HL Deb 08 July 1981 vol 422 cc767-73

7.22 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Craigton.)

Bill read 3a.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. This is a happy end to a long story. So many people have played an essential part that I hardly know where to begin: John Blackburn, without whose skill and dedication there would be no Bill; Ted Graham, without whose prompt Motion, That the question be now put, there would be no Bill at all; Mr. Hector Monro and my noble friend Lord Avon; their officials, including Kitty Vernon and John Goldsmith; Colin Rawlins, John Taylor and Michael Ann who, as zoo executives, fought hard and successfully to have the Bill right for them; the noble Lord, Lord Fisher, who played an important and constructive part; Michael Bramble for his expert advice; and John Knowles who suggested the Secretary of State's panel, now called the List. It was this suggestion which proved to be the key to agreement between all concerned. And finally, personally, may I thank my parliamentary counsel, Sir Noel Hutton, who for four years of prompt and most loyal service to me, without any real reward, was on the job. There was never a time either when he was going to have a meeting, or when he owed me a letter, or when I owed him a letter. I thank them all.

The only slightly unusual feature in the proceedings we have had in your Lordships' House is that with the co-operation of the Minister, for which I am very grateful, all the assurances given, both in debates and in meetings have been repeated during the Committee stage. So the Act, read with the Lords Official Report of Friday 3rd July, will give all the information required both to the zoos and to the district councils.

What happens now? I can speak as one who has no financial, administrative or honorary interest of any kind in any zoo to which this Bill will apply. To the counties I say: You have now, through the district council contact, a bigger stake in the recreation and leisure fields and an even bigger stake in the education field. In education, your interest and co-operation, not necessarily involving money, can bring added interest and educational benefit to the children and their parents, as has been shown already in certain areas (though not enough) but especially in the co-operation given to the Edinburgh Zoo by their local authority.

To the district councils I say: In the implementation of this Bill and in your new responsibilities, take your time. First get a clear picture of what is involved in your area. Ensure that you get in every application that is, or could be, relevant and then, with the cooperation of the department, plan the initial visits as cheaply and sensibly as possible. What will serve you best is a prosperous and well run zoo.

To the Government I say: Take advice. You already know more about this sort of administration than does the zoo, and the zoo experts know more about this sort of administration than does the zoo, and the zoo experts know more about running a zoo than you do. Working together, this Bill can be launched with the minimum of confusion and thereafter will take its place with all the other routine responsibilities that Government departments can handle so well.

To the zoos I say: What the Government would like and what the district councils would like is for the National Federation and the National to join as one body now, as they intend to do, and that they should accept as members, for a modest fee, every licensed zoo in the country. Then, and only then, on the administrative matters that will always arise but which will be less as the years go on, the zoos will speak, and can be spoken to, as one voice.

Inside the enlarged National Federation there should be a Scientific Council comprising only those National Federation members who are contributing to the science and progress of zoo keeping and conservation. And as this is a world- wide science, membership of the Scientific Council need not be limited to British licensed zoos. Thus, the National Federation has now the opportunity to become both the trade society and the controlling scientific body. These are real opportunities. Am I too optimistic to hope that all concerned will grasp them?

Finally, on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, whom I am glad to see is in his seat, expressed grave doubts about the correctness of the procedure for the conduct of Private Member's Bills. I must raise one procedural point that I must confess has been worrying me a great deal.

After this Bill had left the other place the Minister, Mr. Monro, received on 25th June (and I received a copy) a perfectly proper letter from one of its Members stating the points on which undertakings had been given and others on which he was dissatisfied that he wished to see corrected in your Lordships' House. That same day, the 25th, before I had seen the letter, I visited the Committee Room where the Wildlife and Countryside Bill was in progress. A Member of the other place, not the writer of the letter, in passing me said to me, "If you don't make those amendments, I'll kill your Bill when it comes back here". Having later seen the letter, I saw the same Member concerned later in the afternoon. He would give no undertaking not to kill the Bill. Why should he? He was within his rights.

This threat in which, as events have shown, no Member of your Lordships' House had any knowledge or took any part, put me and the Government in a quandary. No Committee stage amendments were yet tabled but amendments on some of the lines suggested by the letter would have had to be rejected. But I now knew that if they were rejected and others were passed, we risked losing the Bill altogether. Fortunately, the Government and I were able confidently to proceed with the Bill as it stood and as it stands now. But, as always on a complicated administration Bill such as this, I should have liked to make a few clarifying amendments rather than to rely quite so much on assurances from the Front Bench.

