HC Deb 06 March 1981 vol 1000 cc525-62

Order for Second Reading read.

9.35 am
Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

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

Unlike a number of Bills introduced by hon. Members who have been able to secure a high place in the ballot, this Bill is making its first appearance before the House of Commons. It is a culmination of over live years' research and study into the zoo industry. It is fitting and, indeed, honourable that I should place on record my warm and generous applause and commendation to the right hon. and noble Lord Craigton, who has worked tirelessly in support of the concept of the Bill.

I am equally humble that so many hon. Members have given their support to the measure. It is a fitting tribute to the Bill that we have sponsorship from the Labour, Liberal and Government Benches. I am particularly delighted to see a representative of the Opposition on the Front Bench this morning for this important Bill. I am deeply indebted to all these hon. Gentlemen for the support they have displayed, and equally I am delighted to receive the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes).

I am equally pleased to place on record my pleasure at the detailed discussions that I have been able to have with officials of the zoo industry, the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers and many other bodies involved at national level in the care of animals. I am pleased that there has been a wide measure of agreement with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If the Bill commends itself to the House, I am equally certain that further discussions will take place prior to the Committee stage.

Many of my hon. Friends—if they are able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—will be able to reflect the position at their own constituency level, but I should like, in introducing my Bill, to deal with several broad issues.

I shall during the course of the debate refer to the zoo world as the zoo industry. In many respects, it is an industry. It employs several thousand people, it gives an excellent service to the public, and it is playing a vital role in the corporate tourist industry.

The zoo industry is also unique in that it plays a vital role in education. It is a great reflection on the industry that there are 22 zoos in this country which have classroom or lecture facilities in order to enhance the educational standpoint of the zoo industry.

It is an industry that has been growing at about 10 per cent. per annum over the last three years, and in my judgment it is vital that the safety of members of the staff employed in that industry, the safety of visitors using the industry, the care and welfare of animals, and the proper establishment of the industry should be brought to the forefront in Government and national considerations.

By definition, the Bill has the prime object of providing for the systematic control, inspection of establishments and licensing where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public for at least seven days a year. Those seven days are irrespective of whether it is by payment.

My hon. Friends will deal with many specific issues. I want to deal with two in my comments in introducing the Bill. First, I turn to the licensing and enforcement aspects. Both the time between inspections and the period for which the licence is granted are of importance. It is necessary to have an inspection in the year before the licence is renewed. The Bill provides for an inspection before a licence for four years is granted to an existing zoo and then for a second inspection not later then six months before the end of the fourth year. From my discussions with the industry, I understand that it is the second inspection that may be critical for some zoos because of work that they should have undertaken in connection with the granting of licences. Through the medium of the list of inspectors, the Secretary of State must be satisfied about the way that the zoo is being run. A renewal of the licence may be granted automatically for a period of six years after inspection. But if the inspectors are not satisfied, the zoo must go through the rigmarole of applying for a new licence.

I am able to address the House with confidence this morning and say that, in essence, the motive of the Bill is that those responsible, mature people in the zoo industry who conduct a high standard of service to the public have nothing to fear from the Bill. Equally, those who do not match up to the standards that would be introduced by the Bill have something to fear in as much as time will be given to them to introduce the remedial measures before the granting of a licence.

During the six-year period inspections take place every third and sixth year, and each time the renewal could be automatic according to circumstances. That is an important cornerstone of the Bill. It is important that the zoo should be able to plan ahead with equanimity and not be in constant fear of losing its licence. The important aspect is the welfare of the animals, and no licence can be granted or lost without the approval of someone on the Secretary of State's list of inspectors. I am sure that it is a source of comfort to members of the zoo industry to know that their future will lie, by means of inspection, in the hands of experts on exotic animals.

In spite of the necessarily understanding nature of the Bill, it has teeth. For example, it is an offence that justifies the loss of a licence if any of the recommendations in the inspector's report is not complied with. The recommendations will cover the whole area of animal husbandry, including a very important requirement which is not applicable now, namely, that the zoo should maintain adequate records of its stocks. Through that system of inspections and arising out of them are requirements that become legally enforceable if the licence is to be maintained.

During the course of the debate a number of hon. Members will, naturally, reflect on the concept of the Georgian zoo, typified by the London zoo that was virtually created by King George IV, and also the Victorian zoo, which some of us remember. Those are things of the past in the zoo industry. The cages have changed. In many respects, they have gone altogether. Those changes will continue, and the provision in the Bill enables British zoos slowly to improve and continually to modernise wherever that can be done.

The second specific aspect to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is a fashionable and real one, namely, conservation. The Bill is concerned with the welfare of all the animals and with one of the zoo's essential functions, which is to conserve endangered species and to breed animals for their own exhibits. The world position is that zoos take only a fraction of their animals from the wild. Compared with the demands of trade, less than 2 per cent. of the total taken from the wild eventually find themselves in zoos. So even today it is the clothing and ornament industries, not the zoos, that are robbing the wild of the irreplaceable animal life that still exists.

Over the years the growing scarcity in the wild has brought a change in the aspect of zoos towards their exhibits. At the turn of the century the claim of one zoo over another was simply that it had a larger collection and range of a specific species. That claim is now long past. In walking down the avenues of the zoo industry, which I have done for many years, I see the essential realisation that breeding of animals for the zoo world is an essential part of the zoo industry. A large number of zoo animals now have their own stud books. In many countries zoos are in correspondence with each other about such animals. They are experts in their treatment and breeding and the sending of males and females on loan under a recognised contract regarding the ownership of the offspring.

Such expertise, and such groups of zoos, all with the same animal in mind will, I believe—indeed I prophesy—in the next 50 years become essential if the zoos are to continue to exhibit that animal. As we all know from our childhood, the trend has been to have 10 cages housing 10 individual animals, many of them probably of the same species. That has changed. The public now find it attractive to see a pen with 10 animals living together in a family group.

When those principles are applied to animals in the wild that are endangered, the position is even more critical. I wish to dwell on one animal, namely, the Siberian tiger. That species has been long endangered in the wild, and its extinction may be on the horizon. But that same tiger in the zoo will breed freely. Like all cats, given the proper feeding it will multiply quickly. But it is very expensive to feed and house a tiger. It is very difficult, in a tiger's own interests, to strike the right balance. There is no single solution, but I believe that there is a wonderful spirit of cooperation in the zoo world that seeks to give the opportunities for zoos without certain animals to receive them from others that have bred them in captivity.

I do not believe that we could have this debate without mentioning the events of the past 72 hours. I am bold enough, and prepared to show enough courage, to say on behalf of both sides of the House that we wish Chia-Chia and Ling-Ling a most happy and fruitful marriage—which took place yesterday.

Zoos throughout the world should play an essential part in the conservation of wild creatures, endangered or not. This is a new science, perhaps no more than 20 years old. Zoos have a long way to go, and they acknowledge that they have much to learn. The Bill will give them the permanency and stability that they need.

The Bill also differs from other Bills introduced as Private Members' measures because it is a gathering together of a cross-section of public opinion. It is a comprehensive measure that is bound together in 22 clauses. It is also comprehensive in its application, because it will apply also to Scotland and to the Principality of Wales. I tread fearfully when I say that I hope that the Bill will receive passing support from Her Majesty's Government, whose Front Bench is represented here today. Certainly it has the seal of approval of the vast majority of all responsible and reasonable people of good will, both within the zoo industry and outside.

The House is entitled to know the motive that has prompted me to introduce this measure. First, I was fortunate in being drawn so high in the ballot. By natural inclination, I would have selected the measure that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I then considered introducing this measure, which will have the effect of lifting the standard of the zoo industry.

To lift the standard of the zoo industry is an important part of my motives. The standard—not only of the collections and of the premises, but of the quality of the staff and the career structure that would be a natural byproduct of such a measure—should be improved. In this connection, I pay particular tribute to the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers for the documents that I have received from it. I applaud its attempts to create a professional standing for the people who work in the industry.

One could spend much time developing with detailed knowledge the concept of the preservation of certain species. In this role the zoo industry has a commendable record. I have spoken to many people who have a genuine affection and regard for animals, and I share their affection and regard. However, I emphasise that this is not an animal Bill; it is a zoo Bill. I am able to report with confidence that the care and welfare of the animals will at last be subject to the provisions of a statute, and the result will be not only inspections of the animals but a record of their history at each individual zoo and detailed features concerning their life history and the means of their eventual decease or transfer.

I do not want to give the House the impression that all is well in the zoo industry. Tragically there has been a certain amount of publicity recently which has not enhanced the standing of the industry. I quietly pray that my Bill will go some way towards remedying that criticism and restoring the industry to its former high standing in the eyes of the general public, the consumer. I am aware that many hon. Members, as evidenced by the number of hon. Members here, have done detailed research work on the Bill, and I shall welcome comments in the debate seeking to enhance the Bill, particularly in Committee. In a spirit of good will, I am most happy to give serious thought to any such comments that are made at this juncture.

I am delighted to be associated with the zoo industry, and with the many people of good will, both inside and outside the Palace of Westminster, who have given me their warm and generous support for the Bill. I am humbled at being the instrument by which this Bill has made its journey so far towards the statute book. There are those who would say that this morning we are laying the foundation stone of a new, excellent, professional and caring zoo industry. I pray that history will look back on today's events and say that Members of the House of Commons not only laid the foundation stone but erected a monument to the future of the zoo industry.

I commend the Bill to the House for a Second Reading.

9.55 am
Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

During the past year or so I have rarely congratulated and thanked any member of the Conservative Party. [Interruption.] There is not much to thank Conservative Members for, but I am extremely grateful to the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn). I am sorry that what I thought was a graceful introduction to my speech whould be so badly received. I am not grateful to the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, but I am grateful to him for introducing the Bill. It has been needed for a long time, and some of us have been trying to get a measure of this kind on to the statute book for four or five years. It is most gratifying that one of the hon. Members who were successful in the ballot should be kind enough to the zoo industry and to society and education organisations within society to have used his place for the purpose. I express gratitude to him on behalf of many of my hon. Friends and people outside the House.

As I say, the Bill has been bouncing around for a long time. The hon. Gentleman gave us ample evidence of the appropriate timing of the Bill, and it is timely that it has been presented now.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the purposes of the Bill. He suggested that it would provide a sensible form of licensing. Those of us who have examined the Bill accept that. He described the purposes of zoos. As he said, they entertain, interest and, to a marked and increasing extent, educate. Those are legitimate purposes as long as they present the animals in a decent way and avoid suffering. We must ensure that any suffering is avoided. We must ensure that animals are not put down thoughtlessly, and perhaps inhumanely, at the end of the summer season, when the visitors have all gone. Thus, licensing can contribute to decency and humanity as well as to interest, entertainment and education.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a further purpose, and it is to that matter that I shall address my remarks. Habitat is being destroyed in the world at an alarming rate. Forests are being obliterated, and the land on which the forest grew is being sterilised at a rate that the House has not begun to appreciate. Experts in forestry and botanists tell us that millions of hectares of forests are being destroyed every few weeks. That means that habitat is being destroyed, and not only forest habitats. Wetlands are being drained, and erosion as a result of short-sighted agricultural practices is developing rapidly. Man is so rapiciously consuming his environment and destroying his habitat that species are beginning to disappear at a rate that could not have been imagined a decade ago. Therefore, we are right to say that the Bill should pay tribute to that purpose of zoo keeping, which must be enhanced—the protection of endangered species and the provision of an opportunity for them to procreate.

