HC Deb 12 June 1981 vol 6 cc683-8
Mr. Monro

I beg to move amendment No. 57, in page 6, line 3, leave out 'such' and insert 'the presidents of the British Veterinary Association, the National Federation of Zoological Gardens and the National Zoological Association and with such other'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

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

Government amendment No. 58.

No. 59, in page 6, line 5, leave out

'qualified to inspect animals in' and insert 'with experience of management of'. No. 61, in page 6, line 7, at end insert 'who, if consulted as a list shall be equally balanced between veterinary surgeons and practitioners and persons experienced in zoo management'.'.

Mr. Monro

Amendments Nos. 57 and 58 follow discussions with interested organisations and the industry in general. They are interested in the compilation of the Secretary of State's list. The organisations are keen to ensure that the presidents of the British Veterinary Association the National Federation of Zoological Gardens and the National Zoological Association are consulted with others whom the Secretary of State thinks fit to consult. That will ensure that we have expert advice.

I hope that Government amendments Nos. 57 and 58 will be acceptable not only to the House but to the zoo industry, as they were drafted at the latter's request. Amendment No. 59, however, is overtaken by amendment No. 58, which covers the point. Amendment No. 61 seems to imply that the list might be consulted as a body, which might bring together 50 or 100 people to discuss a particular issue. That is not what we envisaged and perhaps was not the intention of the hon. Members who tabled the amendment. I believe, however, that the two Government amendments will be to the advantage of everybody.

Mr. Colvin

I was happy to hear the words of the Under-Secretary of State, as one of the main areas of concern throughout the proceedings on the Bill so far has been the worry that those who really have experience of running zoos would in no way be consulted on an ongoing basis, nor have any say about who should be on the list of inspectors set up by the Secretary of State. What my hon. Friend has said, therefore, represents a great step in the right direction in that it removes one major worry.

The Government amendments, however, propose only the right of consultation. There is still the problem of including in the list people with experience in zoo management, which I believe is extremely important. The bodies included in the list read out by my hon. Friend are very important in the industry, but they do not encompass the whole of the industry. It was pointed out earlier that there are 177 zoos in this country. The combined membership of the National Federation of Zoological Gardens and the National Zoological Association amounts to 80 members. There is, therefore, still a large section of the industry which may not be consulted in the way in which those bodies will be consulted. I therefore hope that in the course of the Bill's passage from here to another place, the Under-Secretary of State and the promoter of the Bill will give serious consideration to including in the Secretary of State's list someone with experience in the management of zoos.

The proposals before us restore some of the balance, which was the other concern expressed by the zoo industry and which forms the basis of my amendment No. 61. There is a general worry that if the Secretary of State's list were any way unbalanced, decisions would tend to be partial rather than impartial. The two Government amendments, however, will allay many of those fears and I hope that we shall see a list that is not only efficient but well balanced and covering all interests.

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a further, minor point. Amendment No. 57 refers to the presidents of the bodies mentioned in the amendment. I think that he should perhaps think again about whether the presidents are the right people to consult on these matters. In my experience, presidents are generally titular heads with perhaps less experience of the day-to-day running of the undertaking involved than, say, the chairmen. So perhaps he might like to consider adding the words "or chairmen" to amendment No. 57. It seems that by plumping for presidents he has really rather narrowed the market.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Subsection (1A) of amendment No. 58 states: The surgeons and practitioners shall have experience of animals of kinds which are kept in zoos". Is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State satisfied that that is superior to or clearer in its effect than the original wording of clause 8: (in each case with experience of exotic animals)"? I do not know whether "exotic" is a term of art and closely defined or whether it merely means the sort of animals that we do not normally see in the United Kingdom. If it has the second meaning and refers to animals that are unusual, it seems to provide a better definition than the Government's amendment. Many zoos have the most ordinary animals in them, especially in children's parks, where there are often ponies and goats, which some of us could have experience of without being competent to say, for example, what was wrong with a macaw. Will my hon. Friend reconsider the definition in amendment No. 58, to which I have referred with a view to deciding whether it is superior to and clearer in its meaning than "exotic"?

Secondly, I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) said about presidents. The president of societies such as those that we have in mind usually turns out to be the Duke of Edinburgh. I do not know whether the Duke would wish to devote a great deal of his time to the inspection of zoos and carrying out the purposes of this measure. Will my hon. Friend ensure that he does not have to do that?

Mr. Peyton

I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has at least moved in the right direction. I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin). I cannot resist the opportunity of saying that in elaborating upon the duties of the Secretary of State the Minister makes it clear that a national aspect is involved. I repeat that my objections to the Bill would be removed almost at a stroke if the Government's view were modified and the local authorities were not to be given all the responsibility.

I wish to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) that if his Bill should fail to reach the statute book the main culprit will be the Secretary of State for the Environment. I do not doubt that at the back of it all is the Treasury, which for doctrinal reasons has come to a conclusion that is inappropriate for this measure.

Mr. Monro

I realise that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has strong objections to local authority licensing. I do not know the strength of support that he has throughout the House, but it is clear that he has some supporters. I should like to do everything possible to enable the Bill's supporters to take my right hon. Friend with them and to achieve their objective of putting the Bill on the statute book.

However, there are limits to what would be a fairly fundamental change. Much as I should like to say that I shall reconsider the matter, I cannot envisage a major change from local authority licensing to the Secretary of State's licensing, such as my right hon. Friend would wish. If there is any way in which I could reduce the burden on local authorities, I should be only too glad to adopt it if that would meet my right hon. Friend's wishes.

