HC Deb 12 June 1981 vol 6 cc644-63

'(1) If the local authority with power to grant a licence for a zoo informs the Secretary of State that in their opinion a direction should be made under this subsection because the zoo is operated on qualified premises, he may after consulting such persons on the list as he thinks fit direct;

  1. (a) that this Act shall not apply to that zoo, or
  2. (b) that sections 10 and 11 or either of them shall not apply thereto.

(2) Premises shall only be qualified premises if:

  1. (a) the principal purpose for keeping open and using the premises is unconnected with the keeping of animals for exhibition to the public;
  2. (b) they have been kept open or used as described in paragraph (a) for not less than five years prior to the date on which this Act comes into operation;
  3. (c) they do not form part of, and are not operated in association with, other premises which are a zoo.

(3) Any direction made under subsection (1) may be revoked or varied by a further direction of the Secretary of State made after he has consulted the local authority and such persons in the list as he thinks fit.

(4) While a direction under subsection (1) has effect, this Act, or sections 10 and 11, or either of them, shall not apply to the zoo (depending on the terms of the direction and any variation made by a further direction under subsection (2)).

(5) The Secretary of State shall secure that the local authority and any person who operates the zoo are notified in writing of any direction made under subsection (1) or (3) and a copy of any such direction shall be publicly displayed at each public entrance to the zoo.'—[Mr. Graham.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 113, in page 9, line 1, leave out clause 14.

No. 116, in clause 14, page 9, line 9, at end insert— '(1A) If the operator of a zoo informs the Secretary of State that in his opinion a direction should be made under this subsection because the number of inspectors provided for by section 10(4)(a) is too large for the zoo (having regard to the small size of the zoo or the small number of the kinds of animal kept there), the Secretary of State may, after consulting the local authority with power to grant a licence for the zoo and such persons as he thinks fit, direct—

  1. (a) that in the application of this Act to the zoo, section 10(4)(a) and (b) shall not apply; and
  2. (b) that instead, any inspection to be carried out under section 10 shall be conducted by such inspector or inspectors as the Secretary of State appoints.'.
No. 117, in page 9, line 10, after '(1)', insert 'or (1A)'.

No. 119, in page 9, line 17, at end insert—

'(3A) While a direction under subsection (1A) has effect, this Act shall apply to the zoo with the modifications specified in the direction (subject to any variation made by a further direction under subsection (2)).'. No. 123, in page 9, line 21, after '(1)', insert '(1A)'.

Mr. Graham

I understand and sympathise with what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) said. I hope that the Bill will not be used for any other purpose than that for which it is meant. The Bill received all-party support on Second Reading and in Committee. The promoter of the Bill, the Minister and others have put in much hard work in an attempt to secure the best compromise. I hope that at the end of today we shall have moved forward on a Bill which has been called for by those concerned with zoos, the public, the Government and protection organisations.

The new clause and the amendments taken with it relate to the old clause 13, which subsequently became the present clause 14 of the Bill. I remind the House that when members of the Committee—not only Opposition Members—sought to change the nature of these provisions there was an equal vote in the Division, four hon. Members voting for a substantial change to delete the exclusion of small zoos, and four hon. Members voting against it. This first debate therefore allows us to get to the kernel of one of the main points of unease.

The purpose and intent of the new clause is to deal with the very small minority of operators whom we have come across and whom we would describe as disreputable and no credit to what we know as the zoo industry, in so far as it is possible to legislate for that. I appreciate that in Committee and subsequently the Minister expressed exasperation at the difficulty of producing a form of words that is all-embracing and yet provides for exclusion on proper grounds.

The new clause gives the Secretary of State discretion to waive the conditions of the Bill for pubs, dentists' waiting rooms, and so on. The Minister will recall that this was one of the points of aggravation raised in Committee. In the debate on 13 May he said: No officious local authority official would go round to every dentist, building society manager or cafe proprietor and tell him that he is running a zoo. We must give some credit for the good sense of those who will be applying the Bill. In those few borderline cases where the verdict could go either way, there will have to be an individual decision based on the facts and circumstances of the case."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 13 May 1981; c. 95.] New clause 2 has been drafted to give precisely that discretion.

The clause is a further attempt to remove from the Bill the exemption of small zoos. I am bound to say that I do not like in the least legislation which in effect says that because an undertaking is small rather than medium or large different standards may apply to the manner in which the legislation operates. When we lay down standards and call for inspections and licensing, the same standards should apply to all.

By defining what qualification and qualified premises are, the new clause seeks to achieve just that. Subsection (2)(a) attempts to meet the Minister's criticisms in Committee that our earlier amendments were an attempt to legislate for the fish tank in the dentist's waiting room, and so on. Subsection (2)(b) would stop any rush of new operators by providing that premises shall be qualified premises only if they have been used for not less than five years before the Act. Subsection (2)(c) would prevent zoos from creating artificial situations by claiming that a garden with animals in it is not a zoo, as it provides that premises shall be qualified premises only if they do not form part of, and are not operated in association with, other premises which are a zoo. 9.45 am

I repeat that the new clause is a specific attempt to close what we consider to be a loophole in the law. It also goes some way to make the case that a local authority should not be the sole arbiter in these matters. Local authorities are already responsible for the administration of several pieces of animal welfare legislation, such as the Pet Animals Act 1951, the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 and the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973. As all of us with experience of local authorities know, there is wide variation in the ability of local authorities to police any legislation. We therefore seek to make this legislation almost self-policing so that a local authority cannot plead that it has not the staff, the time or the money to police it. We want the law to be as specific as possible, because we believe that in this instance it is essential for effective control to rest with the Secretary of State's panel, which can apply uniform standards nationally.

The promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), who has done so much work on the Bill, also acknowledges this point in the series of amendments grouped with the new clause by making a further attempt to deal with the matter. I am bound to say, however, that his suggested new form of words merely shifts around some of the old words which include what I regard as the offensive phrases allowing exemption to be given to a "small … zoo" and a zoo which has a small number of … kinds of animals. That would provide a field day not just for lawyers but for anyone who wished to see a deterioration in what we believe would be good standards. What is a "small … zoo"? What is a small number of … kinds of animals"? The new clause, on the other hand, spells out clearly what are "qualified premises" and what must be included.

I therefore hope that in order to make progress we shall not spend too much time on this, the first of about 50 potential debates. In my view the new clause represents a satisfactory way to catch everyone and allow the Secretary of State to make the exclusions which he rightly says should not be covered by the Bill.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)

I support the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) on new clause 2. I also fully endorse his comments on the work put in by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) in preparing the Bill. My hon. Friend has shown great responsibility and has been most diligent in carrying out consultations, albeit somewhat at the last moment. Nevertheless, he has done tremendous work and I thoroughly endorse what the hon. Member for Edmonton said.

I trust that we shall be able to approach the Bill in a thoroughly constructive fashion today, as I believe that the vast majority of people genuinely wish to see zoo licensing legislation. Whether this is the right Bill at the moment remains to be seen. I very much hope that in the course of today we shall be able so to amend the Bill as to make it more acceptable than it is as present.

In supporting new clause 2, which replaces the present clause 14, I must admit that it more or less encompasses my amendment No. 113, which is included in this group. My amendment seeks merely to delete clause 14, because I cannot see that the special dispensation given to small zoos is necessary in any way at all. The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) began by asking Mr. Speaker about Members declaring an interest. I think that I should declare an interest straight away. As the hon. Member for Edmonton will recall, in the Standing Committee debate on this issue I raised the question of the keeping of animals in, say, a pub.

I am the proud owner of a pub. As such I would certainly find myself as a zoo if I kept animals and would therefore become subject to the provisions of the Bill, which is really nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West is, I believe, a keeper of tropical fish. He in a sense, too, could find himself designated as a zoo.

I think that clause 14 as it stands is a bit of a nonsense. It gives the Secretary of State the power to give dispensation to particular zoos—mainly because of their small size—from some or all of the provisions in the Bill. I think that that would be highly unsatisfactory, because it really does offer far too great a loophole for precisely the sort of people that the Bill is intending to regulate. It also raises the very important question of what precisely is small. Without a definition as to what is small, I think that clause 14 is unsatisfactory.

The other point that I would like to make is that the dispensation given may well include many of those people whom the zoo industry would like to see brought within the regulating process. At the moment the industry is largely self-regulating. We have two major organisations, the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland and the National Zoological Association. These organisations inspect their members' zoos, but those do not amount to as much as half the number of zoos in the country, and therefore they are very concerned that small zoos might escape inspection. They are the very ones that we are trying to regulate.

There is also the possibility that a zoo that is running down because of economic circumstances, or for other reasons, could find itself suddenly coming within the provisions of clause 14. The smaller it got the more it would need to be inspected. Yet people would be asking "How small have we to get to qualify for exemption under clause 14?" That is another good reason for suggesting to my hon. Friends and to Labour Members that clause 14 is really pretty bad.

The clause also raises two further questions. First, if the Secretary of State is prepared to consult and decide on these establishments, why cannot he do it for all zoos? The opening debate in Committee was on the question of the licensing authority, and both I and the industry, and certainly those hon. Members who were representing the interests of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, felt that the district councils were not the right people to license zoos and that it would be far better to leave that in the hands of the Secretary of State.

If the Secretary of State is to take upon himself the power to look at all these so-called small zoos and decide whether they ought to be regulated or whether they should be outside the provisions of the Bill, this will encompass a large proportion of the existing 180-odd zoos in this country. Why cannot he do precisely the same thing for all zoos? I would like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, if he is to speak in this debate, to tell us why that cannot be so.

Such a proposal raises the second question of cost. One of the reasons given was "Oh well, the Secretary of State cannot do this because it will put an additional burden on public expenditure." That is nonsense. The amount involved is infinitesimal—to the Department of the Environment, that is, although it could be a large amount to a zoo.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

What is the hon. Gentleman's estimate of the cost to the average proprietor of a reasonable sized zoo of a normal inspection? How often will such an inspection take place?

Mr. Colvin

In answer to the hon. Member I can give my estimate, which is based on what has been told to me by representatives of the zoo industry. It is that a fully qualified person who is a member of the Secretary of State's list could charge up to £200 a day for his services. Then, on top of that, if the inspection had to go over two days, there would be overnight board and lodging and the rest. It might be less if, perhaps, he had to come a short distance.

I am told that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, if its member was to do the inspection, would charge about £150 a day. In Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that if that was the sort of fee that could be charged he would not mind being an inspector himself. But the fact is that one has to deal with the situation as it is and those are the sorts of figures that an inspection would involve. With six people, which I think is the maximum under the Bill, it would mean that it could cost up to £1,200 for an inspection, or maybe more. That is big money by anybody's standards, and for small zoos it could be an astronomical amount.

I should certainly like to see the new clause approved today. As to amendment No. 113, which is in my name, I should like to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to permit a Division on this. I would like to press it, if new clause 2 fails, in the appropriate part in the Bill, which, of course, is very much later on. If that is permitted—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I shall call the amendment at the appropriate time and a Division may take place.

