Amendment to the Motion

Animal Welfare (Primate Licences) (England) Regulations 2023 - Motion to Approve – in the House of Lords am 4:49 pm ar 27 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Hayman of Ullock:

Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock

At end insert “but regrets that the draft Animal Welfare (Primate Licences) (England) Regulations 2023 seek to implement through secondary legislation proposals that were previously contained in primary legislation; notes that they do not ban keeping primates as pets, and that they lack a grandfather clause; and calls upon His Majesty’s Government to put in place policies that appropriately support the rehoming of surrendered primates.”

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this statutory instrument. We on these Benches have been consistently campaigning for a ban on the trading and keeping of primates as pets. The Minister outlined a number of reasons why this needs to happen. The RSPCA found that primates kept in domestic settings were often isolated, could be kept in cramped and inappropriate housing such as parrot cages, and were weaned much earlier than would be natural, causing behavioural problems later in life for infants separated from their mothers.

The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall has reported that every pet primate it has rescued came to the sanctuary with behavioural problems such as rocking, pacing, obsessive grooming and biting themselves. Many primates also present with metabolic bone disease and tooth problems linked to vitamin deficiencies caused by poor diet, lack of sunlight and being weaned too early.

At the end of last year, we were pleased to see that, following consultation, the Government announced that:

“Keeping primates as pets will be banned under new legislation … improving the welfare of thousands of animals”.

In response to that consultation, 98.7%—4,500 people—expressed support for a ban on the keeping, breeding, acquiring, gifting, selling or otherwise transferring of primates, apart from to persons licensed to keep primates to zoo-level standards. So it is a bit disappointing that the regulations do not ban the keeping of primates as pets, but instead introduce a licensing system for primate keepers. To draw proper attention to this fact, I have tabled my amendment to the Motion, as it is important that the Government are clear and honest about what the legislation actually does.

I shall lay out our concerns relating to these draft regulations, including a number of issues that could be dealt with via accompanying guidance to the regulations. But first, I thank the RSCPA, the Born Free Foundation and other animal welfare organisations for sending us helpful briefings.

Before I look at the SI in detail, can the Minister confirm in respect of the proposed licensing system that anyone with an animal welfare-related conviction will be excluded? It is important to have that clearly outlined.

There are clear concerns that the Government have backtracked on proposals to include grandfather rights in the regulations, which would enable those who currently own primates to keep them under the previous standards. What will happen in two years’ time to the thousands of primates currently being kept by private individuals who will not meet the licensing requirements, given that there are no provisions for these animals in the regulations?

As the Minister explained, and as the Explanatory Note on page 18 of the draft regulations makes clear, as of 6 April 2026, keepers of pet primates who do not have a licence

“will be committing an offence”.

There are very few specialist primate sanctuaries, and most are at capacity. This will create huge challenges for local authorities, animal welfare organisations and rescue centres, and could result in pressure to grant licences for primates held in insufficient or inappropriate conditions because there is simply nowhere for them to be rehomed, or in many primates being kept illegally and covertly, which could result in further health and welfare issues. I am aware the Minister talked about how his officials would be working with local authorities and zoos, for example, but it is really important that, when that work takes place, this is resolved before we reach the cut-off date in April 2026. We could also see that more primates are released or abandoned. The risks are not clearly identified in any impact assessment associated with the regulations. Perhaps I have missed it and this is something that the Minister could clarify.

Defra, in its December 2020 consultation document, proposed that

“given the absence of other alternatives, these primates may continue to stay where they are for the rest of their lives or until they can be rehomed, subject to an annual vet visit”.

Almost all respondents to the 2020 call for evidence who supported a ban stated that a grandfather policy would be needed; it is not clear why this provision has been removed. What is the reasoning behind this?

What will the Government do to ensure there is a framework for local authority enforcement officers, animal welfare organisations and primate sanctuaries to manage the implementation of the regulations? Will the Government commit to urgently putting plans in place to address this issue, including providing financial assistance to genuine sanctuaries and working with zoos to ensure the welfare of the thousands of primates that will need to be rehomed if the Government are to achieve their stated intention of restricting primate-keeping to those who meet “zoo-level standards”?