Our task had to be, therefore, to get the Bill through without any amendments at all being passed, and so not to have to resubmit it to the other place. It is true that if, next Friday, which is the last day this Session for the consideration of Private Members' Bills, we had had to ask the other place to consider and approve any amendment to the Zoo Licensing (No. 2) Bill, one voice—any voice—could have been raised to say, "Object" and the Bill would have been lost and all the time of both Houses wasted. For one voice to be able to decide the fate of a Private Member's Bill after it has passed through all its stages in both Houses is wrong and, as I have shown, not in the best interests of good legislation. It certainly is not democracy.

I suggest—and it is only a suggestion—that those concerned should consider changing the procedure to the effect that consideration of Lords' Amendments to a Private Member's Bill in another place should be subject, on objection, to a vote without discussion. An objection could be made, a vote could be made and that, at least, would be a democratic process. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Craigton.)

7.31 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I must protest at the way in which we are asked to conduct our business. We are trying to match eating time with speaking time and on no other occasion are the two brought together in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord who moved, That this Bill do now pass, has raised a matter of very grave importance from the point of view of the relationships between the two Houses and also relating to the procedures which are followed on Private Members' Bills. I think it is shocking to hear from the noble Lord the slender thread upon which this Bill now rests in order to pass into law.

I am sad that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is not here to hear this renewed complaint about the way in which Private Members' Bills are dealt with in your Lordships' House. I made my protest on a previous occasion; I was on the radio in "The Week in Westminster" last Saturday and renewed it there. I shall continue to complain about the way in which we are asked to do business on Private Members' Bills until some change is made. Apart from what the noble Lord has said, of course we knew that if the Bill was amended and sent back to another place its chances of survival were very slender indeed. No adequate opportunity would have occurred in another place to consider the amendments seriously and properly. It would have been beaten by the clock and nothing else if some honourable Member in another place had got up to talk it out.

I hope that in another Session arrangements can be made whereby Private Members' Bills which have passed through all stages in another place and come to your Lordships' House, even though towards the end of the time available for Private Members' Bills, will not fall through lack of time. It is due to the respect which Parliament should command; it is due to the time and trouble which we spend upon these matters and it is due also to the reputation of this Parliament as a legislative assembly. I sometimes wonder what qualifications we have for referring to this as "the Mother of Parliaments": at times it is a silly old woman and I think it is time that these absurdities were rectified.

I feel that I am speaking under pressure and I find this extremely bad for my temper. I think that we ought at least to have as reasonable an amount of time to discuss a Bill of this kind, without feeling the pressure of time, as is being given to the amendments to the Transport Bill which preceded this debate and will follow.

This is an important Bill. To me, it is much more important than I had realised until I began to think about it. I have been here for seven years and this is the first Bill dealing with animal welfare to pass your Lordships' House since I came, seven years ago. People talk about the "seven lean years". One can surely find that in my experience. I just missed the Badgers Act 1973 but I was in time to see much of the hopes under the Badgers Act dispelled by the provision in another Bill entirely for the gassing of thousands of badgers in the West Country on the grounds that they infected cattle with bovine tuberculosis. So that was not a very proud interlude in my own experience of animal welfare Bills since I came here.

Another important thing to note in connection with this Bill is that this is a Private Member's Bill. No Government Bill on animal welfare has been passed through this House for the past seven years. The only Government Bill that comes near to being a welfare Bill is the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which deals with conservation rather than welfare. I do not want to split hairs about that, but that Bill has yet to reach the statute book. This, my Lords, from a Government which had animals in its manifesto for the first time.

I will just catalogue: on experiments on animals—nothing yet. The work has been done by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House on the Bill introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, but no Government legislation is yet forthcoming. We have no idea whether the Government are doing any work on that Bill at all. The sale of pets in open markets Bill passed all stages in your Lordships' House but was blocked by the Government Whips in another place. The shipment of live food animals for slaughter —nothing tangible has passed through this or the other House on that matter. Dogs in society: a working party spent a lot of time on this, but no Government legislation has been forthcoming so far. So the record of the Government is really not a very happy one, but this Bill represents a step forward and I am very glad indeed to support it.

However, I ought to mention that there are other people besides a Member in another place who talk about blocking this Bill, and they are certain elements in the animal welfare movement, whom the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, did not mention but who are quite critical of the shortcomings of the Bill. After all this Bill is the outcome of the work of those who are in the business of zoological gardens and one does not expect to get a completely radical measure from them.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised the question of the assistance given by the RSPCA. As the RSPCA will confirm, they made a very large number of changes; they went much further than I wanted to go, but I went that far to meet them on a very large number of points.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for paying that tribute; which I am sure is fully deserved and I think that one has to bear in mind that in getting reforms of this kind one has to get the co-operation of those who are taking an independent and possibly moral standpoint as well as those who are engaged in the actual business of the dealing with animals.

There are some respects in which, had there been the time to do so, we could have had some fruitful discussion but none of the amendments which I think your Lordships should have considered can come forward. We could not raise them at Committee stage without endangering the Bill, so we have really been in shackles since this Bill reached your Lordships' House and I sincerely hope that this experience will not be repeated.