1.15 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) was gracious about accepting the amendment. There is much common ground between us. We both accept that in the list, which will consist of two parts, we must have experts in zoo management. I also appreciate that there are not all that many experts in zoo management and that it will not be as simple to draw up a list of those experts as it will be to do so on the veterinary side, on which there is a comparatively large number of highly qualified, experienced vets.

Mr. Colvin

On that same argument rests our case for not leaving that responsibility in the hands of local authorities. It is difficult to find anyone with proper experience of the running of zoos. That is another good argument for leaving the matter in the Secretary of State's capable hands.

Mr. Monro

I note what my hon. Friend has said. The amendment provides that people on the list must advise on the management of zoos generally. We have taken that matter on board through discussions with the industry and the important speeches made by my hon. Friend on Second Reading and in detail in Committee.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, North-West and for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) referred to presidents. That is a legal term. We would not expect the president to be the only person whom one would consult. It is a way of saying that one would consult the association, which might have a director-general, a general secretary or chairman who could give advice. We would not be too hard and fast and inflexible about who would be consulted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned the drafting change relative to exotic animals. In a way, he answered his own point. The new drafting would cover the point that he makes about farms in zoos, a corner for domestic farm animals such as cattle, sheep and lambs, which no one could call exotic, but which would come within the definition of animals likely to be found in a zoo. That is more flexible and gives greater opportunity for bringing in farm animals and other animals normally found in this country which could not be classed as exotic. Therefore, that is a clarification and gives greater flexibility, which is an improvement in the drafting.

Mr. Peyton

I wish to take my hon. Friend back to the point that I made and to which he responded with great courtesy and patience. I do not want to exhaust his patience, but I should like to ask him whether he could go further.

I appreciate that, on a Friday afternoon, my hon. Friend does not have much opportunity to discuss the matter with colleagues. I would appreciate it if he would give me an undertaking to review the question of who should be the licensing authority, to receive representations from the people engaged in that business and to see whether his arguments about the costs being neglible for local authorities, but high for him, hold water. I do not believe that they do. If he would undertake to have realistic consultations with the industry on that point, my attitude to the Bill would change altogether.

Mr. Monro

My right hon. Friend is pressing hard on a major issue. I appreciate the strength of his feelings. Over the past 18 months we have consulted in great depth with everyone involved, and Lord Craigton has done so for many years in another place. However, at the end of the day, decisions have to be made. The Secretary of State came down firmly on the side of local authority licensing and, as we agreed in the Bill, by district councils. I shall draw my right hon. Friend's strongly held views to the attention of the Secretary of State, as I always want to meet his wishes as far as I can, but I cannot hold out a great deal of hope for a major change of policy in another place.

Mr. Colvin

Surely this raises the whole question of the Government's attitude to the Bill. In Committee, the Minister, by an astute move, got rid of the money resolution. Cost is of major concern to the industry, particularly for small zoos. It has been our consistent argument that if the financial burden were carried by the Department of the Environment it would be peanuts. Indeed, the Minister questions the fact that the inspection fees might be as much as £1,000. However, the costs could put a small zoo out of business. Further, there is a serious likelihood that there will be repeated informal and special inspections, which could impose an additional burden on zoos.

The money resolution provided for reasonable fees to be borne by the licensing authority, and the word "reasonable" was extremely important. The Minister brought forward new clause 1—

Mr. Crouch

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It does not appear that my hon. Friend is speaking to the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman was asking a question.

Mr. Crouch

Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are the questions in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Had I considered them out of order, I should have so ruled.

Mr. Colvin

What made the Government decide to impose the whole burden of costs and fees on the zoo industry? Why did they remove the opportunity for reasonable costs to be borne by the Department? It seems that a gun was held at the Minister's back—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman appears to be making a lengthy intervention and not asking a question. I understood that an hon. Member could not speak twice at this time without the leave of the House. Is there a limit to the length of interventions?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has asked many questions, and it is a lengthy intervention. Perhaps we had better leave it at that.

Mr. Monro

I was making a simple proposition to add the associations to those who must be consulted by the Secretary of State, which he will gladly do, to have the most effective list. I have also been trying to take my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil with me a little further than perhaps at present he wishes to go. I hope that he is becoming more favourably inclined to the Bill as he sees amendments moved and accepted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West was reopening the issue of the Secretary of State's licensing, as opposed to local authority licensing. I feel that I have gone as far as I can in answer to him, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, in trying to show that it is our firm policy that this is the way forward. I feel at this stage that it is too late for a reversal of policy such as they wish. As I have said all along, we shall look at ways and means of reducing costs, although basically the cost of inspection, within the first four years and, subsequently, in six years, will not be so dramatically heavy on the majority of zoos if carried out in a reasonable way, as the Secretary of State's guidelines will lay down.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 58, in page 6, line 3, leave out from 'list' to end of line 7 and insert 'consisting of two parts, the first part containing the names of veterinary surgeons and veterinary practitioners falling within subsection (1A) and the second part containing the names of persons falling within subsection (1B). (1A) The surgeons and practitioners shall have experience of animals of kinds which are kept in zoos or which in the Secretary of State's opinion might be so kept. (1B) Each of the persons shall be competent in the Secretary of State's opinion to do all the following, namely, to inspect animals in zoos, to advise on keeping them and on their welfare, and to advise on the management of zoos generally. (1C) A person's name may be contained in both the first and the second parts of the list.'.—[Mr. Monro.]

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