Mr. Colvin

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall remain on the ball to ensure that when the time comes I am prepared to move that amendment, but I very much hope that it will not be necessary, because I should like to see new clause 2 carried. The whole question of the inspection of small zoos has, I think, got a little bit out of hand. It does seem that, potentially, we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, with as many as six inspectors coming along to look at these small zoos. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West has tabled amendment—No. 116—which will replace inspections, or could reduce the number of them. The hon. Member for Edmonton suggested that that was an alternative to clause 14. I do not think that it is. It is merely an addition tagged on the end. Clause 14 in its entirety will still stand. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong.

Mr. Graham

Will the hon. Gentleman repeat his query?

Mr. Colvin

The point that the hon. Gentleman made in his speech was that my hon. Friend's amendment, No. 116, which he is bringing forward, would, in fact, be a substitute for clause 14. I do not think that it is. It is tacked onto the end of clause 14.

Mr. Graham

I apologise if I was unclear. I intended to suggest that the amendment is the attempt of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) to deal with the unsatisfactory nature of clause 14. The hon. Gentleman does not wish that clause to be excluded. I appreciate that the amendment would leave the clause intact. The amendment would merely make an addition. I was trying to say that the hon. Gentleman is keeping the sense of clause 14, to which I object.

Mr. Colvin

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. Once more, may I just say that I support new clause 2 and very much hope that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will do so too?

Mr. Pavitt

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) in congratulating the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn). I know from my own experience how much work is entailed not only in piloting a Bill through Committee but in undertaking all the homework involved. I am sure that the whole House will echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, which referred to the hon. Gentleman personally and to those who supported him in Committee.

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin), with his customary courtesy, declared a slight interest and mentioned that he owned a pub. If I am able to join him there to wish him good health if the Bill goes on the statute book, I understand that I may have the opportunity of seeing animals.

When I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker, I was not stressing that there should be the customary declaration of interest on the part of those discussing this Bill on Report. It will not surprise the House to hear that my main interest is the next but one Bill on the Order Paper, which I am promoting. At the beginning of the week I was informed that the tobacco industry would block the Tobacco Products (Control of Advertising, Sponsorship and Sales Promotion) Bill and would ensure that it would not be reached. That was because the Government informed me that they did not intend to block it.

10 am

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Any remarks that the hon. Gentleman makes should be related to the new clause.

Mr. Pavitt

I want to relate my remarks to new clause 2(2). The purpose of my preamble was merely to point out why I raised the point of order. I was concerned that no amendments to the Bill had been tabled until yesterday. I wish to seek a little clarification about new clause 2(2).

I apologise to the House for not having followed the proceedings on the Bill. The House will know that I have to plead a good deal of ignorance. As I understand the proposition made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton, new clause 2(2) deals with qualified premises. What is the halfway house for qualified premises? Unless the animals are purely for exhibition to the public, paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (2) exclude them from the provisions.

A good deal of medical research is carried out on animals. Although a zoo may be legitimate and licensed under the terms of the Bill, at the same time there could be an arrangement by which, from time to time, animals are borrowed for medical research. That could be a custom. I should like to know whether that falls within the provisions of the subsection about qualified premises. Recently there was considerable fuss about smoking beagles. Present research on lung diseases is more concerned with monkeys, which are used extensively in that way. One must have a supply of monkeys. Would the registration of a zoo be affected by new clause 2 if that zoo made an arrangement with research departments whereby from time to time it bred and loaned animals for medical research?

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I have been present during discussions on many such Bills, and I know well that the public are extremely concerned about the subject. I believe that all those Bills failed because of their drafting. I welcome new clause 2, which is the only clause about which we can talk now. It seems to be the only way in which we can overcome the difficulties. We were criticised heavily for opposing all those previous Bills, because it was thought that we were against zoos. That was not the reason at all. We objected to the drafting. New clause 2 possibly overcomes one of the main difficulties, when other Bills have failed to do so. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept the new clause.

A large number of new clauses and amendments have been tabled to the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will be as brief in their remarks as I have been.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I regret interrupting my hon. Friend. He said that it was in order only to discuss new clause 2 at present. I believe that reference to the other amendments that are being discussed with new clause 2, including amendment No. 113, which suggests that clause 14 should be deleted, is in order, so my hon. Friend may go on with his speech.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The amendments may be referred to with the new clause.

Dr. Glyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps I expressed myself badly. We are discussing those amendments with new clause 2. However, I made a point of not going too wide because I felt that if I did so we could run into the danger of running out of time. None of us would wish to do that. I add my congratulations to my colleagues on both sides of the House who have worked together to try to achieve a Bill which is workable and by which effective control can be introduced.

Inspection and control are always difficult to carry out. Whatever form of inspection and control one institutes, one always finds that the inspectors turn up on the wrong day. It is impossible to legislate for that. The Bill gives a measure of support—perhaps not sufficient—to enable the Secretary of State to regulate the number of inspectors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) mentioned costs, which could be a real obstacle for small zoos and could almost make them bankrupt.

Mr. Colvin

Does my hon. Friend have a zoo in his constituency, and, if so, has he had the opportunity to discuss the measure with it?

Dr. Glyn

I have, and my hon. Friend will know what happened to it at one stage. I discussed the matter on previous occasions and I was heavily criticised because I could not support that Bill. However, I did not support it, not because of its intentions, but because of its drafting. On this occasion the drafting of the Bill has overcome the difficulties that were originally brought to my attention, not by the zoo, but by outside interests, and lawyers who realised that it would be impossible to give effect to the drafting. This Bill overcomes those difficulties, and that is why I support it but did not support the others.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) for bringing in a Bill that has a magnificent conception. We want legislation to deal with the management of zoos, but I am in a dilemma, which I shall now describe.

