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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: This may be a convenient moment to break. In moving that the House do now resume, I suggest that the Committee stage does not begin again before 8.49 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Cruelty to Animals

7.49 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will inquire into the incidence of cruelty to animals; and, if so, whether they will publish their conclusions.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, statistics very often spoil debate, but if I am to justify this debate I think I should begin by presenting the House with some entirely relevant statistics. Many organisations are concerned with animal welfare and fighting cruelty to other creatures but the predominant one is the RSPCA. The figures which I shall use come from that organisation.

In 1998 the RSPCA received 1,558,000 calls--one every 20 seconds. That was 94,000 calls more than it received in 1997. There had been a similar increase in previous years. Last year the RSPCA investigated 124,374 cases. It collected 143,000 animals. Both of those figures represent substantial increases on previous years. The RSPCA does take people to court, but it does so very much as a last resort. It gives help, it gives advice, it gives warnings and it writes to people before it brings proceedings.

In 1998 there were 853 cases--a small proportion of the ones it considered--which brought 3,114 charges of which people were convicted. That was an increase of 2,650 on 1997. The RSPCA cannot be regarded as a trigger-happy society. Seventy-three people were given prison sentences, but many of those were suspended. In

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many cases the courts could have banned people from keeping animals for a certain period or banned people from keeping them for life, but they have failed to do so. In some cases they banned people for relatively short periods. On many occasions, that infuriated those who had worked in those cases, which very often were extremely horrid ones.

In one case in Yorkshire a horse was removed from a lady's possession. The horse was in an appalling state. The RSPCA helped in its recovery at a cost of many thousands of pounds. When the case went to court the horse was given back to the lady even though she was found guilty of neglect. Nine weeks later the horse had been neglected just as much and it was then taken away from her. She was fined £100. Sometimes the courts send entirely inappropriate signals.

The question of seeking relevant sanctions, which would encourage those involved at the sharp end, is important. However, I wish to refer to a number of other cases. Not long ago I returned home from your Lordships' House and saw a television programme which featured a woman who had purchased a boa constrictor. The boa constrictor was taken back to a small home to join the woman and her terrier. The film showed the terrier and the boa constrictor. The terrier did not seem to be particularly impressed by the new arrival--not surprisingly because it ate it. It might have been better if it had eaten the larger animal in that small home. Quite frankly, it is ridiculous that people should be allowed to buy exotic pets. If they were wild animals in the first place, the death rate following the trauma of capture and transportation is very high. That means that the final number entering the pet trade is very low. Many live extremely short lives because they are not suited to living in domestic circumstances in a northern temperate climate.

Very recently our local RSPCA inspector had to rescue a large iguana from a small house in Sheffield. By the time he arrived there the iguana was in such terrible state that it did not recover. It is possible to buy such animals, which grow to five feet. In some pet shops one can buy rock pythons, which can grow to 16 feet. That really is absurd. If these people want to be cruel, they can join those who are cruel to dogs, because they are the animals that most often suffer cruelty in Britain today.

I am not suggesting that the Government should start to bring forward detailed regulations--it is not fashionable to call for regulations--but I do believe that the pet trade should have a code of conduct so that it does not use hard sell to persuade people to buy creatures which are utterly unsuitable for their environment.

Some regulations are necessary. It must be 15 years since I initiated a debate in the House of Commons calling on the then government to ban the importation of pit bull terriers. I had seen evidence that they were being brought in for the purpose of dog fighting or to be the minders or bodyguards of criminals. The Government refused to ban their importation. That was one of the most stupid refusals of modern times. The pit bulls came in, dog fighting soared and all kinds of

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horrible things happened. The government then brought in the Dangerous Dogs Act--I spoke in the debates on the Bill--which was not well thought through. Then began the campaign. If a dog was thought to look like a pit bull terrier, it was hawked off to kennels and in some cases, after two or three years, it was released because it was then agreed that it was not a pit bull terrier. But the fact remains that it cost the British taxpayer a great deal of money and helped to bring about more extensive dog fighting in Britain. Dog fighting is extensive and it is rather better organised and more furtive today. In fact, there was a dog fight in Yorkshire only last week.