In that connection, I notice with interest the hon. Gentleman's reference to pandas. I try not to view animals with excessive sentimentality. Even when I bred dogs, I did not refer to their mating as a marriage. Although I may not use the same approach as the hon. Gentleman, I believe that it is highly desirable that pandas should procreate, whether one considers their union sacred or not. I hope that we shall see those pandas and other creatures producing more offspring. There are creatures even scarcer than pandas, some of which are already extinct in the wild. It will be the task of zoos in some of those cases to ensure that the wild areas are repopulated.

When I had my Private Member's Bill in 1975, the Botanical Society for the British Isles informed me that there was one Lady's Slipper orchid left in the wild in Britain. We protected it. Indeed, it was so well protected that the people advising me did not want to tell me where it was in case someone picked it. A few are now growing in the wild because some people grew the orchids in a domestic rather than a wild environment. A certain amount of repopulation is taking place. Such repopulation must be undertaken on an increasing scale. Conservation is an essential purpose that must be served.

Pesticides that we will not allow to be used in this country are used extensively in some tropical and other areas of the world, destroying utterly, and perhaps finally, the habitat in which they are applied. One can, therefore, understand the need for advanced countries, perhaps even countries that are not quite as advanced as we should like—and that includes this country—to make a more marked contribution to world conservation.

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the point that I now make. It is one that the House should increasingly understand. More people now belong to conservation organisations—more people are passionately interested in the causes of the environment—than the total membership of the party political organisations in this country. I do not mean to say that some of those people are not in politics. Some are active in political parties and conservation bodies. However, the fact is that the population at large may now be more alert to the needs embodied in the world conservation strategy than people actively involved in politics, perhaps because we are too busy looking at the harsh, stern realities of the day. People in conservation bodies recognise that among those realities is the fact that we have an obligation to ensure that the environment and the species within it survive.

That is one reason why I welcome the Bill and hope that we can rapidly get it out of the way in good order. Those of us who are interested in such matters can then turn rather more attention to the Wild Life and Countryside Bill [Lords], which I hope will reach this House shortly. I know the Minister's occupation at this moment, but he will understand clearly that hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly on the Opposition Benches, will be seeking to ensure that the hon. Gentleman's private initiative in bringing forward this useful and relevant measure is matched by a worthwhile rather than a worthless measure to deal with the Government's responsibility. I hope that the Minister will take note that, even though the Bill may not be of massive and major consequence compared with the alarming conditions that we face economically and socially, it is nevertheless commendable that a Conservative Member should have-brought it forward. The Government should reciprocate by bringing forward a relevant and appropriate measure to deal with the wider but related subject.

Conservation bodies are increasingly demanding that the aims embodied in the world conservation strategy are fully served. If they are, our zoos will make a proper contribution to the repopulation of the areas from which species have become extinct. Zoos have an obligation to contribute to conservation and survival. Many are already aware of that obligation and are fulfilling it. A zoo that is not willing to contribute to the cause should not command respect. Fortunately, we have splendid examples of zoos and wild life establishments in the United Kingdom that make a marked contribution. They are popular and esteemed and may be particularly successful because of their contribution. Over the next few years the public, when they visit such an establishment, may begin increasingly to ask what contribution to world repopulation of scarce creatures the zoo is making. It may be profitable for zoos to understand that that obligation exists. Whether they do or do not, I hope that we can ensure that the inspectors responsible maintain high standards and encourage that responsible approach.

We endorse the hon. Gentleman's reference to the need for pandas to procreate, but the inspectors should also suggest to the owners and managers of these establishments that there are already too many creatures of certain species in zoos. Safari parks give lions a great deal of freedom, but the parks should recognise that the lions' enjoyment of that freedom tends to produce rather a large number of cubs. They need to take action to prevent the results of lion procreation. Perhaps management of stocks in zoos will have to be one responsibility that inspectors pursue.

I wish the Bill well. I hope that we can improve it in the small ways in which improvement may be required. I trust that the Government will give the hon. Gentleman their backing and that in pretty swift time we can ensure that it passes through its other stages and reaches the statute book.

10.9 am

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. I start by extending my triple congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn): on his good fortune in achieving so favourable a position in the ballot for Private Members' Bills; on his good sense and wisdom in selecting this topic to give effect to his good forutne; and on the thoughtful and persuasive way in which he commended his Bill to the House.

I welcome the Bill as one of good intent, whose good intent is clothed with what I apprehend will be effective machinery to carry it into positive and constructive action. Of course, in principle I, together with my hon. Friends at any rate, would not wish to add to the paraphernalia of controls that we already have in such good measure in this country. But, as you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your previous distinguished association with the law, it is a tradition of English law to provide safeguards by statute in the spheres of, in particular, public health and public safety. The Bill is in accordance with that long tradition.

The Bill is also in accordance with another tradition of the English law—the tradition of humanitarian legislation for the protection of those, be they human or be they animal, that in the nature of things must be in the care or custody of others. In this context, it is recognised that the powers of town and country planning law, which is the general instrument for the regulation and control of the use and development of land, in certain respects require reinforcement. In many spheres the machinery of the enforcement takes the form of special licensing provisions introduced by law. As right hon. and hon. Members will see in their perusal of the Bill, it falls into that respectable category. In my view, the principle of licensing is appropriate in this context. The criteria for judging and deciding applications for licences as set out in clause 4 are fair and reasonable.

My general endorsement of the principle of the Bill derives, certainly not wholly, or even perhaps mainly, but in part, from a constituency interest. There is in my constituency in the district of East Hertfordshire a zoo known as the Broxbourne zoo, which in the past has from time to time attracted critical comments, directed not only to me but to one or two hon. Members from neighbouring consituencies, since the catchment area of a zoo is not circumscribed within any one particular constituency. Indeed, the hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), was, I think, one of the recipients of such comments. It is fair to say that the representations are in the past; I have had no recent representation. Indeed, not so long ago there was a change in the pattern of ownership, control and administration of the zoo, which enabled people to entertain high hopes for its future. But, as in other matters of life, I understand that logistical and financial considerations have made the realisation of those high hopes rather more difficult than was originally thought. It follows that we must view its future in terms of hope rather than absolute confidence.

That zoo, like all existing zoos, will, if the Bill is enacted, come within the transitional provisions of clause 19. Subject only to one proviso, to which I shall come in a moment, it seems to me that those transitional provisions are eminently fair and reasonable, consisting in effect of a right to continue for six months before being, as it were, absorbed into the general licensing procedures that will apply overall if the Bill is enacted. As you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would not seek to prejudice or prophesy the outcome of any application under clause 19(1)(b) by the proprietor of the Broxbourne zoo or any other existing zoo. Such applications will be determined objectively according to the statutory criteria in clause 4.

I come to my residual query, the proviso to which I referred. I would not go so far as to say that there is a lacuna in the Bill, but it is silent on what I would call the practical aspects and implications of discontinuance. I have no doubt that when the Bill is enacted the combined effects of sections 1 and 19 as they will then be, will be to require discontinuance in the case of those existing zoos that have their applications under clause 19 refused on the ground that they cannot satisfy the criteria of clause 4. I have no doubt that that will be the position in law—and a perfectly proper position it is.

But certain practical questions can arise in the event of discontinuance. How is discontinuance to be achieved? What are the methods for enforcement? How is an existing zoo proprietor, faced with a discontinuance requirement by reason of the failure of his application under clause 19, to deal with the animals that are there? Whose responsibility will they become? Where will that responsibility be discharged, how, and by whom?

On my reading of it, the Bill is silent as to those practical matters. It may be said that that is not a matter for this legislation, but these are the problems that would arise in the event of what is admittedly now a hypothetical situation, a hypothetical situation because one can envisage the possibility that no clause 19 application in respect of any existing zoo would be refused. That is at any rate a theoretical possibility, but I doubt that it is probable, because, if it were so, one would wonder why the Bill should attract warm support on as wide a scale as it undoubtedly has.

Therefore, the House, my hon. Friend who has produced this excellent Bill, and Ministers concerned must accept that there probably will be practical problems and that some thought should be given to them. No doubt when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment speaks he will record the Government's blessing for the Bill, and properly so, but I hope that in doing so he will be able to indicate the approach to this practical aspect of the matter to which I have thought it proper to draw attention.

With that one proviso, and on the assumption that the Minister sees no logistical problems facing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the compilation and operation of his clause 8 list of inspectors, I give a warm welcome to the Bill.

10.20 am
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I congratulate the promoter of the Bill on introducing this worthy measure. I have happy childhood memories of visiting Dudley zoo in the 1930s when it was fairly new. It has experienced some rough periods since, and now it is run by the local authority.

I wish the Bill well and trust that the Government will give it their blessing. The present situation leaves a great deal to be desired and the need for legislation is evident. My constituency contains a zoo which in the past has been the cause of comments. Justified representations have been made to me and to my predecessor. Now it is under different ownership and operated under a different concept. Today people raise money for it in the streets. Mr. Jack Corney now runs the Sandown zoo to which I refer. Had the Bill been enacted action would have been taken much earlier and the misery caused to animals under the previous administration could have been brought to a halt. That is a good reason for supporting the Bill

I am proud to be a sponsor of the Bill, but I believe that it is not strong enough. Over the years the word"zoo" has become increasingly unacceptable to a large ill-informed and emotional section of the community. Zoological establishments have had to resort to masking their true identities behind alternative descriptions such as"safari park""zoological gardens", and"zoo parks." Much of the criticism aimed at many of the zoos has been unfair. However, that criticisms continue to be made must reflect genuine dissatisfaction by the visiting public.

The reasons are many. In the past—and sadly, to some extent today, although there are some excellent zoos—British zoos have been planned, controlled and organised by zoologists. Too often they are, therefore, heavily biased towards the scientific and technical interests of zoologists. The full interests and rights of the paying public have been almost ignored or have been subjected to condescending treatment.

Many zoos were designed in an era when the public were curiously ignorant. Many visitors had seen exotic animals only in books or at the cinema. Today, through the medium of excellent television wildlife documentary films, we are taken to the natural habitats of animals and are therefore more educated and critical. The Attenborough and similar programmes are great features of television today. People are no longer satisfied to gaze in awe at an animal which is bored and uninteresting compared with what they have seen on their television screens.

A zoo cage notice giving the common or scientific names of the specimens with little or no other information is no longer adequate. In other words, to the average sophisticated and knowledge-hungry visitor of today some zoos, are, in a word, boring.

Perhaps there is a reluctance in the United Kingdom to admit that zoos are commercial organisations like any other technical business. It is therefore unrealistic to expect an academic to rule supreme as an authority on zoology, veterinary practice, staff, gardens, shops, cafes, refuse, ladies' lavatories and public relations.

The United States of America is recognising that fact of life. Many zoos in the United States have a business man as zoo director with a zoological director, vet, PRO, educationist, and so on. For that reason, United States zoos are generally more efficiently run and generate more finance through their gates and from other sources—federal and State authorities, local business sponsors and donors.

In addition to being a place of education, a zoo must be a place of entertainment. Whether we like it or not, a zoo is show business. With the right sort of entertainment the public can be efficiently and effectively educated. In the United States the public are given the opportunity to handle docile animals with little or no danger. The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) will remember that we handled docile animals in Australia recently. Staff, permanent or voluntary, are often on hand to explain in layman's language some of the interesting aspects of the exhibits. United States zoos have succeeded in persuading the local populace, businesses and authorities that the zoo is the joint responsibility of all. By so doing, financial backing is more readily available.