A zoo is defined in clause 1(2) as an establishment where wild animals … are kept for exhibition to the public otherwise than for purposes of a circus … and this Act applies to any zoo to which members of the public have access". Clause 21(1) defines animals as: Mammalia, Aves, Reptilia, Amphibia, Pisces and Insecta and any other multi cellular organism that is not a plant or a fungus". That is an enormously wide provision. It covers everything of which I could possibly conceive, provided the public had an opportunity of having access to it.

I have gone out of my way to give much thought to the matter and to consider what would be included and the advantage of the new clause. The following would be covered: a deer park, an aquarium in a dentist's waiting room, a fish pond in a public park, ornamental ducks, an aviary, a fishmonger who sells live lobsters or crabs, a restaurant with a trout tank and a fish farm which admits the public. The designers of the new clause are clearly trying to work out what is a suitable exemption. I believe that the interpretation should have been redevised to include the animals that should be covered by the provision.

My dilemma is further deepened. The new clause seeks to achieve its aim, in effect, by revoking clause 14. I note that the chairman of the RSPCA is in the Chamber. She supports that aim. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West has tabled amendments Nos. 116, 117, 119 and 123 to modify clause 14. It would help if my hon. Friend would say whether he accepts our proposal to delete clause 14. My dilemma is yet further deepened, because we do not have the remotest idea what view the Minister will take. The legislation in this whole area is comprehensive. There are 36 measures and statutory instruments generally affecting zoos, disease prevention and conservation. Where is the gap in the legislation? Cruelty is covered by the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1964. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 protects staff and the public. The gap is in the management of zoos.

We have 150 zoos, some of which are small and others large. It has been said that the legislation would involve cost, and we are considering which zoos should be excluded. This is a pretty heavy Bill merely to define those zoos to which the legislation should apply and to set the right management code and standards for them.

The new clause has become contorted, but I propose to support it, as I do not like clause 14. Perhaps the Minister can ask the parliamentary draftsman to change the awkward wording. If the language in the clause had to be interpreted by the Divisional Court or another part of the judiciary, I believe that it would be found that many so-called zoos fell outside the provisions. New clause 2 invests a great deal of authority in the Minister. He is given the discretion to decide which zoos should come outside the provisions. The way to do that, of course, is correctly to interpret the clause.

I do not oppose the Bill. There is a large zoo near my constituency—Woburn safari park. I dare say that it would support legislation to maintain a high level of management. I simply wish to see passed a Bill that is acceptable to the industry and the public. We wish to avoid the danger of there being no rules laid down. If the Bill is to apply in the right quarters, we need a code of practice. I have kept my remarks succinct, as I support the Bill.

10.15 am
Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I tell the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) that I am not here to make an improper use of the Bill. I am not in the least concerned with those Bills that follow. In fact, I shall probably be reasonably hostile to them, simply because I am no great fan of modern legislation. If I had a careful look at them, I dare say that I would have something rough to say about them.

I am here for two reasons. First, I have a well-run establishment in my constituency that would certainly be covered by the Bill. Secondly, I do not like optimistic and messy legislation. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) that I recognise what a great deal of hard work has to go into such a measure, and I am a little sorry that he is saddled with this well-intentioned but messy Bill.

The hon. Member for Edmonton was not as justified as he believed in claiming that the Bill has universal support. There are serious objections to the Bill and the new clause. In passing, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will deal with this point in his reply. Subsection (4) of the new clause contains the shining words: While a direction under subsection (1) has effect, this Act, or sections 10 and 11, or either of them, shall not apply to the zoo (depending on the terms of the direction and any variation made by a further direction under subsection (2)). I could not be called offensive or unreasonable if I said that that wording left something to be desired in terms of lucidity. It is not limpid clear. In fact, it is rubbish. If the new clause is accepted, I hope that it will be doctored in another place.

I wish to deal with the question of local authorities and the Secretary of State, for both figure prominently in the new clause. It is monstrous that the Government constantly tell local authorities that they must cut their spending and staffs, then in the next breath impose on them further duties, without much thought as to whether they are the proper bodies and have the necessary skills to discharge them.

I am a great admirer of the Yeovil district council, but I do not believe that it would claim to have on its staff people expert in running zoos. It would face a serious problem if it had imposed on it the duty of supervising one fairly large establishment within its province.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I feel that my right hon. Friend is revealing the inadequacy of his under-standing of the Bill. He did not take part in Second Reading and was not on the Committee, and he is speaking with a lack of knowledge of what happened. An essential part of the Bill is the Secretary of State's list, which from a central point provides names of authoritative and qualified persons to assist the local authority. Local authorities, through the Association of District Councils, welcome further legislation that would afford the opportunity to make inspections.

Mr. Peyton

I shall have to live in a state of great unhappiness with that magisterial rebuke administered to me by my hon. Friend, but I assure him that it will not cause me all that much distress or make me change my mind.

I am unmoved by the fact that somebody may have expressed a contrary opinion. In my view most local authorities will not be competent to discharge the duties under the Bill. If my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) will have patience, I shall come later to the role of the Department of the Environment and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have the doubtful privilege of dwelling in that monstrous building.

In this place we have contracted a bad disease. We are addicted to passing messy legislation in the hope that somehow it will be made to work and that we shall develop the skills to perform the duties imposed by it. Before we pass legislation we should ensure that the means of carrying it out sensibly and properly are at hand. I do not think that they are now.

Apart from the fact that local authorities do not possess the necessary skills to discharge these duties, I wonder whether local authorities are the correct people to do it. There are 150 establishments to be covered by the Bill. There will be local authorities, as in my constituency, which will have a considerable duty put upon them, but here only one establishment to look after. Centralisation would remove anomalies, make it easier for zoo operators to know where they stand and relieve local authorities of a heavy burden.

Who goes to zoos? They are not visited by local people. They are national institutions, and for that reason they should be dealt with nationally. I question whether local authorities have the necessary skills. Would they be able to judge between the opinions of experts, which vary greatly? Could they judge the quality of reports, which it would be their duty to receive and consider? What sense would the records make to them?

