HC Deb 12 June 1981 vol 6 cc679-82
Mr. Monro

I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 5, line 13, at end insert— '(7) The authority shall not attach to a licence a condition which relates only or primarily to the health, safety or welfare of persons working in the zoo.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 82, 160, and 161.

Mr. Monro

On Second Reading, and subsequently in Committee, hon. Members investigated in some detail a possible overlap between the Health and Safety Executive and the licensing arrangements. We have given the matter great consideration. A promise was given that we would bring forward on Report an amendment to reduce this overlap as much as possible. The Health and Safety Executive operates under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It has duties to fulfil that cannot be overtaken by other legislation. Following consultation, the amendment, together with the subsequent amendments, reflects the attitude that we adopt towards this difficult situation.

The inspections and licensing system provided for in the Bill will cover all these aspects of zoo management, where the arrangements for keeping the animals and displaying them to the public affect the health, safety and welfare of the people in the zoo or living near it. Where the arrangements relate solely or primarily to the health, safety and welfare of people working in the zoo—in the carpentry shops, cafeterias and elsewhere—they will be dealt with under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Compliance with the conditions of a zoo licence does not automatically mean that all the requirements of that Act have been met.

The guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State will set out the procedure for ensuring that the conditions attached to licences by local authorities are not incompatible with the Health and Safety Executive's requirements. Local authorities will be asked to send to the HSE copies of applications for licences, copies of the licences issued and the conditions attached to them, as well as the inspectors' reports.

The HSE will therefore be kept informed about conditions in the zoo and will be able to alert the local authority if it appears that requirements imposed on the zoo under the zoo licensing procedure are incompatible with the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Any standards specified by the Secretary of State will be formulated in consultation with the HSE as well as organisations representing zoos and persons on the list.

These arrangements will mean that zoos are inspected by people who are expert in dealing with animals kept in zoos and who know what sorts of arrangements will protect animals and people from each other. But areas in which the HSE has exclusive competence, procedures to be followed in operating machinery, or handling chemicals, features of the zoo which arise from its being a place of work rather than from the special feature that wild animals are kept there, will continue to be dealt with by the people with the relevant expertise.

The important point is that the guidance that the Secretary of State will give to the local authorities and discuss with the HSE will make certain that there is no overlap of responsibilities. That will be to the benefit of the Bill, if it becomes an Act, to the 1974 Act, and to the HSE. This is an understandable compromise, which we must accept in terms of the 1974 Act, but, because of the guidance, I hope that any overlap will be kept to the minimum. There will be frequent discussions between the HSE and local authorities on licensing, so again there will be co-ordination between the licensing authority and the HSE, which will avoid difficulties for the zoos.

Mr. Skeet

This is a reasonable amendment, and the House should support it. The avoidance of overlap is an excellent idea, but the Minister confines it to staff, who are already covered by their contract. Should he not include the public, who are covered by section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974? They are also covered in tort, because they are invitees. Since, in amendment No. 43, he has taken the step of removing one of the pieces of overlap by adding a new subsection (7) to clause 5, why does not my hon. Friend go a step further and say that the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964, which affect cruelty to animals, should also be included, in the same way as he has included the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act?

Having looked through the legislation that covers zoos—there are 36 pieces of legislation, including statutory instruments and Acts of Parliament—I wonder whether my hon. Friend is satisfied that he has gone through all the lists and combed out all the overlaps. This would be the most convenient place to do so. If, as I assume, that has not been done, I hope that an assurance will be given that when the Bill reaches another place the matter will be properly considered.

12.45 pm
Mr. Crouch

This part of the Bill and, in particular, the amendment are of great interest to me, because two of my constituents were killed in the pursuit of their occupation as keepers in a zoo. Moreover, two of my constituents were killed outside the zoo by an escaping animal.

I accept the meaning of the amendment, but I wonder whether the Minister believes that it fully clears up where the responsibility lies for the safety of persons working in zoos. Does that rest solely with the Health and Safety Executive, and is not made a condition of the licence granted under the operation of the Bill?

I am worried about clause 5(3)(a), which deals with the precautions to be taken against the escape of animals, and steps to be taken in the event of any escape or unauthorised release". I hope that I am not out of order in going back at this stage and asking my hon. Friend whether that paragraph is covered by the Health and Safety Executive or by the licence and the inspection under this legislation.