However, we now face another threat. I have put down a Question on Thursday. I hope that I shall receive a more sensible Answer than the one I received in regard to pit bull terriers. I am asking the Government to ban the import of American bulldogs. I believe that to be absolutely urgent. Those dogs are being brought in now. The sales promotion includes a video which shows the American bulldog fighting and killing a five hundredweight wild boar. They are big animals--much bigger than the pit bull, which varies in size--and can reach a weight of about 100 pounds. It is an agile and powerful dog and it is being bought for dog fighting and to protect criminals. No wonder the police forces of this country are most unhappy about the prospect of their officers having to visit a criminal's home and finding themselves being savaged by this type of dog. In North America recently, one of them attacked three mounted policemen. It injured the three mounted policemen and almost killed one of the horses.

They are not being brought in as family pets. They are being brought in for dog fighting and for criminal purposes. In order that they remain on form as fighting dogs and maintain their aggressive and vicious approach, small dogs, cats and other creatures are stolen and fed to them. The problem should not be looked on lightly. If action is not taken, policemen's lives, and probably many other lives, will be put at risk. These are killing machines. I hope that I shall get a sensible Answer on Thursday.

That is not the only problem we have to consider. I hope that we can use our good offices in Europe to make sure that the horrendous scenes at the Moslem festival outside Paris, which are repeated every year and have sickened British journalists, do not continue. Sheep are slaughtered in the most barbarous way despite the fact that our neighbours have signed up to the same regulations in regard to the slaughter of animals as we have.

The law is being ignored. It is being ignored with regard to dog fighting, cock fighting and badger digging. It is being ignored with regard to deer. Twenty years ago I was involved in seeking to protect deer. The law was improved. However, it is being utterly ignored and there is now an established illegal retail trade in venison which is based on that disdain for the law.

I shall finish with this one point. A little time ago I asked the previous government whether Britain was prepared to reconsider its attitude to the Council of Europe's pets convention. When that convention was

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presented, the British Government said that we did not need to sign it as our law was better than that proposed. But the law is being ignored. The rate of increase in the incidence of animal abuse and cruelty has been enormous since we refused to sign.

The Government then said that they would review their position regarding the convention by the end of this decade. The present Government should certainly reconsider the matter by the end of the decade. The convention should be signed. There is the capacity to derogate, to opt out from parts of the convention. Some of the member states have done so. We need to see, not necessarily vast, sweeping new regulation, but more urgency to ensure that the law is enforced and to persuade the British people that the present levels of cruelty to animals are obscene.

8 p.m.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, for raising this timely Question. Like him, I am deeply saddened by the latest RSPCA cruelty figures. Being a co-vice-president of the RSPCA, I should like to speak from the society's point of view. Some of my points have already been addressed by the noble Lord and I shall do my best to be brief.

It must be extremely worrying for the farming community that the increase in cruelty to sheep, cattle and pigs is up by three, four and five times respectively. The cruelty here is mainly that of neglect and starvation, often to the point of death. Many noble Lords have spoken in agricultural debates over the past year, calling attention to the plight of hill farmers since the collapse of meat market prices. I referred to those problems from an animal welfare point of view in a debate on the Queen's Speech dealing with agriculture. However, that hardly excuses the farmer from Sussex, celebrating a wedding on his farm while 50 sheep were lying dead in his field and the remaining 40 were suffering from severe neglect and starvation. That farmer claimed to RSPCA inspectors that he regularly checked his livestock. I find that hard to believe. If he did, he clearly did not feed them.

Although the farmer was charged and fined £800, he was not banned from having custody of animals. To my way of thinking, he should have been. It would seem that many cases brought to court by the RSPCA could have resulted in a ban, but did not. A great deal of effort goes into collecting evidence to bring an offender to court, but all too often it results in a lenient sentence.

Before I come to the subject of companion animals, I wish to mention briefly the increasing problem of exotic pets, which are usually sold in pet shops. They attract a great deal of attention and the desire to buy is very strong. The new owner will often take away an exotic animal with only the barest knowledge of how to look after it. Of course, as with every other living thing, the exotic will grow, and will outgrow the space allotted to it. We have all read about alligators and large lizards being kept in the bath. Panic sets in, responsibility flies out the window, and the once interesting and unusual

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pet is abandoned. The RSPCA or other organisations will be called in to deal with the problem. The animals that rescued are the lucky ones.

I do not want to give the impression that all owners are irresponsible--they are not--but I believe, like the noble Lord, that these creatures are not suitable to be kept in homes. After all, they are from warmer climates, living naturally in a totally different environment.