Why has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment become so coy and modest about this? He has taken over responsibility for zoos from the Home Secretary? He has many what I describe as neighbouring responsibilities. In the Bill and the new clause he has the power of direction. It is his duty to draw up and administer standards. He must compose lists of inspectors and he has a duty to settle disagreements. Why should he not do everything instead of leaving local authorities with residual duties? I see no point whatsoever in decentralisation. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the only reason why Ministers in the Department of the Environment are not prepared to accept complete responsibility is that they fear that there will be an element of public expenditure and they do not want to carry the blame for that.

In those circumstances I am inclined to think that the new clause is not as good as some of my hon. Friends have generously said. It is perhaps marginally better than clause 14, which I regard as objectionable, but new clause 2 is something of a confession. When it comes to details and small organisations the Bill backs off, because a bureaucratic exercise might appear oppressive and ridiculous in such cases. I wonder whether that is right. A small unit is less visible than a larger one. It is therefore less open to public criticism. There will be less opportunity too for the public to see it and recognise that something is amiss. A small unit that has been in use for five years is perhaps most likely to be abused and is the area in which things can go seriously wrong.

I see little sense in new clause 2. I should not go to the lengths of voting against it, because it is reasonably well-intentioned, as is the rest of the Bill. I profoundly hope that if the Bill is sent from here unamended to another place it will be properly treated and that the other place will deal with this matter, which we cannot deal with on the amendments that have been selected today, and make it clear that the Government and the Secretary of State are responsible for zoos. It is wrong to seek to delegate that duty to authorities which are not strictly competent to do it and do not have the staff. It is unfair to put them in such a position.

Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

I express my appreciation for the warm and generous tribute paid to the Bill. I have noted some of the comments made about the new clause.

New clause 2 is almost parallel to that discussed in Committee. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) is correct. This was subject to great debate in Committee and the final result was four hon. Members in favour of the general theme of the new clause and four against. It is self-evident, from the conversations outside the House and the debates inside, that this is a delicately balanced issue. There are some limitations to new clause 2. It does not give discretion to admit fish tanks in public houses to the definition of a zoo, unless they have been there for five years. There are many aspects of the new clause that I find commendable.

Throughout the passage of the Bill I have always found much confidence and assurance in the expression "the Secretary of State shall". That has been echoed by several Members in the debate.

Mr. Colvin

That is fine. I am all in favour of the phrase "the Secretary of State shall". When the Secretary of State says "I shall" but then adds "but I shall not pay" that is another matter. That is the real issue at stake. The Secretary of State is making directions, saying that he will do certain things, but he is passing the cost on down the line through the local authority to the zoos. That is the issue.

10.30 am
Mr. Blackburn

The consultation is another important aspect related to clause 2. I feel that this would be a useful opportunity—if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will exercise charity towards me—for me to explain to the House that for seven months I have been engaged in discussions with deputations of people in the zoo industry and outside it, from national bodies of high standing. I have visited zoos in this county and abroad in carrying out research for this Bill. I am astounded when I look at the names of the hon. Members supporting new clause 2. The representations that I have received from the zoo industry corporately show that it is genuinely concerned about costs. I have taken those representations on board in my discussions, which have gone as far as the Minister of State. If we were to abandon clause 14 the cost to the zoo industry should be so prohibitive that I would not want to be part of it.

My amendments to clause 14—Nos. 116, 117, 119 and 123—give the Secretary of State, no less, the power to exempt certain very small establishments from the provisions of clauses 10 and 11. Furthermore, as to the abandonment of clause 14—and that is the issue before us—it is within the confines of clause 14 that we have been able to provide for the small zoo that requires only one inspector to carry out an inspection, which could last half a day and which could cost between £100 and £150. If clause 14 is removed, an army of inspectors will go to the small bird garden. It is in the interests of the zoo industry to keep costs down.

My amendments do not replace clause 14; they add to it. I have great affection for the industry and I must declare a small interest in it, since it gives a wonderful service to the people of this country and to tourists and performs an educational and a recreational role.

Within the confines of clause 14 there are safeguards that the zoo industry wishes to have, safeguards in financial terms and from the point of view of legislation too, because the issue is in the domain of the Secretary of State, whoever he may be. If the new clause were passed, the costs would be tremendous. If it were passed and if clause 14 fell, there would be no right of appeal to the Secretary of State for exemption. There would be no right to say to the Secretary of State "Sir, we are a small bird garden," or "Sir, we are a small aquarium"—or something like that. "We are so small that we require an inspection. Come and inspect us, but inspect with an appropriate number that will keep the costs down."

In the spirit of honesty and fairness that the House has always shown to me, and which I now return, let me say that there is great merit in the new clause. I am not hostile to it. However, I must look at new clause 2 and clause 14 with the additions. With the costs that would be involved in the new clause, and bearing in mind the representations that have been made to me by the zoo industry on the cost factor, I would favour clause 14 with amendments Nos. 116, 117, 119 and 123.

Mr. Colvin

This is a very important point. I appreciate what my hon. Friend is trying to say. I would support his amendment. However, I would much prefer to see that amendment, which, as he says, enables the numbers of inspectors coming to inspect zoos to be reduced in the case of small zoos. That is a constuctive addition to the Bill. But the point is that the rest of clause 14 remains, and still maintains the loophole, and it is the loophole that needs closing. Will my hon. Friend undertake, perhaps between now and the Bill going to another place—if it passes through this House—to look again at the main object of clause 14, which is to give dispensation, and to consider some other form or wording that would permit him to bring in his amendment No. 116 to reduce the number of inspectors, but still succeed in closing this loophole?

