppies do not feel pain when undergoing docking operations. I have watched a number of those operations and I have seen what is involved. Combining that with the evidence on the long-term negative impact on dogs' ability to communicate and maintain agility without a tail, I see no reason to maintain the illogical tradition of docking.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

In the Swedish study that Ted Brocklebank mentioned, 27 per cent of German shorthaired pointers had suffered tail injuries, which means that 73 per cent had not. Are we not in danger of overzealous legislation for the minority at the expense of the majority of dogs?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

The committee considered the evidence for and against tail docking. Exemptions to tail docking would not be workable. I am glad that the Executive has realised that and that it has realised that a ban is the only practical option. In any exemption regime, the presentation by spaniel owners of a shotgun licence or a shooting club membership card is all that would be required to secure a legal docking operation from a vet. In completely banning tail docking, the minister will secure praise from the vast majority of vets and dog owners and he will send guidance to Westminster for the free vote on the issue there in the near future. The Executive is to be congratulated on taking a robust and pragmatic stance on the issue.

The final issue that I wish to raise is small animal sanctuaries. There are many dedicated people in Scotland who run such sanctuaries, but as we know and as we heard in evidence, a lot can go wrong in an animal sanctuary over the course of a year or two. It is important that we bring those small sanctuaries under legislation and that we regulate them. As the deputy convener of the Environment and Rural Development Committee, I would back up the convener's comments that subordinate legislation should be introduced on that issue sooner rather than later.

The bill is sound and it is another important milestone in making Scotland a more compassionate, modern and socially democratic country that can hold up its head next to all the other best small countries in the world.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 10:35 am, 23rd February 2006

The Scottish Socialist Party welcomes the bill's general principles, and I, as a lover of animals—particularly dogs and horses—am pleased to speak in the debate. We welcome the fact that the bill represents a step forward in ensuring improved welfare conditions for animals while also ensuring that those who care for animals are aware of their responsibilities.

We also welcome the measures on vaccination, slaughter and events such as rural shows to help to prevent disease, especially in light of the spread of bird flu. Millions of animals are reared and slaughtered in the farming industry and it is incumbent on us to do that humanely.

The majority of animals are cared for well and responsibly, but we are aware that, sadly, that is not the case for all and we fully support the measures in the bill that will allow the authorities to intervene before an animal suffers. The increased responsibility that is placed on owners and handlers can only be good, as long as it is accompanied by the resources that are necessary to follow through those good principles.

However, we have concerns on some areas of the bill. I will concentrate on two: tail docking and powers of slaughter. Tail docking cannot be allowed to continue in the 21st century other than for medical reasons. Dogs are pack animals and need their tails for communication. That is even more important in puppies, as they are learning their social skills for later life. Research demonstrates that puppies with docked tails show higher levels of stress and aggression than those without docked tails.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Rosemary Byrne refers to the point that tail docking makes it more difficult for dogs to express themselves. If she had been at the gathering that the Countryside Alliance organised this morning and had seen the many happy dogs that were on display, not with their tails cropped right up to the base of the spine but with a section of the tail taken away, wagging their tails perfectly happily and responding to the cameras and other things that were happening, she might have changed her mind on that.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

I doubt that I would have done, because I have consulted widely on the issue. I have spoken to my local vets in Irvine and have been assured that what I have said is the case, so we will agree to differ on that.

There is strong evidence that docking causes pain. Puppies have fully developed nervous systems and can feel pain. There is also evidence that docking can lead to complications in later life: the stump of the tail can be painful due to the formation of nervous tissue scarring. Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Germany have all banned docking and it is interesting that, despite many claims to the contrary, there is no proof that there has been an increase in tail injuries in those countries as a result of the ban.

Under the Animal Health Act 1981, the Executive is able to slaughter animals that are infected with disease, have been in contact with diseased animals or have been exposed to disease in any way. However, under the bill, ministers will be able to slaughter animals "if they think fit". That is far too wide and general a term and would allow ministers to slaughter animals without having to provide a good reason. The proposals would allow slaughter whether or not the animal was infected, had been in contact with an infected animal or had been exposed to the disease in question, and would deny people any grounds to challenge the ministers' use of slaughter powers. We cannot allow distress such as that caused to the farming community during the foot-and-mouth outbreak to be caused again. We cannot pass a bill that would increase ministers' powers to slaughter animals and compound owners' and handlers' distress in an already stressful outbreak of animal disease. The slaughter powers must be restricted so that they cannot be exercised until ministers have sought and considered veterinary and scientific advice.

The SSP welcomes the bill, especially the provisions that give the authorities the right to intervene at an early stage, thereby reducing the harm that is done to an animal, but we have some concerns and await further clarification from the ministers on various parts of the bill as it progresses. We want further work to be done on ragwort. That weed frequently kills horses, but we do not treat it seriously enough. Regulations on ragwort exist, but they are not always put into action properly. For example, our railway operators and those who are in charge of our roads do not always get rid of ragwort. It can be seen at the side of roads and is a serious problem for horses.