I turn to some of the specifics of the SI in front of us. As currently drafted, inspections could be carried out by people who do not have the required specialist knowledge and expertise in the welfare of primates or their requirements. There is no stipulation in the regulations of the need for veterinarians to have appropriate specialist qualifications or experience. In Part 1, Regulation 2, “General Interpretation”, an appropriate expert is defined as

“a veterinarian; or … any other person who … is suitably qualified” to provide that advice or guidance. Surely the Minister agrees that it is important that the guidance accompanying the regulations clearly specifies what constitutes a suitable qualification for vets or other individuals.

Animal welfare organisations have suggested that the following could be included in accompanying guidance. First, that a specialist vet must have a recognised professional qualification and experience relating to primates—I am aware that that may be challenging. I am not sure how many would actually have that qualification, but it needs to be looked at. Secondly, that a primate welfare specialist must have recognised qualifications and demonstrable experience in primate welfare, keeping and behaviour. Thirdly, any primate welfare specialist must have undergone specific training in how to conduct an inspection under the new standards. The final suggestion is that a registry of such experts should be retained by Defra, in order that they can be called upon to assist with any inspection when needed. Will the department consider those suggestions?

Could the Government clarify the definition in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 of

“any other individual who is suitably qualified to provide that advice or guidance”?

What is “any other individual”? We need to be clear on this when we are looking at animal welfare.

I turn to paragraphs 25 to 37 of Schedule 1. Guidance is needed to determine, for example, the “appropriate natural behaviours”, “appropriate social groups” and suitable “spatial dimensions” that achieve the zoo-level standards promised by the Government. It is really important that we have clear definitions and guidelines for enforcement officers within the guidance when it comes out.

Paragraphs 45 to 48 specify conditions for breeding. The RSPCA and others have made it clear that they are opposed to this, as they believe that the breeding of primates, even under high welfare conditions, would encourage their private keeping—which the SI is designed to prevent. Has Defra discussed these concerns with the RSPCA or other animal welfare organisations? If not, why not? If it was aware of these concerns, why has the department chosen to include breeding within the regulations?

Paragraphs 24, 39 and 42 allow pets to be removed from their enclosures, handled and transported so that they can be exhibited. The current inspection processes for the regulations do not include inspection of the conditions in which animals are kept and exhibited at events. These derogations seem to fly in the face of the Government’s previously stated intentions. Can the Minister explain why exhibiting has been included?

Finally, in Part 1, Regulations 4 and 5 seem to contradict each other as to whether the regulations extend to England and Wales or to England only. Perhaps the Minister can clear up this confusion.

We want to see a ban on the private keeping of primates. We will not oppose this SI, because we believe that, if it is properly enforced and sufficiently high standards are met, it should see a stop to the majority of private primate keeping. We hope that the regulations, when introduced, will be robustly enforced, that a clear road map will be laid out on how to ensure protection for those primates already kept as pets, and that there will be strong guidance to ensure that their implementation is smooth and they do what they are intended to do. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:00, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I declare my past and present connections with the RSPCA.

I welcome this SI, but I am sad that it does not go further. I should have liked to have seen a straight ban on the keeping of primates by private owners. If not, there then has to be a whole series of regulations, rules and guidance to try to ensure that standards are sufficiently high. You could cut all that out if you just said a straight no. That is not what we are faced with this afternoon, though I am grateful for small mercies.

I have been and remain very worried about the impact of unnatural conditions on the keeping of primates, which will continue for a couple of years. It is impossible for the bulk of private owners to provide the kind of natural setting which is suitable for these animals.

Even more importantly, they are social animals. They live naturally in groups. In many cases, owners have only one. To me, that is positively cruel. It is the equivalent of solitary confinement for a human being. We all know the impacts of solitary confinement on the psychology and health of people; I believe that it is equally bad for primates. That is a very real concern which I hope can be overcome by the regulations. But will they insist that people have groups of animals? I suspect not, so one of the difficulties will remain.

I do not want to go into detail on the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has already made. I have considerable sympathy with her criticisms. I too am extremely puzzled as to why the breeding of primates is allowed. For me, if flies in the face of what this SI supposedly wants to do. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why he thinks this is a good idea. Furthermore, I would have thought it will ensure that animals continue to be kept ad infinitum. It is a great puzzle to me.

I am equally puzzled by the point that exhibitions will be allowed. What exhibitions? That sounds more like a circus to me. What possible reason can there be to have animals in exhibitions? It is absolutely absurd. I am sorry to be so firm with my noble friend, but I do not like it and I do not approve.