It is a great tragedy that the figures for cruelty to dogs and cats are still increasing. All animal welfare organisations publish literature, aimed at the old and young alike, showing people how to look after their animals. There are open days at all rescue centres, when youngsters are invited to come into contact with all kinds of domestic animals. These are educational visits. Inspectors and staff are on hand to talk to the children about responsible pet ownership. They are often asked what it is like to work in such an environment. Given the tender loving care meted out to all the occupants which had originally arrived in such a sorry state, the young visitors could be forgiven for wondering just why so many animals are abandoned in the first place.

The RSPCA produces over 200 publications as part of a drive to educate and inform people about animal welfare. They range from companion animal care to farming practices and even animal research, which is based on the three Rs--reduction, replacement and refinement. There are also fact sheets and wall charts for children, and educational material for use in schools. All that is free. There are even resource packs for nursery school teachers, so that they can introduce animal welfare to very young children. I, like thousands of other members, receive the RSPCA's magazine, Animal Life, which helps me to keep up to date with welfare concerns. However, one of the problems facing teachers is the increasing pressure from the Government to improve levels of literacy and numeracy as well as to bring about a greater level of knowledge in both science and information technology. Balancing all those aspects is difficult and can lead to neglect of education in the wider sense, and particularly issues of morality such as animal welfare.

So why, with all this information available, are we faced with increasing cruelty figures? Too many cases of cruelty are caused through ignorance, which, given the concentration on education, should not be the case. Clearly, the message is not getting through to the adult population. As a society we seem to look for blame elsewhere when things go wrong. We take out our frustrations and aggression on those less able to defend themselves, and more often than not on the animals for which we are supposed to care.

Self-respect is paramount for all of us. Without it, how on earth can we have respect for other forms of life? Self-respect and responsibility must go hand in hand if we are to tackle the problem of cruelty. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has issued a good set of proposals. One of its aims is to produce "civilised citizens" by ensuring that pupils know their rights and--I underline this point--their responsibilities as adults. Those aims should be extended to the world of animal welfare. Her Majesty's Government have a role to play in this area.

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8.7 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath for introducing this Question. It is very important that we examine cruelty in all forms. I have always been extremely concerned about cruelty towards human beings, particularly children. One of the badges that I wear is the green badge which indicates that I have signed up as a sponsor for the NSPCC campaign. But I believe that we should equally be concerned about cruelty to animals. It is certainly a matter that we should tackle. This short debate provides an opportunity to bring home to the Government some of the difficulties that are being experienced.

Reference has been made to the RSPCA and the national figures. I believe that the incidence of telephone calls reporting cruelty has risen by 11 per cent. In the north-west the rise is 33 1/3 . As I come from the north-west, that increase is of great concern to me.

Perhaps I may set out some of the instances that have been discovered. There was a case of seven dogs--two dogs and five bitches--which had been abandoned. The two dogs were so aggressive that they had to be put down. One of the cross-breeds, a sheltie, had a gaping wound; one of its toes had to be amputated. Another was in such a poor state that it was sick if anyone went near it. All were very thin and in very poor condition. Four have now found homes and are on the way to recovery.

There was another case of six greyhound puppies which had been left in an outdoor kennel. They had been abandoned. In the vet's opinion they had not been fed for many weeks. Three of them were dead and the other three kept alive by eating the siblings. They were in very poor condition. The RSPCA said it was too late for three of them, but fortunately the other three were found good homes.

Then there was the case of Smoky the cat. It was blind in one eye. When the vet examined it he found that the cat had a tumour in its throat which prevented it from breathing. The cat was in very poor condition. Attention should have been sought from the vet weeks before. To prevent any further suffering the animal was put down.

Another case involved a dog. It was in such a bad condition because of a flea allergy that it had lost almost all its fur. It should have been taken to the vet weeks before. Even though the owner was taken to court the excuse was that the owner had tried to treat the dog, but he could not afford to take the animal to the vet. Even though the owner was taken to court, it had not relieved the animal's suffering. Fortunately the animal was saved. As has been said, it is only in extreme cases that the RSPCA goes to court. It tries to educate and inform people about the care of pets. In many cases it is very difficult to do so.