We will raise more questions on the regulation of sanctuaries, the trading of pets—especially on the internet—and the prohibition on keeping certain animals, especially primates. I am glad that Christine Grahame talked about puppy farms. We also want to take matters further on that issue. We also realise that owners and handlers must be reassured about their responsibilities and hope that the bill will be accompanied by the required resources and an education programme on animal welfare. We regard such an education programme to be vital.

We will support the bill, although we look forward to having the opportunity to lodge amendments to strengthen it at stage 2.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 10:41 am, 23rd February 2006

As we have to declare interests, perhaps I ought to declare that I am a member of the SSPCA, the Dumfries and Galloway Canine Rescue Centre and Dumfriesshire Greyhound Rescue, as well as being a horse, dog, cat and fish owner.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short speech in the stage 1 debate on a welcome and important bill. I am not a member of the Environment and Rural Development Committee, nor have I been able to attend any of its meetings due to the clash of timetable with the Education Committee, but I welcome the bill's general principles. However, as one whose constituents were particularly badly affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak five years ago, I ask the ministers to reflect on the important points that Maureen Macmillan made on whether the powers of slaughter need to be amended.

I will confine my comments to a particular animal welfare concern to which Rosemary Byrne has just referred: common ragwort. That will be no surprise to the ministers. Ragwort is a common wild plant—many parts of the Scottish countryside are covered with its yellow flowers during the spring and summer—but many people do not recognise it. When I was a child, it tended to be found on cliff tops and near the sea, where its population of cinnabar moth caterpillars was always a source of fascination to me. However, nowadays, it can be seen on rough ground and in fields and hedgerows all over the countryside. For any members who do not know what it looks like—it is amazing how many people do not know what it is—I have a picture of it with me.

Unfortunately, ragwort contains a highly toxic alkaloid that is especially poisonous to horses. It is also, to a lesser extent, poisonous to cattle and even sheep, which always rather worries me, because some people use sheep to control it. A horse may die if, over its entire lifetime, it consumes only 0.5 per cent of its own body weight in ragwort. As the average horse weighs half a tonne—if it stands on your foot, you are fairly sure that it weighs half a tonne—that means that a horse has to consume only about 1kg of ragwort to die. Ragwort poisoning is cumulative and its effects can be delayed for weeks or months. It attacks the animal's liver and causes a slow and painful death, but it is difficult to prove that it was the cause of death. At the moment, that tends to require a liver biopsy, but many people do not instruct one when a horse dies. However, I understand that a skin test is being developed, which should make it easier to prove the extent of the poison.

Ragwort is also poisonous to people, who ought to protect their hands when pulling the plant. If I have liver damage, it was caused by looking at those cinnabar moth caterpillars and is nothing to do with my subsequent lifestyle.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Elaine Murray has obviously studied the bill much more closely than I have. Is the balance right on accidental ragwort poisoning? She and I know a great deal about ragwort and know how difficult it is to get every last piece of it out of a field or a bail of hay. I would be grateful if she would talk about that.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I will talk about that, because there are issues with the bill on that.

The control of ragwort is currently covered by the Weeds Act 1959, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. John Scott mentioned the contamination of forage by ragwort. That is particularly dangerous to horses because, although horses might eat ragwort in the field, they are more likely to eat dried ragwort in hay. Forage contamination is covered in the Agriculture Act 1970 and the Feeding Stuffs (Scotland) Regulations 2000 but, despite that legislation, ragwort still grows in fields that are grazed by horses and cattle and it is still found in proximity to forage crops. The bill presents an opportunity to provide information and education on the hazards of ragwort to horses and other vulnerable animals and it will give more force to the existing legislation.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Sorry. I have only a minute and a half left.

In evidence to the committee, the British Horse Society suggested that statutory improvement notices could be used when a horse is being exposed to ragwort and it is likely that it will ingest the plant. It proposes the application of enforceable notices that state that either the horse or the ragwort must be removed. It also suggests that section 20 should be amended to refer specifically to ragwort poisoning, although I note that the minister responded by observing that section 22 places a greater onus on people who own or work with horses to take steps to avoid ragwort poisoning.

The BHS stressed that there is an opportunity to use animal welfare codes and the regulation-making powers in the bill to regulate ragwort control. That might involve statutory guidance that is similar to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs code of practice that was introduced south of the border by the Ragwort Control Act 2003, so we might be able to bring our legislation into line with the English legislation.

I seek clarification of the responsibilities of the owner of the horse when the horse is on loan to other individuals or is kept in livery stables and maintenance of the land is not the responsibility of the owner. The bill suggests that it is solely the owner's responsibility to remove ragwort from forage. It suggests that the owner should go through the hay to look for ragwort. In the winter, horses consume large amounts of hay and it is difficult for owners to go through it and look for bits of ragwort. I think that the person who produces the forage has a responsibility to ensure that it is not contaminated with ragwort. I ask the minister to provide some clarification on that.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 10:47 am, 23rd February 2006

To date, I have not been party to consideration of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill, but as someone who lives in the country and has a wide range of constituents whose lives will be touched by the bill in one way or another, I welcome the opportunity to mention some of the concerns that they properly have.

