Clause 51 - Commencement

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 18 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendments made: 59, in clause 51, page 32, line 29, at end insert—

“(A1) Part 1 comes into force—

(a) in relation to England, on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint;

(b) in relation to Wales, on such day as the Welsh Ministers may by regulations appoint.”

This amendment, which is consequential on the amendments of Part 1 that result in that Part applying to Wales, confers on the Welsh Ministers the power to commence Part 1 in relation to Wales.

Amendment 60, in clause 51, page 32, line 30, leave out “Parts 1 and 2 come” and insert “Part 2 comes”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 59.

Amendment 61, in clause 51, page 32, line 35, leave out “, 48 and 49” and insert “and 48”.—(Victoria Prentis.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 55.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I beg to move amendment 62, in clause 51, page 32, line 36, at end insert—

“() section (Animal Welfare Act 2006: minor amendments) comes into force on such day as the appropriate national authority may by regulations appoint;”

This amendment provides for the new clause containing minor amendments of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to be commenced by regulations.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 68.

Government new clause 1—Animal Welfare Act 2006: minor amendments.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The amendments and the new clause ensure that the time limits for prosecuting offences set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 also apply to regulations that are made under the Act. Doubt was thrown on this position by a recent administrative court decision. It is important that we make the changes proposed, to enable prosecutors long enough to gather detailed evidence in animal welfare cases.

Amendment 62 agreed to.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:00, 18 Tachwedd 2021

I beg to move amendment 85, in clause 51, page 32, line 36, at end insert—

“() sections (Taking of dog without lawful authority etc) and (Power to extend section (Taking of dog without lawful authority etc)) come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint;”

This amendment provides for NC5 and NC6 to be commenced by regulations.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 86.

Government new clause 5—Taking of dog without lawful authority etc.

Government new clause 6—Power to extend section (Taking of dog without lawful authority etc).

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The theft of a pet is devastating. We all know that pet sales increased during the pandemic, as we were all at home and felt that we would like to share our homes with various furry friends. As a consequence, the price of puppies and kittens rose, which is thought to have triggered a rise in the abhorrent crime of pet theft. In May this year, the Government launched the pet theft taskforce. It was asked to gather evidence and make representations, and I thank its members for their speedy work—they produced a report in September. I also thank my right hon. and learned Friend Robert Buckland for chairing the taskforce and for his continued interest in this area.

In brief, the taskforce found that there is a growing feeling among the public that the current laws do not sufficiently recognise the difference between pets and inanimate objects. The taskforce therefore recommended the creation of a new offence of pet abduction, which acknowledges that pets form bonds with their owners and that their welfare can be adversely affected when they are removed from their primary carer. To start with, the new offence will apply to dogs—that is a recommendation from the taskforce. The reason is that seven of 10 animal thefts are thefts of dogs, and most of the evidence on the effect on animals is concentrated on dogs at the moment. However—you have heard me talk about cattism before, Mr Davies—we need to continue to gather evidence on other species, so we are taking a power to extend the offence to other common pet species in the future. The new offence has penalties that mirror those in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Well, here is a surprise: pet theft through the back door. We have been calling for it for ages, and we are absolutely supportive of it, but what a way to do it on such a significant issue. The amendment was tabled on Friday, after the evidence session, and there is no Library briefing. Of course, the amendment, as drafted, is not actually about pet theft; it is about dog theft. It may reasonably be asked why it does not apply to cats. I understand the additional power. The Minister denied cattism the other day, but I feel that the charge will continue to be levelled.

This is such last-minute stuff. I notice the Department managed to get its press briefing out, although it muddled pet theft and dog theft throughout. That is my gripe with the amendment: this is a really important issue that has been added to the Bill very late in the day, which means that we do not have the opportunity to scrutinise it in the way that we would have liked. We had relevant witnesses at the evidence session last week, and we did not ask them about it. I could not help noticing that, unusually, the Minister’s speech was handwritten. Goodness me! This is so typical of the Government at the moment. What a mess.