I want the Bill to ensure the proper safekeeping and healthy keeping of animals, and the safety of those who work with the animals in the zoos, of those who visit the zoos, and of people outside them. I am sure that we all want that, but I want to be certain that there is no misunderstanding after the Bill reaches the statute book about where those responsibilities lie. When the inspection takes place, the inspector may say that he is not concerned about the matters that particularly concern me—the precautions that need to be taken to prevent the escape of animals and the procedures that should be observed in looking after the animals, including feeding them.

The coroner's report and subsequent investigation and inquiry into the deaths that occurred in my constituency revealed that the procedures adopted were perhaps not the best of those recommended by zoo authorities for the handling, feeding, and cleaning out of the cage of a dangerous animal such as a tiger.

I know that there is nothing in the Bill about a code of practice or the procedures that should be followed, but I hope that when the Bill reaches the statute book the Secretary of State, with his list of inspectors and experts, will also have to help him—where hitherto there has been a vacuum—the guidance of zoo authorities about the best procedures for the handling, care and treatment of exotic and dangerous animals.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) rightly referred to the tragedies that took place in his constituency and the deaths that were caused by faulty procedures. I, too, have a constituent who was badly injured in that zoo by a tiger. It is evident that at one time there was lax control there.

I rise not to recall unnecessarily those unfortunate matters, but to take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), who said that the public are protected in tort because they are invitees. So one would think, and as a general proposition of law that would appear to be sensible.

My constituent nearly lost one of her arms, and it is permanently damaged. She had great difficulty in obtaining her legal rights, which were contested bitterly by the owners of the zoo for many years. In the end she achieved satisfaction, but that would not have been possible had she not had the means necessary to sustain a long and expensive law suit.

Mr. Skeet

My hon. Friend will recall the case of Ryland v Fletcher, where a dangerous animal was brought on to property. It escaped, and the owner was held responsible. If a dangerous animal is brought on to property and it escapes, there is an action in common law. What is more, under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 the public are amply safeguarded, as are the staff.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that well-known case. However, the law can be a little complex. On the occasion to which I referred, the animal had not escaped. It was still in its cage. But that did not stop it inflicting severe injuries on my constituent.

Although, as a general proposition, what my hon. Friend says is true, I should like the Minister's assurance that, before the Bill leaves another place, he will take every precaution to see that members of the public are well protected not only by common law, which does not seem adequate in all cases, but by the existing legislation specified in the Bill.

Mr. Monro

There are two lines of approach in the Bill. We have to consider the safety of the public and the staff working in zoos. Equally important is the welfare of the animals in zoos. Every means possible must be brought to bear to achieve those dual objectives. Naturally, when discussing the Health and Safety Executive it is important to know where we stand and where there may be some overlapping of responsibilities.

The responsibility for the staff in a zoo rests with the employer. Through him, the HSE is completely involved. The creation of licensing authorities will in no way alter the arrangements between the employer and his staff and the safety that he provides for them. That is a clear responsibility which rests upon the HSE.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) rightly referred to the sad events involving his constituents at his local zoo. The HSE has been equally concerned. Notices have been served on the zoo to strengthen and heighten the perimeter fencing, and of course there have been consultations with the proprietor. As a result, I hope that there is some feeling of greater assurance among my hon. Friend's constituents about the zoo. The HSE will of course continue to carry out its responsibilities for these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) asked me to double check all the legislation bearing on these matters. I give him an absolute assurance that we shall make certain that we have it as clear as possible. It will be looked at carefully in another place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) raised an important point. We are sorry to hear about his constituent's accident. Even after this legislation, we cannot guarantee that there will not be similar accidents. It may be that such events would still be subject to a law suit and would not come under this legislation. If there were a breach of the licence regarding cages, fences and other safety arrangements, the zoo would be subject to legal proceedings. I do not want to be involved in the legal complications. A visitor to the zoo may still have to bring a law suit. I shall ask my officials for detailed advice on the matter and will write to my hon. Friend. If necessary, I shall ensure that the matter is considered in another place. I should like to meet his point if at all possible.

Mr. Skeet

To beat, ill-treat and terrify an animal is an offence under the Protection of Animals Acts. Should my hon. Friend not include that aspect when considering this point about the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974? Is he prepared to include it now, or to give an undertaking that it will be brought in in another place?

Mr. Monro

I cannot give an assurance now to bring it in, but I give an absolute assurance to look at it carefully. I am anxious to get it right. I have been apprehensive throughout about the possibility of overlap and anything such as my hon. Friend mentioned getting through the net.

Amendment agreed to.

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