HC Deb 26 January 1996 vol 270 cc553-74

Order for Second Reading read

9.34 am
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

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

Let me first thank the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the League Against Cruel Sports and other animal welfare organisations that have helped me with the preparation of the Bill for its First and Second Reading.

As Members will know, this is the third Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill to be considered in the House in the past three years. The first was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and was considered on Second Reading on 14 February 1992. Clause 1 of that Bill would have made it an offence wilfully to inflict any suffering on or cruelly ill-treat any animal. Clause 2 would have outlawed all hunting with dogs. Members may recall that the hunting clause caused palpitations among some Conservative Members; however, no one appeared to object to clause 1.

History records that the Bill was defeated by 187 votes to 175 votes. That defeat was due in part to the unprecedented intervention of almost the entire Cabinet, none of whom had appeared in the Chamber that day until the Division bell sounded. Quite why Cabinet Members found it necessary to abandon Government business to intervene in a debate on a private Member's Bill has never been explained, particularly as the 1992 election was to be held within two months, so there was little chance of the Bill reaching the Statute Book.

The second Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill received its Second Reading on 3 March 1995. It was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who sits beside me today. Like the previous Bill, it received huge public support. It was estimated that Members received more than half a million postcards and letters of support from the public. I confirm that, during the past few weeks, Members on both sides of the Chamber have received a similar amount of correspondence.

Members will recall that the only part of that Bill to raise hackles was clause 2, which sought to ban hunting with dogs. Clause 1 sought to make it an offence to cruelly kick, beat or torture any wild animal. Many of those who regard the hunting and killing of foxes, deer and hares as a proud sport again declared no objections to clause 1. The Bill was passed by 253 votes to nil—the biggest ever majority for a private Member's Bill.

What followed, however, was a catalogue of parliamentary filibustering tactics to stop the Bill making any further progress. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton, who is a devote and able campaigner on animal welfare, managed to get it into Committee but, because of time constraints, he was forced to give up the hunting clause. What remained was a much diluted Bill that sought to make it an offence to cruelly kick, beat or torture wild animals.

Amazingly, despite the assurances that had been given, fox-hunting supporters in the House announced that they could not accept the offence of torture, as their legal advice was that the hunting and snaring of animals would probably be interpreted in the courts as cruel torture. I have a feeling that that admission may return to haunt them.

The outcome was that hasty negotiations took place between all sides and resulted in my hon. Friend's Bill being reworded so that it would make it an offence cruelly to kick, beat, impale, crush, burn or drown any wild animal. In that form, it had the agreement of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), chairman of the British Field Sports Society, and passed Report stage and Third Reading without objection.

In the other place three months later, the vice-chairman of the British Field Sports Society, Lord Mancroft, and other fox-hunting supporters—knowing full well that even one small amendment would almost certainly cause the Bill to run out of time—insisted on tabling seven or eight amendments, to wreck the Bill's chances. Nevertheless, so desperate was the need to create legislation that would at least acknowledge that wild animals are capable of suffering cruelty, that amendments were agreed. However, the lack of just a few seconds of parliamentary time prevented the Bill from progressing further.

We are again searching for justice for wild animals. My Bill's sponsors, together with the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports, accept that the measure is not a vehicle for outlawing blood sports. The hon. Member for Wimbledon and I spent many hours discussing the Bill's wording. There have been intense negotiations with BFS officials and lawyers, the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports. Discussions have been cordial, with a willingness to find solutions.

They led to considerable concessions on my part, and I reluctantly accepted one or two amendments in the other place. I waived the opportunity, after guarantees had been given, to resubmit the Bill in the form that it left this House last year. That would almost certainly have led, under the Parliament Act, to the Bill being passed without any fear of Lords amendments.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Many hon. Members in all parts of the House wished to be present for this debate. Some of us may not be able to participate in any vote if these proceedings run the full length of the day, but the hon. Gentleman has much support and good will in principle. We understand his remarks about reaching a compromise. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can give me two assurances, in case there is not another opportunity.

I am anxious to be clear why domestic animals are excluded from the Bill—many of us wished to see it broadened in that way. Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Bill will assist the RSPCA in the difficulty that it has encountered in bringing prosecutions in the past?

Mr. Meale

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on both points. The RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports have been deeply involved at all stages. The Bill is about wild animals, and it replicates the protection given to domestic animals in the Protection of Animals Act 1911—although I agree that further legislation is probably needed to protect domestic animals.

I gave way in some of the negotiations because Conservative Members gave me their word that they would give the Bill a clear passage—including Government Whips, who are satisfied that I have taken into account the Government's technical amendments. After I met the Under-Secretary of State and civil servants and the amendments were passed to me, they were considered and included in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton accepts that there was a technical flaw in his Bill, and it was removed.

The RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports have recorded horrific offences not covered by the original list, and they were added so that they would be outlawed by the Bill. I believe that the Bill in its present form has the total approval of the Government, British Field Sports Society, RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and many other organisations.

Hopefully, it will soon be illegal to mutilate, kick, beat, nail, impale, stamp, burn, stone, crush, drown, drag or asphyxiate any wild animal with intend. Other cruel acts should be examined, but that list is a good basis for protecting wild animals. I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon and other hon. Members who support blood sports will not view the Bill with cynicism, but will accept that its progress should not be halted. In that way, we shall establish a measure that outlaws brutal and sadistic cruelty to wild animals.

I refer hon. Members to recent incidents where such a Bill would have helped to bring offenders to court. Near Sittingbourne last summer, two walkers found the carcases of two foxes smouldering over a fire in a quarry. A post mortem revealed that one of the foxes had been thrown on the fire while still alive, after being half strangled with a wire. The other fox was so badly burnt that the remains could not be fully examined and the cause of death established. No prosecution could be brought, as no offence in law existed to deal with the culprits.