There is a problem with this. If we do it in a rush, we will get it wrong. We have seen it before with dogs, so can we repeat the same mistake again? There are a number of unanswered questions, particularly on the concept of lawful control and complicated questions of ownership. One can immediately see that the connected person test could easily be problematic. There are many multi-person households in this country, and there are millions of people living together who are not in civil partnerships. Many are reconstituted or blended families. Perhaps Government Members have not noticed what the modern world is like—or perhaps they have. In a domestic row, for example, one person goes off with the dog or cat—they consider it theirs—and the other gets the police involved for a claim of pet theft, which carries a five-year prison sentence. The connected person test really needs to be looked at properly, not just brought to a Bill Committee late in the day. I am sure that it will be subject to further scrutiny elsewhere, but this is no way to do it.

New clause 6 states that the Secretary of State may exercise the power under subsection (1) if there is evidence that

“removing an animal of that species from a person with whom it has formed a bond may adversely affect its wellbeing.”

How is that test to be assessed? Who is the judge? Does a snake get sad when it is parted from its keeper? I do not know, but we ought to find a way of finding out before we pass this legislation. Maybe this should have been done in the right sequence, starting with the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. But, as ever with this Government, it is all about a rush to get a headline—it could have been drafted by the Prime Minister.

To be helpful, I direct the Minister’s attention to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to which Labour tabled amendments last November to deal with pet theft. Again, amendments were tabled on Report, in July this year, and not just by the Labour Front Bench but by a cross-party group of esteemed parliamentarians, including many senior Government Members. The Government opposed all those amendments.

I find myself in some difficulty this morning, because although we absolutely want the legislation on the statute book, we do not want rushed legislation that leads to unintended consequences. I have some sympathy with the Minister, as I suspect that she is embarrassed about it, but that is the problem we have. We will not oppose the new clause, but we think that the provisions need to be looked at much more carefully. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the same kind of situation as with the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

Don’t slip into prime ministerial sentience! I call Dr Neil Hudson.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Ceidwadwyr, Penrith and The Border

Thank you, Mr Davies. I rise to welcome Government action on pet theft. In response to the hon. Member for Cambridge, I noted those amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill a few months ago, and the reason why many of us on the Government side voted against them was not because we were against pet theft law being strengthened, but because we were given assurances by the then Justice Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend Robert Buckland, who has been mentioned, that pet theft would be addressed in law. I am so pleased, as a veterinary surgeon and a parliamentarian, that we are now at the stage of recognising and passing pet theft into law.

I welcome that the Opposition will not oppose the new clause. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge that the new clause has been tabled at very short notice, and I feel that the Government can work with the Opposition, with Committee members, and with Members on both sides of the House, to ensure that we get the legislation right. We have to get the wording right so that we can stamp out the abhorrent crime of pet theft.

I have called for some time for the legislation, once introduced, to be expanded to include other species. I welcome the Government’s acknowledgment of those calls and their attempts to address them with new clause 6, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. As it is worded, the new clause is incredibly complicated, incredibly confusing and subject to much misinterpretation. I urge the Government to look closely at the definitions in the new clause, which are not suitable.

The Government are moving forward on animal welfare. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has been introduced, and will recognise that animals are fully sentient beings—the theft of animals is distressing for both the animals and their owners. Cats are being stolen as we speak, and should be included. I am keen, though, for the provisions to be expanded beyond pets.

I welcome the fact that we are expanding the measures to other species, but they should not apply only to pets. Should we be talking about “companion animals”, rather than pets? What about farm animals? When a farmer in Cumbria has 20 sheep stolen—a not uncommon occurrence—it is incredibly distressing for that farmer. I urge the Government to look closely at expanding the measures to include all animals: farm animals, horses, ponies. What about the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig that someone keeps in the back of their garden? What about someone who keeps a sheep to help them keep the lawn down—is that a pet or a farm animal? This is where we will end up going due to the complexities of the Bill.

I fear that if the Government do not change new clause 6, we will have some form of George Orwellian “Animal Farm” interpretation of how important some animals are compared to others. I urge the Government to not let us go into that. These animals are being stolen now—farm animals, horses, cats, dogs—so we need to act now. I welcome what the Minister is doing, and what DEFRA is doing, and I encourage them to listen to voices on both sides of the House. I ask with good grace whether the Minister will meet me and Lord Goldsmith. Can we get round the table and see if we can improve these clauses, so that all animals are covered, and so that we can stamp out not just pet theft, but animal theft?