The most important thing I want to say is that in many cases the owner is known. It is possible to trace the owner and deal with the matter in one way or another which includes either education or taking the animal away. In other instances, the owner is taken to court.

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Nevertheless, one of the difficulties frequently faced by the RSPCA, particularly with domestic pets, is tracing the owner.

One way round that would be if animals had a microchip inserted which would mean that the owner could not be divorced from the pet and could be traced. It is absolutely necessary that when animals are abandoned in the ways I have described that people offending in these ways should be brought to book. But, as I say, the RSPCA finds it extremely difficult to do so.

As regards microchips it would help tremendously if more pets had microchips inserted. That applies particularly to dogs and cats. I realise that I have often been in the same position as my noble friend is in tonight. Can my noble friend say whether or not the Government would be prepared to undertake a campaign to make people aware that pets should be microchipped? There are ways in which owners can be helped to meet the costs when a microchip is inserted. If that were to happen, not only would people be brought to book, but it would make for more responsible pet owners.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome this debate. Last week I visited Kew Gardens with the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. It is in his nature to care about the flora and fauna of this country. He has made legislative efforts to do so, and taken other action in that respect. Therefore, I am not in the least surprised that he instigated this particular debate.

We are an animal-loving nation and rightly so. There is always a public outcry and massive press publicity when incidents of cruelty to animals are exposed. We can all testify to our concern. I believe that most of us would never allow incidents of inhuman treatment to animals.

But behind this exterior image, there is serious concern about animal cruelty. The RSPCA figures given by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, are of serious concern. The noble Lord spoke about the perpetrators who cannot be traced. Last year's RSPCA figures for animal cruelty increased by an alarming 17.5 per cent. We must congratulate the RSPCA on the way in which it has highlighted this particular issue, which is a blot on our decent values.

I shall resist the temptation to talk about circus animals and the most recent cases concerning cruelty to a chimpanzee and elephants. My credentials for taking part in this debate is that I was born in Tanzania and the wild parks were my back garden. I came to love nature and all who populate this earth. In fact, even now, when I hear the first cuckoo of the season, I wake my wife in the middle of the night and say, "Can you hear it?". I even wrote to The Times some years ago saying that I had heard the first cuckoo of the season, but it was not in the least bit interested. I was told that it had discontinued printing such letters years ago.

I feel ashamed when I come across cases involving the ill-treatment of animals. I watched with utter amazement the public support when the export of live

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animals to the Continent was exposed. Ordinary men and women protested most vociferously about the way in which animals were exported from this country.

Let us look at some of the facts. I am grateful to a number of animal welfare organisations which have supplied me with important information. I am particularly indebted to Dr. Richard Ryder who is an animal welfare academic and who has campaigned for many years for the welfare of animals in this country.

We are talking about five major categories. One category comprises farm animals. It is estimated that 750 million farm animals are slaughtered annually in this country and the number of live exports is increasing. Wild animals form another category. It is estimated that there are approximately 285 million wild animals in the United Kingdom. Of laboratory animals, there were 2.6 million licensed procedures on animals in the United Kingdom in 1997. In the domestic animals category, it is estimated that there are about 12 million dogs and cats in the United Kingdom. Finally, an unknown quantity of animals in entertainment are used in, or are affected by, sport, zoos, circuses, films and television.

The incidence of cruelty covers breaches of the current law. Some forms of cruelty may still be legal, such as in intensive agriculture; European Union slaughterhouses; the destruction of wild life habitats; sports, licensed research and so forth. Animal abuse today is becoming increasingly international. I refer, for example, to trade; the use of animals by transnational corporations; the effects of international treaties and the jurisdiction of international bodies such as the international Standards Organisation, and particularly the World Trade Organisation.

The difficulties of enforcement are considerable, both in and particularly outside the European Union. Yet animals are exported by the thousand for food, research and breeding. What enforcement procedures are in place? How effective are they? For example, United Kingdom animals end up in the sometimes appalling abattoirs of North Africa, Greece and Spain. In the United Kingdom, many government departments now deal with animal welfare. How do the Government apportion the workload across Whitehall? How do they apportion the work between the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, MAFF and other organisations? Why is there no independent co-ordinating body? When the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was Prime Minister he promised an animal welfare council. What steps are the Government taking to establish such a commission? A ministerial group is simply not an answer. There should be better access to the public, which is intensely interested. Non-governmental organisations should be established on a regular basis. Is the Home Office being territorial on this particular issue? Is any quality auditing planned with regard to the Government's role in animal welfare? Where are we going? Are we still keeping the issue at arm's length or giving serious consideration to those changes that are necessary?