The same year, a vixen—having been dug out of its earth by a terrier gang—was nailed to a tree while still alive and left to die, with its cubs pathetically waiting at the foot of a tree. In Charlton in south-east London last summer, a gang of youths caught a fox on open ground, tied a rope around and dragged it behind a motor bike, causing it to die from horrific injuries.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report in yesterday's Daily Express about "graffiti yobs" who sprayed Kelvin the hedgehog with bright red paint. Aerosol chemicals caused its spines to drop out and now, two months later, he is naked. He would have died left out in the cold. But Kelvin is lucky. Kelvin, whose photograph accompanies the report, is now being looked after and is healthy and well. Will the spraying of paints or other substances, which is sadly a growing trend, be made illegal by his Bill?

Mr. Meale

Yes, because spraying an animal with paint is an act of cruelty.

In July 1993, in Hollington, Kent, a hedgehog was killed when a man kicked it 40 ft against a wall. That hedgehog had recently given birth to five young, and was being fed by a family in their garden. In May 1995 in Portsmouth, a hedgehog was killed by teenagers, who pulled a slab from a wall, carried it across a field on their backs, placed it on top of a hedgehog and took it in turns to jump off a bench on to the slab until the animal was crushed to death.

Those are just five instances, and the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) described another. The RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and other animal welfare organisations have catalogued tens of thousands of similar cases every year in which charges cannot be brought.

Many of my friends and the majority of the public will be disappointed that my Bill does not outlaw the hunting and killing of wild animals using dogs or the strangulation of animals on wire snares. So am I—but the reality is that, if I had brought such a measure before the House, it would have stood little chance of becoming law at this time. My discussions with the relevant organisations took into account the possibility of a general election being held and opposition in the other place to a measure that tackled such heinous crimes.

We went for a Bill to protect animals as quickly as possible, because of the scale of the problem. I would have preferred a Bill that tackled other forms of animal cruelty, but it was in the interests of the animal kingdom to proceed as we did. Perhaps the House will soon have a meaningful opportunity to examine and change the unfair preservation of certain interests—particularly in the other place, together with an examination of their Lordships' mansions, tens of thousands of acres of land and privileged position in society. Public opinion is with me in that respect, as with animal welfare. I hope one day that we will be able to have a full and frank debate on that aspect.

If any Conservative Members are thinking about opposing the Bill today, I wish to point out that it is a genuine attempt by Members of Parliament of all parties, who care about the animal kingdom, to start to put proper legislation into place. I believe that if any Member of Parliament—of any party—allows this country to continue without proper legislation to stop thugs and hooligans horrendously and cruelly torturing and killing wild animals for sport and personal enjoyment, he or she does not deserve to be here at all. I commend the Bill to the House, and I ask for the support of every hon. Member in the Chamber.

9.50 am
Sir John Cope (Northavon)

I am a member of the British Field Sports Society and have been for many years, much longer than I have been a Member of Parliament, but I am glad to support the Bill today. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), who moved the Bill in a measured way, was very sensible to limit the objectives of the Bill as he has described, and also to seek wide agreement before introducing it.

I took a little part in some of the negotiations that took place between the hon. Member for Mansfield and the British Field Sports Society. I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, and especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), the chairman of the BFSS, who took part from our side.

We are all concerned about the cases of terrible cruelty that have been brought to our attention by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, some of which the hon. Member for Mansfield has described this morning, and for which the society has not been able to prosecute successfully those people who should be brought to book.

At the same time, I wish to make it clear that I would not have been able to support the Bill if it had also attempted to ban hunting and other field sports. I own no land, and I do not fulfil the other criteria mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but I am a strong supporter of field sports. The properly conducted, traditional field sports of this country have my support. Many of my constituents take part in them, they provide considerable employment, and they continue to contribute to the preservation of wildlife and of the countryside as we know it.

I am therefore opposed to any attempt to ban hunting and other field sports, and will continue to oppose any such attempts vigorously. I could not have supported the Bill if, directly or indirectly, it threatened to do so.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Mansfield and many others take a different view. We have in the past debated whether certain field sports should be made illegal, and no doubt we shall do again, as the hon. Gentleman has previously suggested. I am ready to defend field sports again if necessary. However, the Bill is not intended to attack field sports. The hon. Gentleman made that clear, as has the RSPCA in its briefing on the Bill.

I entirely accept those assurances, but those of us who support field sports have to be vigilant not only against full frontal attack, as happens occasionally, but against possible incidental effects of the wording of Bills that may not have been intended by the promoters. That problem gave rise to the difficulties at the end of the discussion of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill last year.

I originally had three concerns about the possible wording of the Bill. The first was that farmers, gardeners, motorists or other people who accidentally maimed or killed a wild mammal in the course of perfectly legitimate activities might find themselves facing the same charge as someone who was deliberately cruel in the way described by the hon. Member for Mansfield. My second concern was that legitimate agricultural activities, such as pest control or the deliberate dispatching of wounded animals, might be affected by the Bill. My third worry was that traditional field sports might be threatened, not by the deliberate and stated intention of the RSPCA, but by the misuse of the wording of the Bill.

In the course of the discussions over the wording of the Bill, the hon. Member for Mansfield may have thought that we were sometimes overly concerned about the ways that the wording might be twisted and used, but we were right to be concerned. There are some fanatical people, who are viciously anti-farmer and anti-hunt, and sometimes both. This week, my local paper reported an outbreak of arson against local farms. Three separate farms have been attacked, and three barns full of hay and other buildings and machinery have been destroyed.

Anti-hunt activists also go far beyond mere protest on some occasions. In my constituency, they tried to dig up the grave of the late Duke of Beaufort, which is only a few yards from his family home, not long after his funeral. I regard that as disgraceful, and I am sure that every hon. Member would agree. I mention that incident only to show the lengths to which some people will go, and not because I think that any hon. Member would condone such activities.

If some people were given even the ghost of a chance, they would be prepared to try to twist the wording of any Act of Parliament—whatever the intentions of the promoters—and chance their luck in court if they thought they could damage legitimate field sports. It is not acceptable to me that the lives and the jobs of my constituents who are farmers, fox hunters or both should be subject to that.