In the minister's opening remarks, he referred to companion animals. Section 14(1) defines an animal as

"a vertebrate other than man."

It is a matter of deep regret to me that it does not appear to be possible to extend the definition to include man and thus ensure that my wife treats me with the same care as she deploys in looking after our two cats. Nevertheless, it might be possible to address that issue at stage 2.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Will the member suggest the wording for an amendment, so that I can give it some consideration?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

It would be, "At line 34 on page 27, delete from 'other' to 'man'." Our lives are touched and enriched by companion animals, but animals are equally important in the agricultural environment and I welcome the provisions in the bill that will improve the situation for them. Like other members of the SNP, I have no difficulty in supporting the general principles of the bill.

In extreme circumstances, everything goes out of the window. The most recent occasion of which I have any particular knowledge was the siege of Paris some 150 years ago, when dogs were sold for human consumption. They cost 1 franc. Cats cost 50 centimes and rats cost 25 centimes. However, I suspect that we are no longer likely to use animals in that way.

In an earlier intervention, I mentioned farms and the ownership of animals. I invite the minister to think carefully and at greater length about that. It is generally agreed that we have a big problem with recruiting youngsters into the farming industry. One way in which youngsters can become involved in the family business is through their having their own animals and the right to buy and sell them under supervision—I am not talking about unsupervised activity. That engages them in the real-life concerns and the economy of the farm. I would regret it if families such as my neighbours in Banffshire were unable to have their lambs, to rear them and to feel a sense of pride in preparing them for market. I hope that we will be careful to send out the right messages even if we do not change a single word in the bill.

Section 14(3) contains the power for Scottish ministers to make provision that "extends the definition of "animal" so as to include invertebrates".

Fishermen will watch the exercise of that power with great care and perhaps with a degree of suspicion. I hope that it will not open the door to further restrictions on our already beleaguered fishing industry. I mention that for future reference.

I have a few miscellaneous comments that touch on the Parliament's inability to exercise all the powers that we need to exercise. We can probably ban the recording of animal fights but we cannot ban the broadcasting of animal fights. Nowadays, of course, broadcasting is not controlled simply by the Radiocommunications Agency. Things are broadcast on the internet, which is entirely unregulated. I am not sure that we can address that, but perhaps we can.

Secondly and more subtly, given my interests, pages 7, 9, 10, 13, 24 and 46 of the bill give a definition of premises that includes vessels and vehicles but does not include aircraft. If someone who has a rare breed of fowl wishes, in extremis, to protect their birds from slaughter, all they need to do is to keep them in an aircraft. There is no power in the bill to allow inspectors or slaughterers to enter aircraft. There is a farmer in the Parliament who has at least two aircraft in his constituency that would be suitable for that purpose. One of them is G-BOAA—that is the registration of the Concorde that is kept at the Museum of Flight at East Fortune. It is still on the register of aircraft that is maintained by the Civil Aviation Authority—I checked yesterday—and it is the aircraft in which I first flew when my wife and I took our honeymoon. The aircraft whose registration is G-ASUG, which is also in the museum, could be used for the same purpose.

The Animal Health Act 1981 provides powers throughout Great Britain for people to enter aircraft, but only for the purposes of horses and not for the purposes of fowl. The Animal Welfare Bill, which is being considered at Westminster, does not provide for the power. The omission in our bill is entirely due to the fact that we cannot include aircraft because the Parliament does not have the power to do so. That is worth thinking about. In the Westminster bill, we have been able to ban transport by air within the British isles, although, interestingly, not via Ireland or Northern Ireland. The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which covers flights, might cover the matter. However, we see that, as is often the case, some details in the bill touch on the constraints within which the Parliament operates.

I have at the front of my mind a regular visitor to my surgeries. He is called Arnie and he is a greyhound who has been abandoned, as so many have. If the bill makes life better for the Arnies of the world—and the many other pets that we have—it will serve a noble purpose indeed.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 10:54 am, 23rd February 2006

I begin by drawing members' attention to my entry in the register of members' interests. For the avoidance of doubt, members will see that I am not only a farmer but a partner in my family farming business, which is based on dairy farming and other livestock interests. I am also a member of several organisations that hold many and various opinions on the bill.

While we are considering the bill, we must consider its purpose. The object of the exercise is to improve animal welfare. As a consequence, we must concentrate on what is about animal welfare and what is being driven more inappropriately by public opinion. During his opening speech, Richard Lochhead did us all a favour by raising the subject of public opinion and its effect on how we think about animal welfare and how we should frame legislation.

We must be decisive in how we do this job. We need to ensure that we are dealing genuinely with animal welfare and not legislating on the welfare of animals simply to salve the opinions of certain elements of the public who have been affected by some very disturbing images in recent years.