Over 700,000 live lambs and sheep were exported from the UK in 1998, representing a 58 per cent increase on 1997. Approximately 20 million are slaughtered in

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the United Kingdom annually. Some travel for well over 40 hours without food, water or rest. The public had assumed that the live trade had stopped, but they are beginning to realise that that is not the case. Are the Government prepared to deal with another public outcry on this issue, particularly in view of the fact that calf exports in continental veal crates have recommenced?

In 1998, 180,000 sows were exported. These animals are particularly vulnerable to travel sickness. Why not just stop live exports? They are not necessary, take jobs from UK abattoirs and cause great suffering to animals. Meat should be exported on the hook, not on the hoof.

Scientific research conducted by the University of Bristol shows that calves are not well adapted to cope with stress and many die within a few weeks. European Union enforcement is an utter sham. Those who transport livestock are allowed to police themselves. What steps are being taken to improve the enforcement of existing EU regulations, for example in southern European states? Sheep reared in peaceful English fields are being transported in all weathers across the Alps to end their lives in Italian or Greek slaughterhouses. In Spain in the early 1990s, Compassion in World Farming filmed sheep being slaughtered without pre-stunning and some being killed with a screwdriver.

Hens in battery cages are another example. All of us can speak of other examples. What is being done about the fattening of pigs? There are 15 million of them in the UK and their conditions often fall well below the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. What have the Government done to reduce the overcrowding of broiler hens?

The Wild Mammals Protection Act now affords some protection to wildlife in the UK, but what steps have the Government taken to ensure that it is now being enforced? The great exception is hunting for sport. When will the Government introduce legislation to stop the chasing and killing of hares, deer and foxes for fun? Much damage is done to farmland and much public disorder is created by hunts. Over 70 per cent of the public want these sports to be outlawed. Are the Government proceeding with the questionably valid killing of badgers on the unproven assumption that they spread bovine TB? Are they being killed humanely? Will the Government outlaw the use of cruel poisons to kill wildlife such as moles?

Perhaps I may put the following questions to the Minister. I do not expect him to answer all of them at this stage, but if he reads Hansard and sends me a detailed reply, I shall be very grateful. Will the Government scrap the cruel quarantine system for pets? What steps are being taken to monitor the use of animals in the film and television industries? Government emphasis on the treatment of animals is still disproportionately low in comparison with the high level of public interest. Does any particular Minister deal exclusively with this issue? How often does the Cabinet, or even a Cabinet committee, debate these issues? What steps are being taken to enforce the excellent new animal protection protocol to the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam? How will animal welfare be dealt with in Scotland and Wales in the future? That is an issue about which we must ask questions.

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Are there any plans to update the basic Protection of Animals Act 1911? That measure was introduced 89 years ago and now is a good time for us to look at it again to see what provision is necessary. I believe that the test of any civilised nation is the way it treats its animals and wildlife. It is right and proper that in the name of a good, decent nation we should express our concern about what is happening to animals in this country.

8.24 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, for initiating this debate. I do not speak with the noble Lord's very great knowledge of this subject. However, one thing convinces me of the necessity, even the urgency, of requesting Her Majesty's Government to address the disturbing increase in cases of cruelty to domestic animals and pets to which the noble Lord has referred. I believe that there has been an increase since last year of 17.5 per cent.

To be fair, the rise in the number of convictions can be attributed in part to increased whistle-blowing as a result of what are called docu-soaps such as "Animal Hospital", "Animal Police" and "Wildlife Police". That is to be wholly welcomed because it creates greater knowledge among the public of what cruelty involves, but sadly this does not mask the figures supplied by the RSPCA and other reputable organisations showing a drastic increase in cruelty.

I am aware of the difficulties faced by the courts in handing down stiffer sentences for these offences. However, I endorse the disquiet of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, at the number of instances where a five-year ban is imposed in such dreadful cases that the only reasonable sentence is a lifetime ban and, where it hurts most, a substantial fine and award of costs.