Photo of James Daly James Daly Ceidwadwyr, Bury North

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I was a criminal defence solicitor for 16 years. The one thing that we will never get in legislation that will potentially go before the criminal court is 100% exact language. We are talking about legal interpretation. These are matters that will be decided on by those giving expert evidence and through the interpretation of the courts. That is how the system works—the separation of powers. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border about looking at the wider definition of theft, but all the matters that he mentioned are covered; they are acts of theft, which is on the statute book already.

I welcome new clause 6; I think it is a good clause. Criminal lawyers, together with those giving expert evidence and others involved in the court system, will be able to understand it clearly. Even if we were to have a lengthy discussion, as the hon. Member for Cambridge said, regarding what “forming bonds” means—we could discuss that forever—it will be expert evidence in a court that will decide matters, not what parliamentarians debate. I welcome the clause and congratulate the Minister on it.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

I welcome Members making contributions, but could you use your leg muscles to indicate that you want to contribute—perhaps near the start of the debate, but you are free to stand whenever you like—so that I do not miss you out? I almost missed that last request to contribute.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Well, we cannot seem to get it right, can we? We are either going to quickly or too slowly. [Interruption.] I am teasing. This is being done quickly; I am not apologising for that because I think the situation is one that we need to resolve quickly. The taskforce was a serious body that did important work, and it worked quickly—I refer Members to its work and recommendations. The Government then had to find the first appropriate piece of legislation for these recommendations to go in; the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

I have listened to and accept the comments about “connected persons”, “animals capable of forming bonds” and extending provisions beyond pets. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border mentioned livestock; sheep rustling is already covered under the Theft Act 1968. I will take these points away and continue to do work to make sure that the drafting of this clause is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North suggests, entirely suitable for the criminal courts.

I would be delighted to meet, as I am sure Lord Goldsmith would be, any Member of this House, or of the other place, to discuss the drafting of this clause. It is always important that we get the law right. It is important that we make sure the clause is as good as it can be; it is difficult when clauses are brought forward at a late stage of a Bill’s proceedings. However, I am not apologising for that; it is right that we should do this. We should make a new offence of pet abduction and this is an appropriate place to do that.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Ceidwadwyr, Penrith and The Border 12:15, 18 Tachwedd 2021

I welcome the Minister’s comments. On the concept of forming a bond with an animal, I note the comments made about livestock rustling. The Bill covers livestock worrying, too. It can be incredibly distressing for a farmer when farm livestock are attacked by dogs. A person can have a bond with an individual animal or be devastated when 20 sheep are attacked by a dog. I take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, who is from the legal profession, said about the legal definition of the word “bond”, but I think these debates in the courts of law will be incredibly fraught, so I urge the Government to move on that.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

May I politely say that that was more of a mini-speech than an intervention?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I reassure Members that we will look carefully at the drafting of this clause, following the remarks we have heard today. I am confident that this is an appropriate place to bring forward the offence of pet abduction, and I am pleased that we have been able to do so.

Amendment 85 agreed to.

Amendments made: 63, in clause 51, page 33, line 13, after “Part” insert

“(except section (Concurrent functions in Wales))”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 64.

Amendment 64, in clause 51, page 33, line 13, at end insert

“; section (Concurrent functions in Wales)) comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with that day.”

This amendment provides for the commencement of new clause (Concurrent functions in Wales).

Amendment 65, in clause 51, page 33, line 16, leave out from first “Ministers” to “may” in line 17.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 67.

Amendment 66, in clause 51, page 33, line 18, at end insert “in Scotland”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 67.

Amendment 67, in clause 51, page 33, line 18, at end insert—

‘(6A) The Welsh Ministers may by regulations make transitional or saving provision in connection with the coming into force of any provision of Part 1 or 3 in relation to Wales.’—

This amendment confers powers to make transitional or saving provision on the Welsh Ministers, in consequence of Part 1 applying to Wales (as well as Part 3).

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 51, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.