However, it would also be wrong for the House to accept a Bill if its wording was vague enough to be the subject of argument in court about its intention. Sometimes, of course, that can happen accidentally, and we all know the difficulties of drafting from our experience in the House. However, the courts would have to decide a case by trying to dig out a precise meaning from ambiguous wording, not on the objective merits of the issue. If we accepted a vaguely worded Bill, that would be a dereliction of our duty as legislators, and would not be the right way in which to make the law of the land.

However, the hon. Member for Mansfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, in their discussions, have made great efforts, with expert advisers from both sides of the argument, to achieve a satisfactory wording that would protect wild mammals from the cruelties that have been listed and described so graphically without damaging legitimate, properly conducted field sports and agricultural activities. I am reassured that a wide range of legal expertise has been brought to bear on the drafting of the Bill to achieve those aims. I welcome the agreement that has been reached and is expressed in the wording of the Bill.

On that basis, and with those reassurances, I support the Bill, and I am glad to help to advance protection for wild mammals.

9.58 am
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

I am delighted that, within 12 months of my Bill, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, receiving—as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) mentioned—almost the largest majority for a Private Member's Bill in the history of Parliament, he has taken up the issue and ensured the current Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill a Second Reading.

The Bill has massive support throughout the country. A MORI poll showed that 90 per cent. of the public favoured the 1995 Bill, but it stood little chance of getting through Parliament. Given that glaring cruelty is still occurring in the country, I felt that it would be worthwhile, if possible, to obtain some measure of agreement so that, for the first time, a wild mammals Bill could he passed.

I should like to thank my hon. Friends for their support in reaching that goal, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield for his generosity in promoting the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill. I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) who, throughout the discussions on my Bill last year, and during the past few weeks, has been straight and direct about the intentions of the British Field Sports Society and others. He deserves our thanks for that. The right hon. Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) served on last year's Committee and willingly helped to find points on which we could agree.

My Bill was number seven in last year's ballot, and stood little chance of going into Committee. Ultimately, less than a week before the expiry date for the Bill's Report stage in the House, I found a free slot for my Bill in Committee. That meant that the House had two days to examine the Bill. Hon. Members from both sides of the House put their heads together to find something everyone could accept. The then Minister had the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Home Office. In that time, we came up with what we thought was agreeable wording. The Bill was amended in the other place, however, and its chance of success was therefore limited.

I think that the public feel that the rules of the House of Commons are rather anachronistic, and perhaps a bit antique because my Bill needed only to be subject to effective orders and for its title to be read out in a few seconds for it to be passed by Parliament. Alas, that did not happen. I was determined, as a result of the many thousands of letters of support that I received, that the Bill would eventually become an Act. Hon. Members therefore deserve to be congratulated on that success.

The right hon. Member for Northavon mentioned the Bill's purpose. Since the landmark case of Pepper v. Hart of 1992, the courts and lawyers have been able to understand the intentions of Parliament. Our intentions will be made clear in this debate: to put legislation on wild mammals on the statute book for the first time, and to outlaw wanton acts of cruelty. That is the sum and the substance of our intentions.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

My hon. Friend puts the case very well. Is he aware that tens of thousands of people were outraged by the acts in the other place, which virtually sabotaged his Bill and raised serious question marks about the role of the other place—

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

We do not need to go over all that.

Mr. Griffiths

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the current Bill? It reflects the good work that he has done, with support from both sides of the House—in spite of the sedentary comment just now. Will he join me in wishing good speed to the Bill, and agree that, if it is blocked in the same way at a later date, there will be further outrage out there, and that the people who block it will not be forgiven?

Mr. McFall

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I do not want to spoil a good party this morning.

Sir John Cope

The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) is right to mention the case of Pepper v. Hart. That was a tax case, and I can never remember whether Pepper or Hart was the tax inspector, and the other one was a schoolteacher. It was an extremely important case, which is why I attach great importance to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the intentions of the Bill, and which I set out.

I think that last year's activities in the other place have been misrepresented. I do not want to refight the battle in detail, but some important issues were raised there. Unfortunately, with the best will in the world—as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged—we had not foreseen all the snags in the last-minute drafting of the Bill at this end of the Corridor. I believe that those in the other place made some sound points, which have been taken account of in the Bill, and which I hope will not cause further difficulties.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) continues, I should tell the House that this morning's interventions, though interesting, are getting rather lengthy. The House will know that I appreciate short interventions. While passing reference may be made to other Bills and actions, this is a Second Reading, to which primary attention should be directed.

Mr. McFall

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be pleased to know that I am taking the statesman's route this morning, and I will not focus on other issues. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's comments—

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

I am not obliged, Madam Deputy Speaker, to take the statesman's route, and do not hesitate to be a party-pooper. No one should be under any doubt—I hope that the right hon. Member (Sir J. Cope) will agree with me—that many hon. Members are absolutely opposed to the abominable cruelties that are associated with field sports, and we look to this Bill to deal with them. There should be no doubt in the minds of the promoters of the Bill that many us are here to ensure that that happens. Those cruelties should be brought to an end.

Mr. McFall

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree with the thrust of his comments, but I should like to see the Bill secure a successful passage today. We can then go on to debate the issues that surround blood supports.

I have mentioned the all-party support in the House. We also have all-party support throughout the country. A Scottish politician, Baillie John Young, a Conservative who has been in regular contact with me about this issue, said that he supported my original Bill, and that he would continue to support similar Bills. One of my Bill's strongest supporters was Diane Wilson, a Conservative who is involved in the Somerset anti-blood sports group. There has been tremendous support throughout the country for the provisions of my original Bill and today's Bill.

The reason for the support is that the public are perplexed by the 85-year wait, since the Protection of Animals Act 1911, for provisions to protect wild mammals. It was not only an anomaly but a glaring omission that an individual who had a pet fox and maltreated it could be prosecuted, while an individual who maltreated a wild fox could not be prosecuted. I believe, as do many of my hon. Friends who have contributed to this debate, that this matter one of social reform.