The St. Louis zoo and others make no entrance charge. Much of the financial burden is relieved by donations, sponsorship, fund raising, and"adopt an animal" or"feed a friend" schemes. Once inside the zoo, however, the maximum temptation is put in the way of visitors to relieve them of their money. Often it is impossible to leave or enter a zoo without passing through a shop or a shopping complex.

The average United Kingdom zoo shop is so situated that parents can guide their children and themselves past it to avoid expenditure. The contents of the shop might also lead one to suspect that visitors to some United Kingdom zoos are either cretins or penniless, or both. All too often only a selection of cheap souvenirs is available for sale.

United States zoos are mastering the art of using volunteer helpers. Cincinnati zoo has over 80 volunteers in all sections. The Gladys Porter zoo has a dedicated team of fund raisers and organises"zoofaris" to all parts of the world.

The standard of exhibits in United States zoos is improving impressively. Some of the techniques available make it difficult to differentiate between natural and artificial surroundings. There is less evidence of architecturally designed monstrosities. Many people believe the architect to be the most dangerous animal in a zoo. When it comes to attracting, entertaining and satisfying the public, United States zoos on the whole are many years ahead of their United Kingdom counterparts.

I turn to the clauses. I doubt whether the definition of"zoo" is comprehensive enough. I am told that there could be a loophole over the vexed question of breeding for sale. We shall have to examine that in Committee. The Bill gives the power of licensing to the second tier administrations—the boroughs and districts in England and the districts in Scotland. That is open to question. I assume that such authorities are believed to have the better qualified staff. However, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease is dealt with by the county councils which also have an animal welfare role. It might be better to give the job of licensing to the counties.

We should spell out who we have in mind in clause 3(l)(c). Clause 4(2) needs strengthening in relation to safety standards. Clause 5(3)(b) is absolutely essential. The keeping of adequate records is desperately important and it is not done sufficiently at present.

Clause 8 does not fully develop the role of the Secretary of State and the committee of consultants. There are plenty of experts available in this country and it will not be difficult to set up a good committee. I hope that its members will be people to whom we can look with confidence since they will be experts in their respective fields. Their role could be expanded.

The four weeks' notice of inspection in clause 9(2) is possibly too generous and risky. A zoo could organise a big clean-up in that time. We shall have to find a more definite interpretation of what we mean by a"properly constituted body" as described in clause 10(l)(b).

Clause 12 needs careful consideration. I doubt whether it is adequate as drafted. I should like clause 13, dealing with small zoos, to be excluded from the Bill. All people who keep wild animals should be covered in the Bill. I also dislike clause 15 which covers the movement of animals. I hope to persuade the promoter to withdraw it. When a licence is withdrawn and an appeal made to a magistrates' court, surely the advice of the Secretary of State's consultants should be available to the justices.

I do not know whether that can be written into the Bill in some form. I am not a JP, but if I were sitting on the bench having to decide an appeal I would want to hear expert witnesses. It seems only right to turn to those on the panel if it is set up.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Surely, if the local authority, having refused the licence, is the respondent to the appeal, it will be perfectly competent for it to call someone from the list of those who have made inspections or recommendations.

Mr. Ross

I never argue with lawyers. I am sure that is correct. It would be acceptable to me if that is how it is envisaged that the scheme will work.

I am not happy about clause 18, the cruelty clause. Anyone found guilty of cruelty should be banned, if not for life, at least for many years. Clause 21(2)(a) and (b), although wholly understandable, is open to abuse.

This is a licensing Bill. I hope that the Government will respond to my suggestion that there should be welfare standards established by order and not simply by a code of practice. I wonder if that can be discussed in Committee.

Those are my reservations. I hope that the Bill will quickly reach its Committee stage and will make rapid progress. I understand that there is a reason, but perhaps the promoter will explain, why the Bill should not apply to Northern Ireland. Is it because of the present constitutional structure? If the Bill can be extended to Northern Ireland, I suggest that this would be sensible.

10.31 am
Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

I must confess that my views about zoological gardens stem from an early childhood visit that was not as happy as those of some hon. Members. I have a vivid and painful recollection of seeing a tiger balefully gazing out of a very small cage in which it was pacing up and down. Its surroundings bore no resemblance to the natural habitat from which it had originally come. The misery, frustration and stress apparent in that one animal have remained with me.

In general, I am not keen on the concept of a zoo unless the surroundings in which the animals are kept bear some relationship to their natural habitat. I recognise that there has been a welcome move in recent years away from close confinement. None the less, I still have deep reservations. I am not so concerned or so impressed by arguments of conservation. My main concern is for the welfare of those animals kept in zoos or establishments, by whatever name they may be called.

I suppose that I should declare an interest. It is a non-financial interest as chairman of the council of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The RSPCA has been deeply concerned about zoos for a number of years. Members of its professional staff, at some stage or other, have visited every zoo. The number of zoos fluctuate, but I believe it is around 150, give or take some as they appear or disappear. I am informed that of all the zoos they have visited only about a quarter measure up to the standards that the RSPCA, as a welfare organisation, would like to see. By that same token three-quarters of the zoos are unsatisfactory and below standard.

We all welcome the introduction of a Bill that will licence and seek to control zoological establishments. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) for seeing the necessity for such a Bill and introducing it. I hope, however, that he will be understanding when I say that I have some reservations about it. Some of those reservations are serious. I look forward to a productive Committee stage to try to put matters right.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has already given an indication of one gap that he sees in the practial application of the Bill. I shall not therefore deal with that matter. My right hon. and learned Friend expresed it most eloquently. I should like to turn to the first principle, the definition of a zoo, which readsIn this Act 'zoo' means an establishment where wild animals (as defined by section 20) are kept for exhibition to the public otherwise than for sale, or, for purposes of a circus (as so defined); and this Act applies to any zoo to which members of the public have access, with or without charge for admission, on more than seven days in any period of 12 consecutive months". The point I have in mind has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). It needs to be stressed. A zoo is apparently not a zoo if it includes in it animals for sale. I can see this driving a coach and horses through the provisions of the Bill unless the position is made clear. At the very least, there should be an amendment indicating that the main purpose, but not necessarily the sole purpose, of a zoo is to exhibit animals. Otherwise selling off one cage of budgerigars might bring the zoo outside the scope of the regulations. That would be disastrous. I look for a much closer and tighter definition of what is meant by a zoo.

I should next like to refer to what I can only describe as a glaring omission. We are, after all, dealing with establishments that have not hitherto been controlled, licensed or standardised in any way. Yet nowhere in the Bill is there any reference either to a voluntary code or, better still, to statutory regulations which would deal with standards, whether those standards are for the safety of the public—I have seen RSPCA slides which show that the public are very much at risk from some wild animals—or for the welfare of the animals themselves. It is not simply a matter of proper food, proper watering, proper shelter and proper veterinary arrangements. It is, in my view, necessary to have standards that give some comfort and care to the animals with regard to their natural way of living.

We are very much more understanding than in the past about the importance of ensuring that an animal's natural way of living, whether singly or in groups, is cared for. One of the wickednesses of the old zoos was that an animal, gregarious by habit, could be placed on its own, like solitary confinement for a socially-minded human being. Nowhere does there appear any reference to standards. It is not enough, welcome though it is, to have a panel of expert veterinary surgeons who would act as inspectors. Their work needs to be reinforced by a proper code of regulations.

I turn to those who are entrusted with the enforcement of the regulations. I have severe reservations about placing this burden on the local authorities. Local authorities already carry out many functions. They wail and moan, not without some justification, that continual burdens are placed on them by this House which they are then expected to carry out. I am worried that faced with all these burdens and duties, they will give a low priority to animal welfare which, when looking at their range of duties, must, in practice if not in theory, come low down in their scale of priorities. I would have preferred, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West did not agree to this when introducing the Bill, that the matter should be placed in the hands of a central authority, through the Secretary of State for the Environment.

There is the further problem that in some cases local authorities charged with ensuring that the provisions of the Bill are carried out are the proprietors of zoological establishments. I know that the Bill seeks to ensure that there is no conflict of interest, but I so not believe that it deals with the matter properly or that it can do so.

Even when local authorities are not proprietors, we must recognise that if they have intheir midst a zoo that is a local attraction and generates income for the area there must be a feeling on the part of that authority that it cannot clamp down too strongly on an attraction in its area. I foresee what could be described as an indirect conflict of interest arising.

At the least, there ought to be built into the Bill in Committee default powers so that the Secretary of State can step in if the local authority is not seen to be carrying out its obligations properly. There are respectable precedents for that in a number of other Acts.

Like the hon. Member fotr Isle of Wight, I am conccerned about the provisions of clause 13, which allows the Secretary of State to exempt what I take to be small establishments from the provisions of the Bill. I am anxious about that. Perhaps the provisions would not be abused, but any establishment that seeks to open its doors to the public should come under the proper scrutiny tha the Bill envisages.

I have other reservations about the Bill. For example, it provides for a wide range of inspectors who can be drawn from experts. I particularly welcome that concept, but, strange to relate, the proprietor of a zoo can object to a particular inspector and the Secretary of State may uphold that objection and call for another inspector. What a fascinating concept! If it is to be introduced here, would that it could be introduced in other spheres. I am sure that many local business men would like to swap their particularly detested VAT inspector for another more of their choosing. The same is true of anyone else who has inspectors. If an inspector is properly appointed, he should have absolute rights without the proprietor being able to object. I should like to see this most curious provision in the Bill removed in Committee.

I am also concerned about the possibility of collections of animals being transferred, which is included in clause 15. I can only think that that is in the interests of proprietors and not of animals, because animals can be much disturbed by removal and I fail to see the necessity for the provision unless it is entirely in the proprietors' interests. I make no secret of the fact that my only concerns are the welfare of animals and the safety and well-being of the public. Those who seek to open their doors to the public must, in all respects, consider that public and the welfare of the animals.

It follows, therefore, that I can give only a qualified approval to the Bill. I should like to see many fundamental changes made in Committee. However, on that understanding, I offer the Bill a welcome.

10.44 am
Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I must also declare an interest as a member of the executive council of the RSPCA. I am happy to follow and substantially to agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes).

I believe that legislation along these lines is long overdue. The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) deserves the congratulations of the whole House for raising a complex issue. As he will immediately find, in animal welfare he will, to use a fairly appropriate metaphor, stir up a hornets' nest, because all animal welfare groups have a particularly vehement interest in such issues and parliamentary legislation.

In all friendliness, I urge the hon. Member not to be discouraged if many of us have to say that there are lacunae in the Bill as presented. We wish it well and believe that it can be amended and approved in Committee, and it will be a major and substantial addition to statute law if it is passed. The hon. Members should know that, because all too often when an hon. Member has gone to the trouble of drafting a Bill, organising his sponsors, and getting a Second Reading he appears to have a fair wind for his proposals and he is distraught to find that his sponsors are among those who are raising reservations. We shall be with him in Committee, and we intend to improve the Bill.