The first issue that we must address is the impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. We have seen that in public opinion and we also see it in the bill, to some extent. Being a livestock farmer, I would be the first to say that the minister must retain the power to act swiftly and decisively in the event of an outbreak of a virulent disease such as foot-and-mouth. It is absolutely essential that Parliament does nothing that will slow that process in passing the bill. If it does something that means that we would have to go through a complex consultative process before ministers could demand slaughter or other action, I would not support the bill.

At the same time, I am concerned that the minister repeatedly states that he would never take such decisions without first taking veterinary advice, but that is not written in the bill. It is unreasonable for the minister to deny Parliament the right to place it in the bill. With the proviso that I have suggested about the speed of the minister's decision-making process, I believe that it is essential to get that on the face of the bill.

In the same area of the minister's decision-making powers, I am concerned about some of the changes to the opportunity to use vaccination as an alternative to slaughter, particularly in circumstances such as a foot-and-mouth outbreak. I have had experience of vaccination and the attempt to control disease in farmed animals. The attempt to use a vaccination programme to eliminate brucellosis from Britain's cattle population affected my business. Animals that were vaccinated to prevent them from getting or carrying the disease were indistinguishable from animals that had or had had the disease. Consequently, when I first became a farmer in my own right in the early 1980s, I was still having cattle taken away and destroyed because of inconclusive results of brucellosis tests. That happened entirely because animals had been vaccinated against the disease. Therefore, it is essential that, before we use vaccination as an alternative to a slaughter policy, we are absolutely confident that there is no confusion between an animal that is vaccinated and one that has the antibodies as a result of exposure to the disease itself.

In the evidence, it appears that there are hopes that scientific advances might deliver improvements in our ability to distinguish between the two situations. However, when the minister mentioned that in his opening remarks, he appeared to make it clear that many of those scientific advances are not yet with us. Therefore, we should not vaccinate cattle against foot-and-mouth disease in similar circumstances in Scotland without first having a 100 per cent guaranteed way of distinguishing between the vaccinated and the previously infected. If we go down the road of vaccination without having the ability to differentiate, Scotland's farmed animal population could find itself isolated for generations to come. Economics mean that Scotland's farmers cannot afford for that to happen.

A couple of other issues have been raised during the debate that I cannot allow to pass. One thing that I would not have mentioned had it not been mentioned by Irene Oldfather is circuses. Over the years, I have often seen wee lassies outside circuses handing out bits of paper that are designed to encourage people to think that keeping animals in circuses is inappropriate. I am the first to agree that the presence of wild animals in travelling circuses is entirely inappropriate. At the same time, I have to stand up and say that the symbiotic relationship that exists between certain species and the human race goes back to well before civilised times. It ought to be celebrated on a cultural basis. When it comes to dogs, horses and, perhaps, even elephants and camels, there is a good case for the Parliament and the Executive supporting the continuation of the use of animals in circuses in properly regulated circumstances.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I find it very strange. Is the member seriously suggesting that performing circuses, for example, can serve the welfare of animals such as elephants and provide them with as suitable environment as their natural habitat?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I referred to elephants as part of a list of species that have had a long-term symbiotic relationship with the human race. The circumstances in which they are kept in circuses are open to regulation. For cultural reasons, we should not be opposed in principle to their being kept.

Many members have mentioned tail docking. I do not want to dwell on it, but I will make one comment. Across the country, and particularly in the veterinary profession, there has been a long-running debate on the docking of dogs' tails. I am the first to agree that we should be opposed to the docking of dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons; it is unjustified on welfare grounds. However, the docking of working dogs is quite a separate debate. Before we pass the legislation, it is important that we have an adequate opportunity to consider the docking of working dogs for welfare reasons, and we should treat that issue entirely separately. The BVA's views are predicated on the debate about companion animals and do not necessarily relate to working dogs. Vets who work with working dogs agree, almost to a man and a woman, that dogs should be docked if their welfare is in danger because they are not docked. There is an opportunity for us to allow the continuation of tail shortening for working dogs on the basis that it is a welfare advantage not a disadvantage.

The legislation is valuable but it must be considered in significantly greater detail before we finally approve it.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 11:03 am, 23rd February 2006

I start by saying how widely welcomed the bill has been, particularly because it will achieve a fundamental change in moving from punishing people for cruelty to animals to promoting animals' welfare. The fundamental ethos of the bill is very welcome indeed.

Ministers' extended powers in relation to the slaughter of animals are one area of part 1 of the bill that seems to have stimulated a lot of response. It is widely accepted that the extension is perfectly appropriate and reasonable, but there is a degree of concern that the fact that the powers will be used in the light of veterinary and scientific advice is not explicit in the bill. We are told that that is implicit, but there is still an argument for putting it on the face of the bill to give comfort to those who have concerns. No one seriously expects that such powers will be misused or abused, but if the fact that they will be used only in the light of scientific or veterinary advice is implicit, I see no reason why it should not be explicit.