Last year, in the Second Reading debate, I mentioned "Roads to Ruin", by E. S. Turner, in which he dealt with a number of issues. He told of another book that was about torture, and which was dedicated to the chief of the imperial general staff. He wrote that, many years ago, some in the House argued that it would not be a good idea to abolish the jobs of chimney boys, because that would endanger country houses. Thankfully, we have moved on since those times, but I view this issue in the same context as those which were debated 100 years ago.

The Bill reflects a feeling that has been running through British society for 150 years. We are on the verge of passing the Bill this morning because of the dedicated work that has been done throughout the country for those 150 years. We stand on the shoulders of social reformers throughout the ages. If the Bill receives passage through the House this morning, I can guarantee that many hundreds of thousands of British people will be happier for it.

On Second Reading of my Bill last year, I said that this sort of provision should be on the statute book before we enter the new millennium. There are many reasons for that, not least that it is only by securing such legislation that we can call ourselves a truly civilised society. We are taking the first step down that road today, and I think that the public will gain succour from the fact that, for the first time in Parliament's history, there is genuine harmony in the Chamber this morning for passing legislation to protect wild mammals.

10.10 am
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I shall not detain the House for long, but, like the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), I should like to refer to history. For some time I was the co-licensee of a public house called The Castle in Cowcross street near Smithfield market. Two hundred years ago Smithfield was the centre of all sorts of rumbustious and nefarious activities, not least because it was the national centre for cock fighting, bear baiting and dog fighting.

The Castle is unique in that it holds two licences. The Prince Regent came to Smithfield for the cock fighting in those days. He lost all of his money on the first two fights and repaired to the nearest tavern where he was able to persuade the landlord that his watch was worth a few guineas. He then returned to bet on the other fights. The watch was redeemed by a palace courtier the following morning and The Castle in Cowcross street was granted a pawnbroker's licence in perpetuity.

We have come a long way since cock fighting, dog fighting and bear baiting—or have we? I understand that those unpleasant activities continue to flourish in certain parts of the country. I appreciate that today we are discussing wild mammals rather than domestic animals, but I shall relate one of the first constituency cases that I dealt with when I was elected to this place in 1983. It concerned a young gentleman who put his puppy in the oven and roasted it alive. That puppy could easily have been a hedgehog, a rabbit or another wild animal and it is incredibly sad that some people continue to indulge in those sorts of activities. One has only to read clause 1 of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) to realise how many forms of torture and unpleasant activities people inflict upon wild animals.

I have no hesitation supporting my guv'nor in the parliamentary beer club, the hon. Member for Mansfield—he is chairman to my vice-chairmanship of that excellent organisation—in his attempts to bring the law regarding wild mammals into line with that which presently prevails for domestic animals through the Protection of Animals Act 1911. I support the Bill.

10.13 am
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)

As a sponsor of the Bill, I stress the need for legislation to protect wild animals. I am a fisherman—there is no conflict of interest—and, as I travel around the country, I see wild animals in their natural habitats. We must have the will to pass legislation to protect wild animals and Members of Parliament would be very foolish to ignore that fact.

I receive a tremendous amount of correspondence from my constituents—particularly from young people—after the screening of television programmes about cruelty of any kind to any wild animal, including whales or dolphins. My postbag is always full on those occasions. The people are telling us that they desire this type of legislation and I believe that we would be very foolish as politicians and as humanitarians to ignore them.

I do not go as far as some who use violence to protect domestic and farm animals. Such people seem to think that it is all right to stick it to the police and others and to use violence in support of their cause. I do not believe that the use of violence is justified. One must put across one's point of view democratically and peacefully. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) on introducing the legislation and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) on raising the issue originally.

We are judged as a nation according to how we treat our children and our animals. I think that that is how it should be. If we have detailed legislation to protect youngsters and other vulnerable people, we should have legislation to protect wild animals also. I hope that the spirit of co-operation in the House this morning will be accepted and that there will be no recriminations or awkwardness at this stage.

10.15 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville)

I take this opportunity to confirm the Government's very strong support for the aims of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill. The Bill, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), seeks to add to the protections that exist already for certain animals and certain habitats and to fill an existing gap while protecting pest control and legitimate agricultural practices.

My Whip's training tells me that Fridays are not the time for Front Bench interventions, so I shall be brief. I shall make two points. First, I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said: it is a sad reflection on our society that such a Bill is necessary. It is disappointing that a despicable minority of people are prepared to commit acts of cruelty against animals and it is appropriate that the Bill introduces imprisonment as the penalty for committing such acts. Those who are thinking of behaving in that way should be made well aware of that fact.

Secondly, I pay tribute to the two sides of the argument. There are very firmly held views about matters close to the Bill and there have been negotiations between those who represent the interests of agriculture, the British Field Sports Society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is a tribute to all concerned that they have managed to achieve a consensus which I hope that the House will accept. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), to my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) for their work in negotiating with the hon. Member for Mansfield to agree the text of the Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker, perhaps you appreciate better than anyone that we are a nation of animal lovers. The Bill reflects that fact and it is a credit to the House that we are witnessing the proceedings today.

10.18 am
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I must state at the outset that I receive research assistance from the political animal lobby. I do not believe that that is relevant to the debate, but I make that point clear.

I begin by echoing the Minister's comments: it is a sad reflection on our society that a measure of this kind is necessary. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is long overdue. It enjoys the overwhelming support of the people of this country, and that is why I, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) from the shadow Home Office team, give it our full support.

I also add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and to my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) who have brought forward similar measures and who have advanced the campaign to ensure that there is protection for wild animals. I was privileged to be a sponsor of all three of those Bills, which were supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. They were also supported by all the main animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports, which have given considerable technical advice.

Despite all that support and advice, however—and the drafting help given by the Minister's private office—the Bill should be seen as only a first step in the removal of anomalies connected with the protection of wild animals. It would have been better if it had been based on the wording of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which is tried and tested and has served animal welfare organisations very well when they have brought prosecutions relating to cruelty to domestic and captive animals.