Gerald Durrell has said that some zoos areno more than abattoirs in a sylvan setting. As Mr. Durrell says in an RSPCA journal this month, other zoos areno better than stationary circuses. When Mr. Durrell refers to abattoirs in sylvan settings, he means that there are many unregulated zoos, safari parks and private collections where animals are not properly treated and are sometimes indiscriminately put down. If they have bred in captivity and no means of transferring them to other zoos can be found, they are—and the RSPCA has evidence of this—sold through abattoirs for butchery and they find their way into pet food, and so on. That state of affairs, and the alarming consequences for the public that arose from a recent notorious case involving what is, I think, the largest private collection of tigers in this country, indicated to all of us the disadvantages of an unregulated zoo system.

It is interesting that all the arguments about the value for conservation of maintaining that sort of collection of large predatory animals have to be set against the fact that the animals could probably not be transferred to other zoos and certainly could not be returned to the wild or to the country from which the species originated. They have to stay where they are, in circumstances about which the public should be concerned and with which the Bill will, in some ways, be able to deal.

Perhaps the Bill is unduly permissive. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Drake, and not only because we are both members of the executive council of the RSPCA. First and foremost, one is struck by the initial definition of a zoo and which animals we are concerned with. We must look again at those definitions.

In view of the growing popularity of small parks where native fauna are kept in conjunction with a few wild animals, we must also reconsider the definitions of wild animals in clauses 1 and 20. I wonder whether some of those collections to which the public occasionally have access will get through the Bill as it stands.

Here I come to what seems to me to be the heart of the problem. I refer to the very odd wording in clause 13 which allows the Secretary of State, on the recommendation of the local authority, to take some collections out of the remit of legislation altogether. Once we have defined what these collections are and said that for the purposes of the legislation a given collection is a zoo, we should say that all licensing methods apply there as elsewhere.

That brings me to a point which I wish to make about the proposed inspectorate. Under the Bill, the responsibility remains with the local authority. As the hon. Member for Drake said, we believe that that ultimately should rest with the Secretary of State. There is no code of practice in the Bill. There are provisions whereby the owner of a zoo can object to one or more members of the inspectorate. He has far too generous a period in which to put his house in order before the inspectors arrive. From that point of view, four weeks is far too long.

When we consider animal welfare and we bear in mind the codes of practice for poultry farming and the way in which the Home Office inspectorate operates in policing, as best it can, the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, we discover that the complaint always is that there are too few inspectors and that they are overworked and cannot get round frequently enough. We also discover that, from the point of view of the animal welfare organisations, there are complaints when too much notice is served on the farmer, the laboratory or whatever institution is being inspected, so that conditions may be very different by the time the inspectors arrive from the normal procedures within the establishment concerned.

In the case of a zoo, we have to ensure that it is not merely the complaints mechanisms referred to in the Bill which trigger off a sudden visit. It must be a general process of inspection, which cannot be as measured, as routine and as open to the objections of the zoo's owner as this Bill allows. If it is, we shall make a mockery of the process of inspection, and there is enough public concern and enough public information already for us to see that that process of inspection has to be rigorous and carried out at the instigation of the inspectorate rather than to suit the convenience of the zoo owner.

In Committee, I hope that clause 13 will be taken out of the Bill, that clause 11 will be amended, and that the power of the proprietor to give notice to the local authority of his objection which at present is in clause 9 will itself be removed. I cannot see that these provisions strengthen the Bill or that they advance us towards the aim which the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) has of ensuring that in future all collections of wild animals are put under proper regulation. That should be our aim. If we can achieve that in statutory form, the House will have done the country and the animal kingdom some service.

10.45 am
Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

There is in my constituency a very rare species. It was developed and bred in Mayfair, but it has expanded and developed in Canterbury. It is a species of homo sapiens known as the Aspinall species.

John Aspinall is one of the most remarkable men whom I have ever met. He combines two extreme types of life and enjoyment. But his greatest enjoyment is with animals rather than with his fellow human beings, as I am sure he would be the first to say.

When I first met Mr. Aspinall, he did not have a zoo. The Bill would not have recognised that he had a zoo. He had a private collection. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) spoke of the biggest private collection in the world of exotic wild animals, and it is contained in some 54 acres four miles outside Canterbury and is known as Howletts zoo.

Visiting John Aspinall in the days when it was a private zoo and lunching with him and his wife, afterwards, instead of looking at the dahlias or roses, one strolled through the garden to look at several hundred wild animals—more than 20 Siberian tigers, lions, the largest collection of gorillas in any zoo in the world, and leopard. There was one occasion when he said to my wife and me on a Sunday afternoon"Let us go and see the Mongolian wild horses. There are 40 of them in the paddock." We went into the paddock. The Mongolian wild horses saw us. They put down their heads, and all 40 of them came at us at a gallop. We had to act quickly. John Aspinall said"Come into this enclosure quickly." We leapt in there, and we joined the leopards.

This is no ordinary zoo. Mr. Aspinall has an affinity with his animals. The leopards were friendly to him. In fact, a baby leopard jumped into his wife's arms. It did not hurt her, although it destroyed the cashmere twinset that she was wearing. But that was all.

I have seen John Aspinall—and it has been publicised widely—go into an enclosure with tigers. He was dressed in slacks and an open shirt. He carried no stick. There was no one else around him. He played with three fully grown Siberian tigers, and rolled with them on the ground. I have never seen the same done elsewhere, even in a circus. It is not a circus act. It is the act of a man living with wild animals and loving them.

I mention this because this is no longer a private collection. It is a zoo. Howletts zoo is open to the public. I spoke to Mr. Aspinall this week and he told me that he has in the zoo five African elephants, bison and many other animals—a total of about 250. He has another zoo nearer the Kent coast at Lympne castle with another 275 animals.

Howletts zoo, which I know well, is a good zoo. The animals are healthy, are well cared for and live in good surroundings. They are not strictly in cages as, for example, in the Regent's Park zoo. They are kept in surroundings more like Whipsnade, if not quite so extensive.

My constituents and many others, because the attraction is a very wide one, greatly enjoy the amenity. There is education there as well, because schools bring parties there to look at the animals and study them. But, like all zoos, there is a problem there. It is the problem of safety for the public visiting the zoo, safety for the keepers, and safety for the public outside. Animals can escape from zoos. About 20 have escaped from Howletts zoo in the last four years—not carnivores but such animals as antelope, which can leap high fences, and wild boar, which—I intend no pun—bore underneath the fences, especially at the time of delivering their young when, it seems, they need to get away and to find a place separate from their fellows.

In the last few weeks, a wolf escaped. Subsequently, it was shot. It was seen in the back garden of the cottage of one of my constituents who wrote to me very fairly saying"I wasn't sure whether it was an alsatian or a wolf and, as I have young children, I thought I had better tell the police". It so happened that the wolf was not a dangerous animal to a human being. But we do not know that about all wolves. Wolves have a worrying appearance to most people.

Two years ago in my constituency, two young men were killed in a very rare type of accident. They were driving in a car along a country lane when an antelope leapt on to the windscreen of the car and they were killed instantly in the crash which followed. The parents of those two young men were extremely distressed and, not unnaturally, very angry. The parents' anger has turned on me for not having done enough to tighten the regulations to prevent that sort of accident. They have criticised me for not pressing the police to do something to control animals which escape from zoos and roam on the roads, thus causing accidents. They have asked me to do something to tighten up the regulations. They have tried to put the blame on me for appearing to"whitewash"—to use one of the parents' words—the situation in the zoo in my constituency.

Last August a keeper was killed in Howletts zoo while attending to one of the Siberian tigresses. In September, a month later, a second keeper was killed by the same tigress. That tigress was then shot by the owner.

After the incident with the antelope I complained to the Department which I thought would be responsible—the Home Office. I complained to the chief constable and asked him what the police did to keep our roads safer. There are regulations on the roads. Signs must be put up in the New Forest and in other parts of the country, where there are deer about. However, how can the police ensure that when an animal is known to have escaped from a zoo it does not cause trouble, not by savaging anyone, but by causing an accident by straying on to the road?

How are the public to be protected from an animal causing death when it escapes? What regulations and instructions are there regarding the recapture of such animals? What instructions are given to chief constables, or are there any instructions? I suggest that there is none, because we have no legal experience in this matter. A collision with a stray animal is considered to be another road accident. I was not satisfied two years ago, and I am still not satisfied, in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) said that there had been an enormous growth in the number of zoos and zoo parks since the war. There are about 150 zoos of which nearly 80 are listed with the National Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or with the National Zoological Association, and there are a great many more. Does the House realise that some 2,000 animals have escaped from zoos and have not been recaptured but are roaming the countryside? I hasten to say that none is of a dangerous nature. Some are smaller animals, such as antelope and deer, but they have escaped into the woods and fields and have even mixed with the herds of wild deer. If I were the chief constable today I would want something to be done. I would want there to be a law for that matter.

The relatives of the two keepers who died in the tragedies last year have not complained to me—just the reverse. I received a letter from one of the parents, criticising me for even criticising the way in which the zoo was run. The keepers did a dangerous job and they knew that. They worked in a well-run zoo for an experienced owner. They were just unlucky. I understand the approach of those parents, friends and relatives and I respect that point of view.

However, those who lived and worked nearby complained, and so did the coroner. The coroner made a report and he wrote a letter to the Minister of State, Home Office, in which he said about those two deathsIt is quite clear to me that there is a genuine need for greater supervision of safety within zoos, and for better precautions against escapes and the reporting of escapes. I understand that Lord Craigton's Bill will cover all these matters and in my opinion your Government ought to throw its full weight behind the Bill. Those killings suddenly highlighted the danger in zoos. People are asking whether it is safe and whether those tigers could escape, although they never have done. They are asking if the cages are big enough. I have seen them and I think that they are. They are big, strong, substantial and seem secure. However, who am I to judge, and who is the Health and Safety Executive to judge? Is it qualified to do so? Is not its experience confined to bulls and pigs, to tractors, and the noise levels of farm machinery? That is what it looks for principally. It has little experience concerning wild animals.

I have found a great gap in people's knowledge of wild and exotic animals and, more seriously, a great gap in the law. There seem to be few regulations, and zoo owners have established their own standards. I am not saying that, in the main, the standards of the most responsible zoological gardens, federations and societies are not very high, both from the point of view of the protection of the public and the welfare of the animals. Mr. Aspinall told me that the Home Office had asked him what height a cage should be. How high should a tiger's cage be? I have looked at tigers' cages. Should they be 11ft., 13ft. or 15ft. high? The tiger which killed those men went over the top of an lift. cage. It had never done so before. There was no recorded case of a tiger going over such a high cage. I believe that there are zoologists and experts in zoos who could tell us that they know of cases of tigers and other such animals getting over cages that are even higher.

How should the cages be designed? Should there be an overhang on the inside to keep the animals in? That is the present design. However, at Whipsnade, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, the external fence was originally built with an overhang to the inside to prevent the escape of the zoo animals. Later they changed that and made the overhang go over to the outside to keep out foxes and other local wild animals which might hurt the animals in the zoo. That is not quite the point with regard to the tigers.

The more I have considered zoos and zoo regulations with Government Departments, the more I have been pushed around. I have been to the Home Office, which said that that was not its responsibility. I have been to the Department of the Environment which has said that that was not entirely its responsibility. That Department said that I should try the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, which denied that it was its responsibility and said that the Department of the Environment and the Health and Safety Executive were responsible. Sometimes I have been told to go to the Department of Transport on matters concerning accidents on the roads. What are the regulations on the keeping of zoo animals? I have received no answer. I have asked what Act of Parliament governs zoos. It is not clear. Are there any guidelines? I have not yet found any. We needed guidelines, regulations and an Act of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West has done the House, the Government and the country a service in bringing forward the Bill. I congratulate him on that, on being lucky enough to bring it forward, and on tackling a difficult job. He is introducing something completely new.