The issues relating to vaccination were adequately covered by Maureen Macmillan and Alex Johnstone whose comments I endorse. Part 1 concerns the prevention of disease and the control of outbreaks. Its effectiveness will lie in the secondary legislation on biosecurity codes—some of which will be mandatory—and the contingency plans relating to a variety of animal diseases and import controls. I endorse Sarah Boyack's salient points on those, particularly on import controls. More needs to be done on the timing of the introduction of secondary legislation.

Several issues around animal gatherings need to be resolved, including what is meant by the term. We must also resolve how to address difficulties in dealing with informal and intransient collection points. Those are where the dangers are most likely to lie but are the most difficult to regulate or legislate for.

All mutilation of animals will be banned with certain exemptions outlined in secondary legislation. That is the appropriate way to ensure that standards are set that reflect the most up-to-date good practice, informed by advancing scientific knowledge and understanding. It will be important to make the distinction between good and common practice.

On tail docking, we all gave the evidence careful consideration. We have explored the difficulties of limiting tail docking to dogs that will be used as working dogs. Evidence on the incidence of injury is not available. If the legislation eventually comes down on the side of a total ban on tail docking, I will be seeking assurances—should evidence of increasing injury to adult dogs emerge—that swift action will be taken to change the regulations. It is very difficult to prove a negative. We are assured by people with great experience of working dogs that not docking, or partially docking, tails will result in injury. How can that be proved when tails have already been docked? If we go down the route of a total ban on tail docking, we must be alert to any evidence that emerges and be ready to address it quickly.

I welcome the intention to increase the maximum penalties for cruelty to animals. It reflects the seriousness of such offences. I also welcome the inclusion of the recording of animal fights as an offence. As the minister said, the practice is abhorrent and also underpins a vast criminal enterprise and illegal betting with much money tied up in it. It is far more prevalent than most of us realise and is associated with other forms of criminal activity.

The introduction of care orders is a further welcome addition that reflects the positive and proactive ethos of the legislation. On the registration and licensing of animal sanctuaries, I do not believe that the size of a sanctuary is the best way to prioritise an inspection regime. Difficulties will most likely lie with smaller, informal sanctuaries that may have grown out of control, or because the person who started it has moved on.

Size is not the most appropriate filter in prioritising how we deal with animal sanctuaries.

The committee stage 1 report and this debate have highlighted some of the issues that need to be resolved. I concede that many of the points that Stewart Stevenson made would not have occurred to me. For example, I never thought that we would be considering aircraft registration in the debate.

This is a fundamentally good bill that will be further improved in its passage. It will do much to improve animal welfare in Scotland—sooner rather than later, I hope.

I support the general principles of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 11:10 am, 23rd February 2006

I declare an interest as a farmer and member of the National Farmers Union.

It is appropriate that this stage 1 debate occurs almost 10 years to the day since BSE hit Scottish and British agriculture. The date 20 March 1996 will be forever etched on my memory, when the catastrophic news was broken to the NFU at Ingliston and the full implications of the disaster became apparent. It was immediately evident that, despite the best advice and efforts of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee —the SEAC committee—and the Swan committee, no one saw the problem coming. Consequently, the Government had no plans in place because, until it was announced on 20 March 1996, the best scientific advice stated that there was no problem. Having no plans in place to deal with the threat to human or animal health and welfare was a nightmare. That is why the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill is to be welcomed.

It is essential that the lessons of the past 10 years are taken on board. In those 10 years, both human and bovine life has been tragically lost to E coli 0157:H7, foot-and-mouth disease has devastated the countryside and we are now on the cusp of an outbreak of avian flu. Without wanting to sound too downbeat, I know from bitter experience that in farming, where livestock are concerned, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. The need for contingency planning is paramount. I urge the minister to ask poultry producers to put their birds indoors before it becomes too late for some unfortunate flock.

As Ted Brocklebank said, the Conservatives welcome the bill's general principles. However, much clarification will be needed at stage 2. Although I do not envy the Environment and Rural Development Committee its job, I wish it well in making the bill's provisions as exact and as tight as possible for the subsequent avoidance of doubt. For example, as Alex Fergusson, Nora Radcliffe and Richard Lochhead said, supplementary slaughter powers must be defined on the face of the bill. I agree that, ultimately, such decisions must rest with the minister of the day, but the term "if they think fit", while perhaps intentionally loosely drafted, is not sufficient for those whose livestock and livelihoods depend on it. One does not expect a minister to be whimsical about such a situation, and I know that Ross Finnie would not be. However, the decision would need to be taken on the basis of best scientific advice. Consequently, in relation to such a life-and-death provision, that must be clearly stated on the face of the bill, especially since the bill also covers the mental welfare of animals. Given Sarah Boyack's apparent support for that position, it might be a point worth conceding, for a quiet life.

Alex Johnstone mentioned the provisions on vaccination, and Mark Ruskell endorsed them less than whole-heartedly. They need further thought. Guidance in that area will require constant upgrading.