Mr. Blackburn

My hon. Friend is in a greater dilemma than I am, because at the commencement of the debate he told the House that he would divide it, and he reserved his right on amendment No. 113 to abandon clause 14. If we throw out clause 14 we cannot have these amendments, which are commendable. It is either one or the other.

I have a great affection for my hon. Friend. I am saying with all the sincerity that I can muster that I would welcome that change in another place. I would welcome anything that enhances the Bill and anything that makes sure that it is a very fine Bill and a credit to the House. I shall certainly take that point on board.

Mr. Skeet

Has my hon. Friend any relative costings, first on clause 14, as he has suggested, with the various amendments added in, and the new clause? He has had notice of this and he is saying that it is a question of costs. I appreciate that we are trying to keep down liabilities. Can my hon. Friend give some sort of link on that matter?

Mr. Blackburn

First, costs are related to the number of inspectors. I am commending the amendments standing in my name to clause 14, so that in small establishments inspections will be carried out by members of the list, and the number of inspectors will depend upon the powers of the Secretary of State to say that a small number can carry out the inspection.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when he says that costs are entirely related to the number of inspectors, that is not true? The real problem for most zoos is falling attendances. The most important thing for them is to get enough people to visit them. One of the things that has been reducing the number of visitors is the fact that some visitors have been pretty disgusted by one or two small zoos which they have seen, with the result that they do not bother to look at any other zoos. The most important thing for the good zoos is to get inspections and thus stop the bad zoos spoiling everyone else's reputation. That is far more important than the cost of a few inspectors.

Mr. Blackburn

There is no difference between the views expressed by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and myself. I believe that his comments will gain universal acclaim throughout the House today. The responsible, long-established, mature zoos that give excellent service have nothing to fear from the Bill. There is concern about costs, which I appreciate. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the small, disreputable zoo. I am delighted that the Secretary of State should decide who carries out the inspection. If the inspection revealed adverse findings, the licence would not be issued and the zoo would be closed. The reputable part of the zoo industry would have nothing to do with that kind of establishment.

I commend to the House the amendments standing in my name, on the ground of cost to the zoo industry. I have sympathy with new clause 2, which has been so excellently debated. I give an assurance, as promoter of the Bill, that the goodness contained in new clause 2 will not be forgotten in another place.

Mr. Crouch

The arguments have been advanced clearly for new clause 2 and amendments Nos. 116, 117, 119 and 123, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn). I come down in favour of retaining clause 14 and accepting his amendments. They would add strength to the Bill and protection for zoo operators, particularly small operators. There are no grounds for anyone in the House or outside fearing that clause 14 does not contain loopholes that will help them, as opposed to loopholes that will not help. Clause 14 grants discretion to the local authority to say to the Secretary of State that, because the zoo is so small, the inspection requirement under the essential part of clause 11 need perhaps not apply. This reduces the cost for the small operator, say, of a fish tank that could otherwise be categorised as a zoo.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West has gone overboard in amendment No. 116 to try to respect the wishes of the small operator, as expressed in Standing Committee. He proposes that it is not only the local authority that can make representations to the Secretary of State that the zoo does not merit a great panoply of inspectors visiting the premises at great cost, but that one inspector might suffice. The amendment might also assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who was concerned whether responsibility lay with the local authority or the Secretary of State. It gives the small operator the right to contact the Secretary of State personally to explain that the zoo covers only a quarter of an acre, or one tank, and that it does not merit the great cost, time and effort involved in sending half a dozen inspectors.

10.45 am

I believe that clause 14 must remain. If the issue is brought to a vote, I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) that the deletion of clause 14 must be opposed. Clause 14 is pretty good. Nothing is ever perfect in legislation. The words are often inadequate and sometimes appear to non-lawyers as rather stupid. The content of clause 14 is not stupid. The content is wise, careful and considerate of the small zoo owner. It has been greatly helped by the addition of the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West.

Clause 14, so amended, is much better in the interests of protecting the small zoo and the small zoo owner, who is given the right to go direct to the Secretary of State. It ensures that the small zoo owner will not be burdened by great costs. I commend, therefore, the acceptance of clause 14, plus the amendments, and the rejection of new clause 2.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hector Monro)

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have participated in the debate. This is a most important next stage towards implementing the Bill. There is no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), along with Lord Craigton, who has looked after the Bill in the other place, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), have adopted a positive approach. We are endeavouring to raise the standard of all zoos to those of our best. We have a large number of good zoos. They have nothing to fear. We are looking carefully at the issue of costs. I am certain, however, that when the Bill is on the statute book, those zoos that give us cause for great heartache and concern will have to raise their standards. This will be to their own advantage. They would then attract many more visitors and their finances, one hopes, would improve to enable them to face the modest cost, spread over years, for the issue of a licence.

I appreciate that many of the amendments tabled by the sponsor and myself have been placed on the Amendment Paper at a relatively late stage. I can only apologise. Other hon. Members have rightly put down amendments in case the amendments of the Government and the sponsor are not adequate. New clause 2 and amendment No. 113 might not have appeared had there been a longer time for my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) and those interested in the zoo industry to consider what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West proposes to add to clause 14.