I should also like to mention the great work done by my noble Friend Lord Craigton in the other place. Indeed, he is chairman of the Federation of Zoological Gardens, and he knows what he is talking about.

We need a system and a standard for our zoos for the sake of the public as visitors, and for that of students, zoo owners and their staffs—including keepers—as well as for the sake of the public and the animals. My friend Mr. Aspinall would say that I have got that list in the wrong order and that I should have put the animals first. The National Federation of Zoos wants legislation to be introduced to safeguard good practice and to eliminate bad practice. The Bill's main aim is to ensure that animals in captivity are properly looked after.

Although I respect what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) said when she criticised the keeping of animals in small cages, the confinement of animals in certain areas is a fact of life. However, they should be kept in proper surroundings and conditions. Let us therefore do things properly. Let us have some regulations and an Act of Parliament.

As has been said, it is not always easy as a sponsor of a Bill—as I am—to be completely uncritical of its content. Such is the way of a Private Member's Bill. However, the Bill is not perfect. I hope that the House will give us time in Committee to see how it can be improved. It appears to crack down on owners. The zoos will have to be inspected. Owners do not mind that, provided that it is done by experts and by those who know what they are talking about. They will have to be licensed, but they do not mind that. It will be done by local authorities. They do not like that, and nor do I. I want a standard test and a standard licence. In short, I want a national standard and not one determined by the likes and dislikes of local authorities, notwithstanding the Secretary of State's list of experts who might stand alongside local authorities.

Zoo owners will have to pay for their licences. They do not like that. It is a bit hard on them. The costs could vary enormously from council to council. Some councils will like zoos, because they will see them as attractions that will bring in people. They will also see them as an advantage, because they are big ratepayers. However, some councils may not like zoos and may want to get rid of them. Therefore, I hope that there will be a standardisation of costs. I hope that those costs will not be unreasonable.

The Minister should intervene and should set standards in relation both to inspection and cost. The RSPCA sent a note to me which draws attention to the need for detailed standards. I agree with that. It would be most helpful if detailed standards were attached to the schedule of the Bill. We need a Bill and we need a good one. We lead the world in our interest in animals. I did not quite agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) when he suggested that America led the world. America has made great contributions, but we began.

The London Zoo—or, to give it its proper title, the Zoological Society of London—was founded in 1826. The zoo opened privately a year later, in 1827, to the fellows of the society. Its Royal charter gave its aims as beingthe advancement of Zoology and Animal Physiology, and the introduction of new and curious subjects of the Animal Kingdom. The London zoo has become a centre of scientific study and of the humane treatment of wild animals. It studies the management of captive animals in zoos throughout the world. It is a great authority. It has always been concerned with the welfare and health of animals and has its own up-to-date animal hospital and pathology laboratory. It places great emphasis on veterinary care.

One of the major roles both of the London zoo and of many other zoos in Britain—most of which are private or are run by charities—is the conservation and breeding of rare species. We have already heard about the summit meeting that is taking place at this very moment in Washington. We welcome it.

The director of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland—I emphasise"Royal" because Scotland has been lucky enough to receive that additional acclaim—has recently returned from Uganda. Working under the auspices of the United Nations, he carried out an investigation into the tragedy that has overtaken not only the people of that sad country but its wild life. He found that Uganda's elephant population had, as a result of poaching, droppped from 30,000 to a mere 1,500 in eight years. The white rhino has been exterminated; it is now extinct. The only rhino to be found in Uganda is the occasional black rhino. In his report, the director stated that that wasan indication of the fragile thread which some species now hang by. However, he had more encouraging news to report on the Jackson's hartebeest, the Uganda kob and the giraffe, which are breeding well.

The only hope of saving wild life in Uganda is to set up secure game parks that are poacher-free. Indeed, that digression brings me back to the Bill, because we have game parks in Britain. Whipsnade was the first game park in the world and was set up 50 years ago. Admittedly the game parks in Britain and Europe are different from the vast game parks of Africa. However, they are areas in which animals are protected and in which they can breed and receive care. In zoos, such as the London zoo, animals can receive hospital treatment.

Mankind has achieved a great deal. We can make our own music and walk on the moon. We have Shakespeare's sonnets and Einstein's theory, but without animals—both domestic and wild—mankind would be lost. We should treasure our inheritance of wild animals. They are part of earth's abundance. We must let them live and we must be able to live with them. We must prosper together. Man should be safe from animals, but, just as important, the animals should be safe from man.

In a small way, this Bill is a step along that road. It is a civilised path that we should be prepared to take. In Committee, and in the years to come, we can improve the Bill. For too long we have been without a law to safeguard our zoos and all who find themselves there, or thereabouts.

11.18 am
Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

The Opposition give this Bill a very warm but somewhat qualified welcome. Half a loaf is better than none. Not least we welcome the Bill because it covers an area of great public interest and concern. Nevertheless, there is a yawning gap in our legislation which fails to provide even a modicum of safety, provision for animal welfare or regard for our environment. As has been said, we are deeply indebted to the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn). He has given the House, the public, special interest groups and animal welfare organisations an opportunity to clarify their thoughts and to help us as legislators to remedy this omission. This is only a beginning. I venture to hope that it will prove to be an auspicious start on the road to progress.

We need to be clear that: we are seeking, as the face of the Bill indicates,to provide for the systematic control and inspection"— I stress"systematic inspection"—of establishments where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public. I applaud the opportunity we now have to do just that by providing the necessary legislative framework.

We have to consider to what extent the Bill, unamended, unscrutinised and imperfect as it is, with warts and all—will do that and satisfy those outside the House as having a sporting chance of achieving its objective. Our purpose here today must be to wish the Bill well, all too conscious that when it leaves this place in the best possible shape it and the interests it serves are at the mercy of so many disparate forces who will or will not make it work.

We want to ensure the establishment of proper standards to prevent cruelty and accidents happening and to avoid what now happens where we as legislators become involved only after the event as a result of complaints, an escape or a tragedy.

I wish to pay tribute to my hon Friends the Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), not only for their speeches today, but for their long-term interest in and work on behalf of animal welfare. I also pay tribute to Lord Craigton for his initiatives in the matter, and to my noble Friend Lord Houghton, who is entitled to receive a tribute today for his work in connection with the aspirations behind the Bill.

How long have the conditions that the Bill seeks to correct existed? For someone such as myself whose involvement has been comparatively recent, to draw back the curtain is sometimes to expose circumstances of deep horror and appalling cruelty, and at times—I have seen the slides and pictures and read the letters—to cause deep personal shame.

We must all be indebted to the thousands of men and women who are committee members of the animal welfare and charity organisations who have often given a lifetime of dedication to caring for and improving the lot of animals, and it is in that capacity that I declare an interest as a patron of the Cats Protection League.

In 1966–67 there was an enormous increase in the interest of the public in this subject. That period embraced the Year of Animal Welfare, and since then there has been a gradual co-ordination of the many organisations involved. That has meant that specialist bodies are now working in specific subjects. They have thrust animals into politics. Putting animals into politics was, fortunately, a theme adopted by all the major parties in their addresses at the last general election. They stressed the need for the kind of legislation we now have before us.

Let me explain the kind of frustration felt by some of those who thought that they had responsibility for eradicating the problems we face. I refer particularly to the local council officers. The officer of one authority told methe zoo is located within this authority's area and, although it has been a matter of some concern, no direct controls are available to the Council. Although you refer in your letter to the licensing of the premises by the local authority, in reality no such statutory provision exists. Indeed, apart from a few minor exceptions, zoos are specifically excluded from the provisions of the recent Dangerous Wild Animals Act. The only control readily available to the Council is under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts, relating solely to developments within the meaning of those Acts". Another officer told memy file contains numerous letters … from members of the public concerning the condition of the animals, the accommodation provided for the animals and allegations of an apathetic attitude from the zoo staff. As a result of these complaints numerous visits have been made by the Environmental Health Officers of this Department, but it has been found that environmental health powers were not appropriate for dealing with complaints concerning zoo animals. Many of the complaints were referred to the R.S.P.C.A., but it would appear that they have also been unable to achieve the desired effect. In this Bill we are making a genuine attempt—although we may not succeed—to eradicate some of those frustrations.

There are many patently observable faults in the way that many zoos are operated. The Second Reading of this important and forward looking Bill should not blind us to the conditions to be found in many zoos. I prefer not to dwell for too long on or to delve too deeply into the roles claimed by some zoo operators, except to accept and underline some of the prime roles that are claimed—research, education and conservation. These are all vitally important functions which ought to be basic to the establishments that we are seeking to license. However, my constituents, like those of other hon. Members, visit zoos primarily for recreational purposes.

Let us consider what can go wrong to cause distress to the normal animal-loving person. What does that person not expect to see and what causes that person to be horrified and sickened? My attention has been drawn to the following circumstances that I hope the Bill will eradicate. There are complaints about animals such as lions being confined in tiny cages. There are complaints of dirty, filthy conditions where animals stand in their excreta because the space has not been properly cleaned or constructed.

Animals are put on view displaying wounds and are obviously distressed and under stress. Sadly, it is in many cases the small zoo which has no resident veterinary surgeon or access to one that falls into that category. That may stem from the need to save money or from lack of care, or from a combination of both.

The Bill has many blemishes which we must try to remedy in Committee. Clause 13, which provides dispensations, is one such blemish. That clause covers the case ofa small zoo comprising one or only a few kinds of animals". Who is to determine what is a"small zoo"? There might be only one kind of animal—say, a lion—but there might be 50 of them. A zoo might contain 20 elephants. Should we give exemption in such cases? We know that there is evidence of greater specialisation in the types of animals kept. To authorise the Secretary of State in certain cases to dispense with the provisions of the Bill would surely frustrate what we are seeking to achieve and be unwise. I feel certain that the hon. Member for Dudley, West will listen sympathetically to how we can strengthen the Bill to avoid what quite clearly will be large loopholes.

Clause 13 also refers to the advice of the local authority. More than one hon. Member has questioned whether it is right to throw the weight and responsibility of operating this Bill and policing its provisions on to the local authorities if and when it becomes operable this year or next. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) made a number of telling points about the way in which local authorities are already overburdened with legislation. We shall need to look into that.

Clauses 8,9, 10 and 11 deal with inspections, and there is enormous scope there for improvement. However, they raise serious questions about how the inspections are to be carried out. For instance, what provisions are there to ensure that the findings of the inspector, set out in his report, are carried out by the local authority? To whom will the report be sent? The Bill says that the report shall be sent to the local authority.

Clause 9(4)(d) sets out what the inspector has to look at. His inspection has toextend to all features of the zoo directly or indirectly relevant to the health, welfare and safety of the public, the staff and the animals, including measures for the prevention of the escape of animals". What force of law is written into that clause once the inspector has reported on such matters? What, then, is the responsibility of the local authority? The local authority can then decide what aspects of the inspector's report the inspector will or will not call upon the proprietor to carry out. I am concerned not only with proprietors who may be seeking to get round their obligations; I am concerned also with the possibility of local authorities trying to get round their obligations.