I have already highlighted the need for contingency planning. I agree with the Environment and Rural Development Committee and the minister that the need for transparent and well-researched contingency plans has never been greater. The threat of importing foot-and-mouth disease from countries where it is endemic is both large and constant. The spread of bovine tuberculosis to Scotland is inevitable as Government in England fails to take appropriate action to halt its relentless spread north. That is why Scotland must plan to prevent its arrival.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Will the member concede that the pre and post-movement testing that was introduced in Scotland has gone a long way towards tackling the problems of the inadvertent movement of livestock caused by the failure to have similar measures south of the border?

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Of course I concede the point. I accept that the minister has genuine concerns about the issue and is doing his best to address it. However, I trust that he will concede my point that the disease is spreading northwards relentlessly.

Conflicting evidence on TSEs tells us only that the problem is still not fully understood, far less resolved. Until the nature of and solution to the problem is clearer, contingency planning is likely to be ineffective and, at best, inappropriate. We should remember how long it has taken us to understand BSE and to get to grips with its consequences—Alex Fergusson alluded to that.

Section 18 of the bill deals with mutilation. I welcome the practical approach of excluding farm animals when what are regarded as the codes of best practice are followed. Like Alex Fergusson, Mike Rumbles and John Farquhar Munro, I believe that that pragmatic, commonsense approach should also apply to working dogs. Although I understand why the minister has changed his position and even sympathise with him, I believe that his initial view was correct, because docking of working dogs is carried out only with the welfare of the animals in mind.

As Stewart Stevenson entertainingly noted, the provisions relating to selling of animals to children raise the interesting possibility of farmers' sons and daughters being able to own land but not the livestock on it until they are 16. They would be expected to tend that livestock, although they would not be able to own it.

I am certain that, as Ted Brocklebank noted, the concept of abandonment will give rise to much more heated discussion at stage 2.

I regret that the bill will abolish couping shoes for Clydesdale horses. I have spoken to people with a lifetime's experience of Clydesdales—farriers, owners and vets. The best veterinary advice in the country that I can access, which is at the highest level, indicates that the practice is cosmetic and is utterly harmless. Because Clydesdales are not performance animals, they do not move at speed and inflict no damage on themselves when they have couping shoes.

With the reservations that I have expressed, I welcome the bill. As the minister would expect, Ted Brocklebank will lodge constructive amendments at stage 2.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Rob Gibson to close for the Scottish National Party. He has nine or 10 minutes, if he can manage that.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 11:17 am, 23rd February 2006

As is stated in my register of interests, I am a member of the Scottish Crofting Foundation.

After the minister's opening speech, I was going to suggest flippantly that the bill is about corgis, that it is perhaps not about snails and that it is certainly about working dogs' tails. Many of the provisions in the bill attempt to deal with issues that were legislated on 100 years ago. I am glad that we are bringing the legislation up to date to make it fit for a modern and social democratic nation.

The Scottish National Party broadly supports the approach that the Government has taken to many of the arguments that have been led on the bill. The potential arrival of avian flu in Scotland is one of the most serious issues that Parliament will have to face. I spoke to John Scott—long before I was elected—in the days following the announcements about BSE, when I was the SNP spokesman on agricultural matters. Many people had theories about the multifactoral nature of the disease, which suggests that it takes time to establish what the problem is and to find solutions to it. Every rural development minister has to cope with that issue.

As the avian flu situation develops, we will ask the minister to address many different needs. The bill sets out opportunities for us to examine how we will deal with planning and pre-planning. I very much welcome the documents that have been circulated concerning "Scotland's Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease Contingency Plan". However, I am concerned that the effects on areas of the country in which migratory birds arrive, of which there are many—the coasts and firths near where people stay, as Maureen Macmillan mentioned—might be greater than on city populations that have less contact with wild birds. The contingency plan should take into account the needs of people who live in such areas.

During the current avian flu outbreak, we must take seriously our duty of care for wild birds. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Governments in south-east Asia have responded to some extent to the potential for wild bird culls, despite clear advice from the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health—the OIE—that control of the H5N1 virus by culling wild birds is not feasible and should not be attempted because it may accelerate the spread of the virus. I hope that the minister will take on board such views when he thinks about the contingency plan for Scotland.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I hope that the member found it helpful that, because our contingency planning tended to deal largely with exotic diseases, we published a revision towards the end of last year that dealt specifically with avian flu. As a Government, we have clarified that we accept the World Health Organisation's view that killing wild fowl would not be helpful and would not control the spread of the disease.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am glad to accept the minister's statement. It confirms that we are thinking carefully about the effects that the bill will have on different aspects of life.

In his opening speech, Richard Lochhead talked mainly about issues related to culls and so on. We think back to the foot-and-mouth epidemic and other experiences that members such as John Scott have had. Alex Johnstone mentioned brucellosis. There is no exact science—we develop science as we go along. However, it is important for members of the Environment and Rural Development Committee to have a clearer signal from the minister about how he will approach mass slaughter: members from all parties are seeking such definition.