Several noble Lords have recounted harrowing cases of cruelty. The slogan "A dog is not just for Christmas" is one with which we are all familiar. In many cases the neglect that follows the first Christmas present to a child of a pet is the least serious and most understandable; there is no deliberate cruelty, but as always it is the responsibility of the parents to set an example and teach the child the rudiments of pet care.

We move on to the subject of unsuitable pets to which several noble Lords have referred. One can quote the happier story of the iguana found in a Somerset field surrounded by a flock of sheep happily grazing. The animal was given a rather nice name by the RSPCA--Sylvester--but, on a more serious note, it is one example of the devotion and skill which the RSPCA brings to nursing these animals back to health.

From there we move on to the wanton cases of cruelty which are absolutely sickening. A particularly disturbing series of mutilations last year where headless and limbless pets were returned to the owner's doorstep led to suspicions of Satanism. The RSPCA has chronicled many of these cases and makes the point that in many, although sadly not all, such cases microchip implants can at least ensure that the owner is traced. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, has raised this point. The cost of this

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kind of technology falls each year and if adopted would constitute a kind of de facto licensing that would go a long way towards addressing the problems that we are debating tonight. I am pleased to say that a start has been made with about 7 per cent of dogs and 9 per cent of cats being fitted. However, there must be sanctions; otherwise, it is tantamount to asking a burglar to give his name to the police station when he goes out on a job. We shall watch with interest progress on the institution of dog passports of which the microchip will be an integral part.

I should like to refer briefly to the question of animal sanctuaries. There are a number of admirably run institutions such as Battersea Dogs Home and the homes run by the RSPCA, but there is the familiar story of entrepreneurs (if such they can be called) coming in for the quick turn and setting up quite unsuitable establishments, often run by totally unsuitable proprietors. These people know how to play on the sentimental feelings of the public towards stray animals. Often there is non-existent working capital with which to provide decent standards of accommodation and care. Several scandalous cases have been widely reported involving lack of proper care, sadly often accompanied by cruelty and abuse. I would support a system of licensing of such homes, possibly through the agency of the many reputable animal welfare organisations that we are fortunate enough to have in this country.

I turn briefly to the disturbing subject of animal fighting so graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. The cruelty is self-evident but the association with organised crime is disturbing. I heartily support the noble Lord's deep concern that this should be addressed promptly. We await with interest the Minister's reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, on American bull terriers on Thursday.

Animal experiments is an emotive issue. I remind your Lordships that during the UK presidency of the Council of Ministers in 1992, the previous government successfully introduced a directive to ban animal experiments in connection with the manufacture of cosmetics from 1st January 1998. I congratulate the present Government on putting that measure into effect. Not for the first time, several other member governments are dragging their heels. I remind the Minister that the present Government while in opposition promised a Royal Commission on animal testing for medical purposes. We look forward to news of its inception.

One abuse of which we are only too well aware is the practice of puppy farming. I am pleased to note that we shall shortly be receiving in this House the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Bill that was successfully piloted through another place by my honourable friend Mr. James Clappison, which it is hoped will put an end to such abuses. The Bill will stamp out unlicensed breeders who are breaking the law; ensure that high welfare standards are in operation at all licensed breeding establishments; require vets to be involved in the inspection of all breeding establishments to assess

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the welfare of the animals; and make it easier for local authorities to take action against cruel or illegal breeders by amending the law.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 was an admirable measure in its day. A glance at the schedule to that Act gives an idea of the progress that was made in cleaning up legislation. Statutes were repealed such as the Knackers Act 1786, Cruelty to Animals Act 1854 and Wild Animals in Captivity Protection Act 1900. That legislation has worked remarkably well and most prosecutions are brought under it, but the 1911 Act was enacted during the age of the horse and it is in need of revision. There is a great opportunity for the Government to incorporate provisions to address the many problems and abuses regarding cruelty, particularly to pets and domestic animals, that have been the subject of this debate. If the Government can find time to bring that basically sound Act up to date, we shall study their proposals with interest.

This country has always prided itself on its care and concern for animals. The abuses of wanton cruelty to pets out of ignorance or worse, rogue animal sanctuaries, and organised animal fighting and baiting are blots on British civilisation that need to be addressed with great urgency. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, for bringing this topic to the attention of the House and look forward to the Minister's reply.

8.32 p.m.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, for initiating today's debate and drawing attention to the problem of animal cruelty. A substantial body of legislation protects the welfare of animals, and the Government are committed to high animal welfare standards.