I can envisage great danger existing in zoos in the realm of equipment. Sometimes equipment is home-made; sometimes it is do-it-yourself equipment. I am thinking particularly of barriers and of the repair of cages that may have been damaged. Such repairs can very well turn out to be lethal if they are done on a make-or-mend basis.

Safety encompasses not only the protection of the public while people are visiting zoos but the general public attitude to escaping animals. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) made a very courageous and moving speech in which he did not hesitate to draw his own experience to the attention of the House. He quoted from authoritative sources and told us that he was taking his stand against certain interests. I was much impressed by what he said, and he paid particular attention to the problems which arise from the escape of animals.

Although the public come to hear about many such escapes, there are also many others which do not receive publicity. I recently heard for the first time that about 2,000 animals—the figure is not completely accurate, but neither is it a guess—of one size or another have escaped from zoos. Most of them perhaps have not presented a direct danger to the public, but some of them must have done so.

I am told that among the animals which have escaped, without publicity being given to the event, are a lion, a tiger, a puma, a bear, a chimpanzee, a baboon, seals, an ostrich, antelopes, a rhinoceros, elephants and a hippopotamus. They may have been isolated instances of escape. Probably they are not included in the figure of 2,000, because those animals have yet to be captured. They are animals that have gone into the wild.

Escapes can be dangerous not only to people but also to the animals themselves. If escaped animals cannot be captured or tranquillised, they have, unfortunately, to be shot. In recent years, there have been examples of lions, wolves, baboons and a wild bear which have refused to be brought back into captivity and have had to be shot.

The hon. Member for Canterbury, in a very open way, drew the attention of the House to the situation at a zoo in his constituency. An antelope had escaped and caused the tragic death of two young men. I understand that the antelope had been roaming in the wild for a long time. That must have been alarming to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I am also told—it may very well be the same zoo—that 23 alleged escapes had been reported over the past three years. Any zoo that is licensed should be required to satisfy the inspector that it has ensured, to the best possible extent, that escapes will be kept to the minimum.

The assumption of the public that they are completely safe inside all zoos can be dangerous. I recall only too well the dreadful sight of the hand of a tiny girl, one of my constituents, who had, wittingly or unwittingly, had that hand mauled by an animal in a private zoo near to my constituency. The guard rails and barriers, which are supposedly designed to safeguard the public—especially children—are often woefully inadequate and palpably unsafe.

I am very concerned at what I am told and read about the standards of maintenance. Very often in small zoos, where the money is not readily available, it is a question not merely of how the animals are kept but of the containers and the enclosures being kept to a proper standard. The hon. Members for Canterbury and for Drake and my hon Friend the hon. Member for Derby, North and others have drawn attention to an incredible omission. There is in the Bill no list of standards with which a zoo would have to comply in order to earn a licence. Obviously that matter will need to be dealt with in Committee. There will be scope for that, because clause 9(5) refers toany practicable improvements designed to bring any features of the zoo up to the normal standards of modern zoo practice. What arethe normal standards of modern zoo practice"? What will the inspector in one authority say are the normal standards, and what will the inspector in another area say are the normal standards? It will be very difficult to produce a list which is universally acceptable as a minimum standard, but we ought not to burke the issue. There ought to be standards in regard to enclosures and safety barriers, and certainly in regard to the welfare of animals, their feeding, accommodation and veterinary attention. If there is a low threshold of ambition in regard to standards, that attitude will breed very poor standards—and sometimes no standard at all.

Without minimum standards, we shall find that zoos will copy poor provisions on the ground that if they have been accepted, by another local authority there is no reason why those provisions should not be followed.

There are various other matters such as staff welfare, which can be considered in Committee. Reference was made to the activities of zoo keepers. Hon. Members will know that the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers is a body of comparatively recent vintage. It can be consulted by the Committee and invited to indicate to us—within the confines of what we know to be legislatively and financially possible—what are its views.

I want to spend some time in talking of my own experience. Although we can read the Bill or a brief, personal experience is invaluable, as the hon. Member for Drake said in a very effective and sympathetic speech. The hon. Lady's attitude to these matters, as she said, was coloured by the very first visit that she made to a zoo.

It was in June 1977 that a 5-year-old girl, Fiona, the daughter of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Napthine, had two fingers of her left hand severed by a chimpanzee when she was trying to feed it crisps. Hon. Members may wonder what on earth is happening in a zoo when a 5-year-old girl can be in a position to attempt to feed crisps to a chimpanzee. Apparently the attention of her parents had been distracted, and she was able to climb over a very small brick wall and put her hand into the cage, or allow the chimpanzee's hand to be put through the cage. As a result, a dreadful accident occurred.

I visited the zoo, which is at Broxbourne, about seven miles from my constituency. Reference has already been made to it by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). From what I saw then, I was convinced that a proper licensing system would not tolerate for one moment such conditions as I saw there. I was greatly disturbed by the standards of safety for animals and public, but it was the sad, miserable atmosphere of that small zoo which depressed me more than anything else. I have made inquiries as recently as this week, and, from the information that I have, it appears that the position there has not improved.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East referred to the history of the zoo. Quite rightly, he did not dwell on the past nor will I, except to say that he, the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry)—a neighbouring constituent who I am delighted to see in his place—and myself have received complaints from constituents who have come away from that zoo distressed by what they have seen. I know that the hon. Member for Southgate, because he is a Whip, if forbidden to speak not only in this debate but in the House. He has asked me to express his sympathy with the aims of the Bill. He hopes that whatever probletns his constituents may have faced will be eradicated through the Bill.

For all that I know, the proprietors of the Broxbourne zoo and other small zoos do their best to keep their animals in good conditions, happy and well fed. But the economics of such small zoos must be daunting and mounting. For instance, there is the cost of heating, which is vital for many animals which have been plucked from sunny environments. They require not only heat but, in some cases, exceptional heat. I can well envisage some proprietors economising where they can by trying to save on fuel costs. I regret that that can result in the death of defenceless, innocent animals. It will be a satisfactory result if such neglect—criminal, in my view, and held to be so for human beings—is stamped out under a proper licensing scheme.

The Bill tries to ensure that places used for the purpose of exhibiting captive wild animals pass the test of surviving the closest possible scrutiny. We owe that to the animals, to our people, and especially to our children. Both animals and people have dignity. We should respect the dignity not only of people but of animals. Our toleration of the sort of conditions that we know exist must be a cause not only for concern but for shame. We should not show animals in concrete boxes to our children in such conditions that they believe that that is how wild animals should be kept. That need not happen. It coarsens the minds of our children to see animals so wretched, undignified and demeaned. Such experiences for our children can be far from educational; indeed, they can be positively harmful.

It is to eradicate that blot on our dignity and self-respect, in addition to our desire to improve the welfare of all animals, that I, on behalf of the Opposition, give the Bill a warm welcome.

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

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) achieved a high place in the ballot and presented this Bill to the House today. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said, he presented it so well and so lucidly. We thank my hon. Friend for the immense trouble that he has taken in his discussions with many associations, societies and hon. Members before the Bill was finally drafted.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Lord Craigton who, in a way, has been the father of the Bill for a number of years. He has led the way forward, brought people together and brought harmony into the industry—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West called the zoo world. He has pushed, pushed and pushed until now he sees the Bill of which he has dreamt for so long beginning its passage through Parliament to, I hope, a successful conclusion.

I wish to put on record also the part played by Lord Janner who, way back in 1973, introduced the Control of Zoological Gardens Bill which, like others proved unsuccessful. I am pleased that the Opposition, through the hon. Member for Edmonton, (Mr. Graham), have given the Bill their support. I shall go further and say that it is much more than half a loaf. It is very nearly all the way. There will be only a few breadcrumbs left unresolved by the time the Bill becomes an Act.

By what I said in my warm welcome I have given the Bill support in principle. With other hom. Members on both sides of the House I have reservations about certain aspects of it. But in general there is unanimity that the Bill should proceed and that augurs well. I see no reason why we should mot achieve success, especially as my hon. Friend has said that he will accept the amendments that I shall propose in due course.

Before going into details about the Government's view of the Bill, it might be useful if I say something about the Government's attitude towards zoos, wild life parks and zoo legislation in general. One or two hon. Members may be asking themselves why, as a Minister in the Department of the Environment, I am looking after the Bill for the Government. Last year the Department of the Environment took over responsibility for zoos from the Home Office, mainly because the Department is responsible for wild life in Britain. Ministers are especially interested in raising the standards of wild life generally. The Department is also rsponsible for the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976.

Hon. Members mentioned practices in other countries. Britain carries out the intentions of that Act with great rigidity. There is absolutely no nonsense. People should be aware of that. If one brings a crocodile skin from Africa to Britain, it will not be allowed in either through the front door or the back door. If we give an inch, it will encourage those countries that do not take wildlife as seriously as Britain does to continue the trade that we feel is abhorrent.

The Government recognise that zoos vary widely in standards and in their attitude to the management of wild animals. The standards vary from the excellent, which we all know, to the miserable. That was highlighted helpfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) in her exposition to the House through slides and discourse by the RSPCA. That brought home to hon. Members the poor standards of some zoos in contrast to the excellent standards of which we are more likely to know. The hon. Member for Edmonton highlighted some of the horror stories which he accepts, as I do, are in a minority. It was right to highlight them because only then can we bring home to the public the necessity for this legislation.

There are zoos enjoying charitable status, whose objectives are primarily scientific and educational. There are others which aim to provide entertainment and leisure facilities for the public for a commercial return. There are still others, run by enthusiasts, who simply enjoy keeping exotic animals.

The Government have no intention of preventing the keeping of animals for any of those purposes. However, we are concerned that the present lack of controls means that some peope are exhibiting wild animals in unsuitable conditions, causing distress to the visiting public as well as to the animals, and giving zoos in general a poor public image.

It seems to us regrettable that the potential value of zoos as centres for conserving wild life and informing, as well as entertaining, the public is not being realised because of a lack of expertise in managing exotic animals and presenting them to the public.

I think that it is generally agreed that about 150 zoos will be encompassed by the legislation. As I said, they vary enormously. Many personal experiences have been recounted this morning, so I shall tell the House that I have been going to the Edinburgh zoo as a schoolboy and as a father all my life, and I wish that all zoos could reach the standards of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. I know that its standards are equalled by many others, and I hope that in a few years' time all zoos of whatever size will have a quality equivalent to the best.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), in his moving speech, talked about the broader and international aspects of world wildlife involvement. How right they are. It is the root of the whole issue today. Without the splendid and wonderful flora and fauna in Africa, India and every continent, there would be no desire to bring wildlife to this country for exhibition to a wider public.

Other establishments in which animals are kept have to be licensed. I am thinking, for example, of pet shops, boarding kennels and riding schools. We consider it reasonable that zoos and wildlife parks should be subject to similar requirements.

We therefore welcome in principle the Bill, which seeks to establish a means of controlling zoos and securing improvements in zoo management, although we have reservations about some of its detailed provisions. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West in view of his sympathetic approach to the discussions beforehand, will accept amendments in Committee or on Report if it is thought that they can improve the Bill.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

I wish to raise a small point. The Under-Secretary mentioned riding establishments, which are controlled under the Riding Establishments Act. Will he confirm for me and for the British Horse Society that the licensing provisions suggested in the excellent Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West will not apply to riding establishments?