The minister has said that he will, from the start of any fast-moving disease outbreak and on a continuing basis, keep Parliament informed of the actions that the Executive will take at key stages and decision-making times. That suggests that an effort will be made to tell Parliament what has happened, rather than to involve it in what might be done. If we are to have confidence in how the minister's machinery works and if the public are to support the powers that he seeks, which are very wide, a good deal of transparency will be required.

As members have said, attitudes to animal welfare have changed. The general population is a good deal more aware that working animals and farm animals, as well as wild animals and pets, deserve decent treatment in our country. For that reason, I must comment on the debate about the way in which veterinary opinion is formed. We cannot talk about vets' having a different attitude to animal welfare in rural situations from their general attitude, although of course many vets deal only with companion animals. We disagree totally with Ted Brocklebank and the Tories that the veterinary profession as a whole does not understand the issues relating to working dogs.

In order to define the situation, we have to take as much evidence as possible. I have notes from a vet who asked me before today's debate why owners of working cocker or springer spaniels feel that their dogs will receive tail injuries while working when other working dogs, such as Labradors, retrievers, setters and an even greater number of sheepdogs do not get tail injuries. Those breeds' tails are not docked.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I hear what Rob Gibson says, but he has to accept that different breeds of dogs work in different ways and have different thicknesses of tails, as was mentioned earlier. They simply have different working practices.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the member seeks an exemption only for springers.

The vet to whom I spoke said that in his 40 years as a vet, he has never yet had to deal with a tail injury in any working dog of an undocked breed. That vet deals with working animals and the countryside community as much as with companion animals. The committee has to be careful in dealing with such matters.

Another matter that is pertinent to the bill but which is not dealt with directly is people's duty of care for animals, including wild animals. We have had quite a lot of discussion about how wild animals are fenced out or in. When we speak about deer, much opinion suggests that the way fences are used alters the deer's state to make them wild or not wild. The ways in which deer can do damage to humans will be dealt with in another place, but the subject was raised in evidence during stage 1.

Many other matters have been raised by members throughout the debate. The SNP has considerable concerns about how licensing will be funded and we are concerned that provisions for financial matters in the bill might not add up.

There is another question about how the secondary legislation will be drawn up, as Sarah Boyack mentioned. It will be several years before the secondary legislation is introduced and the SNP is concerned about the resources in Government and the civil service to draw up such legislation for scrutiny in committee.

We will be interested to hear the minister's answers on major points such as those, although we support the general principles of the bill.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 11:28 am, 23rd February 2006

I am sorry for what has been described as a slow start, Presiding Officer—you will appreciate that I need to cover many points in my response.

We all agree that the general principles of the bill have attracted widespread support and I thank all members for what has been an informed and interesting debate. It is also right to acknowledge the substantial contributions that have been made by members of the public, who responded in large numbers to the consultations and to campaigns that were run subsequently by non-Government organisations and stakeholders throughout Scotland. The overwhelming reaction from all those channels—the committee, the public and stakeholders—has been positive, and the bill has had a warm welcome.

At this point, when we are debating the general principles, it is important to remember the broader context of the bill. In the animal health part, we are introducing legislation that acts on the lessons that have been learned from the Phillips inquiry into BSE, the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 and the subsequent inquiries.

The bill will provide us with the flexibility to respond quickly to exotic animal disease outbreaks and minimise their impacts on Scotland. It will also help us to take actions to reduce the risk that outbreaks will occur.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister will appreciate that avian flu and its threat to Scotland cropped up in the debate from time to time. Will she confirm to Parliament at what stage ministers would advise that poultry flocks in Scotland should be brought indoors?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The current risk is low and the situation will be re-examined were we to move into the high-risk category.

For animal welfare, we are fulfilling a partnership agreement commitment to introduce legislation within this session of Parliament. Part of the bill is about consolidating animal welfare legislation and providing a framework of legislation for the foreseeable future.

I will try my best in my allotted time to cover as many as possible of the points that have been raised by members. Several members spoke about extended slaughter powers. The new powers in schedule 3A are specifically for

"preventing the spread of disease".

The use of any powers under the bill must be reasonable and proportionate in order for it to be lawful.

In an animal disease emergency, all the relevant circumstances will be taken into account—including the advice of experts—before a decision to slaughter animals is taken. A key objective in our disease control strategy is to minimise the number of animals that need to be slaughtered. Any decision to use the extended slaughter powers in the bill would fall within the operation and procedural requirements of the relevant contingency plan. Such a decision would be on the basis of on-going advice, including veterinary advice, and discussion, including with stakeholders, about the specifics of the disease and the consequences of its continued spread. Proportionate action is likely to mean that fewer animals overall suffer or die from a disease outbreak.

I assure members that ministers cannot simply act on a whim without regard to available expertise.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I would like to continue. I am coming to several issues that Alex Johnstone raised in his speech.