The Bill's wording is not based on that of the 1911 Act, because the Act includes the words "torture" and "mistreat", which were not acceptable to the pro-blood sports lobby, including the British Field Sports Society. A justification of the society's attitude, contained in a briefing, is completely unconvincing. In fact, it would not accept the wording because, if a case involving dogs being set on other animals were brought to court, those responsible would almost certainly lose. That explodes the myth that setting dogs on other animals for entertainment is a humane form of pest control.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Bill should have been based on the Protection of Animals Act 1911. It should be noted that the word "animals" rather than the word "mammals" appears in the title of that Act. Does the hon. Gentleman envisage an extension to cover wild birds and fish?

Mr. Morley

The Opposition have no argument with angling or, indeed, responsible shooting. Clearly, if the 1911 Act were amended, it would have to be amended in a number of ways to take that point into account, and also to take into account the legitimate needs of farming and pest control. Nevertheless, it would not have been difficult to amend the Act along those lines. We would then have benefited from a form of words that has been well tested in law.

The British Field Sports Society's conversion to support for a measure to protect wild mammals is a com-paratively recent enlightenment on the road to Damascus. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) shakes his head, but a leaflet distributed by the society at the time of the last general election, entitled Will your sport be safe after the next election?", states: Fact three: Labour's plan for a bill to protect wild mammals is pure window dressing to create an opportunity for a free vote on hunting. There is no need for a new law. Since 1911 it has been an offence to cause suffering to a captive wild animal. That ignores the facts: the Bill deals with wild mammals. Nevertheless, I suppose that we should be grateful for late conversions to the cause.

Although we believe that the Bill does not go far enough, it is welcome. For the first time, bodies such as the RSPCA will be allowed to take action against acts of gratuitous violence and cruelty to wild animals. We have heard a number of examples today. Hedgehogs seem to be prime victims, perhaps because they are common in densely populated areas. For some reason, there seem to have been some particularly bad cases in my region. A hedgehog in Hull was painted with spray paint, whereupon its spines fell out; in Pocklington, north Humberside, youths used a hedgehog as a football. They were taken to court, but the prosecution failed because there was no protection in law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has given me a petition organised by a Mrs. Blyth from the hedgehog care centre in Cleethorpes, which calls for this legislation because of the increasing number of cases of cruelty. I have also received a lengthy petition organised by a Mrs. Duran in Oxford.

Anomalies still exist. For example, it will be illegal to set a dog on a captive fox—and rightly so—but the Bill will not deal with the cruelty of sending terriers underground when a fox is trapped. That will still be legal.

Mr. Boateng

Not for much longer.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is right there.

The public will be puzzled by the difference between the way in which captive and wild foxes are treated. We shall, however, have an opportunity to return to the subject of cruelty associated with blood sports, and I accept that this is not the occasion on which to discuss such matters. For the moment, let me repeat that we welcome the Bill and the measure of agreement that has been reached, and hope that the legislation will complete its passage through the House of Lords without further amendment. It is a better Bill now: the Bill that came to us from the other place was a mess. Although I concede that there were anomalies in the original legislation, some of the Lords amendments were unhelpful and some were downright stupid—especially the one relating to beating, which would have wrecked the purpose of the Bill.

I know that there is widespread support in and, particularly, outside the House for measures to protect wild mammals from deliberate cruelty. Although the effect of the Bill will be limited, it will enable action to be taken against the appalling people who inflict cruelty on wild mammals.

10.27 am
Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this civilised debate, whose tone was set by the hon. Members for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). What they said reflected the manner in which we have conducted negotiations over the past few months.

Let me declare my interest as chairman of the British Field Sports Society, which is recognised as the unifying body for political lobbying on behalf of all country sports. It represents the views and interests of hundreds of thousands of people of all political persuasions. In the present climate, I should also declare that the appointment is unpaid.

I welcome the Bill. It is a carefully targeted, sensible animal welfare measure that will help to prevent cruelty, and it will be strongly supported by the public. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield not only on his good fortune in securing the debate, but on his wisdom in introducing the Bill in this form. I am grateful to him for the trouble that he took in consulting me so that an agreed, workable measure, acceptable to those in the countryside, could be presented.

For the last 100 years, every piece of animal welfare legislation has been passed by the House on the basis of political consensus. That is a proud record, and the hon. Gentleman has been wise to follow it. Real progress has been made, because all of us who genuinely care about animal welfare were prepared to put aside our differences and identify the common ground represented in the Bill.

We have dwelt to some extent on the history of the matter, but a few points are worth recording. If the Bill had been introduced in its present form in the last Session and had been sponsored by the hon. Member for Dumbarton, it would now be on the statute book. It was clearly unwise to couple such measures with clauses to abolish hunting and attack shooting. We could never have accepted the Bill in that form, and its fate should have been perfectly obvious to anyone.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton and I did everything that we could to secure an agreed Bill after he dropped the anti-country sports measures at the eleventh hour. Unfortunately, there were real flaws in his Bill, as the other place soon pointed out. I am afraid that the drafting efforts of the hon. Gentleman and me, assisted by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), were found to be defective—perhaps we would not make a very good firm of lawyers; hence the amendments that were tabled in another place.

My noble Friend Lord Mancroft needs absolutely no protection, but the hon. Member for Dumbarton said that my noble Friend tabled vexatious amendments in the other place. I absolutely refute that. The other place did its traditional job extremely well, and the expertise there was represented in the tabled amendments, which were accepted by Labour Front-Bench spokesmen in that House. As a result, we ended up with a much better considered Bill.

It is a matter of history that, despite the joint efforts of the hon. Member for Dumbarton and me, it was simply not possible within the procedural framework to have those amendments considered here. However, if the amendments had not been sound, we would not now be considering a Bill that, to a large extent, incorporates all those amendments.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), to my right hon. Friend at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to officials for all their help to ensure that the Bill was as near perfect as we could make it. It would be remiss of me not to pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope), who, in his typically sound, able and measured way, played an important part in the negotiations with the hon. Member for Mansfield and the RSPCA, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson).