Mr. Monro

I probably can give my hon. Friend that assurance, but I am not absolutely sure. I would need to take advice. I know of my hon. Friend's close connection with the British Horse Society, and I shall make the position clear before the Committee stage. My understanding is that the Bill would not so apply. I hope to be able to give a 100 per cent. assurance later.

The Government are particularly concerned about the public expenditure implications of introducing a zoo licensing system. A licensing system necessarily involves administrative effort and expense. The Government are determined that any arrangements made for administering a system of zoo licensing should be consistent with Government policies regarding the containment of public expenditure.

We understand that the system proposed in the Bill is intended to make the minimal demands on central and local government. That is necessary if the basic objectives of a licensing system are to be realised. We understand, too, that the Bill provides for the cost of licensing to be recovered from the zoos in charges.

However, the Government consider it essential that the zoo licensing system should be self-financing, and at this stage we. are doubtful whether the Bill's provisions are adequate to ensure that that will happen. Indeed, clauses 8 and 14 appear to provide specifically for part of the costs of the scheme to be paid by the Secretary of State and the local authority.

We accept that zoos should not have to bear the cost of arrangements for the appointment of the Secretary of State's list of experts to inspect zoos on his behalf and provide him with advice, but we are concerned to ensure that inspection fees will be payable only by the licensing authorities and subsequently recovered from the zoos.

Mr. Graham

Are we to understand, accepting the phrase that the Minister used—that this measure needs to be seen in the context of the Government's financial policy and restraint—that the Government will make no contribution or allowance within the rate support grant to local authorities, if that is where the responsibility is to lie? If the licensing fee system is to be self-supporting and if a number of interested groups are to pay, surely the Government, who are an interested body, will have to make some financial contribution?

Mr. Monro

We expect that there will be some costs in setting up the list of inspectors, who will be an important part of the licensing system, but we feel that the actual cost of inspection should be borne by the zoos themselves and claimed back through the local authorities when the licence is granted. We are convinced that the system should be self-financing.

While the matter is fresh in my memory, I should like to give my hon. Friend for Meriden (Mr. Mills) the absolute assurance that the Bill will not apply to riding establishments, because the measure of course applied only to wild animals. Therefore, the British Horse Society's responsibilities are not relevant to the Bill.

We shall, therefore, be recommending amendments to clauses 8(3) and 14 to achieve our wishes, subject to the views expressed in Committee and later in the House on Report.

We consider it important that the arrangements for controlling standards in zoos should not duplicate those already in existence to enforce general legislative provisions affecting zoos as well as other establishments. In particular, we are concerned that the proposals for local authorities to inspect zoos and impose licensing conditions should not involve them in regulating the operation of zoos in relation to health and safety matters, for which provision is already made in health and safety legislation.

I am not sure that it is generally realised how extensive and flexible are the powers conferred by existing legislation for controlling safety at zoos. It may, therefore, be helpful if I describe the existing legislation and arrangements for enforcement.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 made zoo keeping subject, for the first time, to health and safety legislation, which covers the health and safety of the public, as well as the health, safety and welfare of zoo employees. I accept that the main objective of the Bill is the quality and standard of zoo keeping relative to the animals, but the Bill also raises issues affecting the public and zoo employers.

Zoo owners, like other employers, are required to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, and to conduct their undertaking in such a way that people not in their employment are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. That means that they have to make arrangements to protect people living in the vicinity of the zoo as well as the visiting public and other people using the zoo premises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury spoke of the great dedication of Mr. Aspinall to the world of wildlife and his love for the animals in his charge. Serious accidents at zoos are rare. The sad accidents that have occurred at Howletts zoo are particularly tragic for the relatives. My hon. Friend is assiduous in the interests of his constituents. He has raised the issue with me on a number of occasions. He is right to suggest that the legislation will help to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.

The Health and Safety Executive points out that the events at Howletts are exceptional and do not reflect the state of the zoo world generally. However, the executive has served two improvement notices on Howletts. requiring the strengthening of perimeter fences. I hope that that will allay some of the fears of those who live nearby.

In view of the strength of my hon. Friend's argument and the force of his feelings for his constituents, let me tell him that prosecution under the health and safety legislation is being considered. Authority is concerned about what happened and concerned with the reputation of the zoo world. It is hoped that by taking strong action there will not be recurrences.

I am advised that the Health and Safety Executive is carrying out a special programme of zoo inspections, and about 60 zoos—generally those with the more dangerous animals—have been thoroughly inspected. Inspections have been carried out for the purpose of checking that premises and equipment are properly designed and maintained, that working practices are safe and that the work force is adequately trained and alert to safety requirements. Inspectors have powers to require zoo managements to take specified action to ameliorate hazards by a specific date. They can also prohibit with immediate effect the continuance of activities involving a risk of serious personal injury and close down an undertaking if they consider it necessary.

The Health and Safety Executive has also recently been in consultation with representatives of the zoo world about comprehensive guidance, which was mentioned particularly by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), and about the uniformity over the country. The executive hopes to issue later this year to zoo owners a comprehensive guide on standards of health and safety.

The Zoo Licensing (No. 2) Bill contains provisions for local authorities to refuse licences on health and safety grounds, to attach conditions to licences relating to health and safety matters and to inspect zoos for the purposes of maintaining health and safety. It thus appears that there could be duplication with the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West to consider carefully clauses 4, 5 and 9 to see whether there is any overlap or duplication concerning health and safety. We should resolve the matter in Committee.

Hon. Members were right to be concerned about the transitional stages. The system for controlling zoos should be aimed at a gradual but steady improvement of existing zoos. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East was particularly concerned. Our attitude in the initial stage must be flexible so that zoos are not put out of business without a fair opportunity to make substantial improvements where they are shown to be required. Six months may be too short a time.

Concern has been expressed about the inspectors. Inspectors on the Secretary of State's list will be extremely experienced and well qualified to give advice to the local authorities. The list of inspectors will be relatively short and it should not be too difficult to have a national standard of uniformity.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

My point was directed not to an extension of the time but to what would be the practical procedures if and when a discontinuance becomes effective. My hon. Friend has adverted very interestingly to the provisions of the 1974 legislation. I am familiar with that and with the secondary legislation deriving from it. However, as he appreciates, that is directed to an on-going concern. My point is directed to concerns that will not be on-going—concerns that are obliged to be discontinued. I am not sure that my hon. Friend's researches will find that that point is properly governed by the health and safety at work legislation. Perhaps between now and the next stage of the Bill, my hon. Friend and his advisers will be good enough to consider the matter and see what in their view requires to be done.

Mr. Monro

My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point concerning what will happen if a licence is not available because the zoo cannot meet the required standard. We shall consider the matter.

My point was that I did not want a dramatic cut-off within six months. We should give time for the zoo to achieve as rapidly as possible the required standards in the interests particularly of the animals but also of the public. The zoo owner should not feel that he is not being given a reasonable chance to improve the conditions before he loses his licence.

However, if the Bill is to be effective there must be a limit within which zoos will not achieve a licence and we must have procedures to deal with the situation should the zoo have to be wound up and the animals disposed of. That should be done in the best possible manner, preferably to other zoos.

In our view the appropriate way to secure improvements is through the conditions attached to licences. We accept that in some cases programmes of improvement may be necessary over a period of time. The provisions in clause 4 that require local authorities to refuse a licence if certain conditions are not met seem to be too harsh and inflexible. Local authorities should be able to grant conditional licences, which can subsequently be revoked if licensing conditions are not met. Local authorities should have discretion in deciding whether licences should be granted and under what conditions, although we shall expect them to be guided by the recommendations of the zoo inspectors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Drake said that the zoo inspectors, not local authorities, must set the tone and standards of zoos in the future. If the Bill becomes law, as we hope it will, the Government intend to issue guidance to local authorities and a code of practice for zoos, to promote consistency of standards through the work of the inspectors.

Hon. Members suggested that the code of practice should be enshrined in the Bill, but that is not common practice. I think of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, under which a code of practice provides advice to local authorities but is not part of the Act.

Mr. Graham

The Minister is saying that something comparable to that for which hon. Members have asked can be achieved by another method—the issue of a code of practice as opposed to a schedule in the Bill. But sometimes a local authority may feel antagonism, and at other times it may fear that insisting upon a condition or standard being met will give it work. If it can decide which bits of the code it will follow, and which it will not, will not that be detrimental to the Bill's aspirations?

Mr. Monro

I hope not. I heard exactly the same argument when I was involved in the passage of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act, which affects the public, as this Bill will, in providing higher safety standards. The general feeling, accepted in the legislation, was that the Government should provide a code of practice, called the Green Code, which contained the guidelines for the local authority on issuing a safety certificate for a sports ground. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have said. It is a point to which we shall return in Committee.

Clause 17, dealing with appeals against the refusal of a licence or licensing conditions, provides for appeal from the magistrates to the Crown Court. We consider—I say this with trepidation in the presence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East—that that provision is unnecessary and undesirable, and that we should leave the matter at the magistrates court. Other legislation dealing with the keeping of animals, such as the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, provide that a person aggrieved by the decision of a local authority may appeal to a magistrates court, but no further, and we consider that similar arrangements are appropriate in the case of a zoo.

I am advised that some amendments are needed to make the Bill suitable for application in Scotland, but the amendments are, I believe, of a technical nature and are unlikely to present any difficulties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West is receiving from me a strong welcome for his Bill. It will have a fair wind through the remaining stages, subject to the amendments that we think will make it a better measure. I hope that it will receive its Second Reading today, that we shall proceed to an interesting discussion in Committee, and that before the end of the summer it will be an Act. All of us will feel that great credit is due to my hon. Friend for it, and that it will be a credit to this country in raising the standards that we all see as essential in zoos.

12.14 pm
Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden):

I am glad to have the opportunity to address the House on this matter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) on his initiative, on his good fortune in being chosen to introduce a Private Member's Bill, and on his good judgment in choosing the Bill that is before us.

There are circumstances, particularly in Africa, in wide-open countries, in which the mixture of people and wild animals can be achieved in a way that is acceptable on both sides. The people can have the enjoyment of seeing animals, probably at a distance, in their truly natural state As other hon. Members have told us about their experiences, may I say thay in my youth I was often delighted to go to the Wankie game park in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. When I was a teenager, and a bit older, I had the good fortune to see a delightful array of animals, behaving like animals.

Whatever the Bill will or will not do, it must cope with the realities of life. People are attracted and fascinated by animals, but, despite cheaper transport, they cannot quickly and cheaply go to the parts of the world where they can see animals in their natural habitat. Therefore, if we wish to meet people's natural desire to be with animals and see animals, we must have a way of doing the reverse—bringing the animals to the people.

This state of affairs has existed for centuries, and will continue. It is difficult to imagine legislation banning the capture of wild animals and putting them on display. The Bill takes a step forward. Some bodies will believe that it does not go far enough, while others will believe that it goes too far. Such is the nature of the compromises that are essential in politics and in legislation. The Bill takes a sane, objective and much-needed step towards the control of those poor animals that unfortunately no longer live in their natural habitat.

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments to the effect that captivity and zoos have a positive function, because, as species continue in a terrible way to be endangered throughout the world, on some occasions it may be to the direct benefit of the animal and its progeny to be in a zoo, because otherwise the species may no longer be with us. I do not suppose that that helps the animal at all, as it stares between the bars, but the Bill will probably achieve much more justice than hitherto as to the conditions in which the animal is kept and in which people can watch safely.