Then there is the problem of enforcement. Rules and regulations are fine, providing they are adhered to strictly. Here we have an added problem. The instrument sets out all sorts of excellent arrangements as to the amount of space allowed and all these other details, but we do not have the guidance before us to indicate how this would be worked out in practice. It is a continual complaint of mine that, when people bring forth the principles of things, we do not get the details, which are absolutely essential. I worry about this considerably.

We then, of course, have the particular worry of the implementation—the interim period, if you like, when I think after 6 April 2026 people will either need to have a licence or be asked to give up their animals. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, already indicated that this could cause a real problem in practical terms. I too press my noble friend the Minister on exactly how the Government propose to deal with this. Will they, for example, set up special sanctuaries? I do not think there will be enough to do the trick, as at present. I should be happy to hear from my noble friend if I am wrong on that, but I suspect there will be a very real problem with implementation.

For that reason, I too would have preferred what is called a grandfather clause, whereby existing owners could keep the animals for the rest of their natural life. Those conditions may not be ideal, but we have to balance that against the possibility of what will happen in practice if they are all flooded on to the market at once, if I may put it that way, and whether their conditions would be any better. If my noble friend can assure me that that will not be so, then I will worry less about the absence of a grandfather clause.

I both welcome this and am disappointed by some aspects of it, particularly considering the absolutely remarkable ability, with modern technology, to see animals in their natural habitat through films and through sound. Why on earth would anyone wish to keep them in artificial conditions, which will be at best adequate and at worst appalling? I really would wish to go further, but as I say, I accept the SI for want of anything better.

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my interests as laid out in the register, particularly my role as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I apologise that I may well repeat many of the excellent points already made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Fookes, but they bear repetition. I hope the Minister will take them into account, answer them and perhaps address some of them in guidance.

I broadly welcome these regulations, which were a major feature of the kept animals Bill, which was, of course, withdrawn. As has been explained, they concern the keeping of primates by private individuals, but they do not ban such keeping; rather, they license it. As has been stated, primates have very complex welfare and social needs, which are likely to be very difficult to meet in a domestic environment. There has previously been non-statutory guidance, but this legislation strengthens the necessary safeguards for the welfare of kept primates.

In common with others, I regret that this legislation does not completely prohibit the private keeping of primates, but I presume that its ultimate objective is to phase out such a practice. Should that be the case, I have two specific reservations, which have already been referred to. The first concerns allowing the possibility of breeding, which seems totally contrary to an objective of phasing out the private keeping of primates as pets. There is an argument that breeding should not be allowed except in very rare circumstances where there may be a strong case for conservation.

Secondly, the regulations allow the potential for exhibiting primates, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, has drawn attention. This is likely to require special conditions for transporting and keeping them, in distant locations, different from their normal housing. It may be very difficult to provide suitable transport and accommodation, and this would seem totally unnecessary since we have licensed zoos for the purpose of exhibiting animals, including primates.

With regard to zoos, I notice that the licensing conditions described in the regulations do not meet the Government’s commitment that all private keepers should keep primates at zoo-level standards. Thus, it is important that the accompanying guidance, which will set out these rules in great detail, should be made available for comment as soon as possible. The regulations suggest that that will be in the spring. Well, spring is nearly sprung. I look forward to seeing that guidance and hope that it will take into account some of the points made in this debate.

I have a number of other concerns. One is around timings and dates. While a licence is required before April 2026, and microchipping is a requirement for getting a licence, in paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 there is reference to a deadline for microchipping a year later, in April 2027. It may be my misunderstanding, but could the Minister clarify what appears to be an anomalous situation?

A major concern about the regulations before us, reflected in the regret amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is that there is no grandfather clause. This is in contrast to suggestions that were made in the original government consultations in 2020 and 2023, which would have enabled current keepers to keep their primates until the end of the animals’ natural lives, under certain conditions, beyond the licensing date. Instead, the regulations provide a transitional period of two years for owners to comply.

According to government estimates, there may be as many as 5,000 primates in private homes in the UK. We have already heard that there are very limited facilities to house primates in this country, so a serious welfare problem may arise when the regulations come into force with a “hard stop” in April 2026.

I also note that the territorial extent does not include Scotland. Has there been any discussion with the Scottish Government about their introducing similar legislation to prevent the possible “dumping” of unwanted primates on to owners in Scotland, to avoid the enhanced welfare requirements that will come into force in England? There are some comparisons and parallels here with the current XL Bully problem that has arisen due to England and Scotland having different regulations.

