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Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): Are not the two issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions interlinked? Is not it likely that the Government want to do all the soundings necessary to effect codes of practice and regulations before they introduce a clause that relies on them? Is not that a sensible way of proceeding?
Norman Baker: Yes. I have tremendous respect for the hon. and learned Lady's legal background, having served on the Human Rights Committee with her, but I stress that the arrangement is open-ended and there is no guarantee that anything will be introduced. There is no provision for returning matters to the House if no action has been taken. We need the flexibility that the hon. and learned Lady rightly identifies and some sort of guarantee, which simply does not exist at the moment.
Several matters are missing from the Bill, but perhaps Ministers will tell us that they will be introduced subsequently. I make it clear that I shall not table an amendment on hare coursing or anything else that is missing from the measureit will have to stay missing as far as I am concerned.
However, we need clarity about pet fairs. The analysis of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper), who is a close parliamentary neighbour, is correct and the position is unclear. Many of us believe that the Pet Animals Act 1951 bans pet fairs, yet they go on all the time. It appears that they will be licensed or registered and allowed to continue, contrary to the 1951 Act. That is legal nonsense and needs to be cleared up. I shall introduce a new clause on pet fairs to try to achieve a ban. I am not confident that the Government will accept itthe Under-Secretary shakes his head without having seen it, which is to prejudge the matter. Never mind, I hope that it will give the Government the opportunity at least to issue a statement to clarify the position.
The Government's intentions on other issues, with which hon. Members are familiar, such as electric shock collars and circuses, need clarification. The Secretary of State mentioned game birds in her opening speech. When they are in cages, it is unclear whether they are classified for the purposes of legislation as farm animals, to which agricultural provisions apply, protected animals, to which the Bill applies, or something in between. Clarity is important if we expect various authorities to take action to protect their welfare. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary commented on that in his winding-up speech.
The draft Bill has been watered down in a number of respects and I am not sure about the reason for that. We need to understand the Government's thinking rather than simply abandoning provisions that many of us believed were useful. For example, clause 7 covers
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fighting. It appears satisfactory and I hope that no one would object to its content. However, in the draft Bill, the provision contained much more, which has been removed. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary explained the reason for that in his winding-up speech.
In the draft Bill, for example, the equivalent of clause 7 made it an offence to use photographic and recording equipment at a fight, but that provision has now been removed. Presumably, therefore, under the new arrangements people will be able to film these disgusting activities and escape a penalty. We need to be told why that provision has been removed, but it was not mentioned in the Secretary of State's introductory speech.
Mr. Drew: May I give the hon. Gentleman another example of a provision that has been watered down? It concerns giving pets as prizes. I know that an age limit has been proposed, but some of us find it repugnant that animals can be used as prizes at all, and I hope that the Government will reconsider this issue and go back to the provision in the draft Bill.
Norman Baker: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and, at risk of sounding repetitive, I shall table an amendment to ascertain whether the Governmentor, indeed, the Conservativesintend to support such a measure.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Is not there a contradiction involved in proposing all these amendments and new clauses? This is, after all, an enabling Bill, and if we put down too many amendments there is a risk that we shall debate the specifics without focusing on the mechanisms of the secondary legislation necessary for us to scrutinise the workings of the Bill properly.
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman appears to be disagreeing with his Front-Bench team, because the argument for more clarity was put forward very eloquently by the hon. Member for East Surrey. I am reasonably happy with the generality of the Bill; the Government have, by and large, got the general provisions about right. However, it is not clear whether there will be the necessary follow-through, and unless we have some guarantees on that, the Bill will not be worth the paper that it is written on. That is why we need further clarification from the Government.
: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned certain controversial issues that he wants to address by tabling amendments or new clauses in Committee or on Report. Surely, a more constructive and coherent approach would be to find a mechanism whereby the House can scrutinise the secondary legislation. We have been told that there will be consultation on that. Fine, but the legislation will then come back under the existing procedures of the House. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) rightly pointed out that the Statutory Instruments Committee was not an adequate forum to provide such scrutiny. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is minded to scrutinise many of these issues, but would the hon.
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Gentleman's party support finding an imaginative waynot just through an Adjournment debate or a Select Committeefor the House to make decisions on some of those issues? Would not that be the healthiest way of getting them aired, dealt with and decided?
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but it is theoretical because we have heard no such proposal from the Government. If the Government wish to be imaginative in dealing with secondary legislation, I would be happy to listen to their proposals, but, so far, we have not heard any. We have heard that the Bill will be subject to the normal legislative arrangements, and that we are to use a failing system of scrutiny via secondary legislation to deal with important aspects of it, namely all the provisions that are not included in the general proposals set out in the Bill before us today. If there is a better way of doing that, let us hear it from the Government, because so far we have heard nothing from them.