We are not discussing clause 14 in opposition to new clause 2. We are discussing clause 14, plus the amendments, as against new clause 2. A careful reading of clause 14 plus the amendments shows that it is a step forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West accepts that there is much merit in parts of new clause 2. If, in another place, those parts of new clause 2 that have merit can be worked into clause 14, I would look with favour on such a development. The objective of the legislation is to produce the best possible Act of Parliament in the interests of the zoos and the public and also in the interests, which they cannot express themselves, of the animals. Many hon. Members have been concerned about the welfare of animals in certain establishments. One welcomes the involvement in the progress of the Bill of so many organisations interested in animal welfare.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West put his point clearly. His amendment No. 116 is designed to help the small zoo and to reduce the number of inspectors and, therefore, straight away reduce the cost.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West said that there was a loophole in clause 14. I do not think that there is, because the Secretary of State must be consulted in all cases and must consult the list before any zoo is taken out of the licensing system. The list contains experts in both zoo management and animal welfare, in particular people with veterinary expertise. There should be nothing now in clause 14 that will give concern to the small zoo owner.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. friend give some idea of the number of small zoos that are likely to gain exemption under clause 14? Will he also answer the question that I asked him earlier: if the Secretary of State is prepared to carry out this function in relation to clause 14 for the dispensation for small zoos, why is he not prepared to undertake the whole role of licensing for the entire industry?

Mr. Monro

I cannot, off the top of my head, give even the approximate number of small zoos. My hon. Friend probably has a good an idea of the number as I have. It all depends on the interpretation of clause 14. The zoo has to apply for a licence and then see whether it will be accepted by the Secretary of State as a small zoo. We must be flexible, and if the decision whether a zoo is small or otherwise is finely balanced, the Secretary of State will decide. The amendment has been included to help the small zoos.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West and my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) asked why the Secretary of State did not operate the whole system. My right hon. Friend really answered the question himself. The Secretary of State does not wish his Department to incur additional public expenditure for operating the whole licensing system. That is why, with the acceptance of the local authorities, we have moved in that direction. I see no reason why the system should not work effectively and efficiently.

Mr. Skeet

Is not my hon. Friend suggesting, therefore, that all the cost will be met from the rates, unless it is retrieved from the industry?

Mr. Monro

As my hon. Friend knows, the inspection costs will have to be funded direct by the industry. Much of the work carried out by the local authorities will be work already done by officials in fulfilling their duties to do with drains, public health and public protection. Where the cost to the local authority specifically relates to the zoo, as opposed to public health and drains, that will be a charge on the industry. Therefore, we hope that the charge on the rates will not be exceptional.

Mr. Peyton

The Secretary of State has imposed upon him many duties and will therefore require many expert advisers within his Department. Why does he not use them to cover the whole system, instead of delegating to local authorities and involving them in the expense also of recruiting, from a limited pool, enough experts to enable them to do their task?

If the Government wish to avoid any further public expenditure, why do they not recover, in the same way as local authorities will under the Bill, the costs that they incur? I do not understand my hon. Friend's argument.

Mr. Monro

We discussed that matter in some detail on Second Reading and it was a central theme in Committee.

Where I differ marginally from my right hon. Friend is on the involvement of the Secretary of State in compiling the list. Naturally the preparation of the initial list will take some work by one or two officials in my Department, who will have to collate the names and then work out the two lists, but once it is established there will be a minimum amount of work to be carried out by the Department and there will be no additional staff requirement. Were we to take on the full licensing and checking responsibilities we should require additional staff, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not prepared to accept that.

Mr. Peyton

My hon. Friend's Department is constantly urging local authorities to cut their expenditure and staff. Now he is saying that his Department will not recruit additional staff, but I think that he will need to, because he has large responsibilities to discharge under the Bill. I do not understand what will be gained by imposing this duty on local authorities and not facing the fact that ultimately my right hon. Friend is responsible. It would be easier for him, and it would be more efficient from the public's point of view, if he did the whole job.

Mr. Monro

Naturally, my right hon. Friend has given the matter careful thought over the period of the development of the Bill and when it was presented in another place by Lord Craigton. This is not new legislation that has appeared out of the blue; it has been evolving over some years.

My right hon. Friend is exaggerating the number of staff involved. We shall have the two lists set up by the Secretary of State, and the local authorities should not have to add anything to their staff requirements to implement the licensing of relatively few zoos spread across the country. The public health and protection expertise that will be needed—only a few hours during the inspection—will not require the employment of additional staff and certainly will not add substantially to the charge to the ratepayers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was clear that this method—working through the local authority licensing system—was the best for all interests, and that is what we have developed throughout the consideration of the Bill so far.

Mr. Skeet

My hon. Friend is being very helpful, but I am troubled. Clause 15(5) states that: The local authority shall secure … fees … sufficient to cover the amount of expenditure incurred by the authority". Therefore, if my hon. Friend does not accept the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), that the work should be done centrally, all the fees will have to be paid by the industry. Yet some of the industry is very small. This is a large Bill, containing 23 clauses and the imposition will be very heavy. There will be a burden.

Mr. Monro

I appreciate that the industry will face two financial impositions. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West explained the licensing fee. It will involve sums of perhaps £20 to £25 an hour for so many hours' inspection. Small zoos could probably be done in half a day, and the larger zoos might take two days. However, I am not certain about that. I leave it to the experts. If inspectors find deficiencies in zoos, whether in safety or animal welfare, I am certain that we would be at one in saying that the zoo should be required, over a reasonable period, to put that right. That is the purpose of the Bill. If we do not accept that the Bill will inevitably cost inefficient zoos something, the purpose of the legislation will be null and void. It will, of course, cost zoos something to raise their standards to the required level.

I advise the House to accept the amendment to clause 14 proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West, and agree to look at new clause 2 in another place to see whether any parts of it can be developed into clause 14 to the advantage of the Bill and the zoo industry.

11 am

Mr. Graham

If it is not a trite phrase, we have had a most illuminating and valuable one-and-a-half hours' debate on this issue. I hope that it is not an indication of how long we shall spend on the other items. I am conscious of the time.