Since the passing of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, Parliament has passed a succession of specific measures to outlaw particular forms of cruelty to wild animals. For instance—this is in direct contradiction to what the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe maintains—the gin trap and self-locking snares have been abolished, and the gassing of some species has been outlawed with the support of the BFSS. There are other examples. Field sports are regulated under the game laws as well as by their own codes of conduct. If we want to deal with a specific form of cruelty, we should do it in the established way—incrementally and by consensus. The Bill falls into the category of sensible animal welfare as opposed to measures that are pursued by the animal rights lobby. It thus deserves to succeed.

I once again express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Mansfield for making it clear in the Bill and in his speech that, despite his personal views and those of his sponsors, of whom we saw a glimpse today, the Bill is not intended to attack country sports, pest control or farming activities. His reassurance may be a watershed in the ending of single issue politics on rural issues. He now rightly expects, as I do, that the Bill will have a fair wind through the House and, I hope, in another place.

The hon. Gentleman has spent many hours discussing the measure with us. Legal advisers from the RSPCA and the British Field Sports Society have worked together with the common aim of producing good and workable legislation. This is an excellent day for the House of Commons and for wildlife, and I wish the Bill well.

10.34 am
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

In principle, one of the most elegant pieces of English law based on the Judaeo-Christian ethic is the duty of care. We owe a duty of care to each other, and this place has a duty of care to its citizens. In that context we cannot rule out the duty of care that we as mammals ourselves owe to other mammals. The Bill is long overdue.

How times change. John Evelyn recorded that just 300 years ago in 1690 in a debate in this very place a Bill failed to become law by just 10 votes because the majority of hon. Members were away watching a pack of dogs baiting a tiger just two miles down the road. The situation has changed, although, sadly, it has not changed enough. Hon. Members have spoken about the way in which some hedgehogs and other animals have been treated. It is extraordinary that human beings can behave in that way towards other animals. It is almost as if they are psychopathic and have no empathy of feeling for other living creatures.

It is sad that it has taken so long for the Bill to come to the House, because the present law is riddled with loopholes. A hedgehog or a fox when kept as a pet is protected by law, but the same animals in the wild can be cruelly treated or tortured. The Bill will ensure that that cannot happen in future.

I noticed with a little distress that clause 7 of the Bill, which I hope will become an Act, cannot apply to Northern Ireland. Perhaps the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) could explain why that is the case.

Mr. Meale

It is quite simply that Scotland and Northern Ireland are covered by other Acts, and have to be dealt with by those mechanisms. Hopefully, the Bill's provisions will be repeated in the appropriate Acts.

Mr. Fabricant

If the Bill becomes law, I hope that the will of the House will be seen to be clear, and that a mechanism can he contrived, which happens if the will is there, to see that the Bill's provisions apply to Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

That was an interesting exchange, and perhaps we could return to it on Committee. I think that the only requirement would be to find in Northern Ireland legislation words that are equivalent to those in clause 3.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which was as helpful as ever. If he is correct, it seems that there is no impediment to the Bill covering Northern Ireland.

As hon. Members have said, there is considerable public feeling in favour of the Bill. I have received many letters in my constituency, particularly from people in Lichfield, supporting it. A few months ago, the RSPCA conducted a survey which showed that some 94 per cent. of the population—I am surprised that the percentage is so low—are keen to see the Bill in force.

In the past, the police have tried to take offenders to court for wanton cruelty to wild animals. The RSPCA has dealt with cases involving hedgehogs being burnt, beaten and impaled on sticks, and of live fox cubs being nailed to trees or set alight with petrol.

As I said, I cannot believe that people behave in that way. What sort of minds they must have that they treat other living creatures in that manner. Prosecutions have failed because of the many loopholes in the law. I am pleased that political correctness and political dogma have been overcome to enable the Bill to come to the Floor of the House.

We all owe one another a duty of care. If we, as human beings, fail to accept that that duty extends also to the animal kingdom, it does not serve the human race well. Nor does it serve the human race well that it has taken so long for the Bill to come to the Floor of the House.

10.40 am
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I welcome the Bill, not least because it is based on the concept of compromise. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) said, for 100 years, all measures in the House to protect animals have been based on consensus. That is the British way—the sensible way. This Bill will pass into law because it recognises that, in a free society, progress affecting the rights of minorities has to be based on consent.

The Bill last year, sponsored by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), was doomed to failure, because it sought to ride roughshod over that principle. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has told us today that the Bill is merely a first step, but the League Against Cruel Sports will, I suspect and hope, ultimately fail, because it seeks to criminalise the activities of hundreds of thousands of decent, law-abiding people. That is why there is an internal crisis and a sense of frustration in the league, and why I suspect that the Bill is the work more of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals than the league.

Mr. Morley

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to many people why, under the Bill and existing law, it is illegal to set dogs on a tame fox, but why—even under the Bill—it will still be legal to set dogs on a wild fox?

Mr. Leigh

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made that point, because I was coming to that matter.

James Barrington, the league's executive director, who has just been forced out by the extremists, sought to raise that point. He dared to suggest—as, apparently, the Bill, by its uncontroversial nature, suggests—that field sportsmen are perhaps respectable members of society with rights and views that need to be taken into account. He suggested simply that, if terrier work were abandoned by hunts, they could enjoy greater public recognition, and that the league could conceivably change its attitude towards them. I personally have some sympathy with that view. It may be a compromise that is worth investigating.

No doubt Mr. Barrington is right in saying—or perhaps the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe is right in saying—that the case against hunting would be even weaker if terrier work were banned, although no doubt the hon. Gentleman and others would go on suggesting that hunting should still be banned. I should like to know his view on that point.

Mr. Meale

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, in the preparation of the Bill, there has been equal partnership: equal advice has been given by the RSPCA and the League Again Cruel Sports. My advisers during the preparation of the Bill have been someone from the RSPCA and John Bryant from the League Against Cruel Sports.

I urge the hon. Gentleman not to dwell on the background of an industrial incident at the league because I know some of the background of that matter, which will be decided outside this place at an industrial tribunal. My impression is that I think the league was correct in what it did.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the debate continues, may I make the point that we are debating the Second Reading of the Bill, and that, although passing reference may be made to other issues that bear on it, we must not become diverted from the main purpose.