Licensing and inspection are the remit of local authorities and are to be carried out by “suitably qualified persons”. This term is not defined in detail in the regulations but, in the debate in the other place on 31 January this year, Minister Spencer described what inspectors will be required to assess. Let us bear in mind that this requirement relates to primates, a very special group of highly evolved mammals. The inspectors will have to assess:

“provision of emergency arrangements, care and maintenance, nutrition and feeding, physical health, environmental behaviour, handling and restraint, and transport and breeding, as well as the conditions in which the animals are kept”.—[Delegated Legislation Committee, 31/1/24; col. 4.]">Official Report, Commons, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 31/1/24; col. 4.]

I submit that these assessments require considerably more training, experience and expertise than can be expected of normal trading standards officers, given the huge breadth of their responsibilities already. If His Majesty’s Government are to insist on suitably qualified persons other than vets, then these regulations highlight the urgent need, as APGAW recommended in a report on animal welfare enforcement in 2022, for a cadre of inspectors specially trained in animal welfare in local authorities. That would be an important complement to the laudable body of animal welfare legislation that His Majesty's Government have introduced in the last few years. It would ensure proper assessment and enforcement of this and other animal welfare legislation. Notwithstanding that, given the complex welfare and social needs of primates, I urge that the inspection of premises and facilities, and the monitoring of the care of primates, be conducted by veterinarians.

Elsewhere, it has been suggested that only specialist vets should be used—I note the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. That would be ideal, but it may not be proportionate or practical. I note that there are only four Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons specialists in mammalian wildlife medicine, but perhaps a list of available specialist expertise could be made available through Defra for local authorities and veterinarians in practice to consult.

Thus, while I welcome these regulations as an improvement on current welfare regulations with regard to the private keeping of primates, they stop short of what many would argue is an appropriate, reasonable and scientifically justifiable prohibition on the keeping of primates as pets. I support the regret amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 5:15, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I can see that this SI is well motivated—both from an animal welfare point of view and for the Government to deliver on a promise. The problem is that it does not deliver on that promise, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said—I enjoyed her speech and agree with her.

When we look more closely at this SI, we see that it is deeply weird. For example, I think a lot of people in England would not even know whether it was legal to own monkeys or other primates any more. We had an excellent briefing from nine animal welfare bodies, including the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, which gave us quite a lot of pointers to the gaps in the SI that need to be filled if we are going to take animal welfare seriously.

The Government say that they are fulfilling their manifesto promise, but all they have done is rebrand pet primates as zoo animals and the owners as “specialist private primate keepers”. These pet primates must be kept at zoo-level standards. I would imagine that most pet owners would be horrified at the concept of keeping their dogs and cats at zoo-level standards, but when we look at what zoo-level standards are, it begs the question of why all animals should not be kept in such conditions. The rules require a suitable diet, access to fresh water, hygienic standards, registration with a vet, monitoring for illness, being kept in suitable premises and structures, play space, appropriate levels of temperature, and animals to be kept in appropriate social groups—actually, that is going to be quite hard for most of our new specialist private primate keepers.

I can see only two things in the legislation that separate these zoo animals from well looked-after pets. The first is that you are not allowed to play with or handle them and, secondly, there is a lot of additional bureaucracy, which will be quite difficult to fulfil. Therefore, the Government have not actually banned keeping primates as pets; they have banned people from playing with their primates or pet monkeys and required them to pretend that they are zookeepers instead. That does not fulfil the manifesto promise, which is hugely disappointing. However, for want of anything better—although I will vote for the regret amendment, which, quite honestly, is the least that we can do—I can see that the measure is going to pass this House.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I want to take this opportunity to put a couple of questions to the Minister, as she was kind enough to invite us to do. I declare my interest that I am an associate of the British Veterinary Association. It did not issue a briefing, but I have looked at its website and it supports the original thrust of the consultation, which was for a ban. As recently as December last year, when it posted its position on its website, it was in favour of a ban. Why have the Government and the department moved away from a ban to licensing, as in the regulations today?

Is the Minister in a position to say exactly how many primates are kept as pets? The noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred to a figure of 5,000, but I do not know whether that is an authoritative figure or a guesstimate.

