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Dr. Palmer: I admire the hon. Gentleman's consistency on the matter, but does he not agree, whichever side of the hunting debate we were on, that there is a lot of unhappiness about the grey areas and the attempts to get round that legislation? We should be deciding: are we to allow docking or not? The attempts at a fudge somewhere in between are unhelpful.

Mr. Atkinson: The point I am getting at is that it becomes difficult to legislate precisely for all those issues. This one will be the same. I have explained to the House a simple get-out clause for someone who has a dog that has been illegally docked, and they are entitled to have it.

Let me make it clear that I am not an advocate of cosmetic docking— I have no particular liking for it—but the campaign should be directed once again at the breed societies and the show organisers, because if they take a stance against docking it will quickly die out without the requirement for an Act of Parliament.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): My hon. Friend has hit on a point there. I have changed my mind, having listened to the debate. I was going to support the new clause, but I am now minded not to, because a better approach would be to allow the status quo but introduce a measure focusing on showing dogs. That would drive down the demand for cosmetic docking. It would be much more effective and would avoid some problems with exemptions—for example, those raised by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer).

Mr. Atkinson: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that legislation is needed, but I believe that show organisers and breed societies should think about the practice of tail docking, knowing how unpopular it is with many people.

David Taylor : Could not breeding societies be encouraged to breed dogs with the aim of producing shorter tails? There is a good deal of evidence that that is possible, and it would deal with some of the problems in the medium term.

Mr. Atkinson: I am no expert on the breeding of dogs, but if that is possible, it would certainly present a solution.

Members have asked how it can be established whether a dog will become a working dog. The answer is that that cannot be established, but many people own working breeds such as spaniels which, even if they are not used for shooting or similar pursuits, may nevertheless injure their tails. Even if it is kept purely as a pet, a spaniel with a full tail is in danger of rushing into undergrowth and damaging its tail. It is illogical to
 
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suggest that one spaniel should have its tail docked because at some stage it may be used in field sports and another should not because it is simply a pet. The same applies to terriers, which may not be working dogs but may choose to run off and go down rabbit holes. It is when a terrier with a curly tail tries to back its way out of a rabbit hole that an injury may occur. The dog will often become stuck. The only way in which to get a terrier out of a hole may be to pull its tail—not its legs, which will break. That is one reason why terriers' tails are traditionally shortened.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The House has discussed various types of working dog today, including hounds used in hunting. The most prolific working dog is undoubtedly the border collie used by shepherds. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why those two breeds do not have their tails docked?

Hon. Members : They do not go down holes.

Mr. Atkinson: As my hon. Friends are saying, border collies do not tend to go down holes, and foxhounds are not in the habit of going into thick cover. That is what spaniels and terriers do.

We are in danger of producing another complicated piece of animal legislation which will be difficult to enforce, will be widely abused, and will bring the House into disrepute.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Atkinson: I am about to end my speech, but I will give way.

Mr. Soames: One of the depressing aspects of legislation of this kind is the House's inability to listen to the views of people outside who really know what they are talking about. Is that not a compelling reason to oppose the new clause, especially in the context of terriers?

Mr. Atkinson: I entirely agree. It is dangerous to be blinkered when faced with these issues, but when it comes to animals some Members are utterly blinkered. They see no reason and no scope for a compromise. As I have said, that leads to bad legislation—and ultimately, if the law is treated as an ass, the House will be brought into disrepute.

Mr. Martyn Jones : Originally, I was open-minded. I generally support shooting and field sports. Three or four weeks ago, when I first looked at the proposals, I thought that I would vote for the exemption for working dogs. However, I have the honour of being a member of the council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a Privy Council appointee. I hasten to add that I am a lay member.

I am vice-chairman of the college's external affairs committee. When, about three weeks ago, the Bill came before the committee, all the vets opposed tail docking. That influenced my thinking. The vets were minded to put their views to the next meeting of the full council on 2 March, less than two weeks ago. I encouraged them to
 
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do so, because I felt that, as the ruling body of veterinary surgeons, the college should have a view on tail docking but that the matter should be put to the full council. It did, and as the chairman was absent I put to the council—without leading its members in any way—that the House would need guidance from a body such as the college. I was amazed when not one vet spoke in favour of tail docking. They all opposed it, and produced cogent reasons for their opposition. That persuaded me to vote for a full ban, which I shall do tonight.

Day in, day out, those vets on the council see dogs whose tails have been docked, and they know that they have not done the docking. Any exemption, whatever the wording in which it is couched, will muddy the legal waters and cause problems. The council's decision is now the policy of the college: its policy is not to allow tail docking. Unless we support it by voting for a ban, it will not be able to implement that policy.

I think that the Association of Chief Police Officers was misled. I think that it believes therapeutic docking following tail damage will be stopped. If that is not the case, why have not all its dogs' tails been docked? That would be legal.

Shona McIsaac: Is my hon. Friend aware that most of the dogs used by the police are gifted to them? Their tails may have been docked at an earlier stage.

Mr. Jones: That is a point, but the fact remains that most of the dogs' tails have not been docked to avoid damage. By definition, the police are using dogs whose tails have not been docked. Occasionally some are damaged, but that happens to all dogs with tails. Vets treat them as damaged dogs, and continue to practise therapeutic docking. What they do not want to practise is prophylactic docking on the off chance that a dog might be working.

Mr. Paice : Given my own view, I am rather sorry that the hon. Gentleman has reached this conclusion. He asked why the police did not automatically dock dogs' tails if they are in favour of that. There are two answers. First, the vast majority of police dogs do not engage in activity that makes damage likely. Secondly, a letter from Assistant Chief Constable Vaughan to DEFRA points out that nothing can be done about mature dogs that have been given to the police, and also states:

Does that not clarify the position?

Mr. Jones: Not at all. I still cannot see the logic. That is the opinion of a particular police officer who has seen tail damage. I think he believes that the Bill will not allow therapeutic docking. Why else would he reach such a conclusion?

Mr. Bradshaw: I have engaged in two lengthy conversations with Assistant Chief Constable Vaughan. He is under no illusion that the new clause would ban therapeutic docking; he is talking about prophylactic docking. [Interruption.]
 
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Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) asks from a sedentary position why they do not use less vulnerable breeds. Why is this seen as evidence in favour of the exemption when, at the moment, those breeds are not used, for the very reasonable reason that it is not allowed or that those concerned get them too late to be docked? It is simply not an argument for the exemption that they are not using the exemption now.


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