The Government have made substantial progress with a number of welfare issues since the general election and intend to make further progress. We are sympathetic to the aims of the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Bill, which seeks to crack down on unscrupulous breeders in so-called puppy farms, improve the welfare of dogs and puppies bred at those establishments, and protect the public from being sold unhealthy puppies. That Bill will come before your Lordships shortly.

The Government initiated the treaty protocol on animal welfare that will ensure that European Union policies take account of animal welfare. It means also that animals are recognised as sentient beings--not merely commodities to be traded. It provides a basis on which we can seek real improvements to EU farm animal welfare standards. The Government have also successfully concluded EU negotiations on a directive that sets minimum standards across Europe as to the general welfare, inspection, housing and feeding of all animals bred or kept for farming purposes.

Pet ownership can of course bring pleasure and companionship and encourage the development of a sense of responsibility towards the care and welfare of animals in general. Unfortunately, some owners abuse their animals' trust--for example, by keeping them in appalling conditions. There are laws to deal with that totally unacceptable behaviour and each year many

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people are caught and convicted for acts of cruelty. That is an area in which everyone has a part to play and increased public vigilance is important. Any person who is concerned that an animal is being cruelly treated should report the matter to the police or to an animal welfare organisation such as the Royal Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals. I applaud the fine work done by RSPCA inspectors in animal welfare, often in difficult circumstances.

Recent RSPCA publicity illustrates some of the worst examples of cruelty and abandonment encountered by inspectors. Many noble Lords raised their concerns tonight. There can be no excuse for such behaviour in this day and age. I am pleased that there is a growing tendency for other people to report such incidents for investigation and action. The Government believe that there is no inadequacy in general law for dealing with reported cruelty and abuse but we nevertheless welcome opportunities for debates such as this.

The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, questioned the sentences passed by courts. The Government's responsibility extends to the provision of an adequate framework within which the courts may act. Within the maximum laid down by Parliament, it is for the courts alone to determine the appropriate sentence in a particular case, taking account of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

The Government and the police are aware of concerns about the threat posed by the American bulldog. We are concerned about any potential threat to public safety from any dog. Home Office officials have attended meetings with the police and others to discuss concerns about the American bulldog. The Government are keeping the situation regarding that type of dog under review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, made a point about farm animals legislation. All livestock on farms is protected by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, which makes it an offence to allow unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress. More detailed requirements are laid down in the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994 and subordinate legislation. That is supported by welfare codes that encourage good husbandry, and failure to follow their recommendations can be used in evidence in court to support a welfare prosecution. As to the incidence of poor animal welfare on farms, during 1998 the State Veterinary Service undertook more than 6,000 inspections to check welfare standards on farms. Most were found to be satisfactory but 704 inspections--about 11 per cent--found cases of unnecessary pain and unnecessary distress.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, raised the issue of cats and dogs. I endorse the approach of the RSPCA, compliment it on its approach to educational activities, and commend it to schools. The RSPCA is doing admirable work in that area.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, raised the issue of microchipping. To some extent he may be aware that Ministers and officials from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have been meeting chief executives of the RSPCA and the Kennel Club, and representatives of other animal welfare

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organisations, to hear their views on the permanent identification of dogs. As a result of those meetings, the interested dog welfare organisations intend to form a working group on dog identification. The terms of reference and membership have yet to be agreed formally. However, we would expect the group to consider all issues surrounding permanent identification and registration of dogs. I understand that the first meeting will be chaired by Mr. Alan Meale and is expected to take place shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue of export of livestock for slaughter, and a number of other points. He kindly suggested that I may respond to those later. With the leave of the House I shall be happy to do so. The noble Lord raised the issue of departmental responsibility for animal welfare, split between government departments. The Government welcome the establishment of the Companion Animal Welfare Council and look forward to seeking and receiving its advice. The Government have been exploring the establishment of a ministerial group on animal welfare. This is being taken forward by the Home Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred to animal sanctuaries. By definition animal sanctuaries are rescue centres and are run by people dedicated to the well-being and care of animals. Sadly, there are occasions when that is not so in practice, and, although such incidents are rare, the Government will keep the matter firmly under review.

I am mindful that there are a few points which I have not covered, or have skirted over. I shall read Hansard carefully and will respond to those noble Lords who raised issues to which I have not responded specifically today.

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