Mr. Leigh

I am happy to leave Mr. James Barrington—I have made that point. The Bill recognises what should be a cardinal feature of our debates: in a free society, we cannot suddenly legislate away in a private Members' time on a wet Friday afternoon rights that have existed since time immemorial. At the very least, a Government would need to be elected with such a provision in their manifesto. Perhaps a referendum would be required. It is interesting that the Labour party, which could take that course, chooses not to do so. It recognises, as we all do, that this is primarily a moral and not a political issue.

Do I then argue that, in a pluralist and liberal society, which, like everyone else here today, I support, people should be allowed to do exactly what they like? Of course not, which is why I support the Bill, and why we will all allow it to go through. People should not be allowed to derive gratuitous pleasure simply from torturing animals. I suspect that only a small minority do so, and I know of no respectable field sportsmen who derive such pleasure from any pain inflicted on animals.

There is another point. If, for some extraordinary reason, hunting with dogs had never been invented, it would have to be invented now, because sometimes it is not possible to control pests without dogs. Hunting, shooting and fishing as sports have been a feature of rural life for centuries. In those circumstances, it is neither morally right nor feasible to criminalise something undertaken every weekend by millions of people.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of my previous guidance. We must consider what is contained in the Bill rather than do a general survey of other matters that, although they may be related, are not in the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

I am happy to take your guidance on that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is worth saying, however—this is the point that I really wanted to make in my few remarks—that, if we are going to make any progress in these matters, as I believe we have to, we must recognise that there are people in this country who have alternative views.

Mr. McFall

As far as I am aware, the hon. Gentleman has not taken part in any negotiations on either my Bill or this Bill, unlike the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) and the right hon. Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope). Frankly, the hon. Gentleman is coming across as shrill, partisan and out of keeping with the tone of this morning's debate, when we have focused solely on the issue of animal welfare. It would do the hon. Gentleman good to take a leaf out of the book of hon. Members debating the issue this morning.

Mr. Leigh

I am simply making the point that the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon have said, is a watershed, because it recognises that, when we are dealing with matters affecting city and countryside, we have to proceed with consent.

Like the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), who has moved the Second Reading, I was fortunate to come near the top of the private Members' ballot some years ago, and I introduced a Bill on footpaths. I was careful then to gain advice from the Country Landowners Association, the National Farmers Union and ramblers' organisations. That Bill became law—I think that it was the first Bill on footpaths to become law for many years—because it was based on consent.

The point that needs to be made is that, if we are going to make any progress in these matters, we must realise that there are differing opinions, that a large number of people hold strong views, and that we can make progress only on the basis of consensus. The hon. Member for Dumbarton did not recognise that with the proposals that he included in the Bill he introduced last year.

I see from the hon. Member for Mansfield today a realistic determination and understanding of our procedures, and a determination to achieve a Bill that becomes law. I hope that our proceedings this morning are a portent for the future, and that what happened last year and in 1992 will not be repeated. If it were, there would be a rather arid stand-off between two opposing and strongly held views.

However much the hon. Member for Dumbarton may disagree with some of my points, I am sure that he recognises that people who hunt, shoot or fish have a valid point of view that should be respected. They are part of the countryside. The hon. Gentleman is here to support the Bill, which does not affect the rights of those people. Indeed, it is based on the traditional British way of debate, compromise and consensus. That is why it will become law, and why I support it and wish it well.

I hope that, when the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe considers these matters in the coming months, he will draw some conclusions from this debate. If there were to be a Labour Government, I hope that he would take the view that these matters are better dealt with by private Members' legislation. If such Bills are to become law, the proceedings must be by consent. It would be intolerable if a Labour Government, not having included these matters in their manifesto, were then to change the traditional ways in which Parliament deals with them, by, for example, providing extra time to allow a Bill banning hunting to become law.

However, from what the hon. Gentleman said today and the measured tones he used, I think that he recognises that, in a free, pluralistic society, we have to proceed by consent, and that we need to conduct these debates on the rights of animals and country sports in a civilised way. We all recognise that animals do not have rights because they do not have duties, but we have a duty of care to them.

That duty is different for different animals in different sets of circumstances. For example, Labour Members may believe that they have to poison a wild rat because it is the only way to kill it. The rat may die a painful death, but it is the only way to deal with that pest. However, if somebody poisoned a domestic rat, he would justifiably attract the attention of the RSPCA. Animals do not have rights in the way that human beings do, and they should not he equated with human beings. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility not to mistreat, torture or harm them in any way.

Mr. Fabricant

Is not it a strange irony that, while we debate this issue, there are traps set to poison rats in the Palace of Westminster and other parliamentary buildings such as Norman Shaw North.

Mr. Leigh

No doubt such traps are felt to be necessary.

I find it extraordinary that the Bill contains nothing about cruelty to fish. Perhaps it would contravene the anglers charter—

Mr. McFall

Focus on the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

I am. This is a Second Reading debate, and I am entitled to speak on what is in the Bill. I am amazed that something of great interest to so many people is not included. Perhaps there are good political reasons why the Labour party does not wish to offend the millions of people who go fishing every weekend.

Mr. McFall

My tummy churns when I hear the son of Baroness Thatcher talking about consensus—something that was missing from all the Bills that have littered the past 15 years. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman, come off it.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman obviously needs educating. It is true that we cannot always proceed by consensus, unless the Bill affects the rights of minorities—not small minorities either, because they encompass millions of people who have enjoyed certain rights for hundreds of years or even from time immemorial. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, when dealing with the rights of those minorities, we should proceed by coercion, that would be a dangerous principle, and the House should not countenance it.

I may be wrong, but I cannot recall Lady Thatcher introducing legislation that affected the deeply held views and rights of minorities—[Laughter.] I shall be happy to give way to any hon. Member who can give an example.

Mr. Meale

I could mention trade unions, but I want to bring the hon. Gentleman back to the Bill, which has a consensus. I want us to proceed, so that we can get the Bill on the statute book.