The thrust of the regulations looks very much at licensing becoming the responsibility of local authorities. I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said about the difficulty of identifying which professional would be best placed to make sure that the conditions in which the primate was to be kept were appropriate. The Minister will be as aware as I am of the severe constraints under which local authorities are operating at this time, so I wondered what the thinking was behind putting in place a licensing scheme rather than a ban—and it would be helpful to know the total number of primates that we are talking about.

Lastly, when I chaired the EFRA Committee in the other place, we took a lot of evidence on the import of illegal dogs, dog smuggling and boiler-room breeding of dogs. I wondered why we have before us a very worthy statutory instrument on animal welfare and keeping primates as pets, but we do not seem to have tackled those other issues, which are a source of great concern and anxiety to the British public, of illegal dog smuggling and boiler-room breeding, often in inappropriate sheds, in people’s homes.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, I want to follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, about the possibility of exportation to Scotland when the licensing scheme is set up, as it will be, in England. It is quite a serious issue, as we have seen with XL bully dogs. I wonder whether the Minister’s department has been in touch with the authorities in Scotland to draw their attention to what is going on so that they are fully aware and can make their own assessment of the risk.

Some primates are kept as pets in Scotland, and I happen to have met two of them on separate occasions when they were being taken for walks. It is not as if it is an entirely English practice; there are certainly some instances north of the border, although I do not know how many there are. It is important that the two jurisdictions work together on this system without the disparity that is apparently coming because the regulations apply only to England.

Photo of Lord de Clifford Lord de Clifford Crossbench

I declare my interest as working in the veterinary field, and obviously I am keen on animal welfare.

I too welcome the statutory instrument. It is a step forward for the improvement of primate welfare. If enforced, the new licence standards will discourage possible new owners from keeping these animals. A total ban on keeping primates as pets would be a far preferable outcome, but that is not what we are being offered today.

In my view, there are limitations on this, and I support the regret amendment. The time limit of two years is excessive. For an animal to be kept under those unacceptable conditions for that length of time is not particularly good, especially if an inspection has been done and someone has been given two years to implement that, as under Part 3, Regulation 15(2)(a) and (c).

In paragraph 21(a) of Schedule 1, there is no definition of the appropriate frequency for a routine veterinary inspection. A minimum of at least once a year should be included in that regulation, just to ensure good public health.

There is a regulation on nutrition and feeding, requiring a review of these routines, with inspections and changes, on a 12-monthly basis. I believe that these should be inspected by a veterinary surgeon as well.

The impact of this licensing will put pressure on the veterinary profession, which is currently short-staffed, with workforce issues. With many new regulations, do we have the resources to implement these welcome new high-welfare standards for all primates?

When this statutory instrument comes into force, there will be no grandfather rights, so there is going to be excessive pressure on rescue centres. There is no guidance in the regulations as to how the current owners of these primates, or people who have been denied licences, should deal with them. I welcome these changes to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but they do not go far enough. I support the regret amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:30, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her very thorough introduction to this regret amendment. I am grateful to her for the chance to debate the issue in more detail. I refer to my interests as set out in the register.

The Government carried out consultations in 2020, when there were 4,516 responses, with 98% of respondents expressing support. Further consultations were carried out from 20 June to 18 July 2023, when there were 643 responses, mainly from those involved in looking after primates, animal welfare charities, individuals who were known to already keep primates as pets and members of the public. On this occasion, 97% of respondents were in favour. The regulations will come into force on 6 April 2026. Given the high level of support from the consultations for these measures, why are the Government not implementing them sooner than April 2026? Is this due to the guidance not being published until the spring of 2024, to which local authorities, as the EM says,

“will be required to have due regard”?

I would like some clarification from the Minister, please. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, has referred to the lack of guidance.

The regulations are due to be administered by local authorities, which will inspect and grant licences, either by a veterinarian or by another suitably qualified and competent person. Nearly all Members have referred to this. Given that the Government do not really know just how many primates are being kept by private keepers, I am slightly alarmed at the impact on local authorities.

Paragraph 12.1 of the EM says that there will be

“no … impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies”.

However, it also says:

“There are between 1000 and 5000 primates being held as pets … and the majority of these are held by private keepers”.

For the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that information is in the Explanatory Memorandum. There is a world of difference between 1,000 and 5,000. This is a huge number of very sensitive animals potentially being held in inappropriate circumstances, with the Government not having even an approximation of how many there are, let alone a precise number. Does the Minister believe that there are sufficient veterinary and other professionals capable of dealing with the numbers and complexities of the licensing regimes being proposed? The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, have referred to this.

