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"(ix) The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I declare an interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance and as a member of many years standing of the RSPCA.

During the Committee stage of the Bill, the noble Viscount brought forward amendments to establish an authority within the Bill comprised of a number of representatives from different organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, supported those amendments. Indeed, they were supported on all sides of your Lordships' House.

The purpose of the amendment is simply to add the RSPCA to the list of organisations placed on the face of the Bill which would nominate members to make up the authority. They would not be obliged to nominate members, but they would have the power to do so.

During the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, agreed to consider the inclusion of other organisations as members of the authority, as laid out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. In his response at that time, the Minister—I am sorry that he is not in his place but it is very nice to see the noble Baroness there instead—commented that,

that is, the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe—

    "does not give the impression of a balanced authority".—[Official Report, 10/10/03; col. 551.]

I believe he was concerned that the list included insufficient representatives of animal welfare, although I do not believe that he noticed—not on purpose but by accident—that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is one of those bodies. I believe that most people would accept that that organisation has a certain amount of interest in animal welfare. The purpose of the amendment is to correct the situation.

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I ask noble Lords to throw back their minds a little to when the 1996 Act, which this Bill amends, came into force. That Act brought about a working together of the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and what was then the British Field Sports Society. I was involved in putting together that Bill. It started as a Private Member's Bill in another place. It had two provisions that the RSPCA was not happy with: one was the exceptions for various activities; and the other was a rather strange list of offences. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, before us today, corrects both those errors and produces a Bill that is pretty much as the RSPCA had originally drafted and presented the Bill to the House of Commons a few years ago. I therefore hope that this Bill will be supported as it goes forward.

At the time of the earlier Bill the RSPCA said that it strongly urged that wild mammals should receive a far greater degree of protection under the law. That is precisely what the Bill now before the House does. In giving evidence in 2002 on the Animal Health Bill, the RSPCA said:

    "a specific offence of cruelty should remain, but should be worded without a restrictive list of particular activities which may date over time".

This Bill achieves exactly that. Therefore I am sad that the RSPCA has not supported the Bill, but this amendment would allow it the opportunity to become part of an effort that would genuinely improve the welfare of all wild mammals across the board rather than discriminating against one or two activities that may result in increased suffering. I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Mancroft. He has taken on board the points that the Minister made in Committee. I hope that the RSPCA will welcome being on the face of the Bill as a member of the authority. After all, the establishment of the authority would raise the standards for animal welfare across the board. Furthermore, I believe that supporters of and donors to the RSPCA would be genuinely mystified if it were not to approach these issues constructively. The RSPCA mission statement reads:

    "The RSPCA as a charity will, by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of animals".

As my noble friend pointed out, the RSPCA's policies on animal welfare strongly urge that wild animals receive a far greater degree of protection under the law. Therefore, it would be curious if the amendment is not welcomed by the RSPCA.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I support the amendment and I agree with what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in summing up in Committee. It is clear that the authority will be more representative with the name of the RSPCA added to it. I should declare an interest in that I am an associate of the British Veterinary Association. I believe that the Minister was right when he said that animal welfare

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organisations should be included and this is a direct response. I draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 1(c) of the schedule which states:

    "up to two further members appointed by the Authority".

That might encourage other animal welfare bodies to apply for membership. The list would be much better balanced by the inclusion of the RSPCA and that would be in line with the Minister's comments at the end of the Committee stage of the Bill.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I agree with all that has been said on both Benches opposite. The amendment is in response to a comment by the Minister and, as is clear, we are keen to meet comments and suggestions from all sides. I hope that the RSPCA agrees with the amendment. Members of the RSPCA would be absolutely bewildered if it declined. I am happy to accept the amendment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I declare an interest as an associate member of the British Veterinary Association and as a member of the Countryside Alliance, which I forgot to do on the previous occasion.

When we debated which organisations should sit on the authority it was suggested that the list was perhaps not as balanced as it might be. The list includes organisations that are directly involved or that allow hunting to continue over their land. The first two named within the code are the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. It is important that they were included.

I believe that the amendment moved by my noble friend is a good addition. I hope that the RSPCA will accept this invitation to participate. It would be very strange if it did not because, as other noble Lords have already quoted, its mission statement declares that this is why it is in being. Additionally, it is important to state that this gives protection to all wild mammals and not just to some species that have been considered previously. I hope that with the inclusion of those three bodies the Government will feel that the authority, as it will be composed in the future, will perhaps be slightly more balanced than the Minister suggested it now is.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we welcome the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to address a concern that was raised by my noble friend Lord Whitty. The addition of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is highly respected in the area of animal welfare, to the membership of the authority goes some way towards establishing a suitably balanced and credible body. I note the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, of the possibility of additional members being appointed.

As with the earlier amendment we believe that the change fails to go far enough to satisfy our concerns. Even with the addition of the RSPCA the authority remains unbalanced in its representation. I remind

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noble Lords that the management and protection of mammals is not simply a rural issue. It is my understanding, following a statement made by the RSPCA, that it is unaware of and has not been involved in the preparation of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. The society is on record as not supporting the Bill. The RSPCA's position on the Bill has been one of opposition in part because the Bill would create untried concepts, structures and powers.

Simplification of the law is to be welcomed in principle in relation to the main offence, but not at the price of discarding many years of established legal precedent. I understand that to be the stated view of the RSPCA. That remains the Government's position. I remind noble Lords that I speak in the context of the Government's general position as expressed in the past on this Bill.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the virtually universal support that I have received. After the debates that we have had in your Lordships' House in the past few weeks in respect of other legislation relating to wild animals, it is refreshing to see that when people get together around a table they can take major steps forward in agreement. I hope that other people listening and watching will see what can be achieved when people get together.

I am immensely grateful for the Minister's comments. Like other noble Lords, I am very sad about the attitude of the RSPCA. I was aware of the statement that it has made. The society objects because the Bill appears to enshrine in it codes of good practice in quite a distant way—through the authority—and yet it seemed happy for that to happen in other legislation it supported. I believe that its response is slightly illogical. We shall have to live with that.

This is a major step forward. This is the first time we have had this type of animal welfare legislation. The RSPCA is the leading animal welfare organisation probably in the world. Although I may disagree with some of the politics of its council, I shall be second to no one in my support for the work done by its inspectors and professional staff. Their leadership in this area and their example is to be welcomed. I hope that they will play their part in this matter—I am sure they will—despite any rather silly politics that may go on in the background.

I wonder what the thousands of people who give money to the society and who support it will think. This is the first piece of major wild animal welfare legislation to come on to the statute book. It is agreed on all sides of this House. Yet the powers that be at the largest animal welfare society cannot put their feelings behind them and join in with this major step forward.

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have supported me.

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