As a legislature, we have to deal not with those who sit in their cars in the game parks of Africa but with the mixture of people and animals. The Bill has a great precedent, quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West and by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who—I am glad to say—welcomed the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister and I have a common interest in the British Horse Society. The Riding Establishments Acts and the activities of voluntary bodies, such as the society, have shown that there is a need for control in riding schools, where it is just as easy to keep a domesticated animal—the horse—in poor conditions, although not conditions of danger, as it is to keep wild animals in such conditions. The licensing system has been extremely beneficial. Although there may well be riding establishments that do not meet the standards, they are far fewer than they once were, and they are usually operating in direct contravention of the Act and in fear of inspection.

Anyone who has been through the local authority inspection, which includes checks on fire extinguishers, will know that, at least if the legislation is applied sensibly, the work can be done cheaply through voluntary organisations, local authorities and those qualified to say that in certain circumstances, such as in riding establishments, certain conditions must be met before a licence is granted.

I have been given figures for the number of successful prosecutions under various Acts. In 1979 there were no prosecutions under the Riding Establishments Acts, and in previous years there were only a tiny number. It could be argued that that is because people are not caught, but it could equally be argued that by and large, with a proper licensing control, establishments will try to obey the controls.

Under the Protection of Animals Acts and the Protection of Birds Acts, taken together, there have been nearly 1,000 prosecutions in any one year. That figure must be the tip of the iceberg, as the information from the records available does not include prosecutions brought by people other than the police, and we clearly do not know about those who are never found out. The need for a licensing system to control zoos, shown by precedents elsewhere, is extreme.

Zoos help to fulfil the desire of the human being to see the animal in whatever habitat can be arranged. The RSPCA believes that the safety and well-being of animals should be covered by the Bill. That is probably a matter better dealt with in detail in Standing Committee. A detailed code of practice covering the maintenance of wild animals would be useful.

The National Farmers Union and the various societies that organise horse activities have very detailed codes. The British Horse Society is examining further a detailed code of practice for the grazing of horses to try to prevent scrubby one-quarter acre sites being used for ponies. A code of practice, which could be voluntary, would be of benefit.

The list of persons qualified to inspect the zoos is also important. I welcome the proposal, but I hope that the people selected and the mechanisms by which they are selected will be the subject of scrutiny to ensure not only that a national standard is applied, but that a standard which takes full account of the many variables is applied. For example, there is no standard relating to the height of a tiger's cage.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West. There will be arguments that the Bill does not go far enough in certain areas, but I am sure that he will be able to rectify such points in Committee so that people and animals who enjoy their relationships in zoos will sleep and look at each other much happier as a result of the Bill.

12.22 pm
Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

I declare a non-financial interest in that I am honorary adviser to the National Zoological Association of Great Britain. When I accepted that appointment about a year ago I believed that the nature of my duties would be measured by the size of the fee, which is nil. I was, therefore, surprised when I realised that I would speak so soon on a Bill which affects that association.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) say that zoos and zoological gardens have a vital education role. I agree. I remember nearly two years ago being derided by Opposition Members, in a debate on giving relief from VAT to certain organisations, when I suggested that zoos were education establishments and were therefore at least as worthy of VAT relief as some of the more dubious cultural activities supported by Opposition Members

Zoos play a vital role which stems from the desire of us all to see exotic, rare and beautiful creatures as near as possible in their own environment. Years ago that desire was not always fulfilled as well as we would wish. Less than 100 years ago it was common for the public to wish to see grotesquely deformed human beings on show. Such days are behind us, although I suspect that a fair proportion of society, given the opportunity, would still wish to see them.

I welcome the Bill, as does the National Zoological Association of Great Britain. Some of the points that I make on behalf of the association might appear to be criticisms, but they are constructive criticisms. We want not to stop the Bill but to improve it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West, like me, is always anxious to ensure that there are not too many layers of bureaucracy. I hope that that aim is shared by all hon. Members. However, there is a danger of an overlapping of control. Some of the measures proposed are also covered in legislation affecting health and safety, planning and cruelty to animals. I hope that we can ensure that we do not duplicate existing regulations, even if it is more appropriate that they should be concentrated in this Bill, rather than in other measures.

I am worried about the burden which is to be put on local councils. I question whether local authorities are the best bodies to exercise licensing supervision. Some strange anomalies will arise. For instance, councils might have to grant licences to themselves which might make the inspection procedure less than complete.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said that zoos and zoological gardens might object to paying for their own supervisory licensing arrangements. That is a fair point, because similar arrangements are not paid for by the other bodies that are inspected. I have in mind the Factories Inspectorate and the Health and Safety Inspectorate.

The Bill does not contain a uniform scale of charges. That bothers the association considerably. The association fears that it might lead to exorbitant fees being charged by some local authorities, as happened under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.

I question the ability of councils to carry out this role. Not too many councils will have more than one or two zoological establishments in their area. Clause 14 provides for the charging of fees and statesthe local authority may charge such reasonable fees as they may determine". It would not be unreasonable for a local authority to seek to recover all the cost of providing the licensing supervision from whoever is being licensed.

Mr. Graham

A local authority may not wish a zoo to exist at all. It might approve of a zoo which it runs itself because it is revenue earning. A local zoo might be the cause of much public perturbation. The Bill would enable some local authorities to charge punitive fees.

Mr. Wickenden

That is a fair point, but whether that is the right way to dispense with undesirable establishments is open to question.

It might not be unreasonable for a local authority to recover the whole of its supervisory costs. If there is only one zoological establishment in the area it might face a heavy burden. I agree that we cannot call on local authorities to reduce their costs and then place other impositions upon them.

The National Zoological Association of Great Britain questions whether a local authority is qualified to express an informed opinion on zoos and zoo management. I was interested to hear the Minister refer to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act, because, as a director of a professional football club, I have a fair knowledge of the working of that Act. Generally it is felt that it has not worked satisfactorily. This is not due to any unreasonableness on the part of local authorities or to any wish to be obstructive. But it has worked to the disadvantage of the public in many cases when the onus for granting licences is put on an individual in a local authority. It is only natural that a local government officer is unlikely to wish to have the full burden of responsibility. It is not often that this happens in government at any level. Decisions are normally delegated to committees so that no one has to take individual responsibility. Where a local government officer has to take such a heavy responsibility, he errs, often, too far on the side of caution. That has not worked to the benefit of the public. It may still be the case in respect of this Bill.

Clause 5(4) is, like the whole Bill, well intentioned, but a slight anomaly grows out of it. The subsection saysEvery licence shall include the condition that no exotic animal shall be knowingly released without the permission of the local authority. One understands why the clause is included. It could, however, prevent the operation of such places as bird gardens and, in particular, the Slimbridge Wild Fowl Trust, which, by the nature of its activities, must release exotic birds within the trust area. This is perhaps a matter that hon. Members can deal with in Committee.

The appeal procedure, which I am pleased to see exists, provides for appeal to be made to the petty sessions in England. This in practice means the magistrates court. I have some reservations about that proposal. I wonder whether the magistrates court is the proper place for an appeal and whether such an appeal should not lie to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) raised the question of the transportation of animals and expressed serious reservations on behalf of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I must say to her that, unless there is some such provision in the Bill, I do not see how any animal could be transported from one zoo to another. It is necessary that animals should be so transported, in order to provide mates for unusual animals, to prevent too many animals being kept in one place and, indeed, for the whole industry, as it has been called, to operate. The question of the transport of animals is a highly emotive subject. It raises strong feelings. It is, however, necessary to transport animals. We must ensure that they are transported in good conditions.

According to my understanding of clause 1(2), which defines a zoo, circuses do not fall within that definition. I say that with a slight doubt, although I have read the subsection several times. It can be interpreted in two ways. I assume that the intention is not to bring circuses within the scope of the Bill.

As a general comment, I hope that, one day, an hon. Member will bring in a Bill to control circuses more stringently. I believe many hon. Members feel that the wish of the public to see animals performing is not too far removed from the wish to see deformed creatures, to which I have already referred. I hope that, at some stage, circuses will be brought within the ambit of such a Bill. I accept that it would not be appropriate in this Bill.

In welcoming the Bill and reassuring my hon. Friend of the wish of the National Zoological Association to see such a Bill, although the association hopes to see it amended, I apologise to him and to the House for the fact that I shall have to leave the Chamber shortly to fulfil a constituency engagement. I would have liked to have remained to the end of the debate.

12.35 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

This debate in many ways has shown the House of Commons at its best. It has been wide-ranging. It has been all-party. It has shown an interest in the welfare not only of human beings but also of animals. I join my hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) on his success in the ballot. It is typical of his generous nature that he has chosen this Bill instead of yielding to the temptation of going for a blockbuster Bill that makes the headlines yet brings the headaches. My hon. Friend has chosen a Bill that will do a great deal in welfare in the years to come.

There has been criticism of clause 13. It is a criticism that, as at present advised, I do not share. The Bill empowers the Secretary of State to direct that the periodical and special inspections shall not apply to small zoos which show only one or a few kinds of animals. No one wants to turn this Bill into a bureaucratic nightmare of civil servants and bureaucrats descending to a greater extent than is necessary on institutions.

If the local authority thinks that dispensations are appropriate and the Secretary of State agrees, it is appropriate that dispensations should be made. I do not share the concern of one or two hon. Members or the RSPCA about this clause. The Bill does not affect or alter the law on cruelty to animals. It is one to provide control and inspection and if only a few kinds of animals are involved, I still think that clause 13 is necessary.

The RSPCA is naturally concerned about what has happened in the past. There is also the concern of local authorities about what happens in zoos in their localities. I share that concern. The purpose and object of the Bill is to tighten up the very things about which they have been concerned. The Bill manages to avoid an enormous amount of work for a lot of people in a short time. As drafted, there is no danger of zoos closing and animals being thrown into the streets and the wild simply because a licence has not been issued in time. The transitional provisions are excellent and sensible. The transfer of the zoo industry from an unlicensed one to a licensed one will be effected smoothly.

The Bill protects animals and the public. A collection of animals to which the public have access for more than seven days in any period of 12 months must be licensed. It does not matter if the public pay. If they are admitted, the Bill will cover this aspect. Large and small will be covered by the Bill.

Clause 13 which provides the exemptions is entirely appropriate where the case arises. One of the great pleasures in life is to take one's children to the zoo and to share their sense of wonder at the things that they see. Few parents, who undertake this exercise, have not wondered, at the same time, whether the animals or birds are kept in humane conditions. Few if any of us are competent to pronounce on this situation.

These days, zoos do an enormous amount for wildlife and for reproducing creatures that sometimes do not breed easily in their natural habitat. Zoos collect and preserve wildlife in conditions which many of the animals would not always find in their own countries in the world as it is today. The capacity of zoos for informing, educating and giving pleasure to millions is considerable and growing.

As a result of the Bill, the pleasure and instruction of millions will be enhanced by the knowledge that the animals and birds live in conditions that have been inspected and improved. It will be a small but humane measure of which its presenter can be justly proud. It will ensure lasting comfort for most animals in captivity for years to come and lasting satisfaction from his efforts to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West. I have much pleasure in commending it to the House.

12.40 pm
Mr. Blackburn

By leave of the House, may I pay a warm and generous tribute to those hon. Members on both sides who have made such important contributions in a fine debate? I mention particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). Those who heard his speech will never forget the sincerity and courage that he displayed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).