Primates currently comprise 502 extant species, which are grouped into 81 genera. These range from gorillas, orang-utangs, chimpanzees and baboons down to aye-ayes, loris and lemurs. Each is very different, requiring different treatment, diets and housing. The actual instrument gives extremely detailed restrictions and conditions on how primates are to be kept. This makes it obvious that the keeping of a primate by a private individual is difficult, if not impossible—quite rightly so.

Most primates are very social animals and need the company of others of their species. If not allowed to roam free in the countries of their origin, they should be kept in licensed zoos, whether private or open to the public. Only in these circumstances can we be sure that the stringent provisions of this SI will be enacted and that primates will be able to enjoy a life as close as possible to that which they would have enjoyed in the wild. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, has made reference to this.

The RSPCA is concerned that insufficient thought is being given to what will happen to the animals belonging to those primate keepers who do not receive a licence to continue to keep their pet. As has already been said, there are not innumerable spaces in animal welfare organisations or primate sanctuaries to manage the resulting flow of primates following the implementation of the SI. How are the Government going to ensure the welfare of these primates, which they have indicated should be kept in zoo-level standards?

I turn now to the issue of fees. Regulation 13 states that a local authority may

“(a) charge a fee in respect of any application relating to a primate licence under this Part; (b) charge a fee in respect of any inspection which it must or may arrange under this Part”.

This gives the impression that local authorities are free to set their own fees. That is good, but we could end up with dozens of different sets of fees up and down the country. There is also likely to be a different set of fees depending on the size and number of primates involved. While I welcome that local government itself will determine what the fee will be to cover its costs, some sort of yardstick would be useful. It is unlikely that local authorities will have veterinarians on their payroll, so they will have to buy in the services of the relevant qualified person both to inspect to grant the licence in the first place and to carry out routine inspections in the future to ensure that the terms of the licence are being adhered to. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to this. No one in this Chamber is under any illusion about the state of local government finance. With populations increasing and social care under pressure, to be asking local authorities to take on yet more duties without providing the finance to cover them is unacceptable.

The instrument also has a section on rectification notices, and allows two years for steps to be taken to comply with licence conditions. This is far too long for a primate to be kept in conditions that do not comply with the licence granted. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, has referred to this. This might relate to poor diet or lack of space or stimulation, or it might relate to public safety. Does the Minister agree that the time for compliance for the rectification notice should be much shorter than two years?

I fear that I do not agree with others about a grandfather clause and allowing animals to stay with their keepers until the end of their life. This is a long time to be living in great misery.

Finally—others have referred to this point—paragraph 39 of Schedule 1, dealing with restraint, states:

“No primate may be handled or restrained except … insofar as … it is necessary for the purposes of an exhibition activity.”

Paragraph 42 says:

“No primate may be transported unless … it is necessary for the purposes of an exhibition activity”.

This gives the impression that a primate may be transported for the purposes of performing in front of others, and the public. Can the Minister say what is meant by

“for the purposes of an exhibition” because, as written, it is extremely worrying? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, raised this, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.

I remain concerned that, unless these measures are implemented quickly, some primates will live in unsuitable conditions, without the company of their fellows, and be miserable as a result. Although it is not perfect, I support the general thrust of this SI.

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions to the debate. I have listened carefully to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in support of her amendment, and to other contributions in today’s debate, and I have been struck by our shared commitment to act to improve the welfare of privately kept primates. It is important that we do act.

We introduced this SI in response to a call for evidence and consultation exercises that confirmed the extensive mistreatment of privately kept primates. Some of this evidence was, frankly, horrible and highlighted primates being kept in poor conditions, in small enclosures or birdcages, and suffering from fractures or misshapen bones. It is absolutely right that the Government take action to address primate welfare in non-zoo settings.

It has been encouraging to note that the strong response to the consultation exercises has been to welcome the Government’s decision to put a licensing scheme in place for the keeping of primates to address their specialised needs. It has also been encouraging today to note support from across the House for our objective of improving primate welfare. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me the opportunity to state clearly the Government’s view. I recognise her and other noble Lords’ concerns and will seek to address them now.