Sarah Boyack and Mark Ruskell spoke about companion animals. The contingency plan makes it clear that local circumstances will be considered as part of the disease control response, but that that must be left to the judgment of the state veterinary service inspector.

Sarah Boyack and Rob Gibson spoke about regulations, which will be introduced as a priority to repeal provisions that require to be repealed. Priority will be given, for example, to the early introduction of regulations governing puppy imports. The aim is to have regulations in place within three years. I know that Christine Grahame feels strongly about puppy imports and has a long record of campaigning on the matter. Other members also mentioned the practice. Provisions in the bill will allow us to introduce secondary legislation that would be similar to Christine Grahame's proposed bill. I can tell Christine Grahame that the draft Scottish statutory instrument will be available before stage 2; it will be one of the first pieces of secondary legislation to be introduced.

The definition of animal was mentioned. Maureen Macmillan asked us to keep a sense of proportion and other members mentioned the potential concerns of fishermen. Irene Oldfather asked us to consider the evidence on invertebrates. The central focus of the bill is on the capacity of animals to experience pain.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I will make this point, if the member will allow me. Vertebrates are known to experience pain and suffering and most animal welfare legislation focuses on vertebrates. Evidence on invertebrates is conflicting and inconclusive.

I say to Irene Oldfather that we can—on the basis of scientific evidence becoming more conclusive than it is currently—expand the definition to include other species through secondary legislation.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

There is a problem with the definition. At least one animal genetics company in Scotland has offered semen and embryos as prizes at livestock shows and sales. Given that such products are not necessarily vertebrates but of vertebrate species, will that practice be rendered illegal by the bill? Will it be necessary for amendments to be made to the bill in order for that practice to continue after the bill has been passed?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I am grateful to Alex Johnstone for raising what is obviously a hugely important issue for him, and for allowing me to talk at greater length in my winding-up speech. I look forward to the member raising the matter again at stage 2, when I will be delighted to discuss it with him.

Members will know that we have announced tough new powers relating to illegal dog fights. The proposals will make it an offence to make, show or distribute films of animal fighting in the United Kingdom. Stewart Stevenson asked whether broadcasting of dog fights is illegal and was, of course, right to say that the matter is reserved. I know that he will be delighted that we are working closely with our colleagues in England, and that he will welcome the fact that DEFRA proposes to prohibit the broadcasting of animal fights throughout the UK.

On the docking of dogs' tails, we have listened to the evidence that was given to the committee during stage 1 and have been persuaded that there is no conclusive case for an exemption to allow docking of working dogs to continue. Ministers will be able to introduce exemptions through secondary legislation if, once a ban is in place, evidence shows that working dogs are experiencing more tail damage as a result of the ban on docking.

Several members have referred to the Swedish study, but it has been shown by the Swedish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs to be unscientific. The report was based on a small number of animals of one breed and no veterinary evidence was included. Furthermore, it was not a controlled study and it has not been peer reviewed. We simply cannot act on the basis of such evidence. I was rather appalled by Ted Brocklebank's assertion that vets do not understand the issue of tail docking.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

No, I would like to continue because I am running out of time. Mr Brocklebank might get another mention as I continue.

Maureen Macmillan, Stewart Stevenson and John Scott mentioned young people owning animals and the importance of that. Young people will be able to own animals and, indeed, it will be possible for them to register animals in their name, although an adult will of course be responsible for the animal's welfare.

We accept that some animal sanctuaries might not provide an appropriate level of care for animals, so we intend to regulate those establishments. We will legislate in that area as soon as is practical, but we will do so in a way that will exempt the smallest establishments. It is important that we act proportionately.

Irene Oldfather and others mentioned performing animals. We shall bring forward secondary legislation to deal with performing animals, including those in circuses.

John Scott asked about couping. There are no proposals to ban couping—full consultation would be needed if such a measure were to be introduced in secondary legislation.

On animal gatherings, any such gathering can pose a risk of disease, so our proposals to license gatherings will allow us to minimise the risk of disease spread through those gatherings. The primary focus will be on livestock and poultry gatherings and not on those that involve other species, such as horses and dogs.

The principles of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill are key components in giving us the necessary flexibility to respond quickly to outbreaks of animal disease and thereafter to minimise their impacts in Scotland. Several members have mentioned avian flu. Of course, the finding of H5N1 in France is of concern and we are monitoring the situation, but it is not inevitable that H5N1 will be found in Scotland. Also, evidence suggests that people who have become infected with avian influenza have been in close contact with infected poultry. The housing of birds is not, currently, a proportionate response, given the level of risk. However, it is important to state that we are keeping such a move under review and that any decision will take into account the potential welfare impact on the birds concerned. The best defences are surveillance and good bio-security in industry, including measures to minimise contact with wild birds when feeding and watering.

By putting improved animal welfare at its heart, this bill also meets the challenge of placing animal welfare legislation on a firm footing for the course of the 21st century. I commend the principles of the bill to Parliament.