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin), in a few words, satisfied me of the merit of new clause 2. He told us about a zoo which at one time may have been larger rather than smaller, well run and efficient, and which people were proud to visit, but which, with the passage of time, perhaps because of a change of management or policy, gradually changed to a small badly managed zoo. It would be wrong if it were possible to escape the licensing provisions merely by the criterion of size.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) raised the issue of the smoking beagles. He wondered whether that kind of syndrome was caught by the licensing provisions, bearing in mind that the Bill relates to the licensing of premises for the display of animals. Of course, the Bill has nothing to do with that.

I accept what the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) said, that the measure is a large Bill to deal with a comparatively small matter. As with most legislation, the Bill contains a lot of awkward wording. I agree also that if it were possible to rely, as he suggested, on a code of practice—the voluntary principle—we should not need or want to impose a penny on the rates, taxes or increase charges to the public.

Mr. Skeet

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is trying to help. Has he had an opportunity to study the code of practice that was put forward by the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland? It is a comprehensive document and seems to cover all the items that are necessary to ensure the maintenance of high standards, not only in the better zoos, but in the others.

Mr. Graham

I have read it. If those standards were maintained, they would provide what the sponsors of the Bill want. However, I am a great believer in some form of statutory back-up for any code of practice—a little bit of a stick and a carrot.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was right to pick me up when I said that there was support from all quarters for the Bill. I was careful to say that it was support, not demand. The agitation has not been such that everyone is screaming for legislation. But once the possibility of legislation emerged, people recognised that it might be the solution. However, we shall still rely on the willingness of local authorities and the public to put up with bad conditions, and the willingness of the ratepayer or taxpayer to pay.

We are anxious to make progress, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil that it is better to try to get the legislation right here than to rely on other people in another place, or even outside, having to interpret it, perhaps not carrying it out and having to go to court, and so on. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about subsection (4). In my view it is the kind of provision that would not be considered absolutely necessary by the other place.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the fundamental matter of the cost responsibility and the resource opportunity as between local authorities and the Government. That was one of the central issues on Second Reading and in Committee. Not all local authorities will want, or be able, to fulfil that responsibility. That is where the Secretary of State comes in, almost as a reserve, with the power to ensure that standards are protected. That is the balance. More stress should be put on local rather than central responsibility. We do not want the men in Whitehall running every aspect of our lives.

Mr. Peyton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way and for the manner in which he is seeking to meet my arguments. I object to having two layers of experts. It is quite unnecessary. The Secretary of State is deeply involved in the subject matter of the Bill, anyhow. I do not believe that he would require more staff than will be required now by a combination of himself and the local authorities. He would probably need fewer staff. The total expenditure generated by the Bill would be less and the Bill's objectives would be better served if it were concentrated in the Department, instead of being divided in the rather strange way that is proposed. I get the impression that the hon. Gentleman agrees with my argument.

Mr. Graham

If I have conveyed that impression, it is because I think that what the right hon. Gentleman says is very reasonable in the context of the division between local and central Government and the need not to waste resources. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) dealt with the fundamental concept here—not only of licensing, but of inspection. We do not expect local authorities to have experts who are competent to administer a zoo. When someone is needed to decide whether the standards of safety and welfare are adequate, we need an outside authority. This is where the list of independent people who are approved by the Secretary of State and sent in by him, comes in.

Mr. Skeet

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 covers a great deal of this. We have to be careful that we do not cover ground already covered by other legislation.

Mr. Crouch

I should like to take up this very point, and perhaps we shall then be able to leave it.

We have already debated this morning whether responsibility should lie at the top, with the Secretary of State, or at local authority level. I agree with the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). I believe in devolution, as do the Government and the Opposition. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act came about as a result of a recommendation by the Robens committee, which advanced the idea of the Health and Safety Commission and said that it should be administered at local level. It may help the hon. Gentleman if I say that district councils are already the licensing authorities under the Pet Animals Act 1951, the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963, the Riding Establishments Acts 1964 and 1970, and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. In my view the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) are right in saying that there should be devolution to the district level, under the supervision of the Secretary of State. What is more, there is a great deal of precedent for it.

Mr. Graham

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury. I recall that he dealt with that on Second Reading. He asked why we should have additional legislation when existing legislation ostensibly covered these matters. However, despite existing legislation that should cover them, we are still uneasy about certain events that have occurred. The hon. Member for Canterbury gave one or two graphic and dramatic illustrations of incidents that had occurred. There was no question of any dereliction of duty on anyone's part. They happened despite careful attention apparently being paid to inspection and safety.

The hon. Member for Dudley, West said that his proposed amendment to clause 14 went some way towards putting a little muscle into the provisions affecting small zoos. The central objection of the Opposition to clause 14 is that it goes out of its way to take account of the existence of small zoos without in any way defining "small" or "a few", and then goes on to talk of "an inspector or inspectors".

The hon. Member for Dudley, West also said that the cost of the proposed system would be related to the size of the establishment. However, first we have to decide what is "small", what is "a few" and how many inspectors are likely to be required.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Dudley, West and to the Minister, and I came to the conclusion that the House had three options before it. It could accept the new clause, it could accept the old clause plus the amendment, or it could delete clause 14 altogether. I should much prefer the House to accept the new clause. However, if I urged the House to do that, I sense that it would be opposed, the House would divide, and time would be taken up. In the event, it would merely delay the passage of the Bill.

Hon. Members will know that the Opposition have tabled only three amendments, one of which has not been selected. We have shown our desire that the Bill should make progress by tabling as few amendments as possible. We believe that this Bill is better than no Bill. However, it can be improved.

The Minister ended his speech by saying that he and the hon. Member for Dudley, West would study new clause 2 carefully to see whether it was possible in another place to improve clause 14 along the lines suggested by the Opposition. That being so, and bearing in mind that we have had a useful and valuable debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, and clause, by leave withdrawn.

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