HC Deb 02 April 1963 vol 675 cc266-9

4.15 p.m.

Mrs. Corbet

I beg to move, in page 71, line 11, at end, to insert: and the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925".

Mr. Speaker

I think that it would be convenient with this to discuss the Amendments in page 71, line 12, to leave out from beginning to "shall" in line 13 and to insert "the Greater London Council".

In page 71, leave out line 14 and insert "Greater London".

In line 15, to leave out paragraph (b).

In page 188, line 45, at the end to insert:

The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925

  1. 1. In Section 5 (1), in the definition of "local authority", for the words "As respects the City of London, the common council" there shall be substituted the words "As respects Greater London, the Greater London Council."

In line 47, to leave out sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), and to insert:

  1. (a) in paragraph (a) (ii) for the word "metropolitan" there shall be substituted the word "London"
  2. (b) after paragraph (b) there shall be added—
  3. (c) the proviso shall cease to have effect.

Mrs. Corbet

Again, I will not detain the House. This does not follow the same kind of rule which has been explained to us about the desirability of borough councils administering certain sets of Acts. Here we have a very specialised job for which the London County Council employs only two full-time inspectors, both of whom are men with farming experience. It is clear that if this work were to be divided among 12 boroughs, there would be only two-twelfths, or one-sixth, of an inspector for each borough, which is impossible. It is also impossible to get people with the proper experience to do the work part time. I put forward the Amendment in the hope that the Government will give further consideration to this matter.

Mr. Woodhouse

The effect of this and the related Amendments would be to make the Greater London Council the local authority for the administration of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, and the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act, 1925. The present authorities for these Acts are the counties, the City of London, which also acts for the County of London in relation to orders relating to imported animals, and the county boroughs, and the boroughs in the case of the Diseases of Animals Act only.

It was decided to give responsibility for the Diseases of Animals Act to the London boroughs so that the detailed day-to-day work should fall on them and not on the Greater London Council. As the boroughs and county boroughs have successfully carried out this work in the past, we felt that it would be unreasonable to transfer it to the Greater London Council.

Moreover, there is the special case of the City of London which has a special responsibility for dealing with imported animals in the L.C.C. area. Again, it seemed reasonable that this should continue and be extended to the Greater London area.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

Does that mean that all the 12 London boroughs will have to have inspectors, one each?

Mr. Woodhouse

No, Sir. I do not think that it need mean that. The function could be shared in such a way that one inspector could look after the interests of neighbouring boroughs on an agency basis.

Mr. Mellish

There are only two inspectors now for the whole of London. What are we messing about with?

Mr. Woodhouse

These are two Acts which are conveniently administered together and in the one case there is a rather larger number of staff than in the other. The local authorities have a specialised staff for the Diseases of Animals Act and although the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act requires less work and fewer specialised qualifications, the qualifications for the two are basically similar and it seems convenient that the two functions should be looked after by the same authority in each case. The number of staff involved is unlikely to be affected by the form in which the Clause is drafted, as the same work will need to be done and will need the same manpower to do it.

I hope that the House will leave the Clause at is stands.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

Can the Under-Secretary say what advice he has received on this matter? I should have thought that it was a matter in which the R.S.P.C.A. would have been interested. It usually keeps a fairly keen eye on any legislation affecting the welfare of animals. Can the hon. Gentleman say whether he has received representations from the R.S.P.C.A., or any other body or society which makes a special study of the needs of animals, and whether expert opinion is satisfied that the job will continue to be done properly when this change of administration is made?

Mr. Woodhouse

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I took over responsibility for this stage of the Bill at rather short notice. I could not give him a categorical answer without notice, but I assure him on two things: first, that in my time at the Home Office I have never known any subject connected with animals in which the R.S.P.C.A. has not shown a close interest and made representations where it judged necessary, and, secondly, that I feel sure that the task will continue to be competently performed.

Mr. Mellish

There is not a great political point in this, but I ask the Minister to look at it again. I know something of the problem of transferring animals from one place to another, and of dealing with diseases like anthrax. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has veterinary surgeons on its staff, and local medical officers of health also have some powers of inspection, but at the end of the day we come down to the London County Council where there are two full-time people employed, whose work is invaluable.

I hope that we shall not be left with the system whereby all local boroughs feel that they must be as important as their next-door neighbours and have some staff, some of whom will not be doing anything at all. It is all very well to provide on paper for joint sharing arrangements, and so on, but achieving them is another matter. I think that the Greater London Council should do this job. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reserve his rights to see whether, after further discussions with the R.S.P.C.A, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the whole matter can be reconsidered in another place.

Mr. Woodhouse

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. As the House has shown a special interest in this matter, and as it concerns the welfare of animals, about which it would be ludicrous to take a stand on purely political divisions, I undertake that the matter shall be looked at again, though I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not expect me—

Mr. Mellish

I am not concerned with performing animals, but with the diseases of animals.

Mr. Woodhouse

I have the hon. Gentleman's point, and I repeat the undertaking that I have given, though he will understand that I am not undertaking to make any change in the Bill without further consideration.

Mrs. Corbet

I hope that there will be a thorough discussion with the councils' officers and those of the City of London who are also, I believe, concerned with these matters.

Mr. Woodhouse

I will convey the hon. Lady's point to all the interests concerned.

Amendment negatived.