The amendment suggests that the SI does not ban the keeping of primates as pets. I have explained in my opening remarks that that is essentially incorrect. The vast majority of animals kept as pets in this country do not need to comply with the kinds of licensing conditions contained in this SI. This is not semantics. Primates have particular welfare needs that cannot be met by keeping them as household pets, and this SI seeks to end that practice. Those currently keeping primates in birdcages and in other wholly inappropriate conditions will no longer be able to do so. Only those people keeping or wishing to keep primates who can demonstrate compliance with the licensing conditions and welfare standards to the satisfaction of enforcement authorities will be able to keep primates privately. These conditions are stringent and are the kinds of measures that would not apply to household pets.

The noble Baroness’s amendment also regrets the absence of a grandfather clause, as was raised by a number of other noble Lords, and advocates government policies to support rehoming. Given the evidence that we have about mistreatment of primates, the Government do not believe that continuing to allow private primate keepers to retain primates in poor conditions is the best thing for these animals. Future rehoming and surrender arrangements are very important concerns, of course, but the Government do not believe that the answer is to allow suffering animals to be kept as they are. Instead, this SI provides a two-year period before the requirements come into force to provide keepers time to comply with the requirements. Until we license, we will not know the scale of primate keeping, but I can assure the House that we will continue to work closely with rescue and rehoming charities to monitor the impact of the SI on rehoming activity, and to respond accordingly to evidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether we might consider keeping a register of primate specialists. I shall certainly take that suggestion back to the department. I can confirm that this legislation applies only to England. If you have a criminal conviction for animal welfare issues, you will not be eligible for a primate licence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and others asked about the licensing conditions that must be met. The primate licence will be issued only to those who can meet the welfare standards set out in the regulation. Those standards are akin to the standards that licensed zoos must meet and include requirements such as microchipping, local authority inspections and record-keeping. They also include minimum welfare requirements, such as emergency arrangements and requirements regarding care and maintenance, nutrition and feeding, physical health, environment, behaviour, handling and restraint, transport, and breeding.

A number of noble Lords raised the issue around breeding and asked why the Government are not cracking down on private keepers breeding primates. This legislation will ensure that only those who can keep primates to appropriate welfare standards are able to do so. When a keeper chooses to breed primates, the keeper will need to meet the welfare standards set out in Schedule 1 to the SI on breeding. Through the standards, breeding activities will be controlled and subject to veterinary oversight.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and one or two other noble Lords raised the issue of allowing licensed keepers to take primates out on exhibitions. A keeper of a primate may take primates out for exhibition only if the keeper has a licence under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 permitting this activity. Such a licence will require the keeper to adhere to the welfare standards set out in the regulations in relation to exhibition activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, raised the question of the devolved Administrations, Scotland in particular. I can confirm that the department works very closely with the devolved Administrations but, as noble Lords probably know, this is a devolved matter. The comparison was drawn with XL Bullies, and it was a good comparison. In that example, we did quite a lot of consultation with the devolved Administrations, and Scotland chose a different route from ours. We tried to advance the argument of exactly what might happen, and that argument was refuted—but it all came to pass, as I think noble Lords are aware.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about primates being social creatures. This SI says that primates must be kept in social groups, and this will be detailed in the guidance that will be available shortly.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady McIntosh, and one or two others, asked how the regulations will be enforced. As with most existing animal welfare legislation, local authorities will be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new legislation. We will also be issuing guidance to local authorities on the exercise of their function under this legislation. This will cover issues such as interpreting licence standards, appointing inspectors, conducting inspections, and so on.

With that, I hope that I have answered your Lordships’ questions and that all noble Lords share my conviction regarding the need for this instrument. As is clear from the debate, animals matter to all in this House, as they do to the British people. This instrument is a step forward and a promise kept by a Government with animal welfare close to their heart.

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench 5:45, 27 Chwefror 2024

Is the Minister confident that suitably qualified persons can appropriately inspect and monitor the enforcement of these regulations for primates?

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The noble Lord asks a very good question. One reason for the two-year lead-in is to give us time to assess the qualifications that are needed and put the appropriate training in place to ensure that we can fulfil that obligation.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his careful and considered response to the many questions and issues raised during the debate. Particular concerns were expressed about breeding and exhibiting. I listened to the noble Lord’s explanation, but I still do not understand why people would need to breed or exhibit. The key thing that came through from the debate, for me, was that noble Lords support a complete ban rather than the licensing that has come through. The consultation responses supported a total ban, the Government appeared to support a complete ban, and as I say, all noble Lords who spoke in this debate supported a total ban, so I still do not understand why that is not what the Government brought forward, as it was what we were all expecting. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.