I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for East Surrey about the inadequacy of statutory instruments. I have raised with the Leader of the House and others the fact that statutory instruments cannot be amended, for example. We either accept them or reject them. The Government bring in their troops, who are told to support the statutory instrument, and even if one of their number points out a fault, they are placed under tremendous pressure to approve it. That is not a good system, and we need to improve it.
On licensing and registration, I am worried that the Government are proposing to allow the registration of certain activities, rather than licensing them. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion raised that point earlier in connection with pet fairs. I remember when the district council in Lewes stopped registering roadside fast-food tradershot dog stallsbecause it could not control them; it could only register them. It found that the stalls were putting up signs saying "Lewes district council registered", as though some kind of mark of approval had been given. It can be counterproductive to register an activity. In the context of a duty of care and of animal welfare, we should consider licensing in most cases, rather than registration. I am not sure that the idea of registration is worth pursuing at all.
We should certainly consider licensing for animal sanctuaries. Some very well-meaning people, who have run what they call sanctuaries, have actually collected large numbers of animals in their house and been unable to look after them properly. Consequently, animal welfare has suffered. We need to deal with that problem and stop describing such places as animal sanctuaries.
I greatly welcome the Bill, which contains some very good provisions, but we need to make sure that its proposals can be followed through. My colleagues and I will seek to do so in Committee and on Report.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab):
First, as the current chair of the associate parliamentary group on animal welfare, I want to pay tribute to Tony Banks, who was a leading member of the group. Only the day before we broke for the Christmas recess, I had a meeting with him in which he outlined his daring proposals to put a ban on Canadian products in order
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to stop the horrendous slaughter of seal pups. He is a great loss to us all, and I am sure that he would have made a very interesting speech today.
Unfortunately, I will probably make quite a boring speech. As other Members have said, the reality is that this Bill is the most important piece of animal legislation since Lloyd George was Prime Minister. I support the fact that it is an enabling Bill, as it is the only way forward. Members should cast their minds back to the time of the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963I happened to be a safety officer at the timewhich were horrendous. The then Government said that they had to be got rid of, as they could not be adjusted and were out of datethey referred to things in the 19th centuryand brought forward the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which has served us well ever since. I take the point of the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) that the Bill provides the opportunity for a Government not to bring forward secondary legislation, but I think that he would agree that the animal welfare lobby in the House is such that any Government or Minister who tried to hide behind that would get a very rough ride. I am sure that our Ministers are not considering doing so.
While I support the Bill in general, I have one or two reservations about it. I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) with regard to animal sanctuaries. I must declare an interest as I am a patron of two animal sanctuaries in north Cumbria. One is the Wetheral animal refuge, set up many decades ago by the well-known figure Alfred Brisco to provide a rest home for pit ponies, with the unfortunate slogan, "even pit ponies deserve a fair crack at the whip". It is an excellent facility, is very professionally run and has provided a service in rehousing pets for many years. I am proud to be a patron of it. A much smaller sanctuary, Stonehouse, in Moorhouse in my constituency, is run by an amazing lady called Elizabeth McDonagh and many friends. It is a small sanctuary, known to the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who spent a pleasant afternoon there last year when visiting my constituency, and it takes discarded animals, whether farm animals, old greyhounds or ferretsthere are plenty of ferrets. It is very well run.
There have been some horrendous cases, however, of peopleI do not think that they are bad peoplewho have been overwhelmed by the demand to rehouse animals. They have reached the point at which they cannot cope, and there have been cases of cruelty. There is an argument about licensing and registration, and I think that we can probably get away with registrationthe advantage of an enabling Bill is that if we are wrong, we can change it. The duty of welfare care will apply to sanctuaries as it will to anywhere else. We should therefore give it a try. There could be a difficulty whereby bureaucracy puts good sanctuaries out of business, but the matter must be considered.
The second issue that I want to raise is the tethering of animals. We have all received briefings, and I am grateful to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for its briefings on many subjects, including tethering. Sadly, I witnessed an instance of it some years ago when returning from a rugby match in Yorkshire. A terrified horse was tethered at the
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roadside, probably because it was shy of traffic and the owner had decided that that was the way to cure it. Juggernauts were going past all the time. I stopped the car and telephoned the police and the RSPCA. I was told "You are right, and we have received a number of complaints, but the law does not allow us to do anything, because the law is not being broken." I hope that the Minister will ensure that the code of practice includes rules on the tethering of animals, especially horses, near roads.
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