Mr. Leigh

It is only 10.55 am. I understand that this debate can continue until 2.30 pm. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to speak until then—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman tried to do so, I would have to remind him not to be repetitive, and to keep to the subject matter.

Mr. Leigh

I shall be happy to keep to the subject matter, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The House can be at its most dangerous when hon. Members are being polite to each other. It creates dangerous legislation, such as the Dangerous Dogs Act. I sometimes feel that, on a Friday morning, I am the little hit of grit in the oyster, out of which a pearl of truth can come. We all know what is happening in the real world. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon said, unless the Bill is carefully drafted, some violently inclined people might use a weakly drafted clause to attack the traditional pursuits of millions of people.

I understand the difficulty of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe. The only logical point of view is that taken by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon—that we should ban gratuitous torture but not affect the rights of people to conduct themselves in the way that they have always done. The other view, which is taken by such people as Mr. Bryant, who is now the chief spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, is that all hunting, fishing, shooting, and any sport involving animals, is wrong.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe is being hypocritical, and he knows it. He tried to skirt around the issues and say that the Bill was a first step. If he were honest, he would admit that he is opposed to angling, shooting, hunting and all the rest. However, he knows that he could not get away with that politically—

Mr. Morley

I am sorry that we seem to be going down this road, but as the hon. Gentleman is attacking both my position and the Labour party's agenda, I must put the record straight. The Labour party is committed to a free vote on the abolition of fox hunting, hare coursing and stag hunting. We will put that matter to all Members of the House of Commons, recognising the moral dimension.

On a personal note, I will always argue that there is a moral and philosophical difference between shooting and fishing and those sports that involve inflicting prolonged pain and stress on animals for no reason other than entertainment. This is not the place to argue those differences, but I am prepared to do so with the hon. Gentleman on another occasion.

Mr. Leigh


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, I must point out that, although a fair degree of tolerance is given at Second Reading to discussion about what is or is not in the Bill, we cannot have a general discussion unrelated—or becoming unrelated—to the Bill itself. I offer that as guidance—very strong guidance.

Mr. Leigh

It would be a very brave hon. Member who tried to ignore your strong guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I would never seek to do so. Your point has been made.

I wish the Bill well, and I hope that we will learn lessons from this morning. If there is a Labour Government and a free vote on the issue transpires, I hope that the House abides by the tradition of dealing with such matters in private Members' time—the way we have always dealt with them. We must ensure that minorities and their views—which may well be minority views, but are valid for all that—are protected by the House of Commons.

11 am

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The chances of that happening are slender. The chances of a Labour Government are not as great as some people may think, and the chances—if there were such a Government—of Labour leaving a private Member's Bill to find its own way to the dustbin are limited as well. But, as has been rightly said by most hon. Members, that is not what today's Second Reading debate is about.

I join in the tributes to the hon. Members for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), and the compliments paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes). It seems to me that we are back in the positive mood that existed in Committee in July. I had hoped at that time that a number of us had helped to create the conditions in which it would be possible for hon. Members to get what they agreed on through both Houses. Sadly, that did not happen.

When a case of deliberate cruelty to a wild animal came forward, people were shocked and horrified to discover that it is possible to torture a wild animal without committing a criminal offence. Essentially, the Bill's first clause proposes that those who deliberately torture a wild animal will suffer the same penalties if brought to a court and convicted as if they had tortured any other animal, and I welcome that.

I did have one question about why birds were left out of the measure, although they may be included in other legislation.

Mr. Morley

indicated assent.

Mr. Bottomley

I understand from the hon. Gentleman that birds are dealt with elsewhere.

Everyone is saying that they expect that Parliament—albeit following a delay of a year—will pass the measure that was rightly brought before the House a year ago by the hon. Member for Dumbarton. I have raised the question of how to deal with Northern Ireland issues, but it might be sensible for the Bill to receive its Second and Third Readings in the House first, and then perhaps the Government could consult people in Northern Ireland to find the best way of making sure that any anomaly is blocked there in the same way as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Sir James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning my part of the United Kingdom. There would be two methods of introducing the provisions in Northern Ireland. First, the Bill could be amended at a later stage to include Northern Ireland. After all, the exclusion of Scotland from two particular aspects of the Bill produces rather more real exclusions than could possibly apply in the case of Northern Ireland. Secondly, there could be a fallback position. If we were so inclined and thought it desirable, the Bill could be extended to Northern Ireland by the negative resolution order.

Mr. Bottomley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his positive suggestions. I hope that those dealing with the Bill, both here and in another place, will be able to consult the Government and the interests in Northern Ireland to find a way forward. The right hon. Gentleman has shown that, as most of us would expect, there is widespread agreement in Northern Ireland that the provisions of the Bill should extend there as soon as possible, and in the same way as they apply to the rest of the UK.

The Bill rightly does not try to deal with other issues of concern. Clearly, there is disagreement in the House and in the country about country sports. In Committee last year, I stated that I would not go along with the abolition of fox hunting or attempts to do so, but that is not an issue for us today. I should, incidentally, declare my involvement with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, although that is presently an honorary association.

It would not be right for the Bill to deal with some of the crying shames in the European Union. I hope that other European countries come to understand that veal-crate breeding should be abolished, as that would solve the terrible problem of exporting calves for fattening in veal crates—a practice forbidden in this country.

There are a number of other issues, but I shall put them together: town and country; Labour and Tory; all those without political affiliation who care for Parliament's provisions to prevent deliberate cruelty to wild animals; they all want to see the Bill succeed. I am grateful to the voluntary organisations such as the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and others for keeping the issues alive at a time when Parliament is not as concerned as it should be with taking action that will have broad support in the country. I hope that Bill has a better fate than its predecessor, and I pay tribute to those who have pushed it forward so far.

11.5 am

Mr. Meale

I am grateful to the House, and the only thing left to do is put the matter to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Meale.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

I must tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Chair customarily deprecates a Committee stage being taken without notice, especially in a case where a Bill has been recently published.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported without amendment; read the Third time, and passed.

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