This is a good Bill so far as it goes. It does not go so far as many would wish; it probably does not go so far as it should go, even as a first step. Nevertheless it breaks the ice, so to speak, on the surveillance of the conditions under which animals are kept in captivity. Conditions can be laid down for that although the local authority are given permissive powers and not required by statute to require certain conditions to be fulfilled when granting licences. There is a permissive nature in Clause 5 which I think one would have wished to see more strongly written into the statute.

Then, in Clause 14 there is the problem of the small zoo. There is certainly anxiety about that. They can be left out of the provisions of the Act altogether by direction of the Secretary of State and one sincerely hopes that small zoos will not continue to be probably the least satisfactory of them all.

In Clause 19 one would have expected to see some conditions under which a licence-holder could actually be disqualified, but there is no provision for that. Clause 22 amends the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in a way which leaves a loophole for the care and custody of animals which may be in transit from one place to another.

However, I give an unqualified welcome really to the first step in this difficult field and I am sure the noble Lord and all those he has mentioned who have co-operated are to be congratulated and warmly thanked for all the work they have done. With that, my Lords, I leave it. But in future I shall not be quite so easy to deal with in a comparable situation to this.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I do not think there is anything I want to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, and my noble friend Lord Houghton have said. I echo the thanks the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, expressed to the numerous people who have been involved with this, and not least, I am sure the whole House will agree, our thanks go to him for the work that he has done over the years in getting this legislation to a point where it was acceptable to the various interests. I certainly echo what my noble friend said, not only about the procedures for Private Members' legislation, but also about seeing this Bill as being one which breaks the ice as a first step in bringing some legislation to bear on the problem of the ill-treatment of animals in some badly run zoos, which are a disgrace to those who run them, those who visit them and the society which has allowed them to exist unregulated for so long. I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Houghton that it is long overdue for us to have this legislation which controls this very serious problem. I have no doubt that we will need to build on this in the future. Secondly, there is still a great deal of work to be done in preparing the advice to local authorities, and particularly the Secretary of State's code of practice, which is going to exert, hopefully, a major and beneficial influence on the welfare of animals kept in zoological collections. Having said that, I also welcome the fact that this Bill will shortly become law and look forward to seeing it being implemented in the spirit of the numerous assurances which the noble Earl and other Government spokesmen have been able to give as it went through Parliament.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I have two short but, I think, important points. First, certainly we welcome this Bill and are delighted that it is to pass into law. I should like to add our congratulations to the noble Lord Lord Craigton, and all others who have worked hard on this Bill. Secondly, since the point has been raised in all quarters of the House tonight about the procedure and fate of Private Members' Bills, I think I can say on behalf of all Members of my party that we too feel that the situation is not at all satisfactory when you get Private Members' Bills as late in the Session as this. This is not by any means the only example we have had over the last few years. I am not sure what exactly the solution is. I am very interested in the one the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, put forward. Undoubtedly, I think that is a matter which must be taken aboard by the authorities of the House. I hope that the attention of the Leader of the House and of everyone concerned will be drawn to this matter and we will have some discussions and some movement about it over the next year or so. It really is a disgraceful situation that we find ourselves in, and for the good of Parliament it is right that we should try and mend it and find some solution.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I should like to offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Craigton, and the warmest congratulations on achieving the Third Reading of the Bill, on which he, and, in another place, the honourable Member for Dudley West, Mr. Blackburn, have worked so hard. I should like to echo the congratulations to all those who have been concerned. Indeed, it was interesting to hear my noble friend Lord Craigton this evening giving us some more words of wisdom on this Bill's future, which I know will be closely read.

The Government have supported this Bill throughout its passage here and in another place, because we believe that it is a useful and practical measure which will lead to improvements in zoo management. This will be of benefit to the public, to the animals and to the zoos themselves. We have been encouraged by the support given to the Bill by noble Lords and honourable Members from Government and Opposition Benches alike, by the zoo organisations—and particularly the wise words of wisdom we had from my noble friend Lord Fisher, whom I am glad to see in his place—by the animal welfare organisations, and the RSPCA has been mentioned, and by the Association of District Councils whose members will largely be responsible for operating the licensing system. There have been long and helpful discussions with all these bodies, as a result of which the Bill was considerably amended and improved before it came to this House. As noble Lords will know from the assurances I gave during the Second Reading and Committee stages, there will be further discussions with all these bodies about the guidance to be issued to local authorities on the administration of the licensing system, as well as about the composition of the list and the Secretary of State's standards and licence conditions.

I do not want to be drawn into comments on parliamentary procedure, but, believe me, standing at this Box it is just as inconvenient for us as it is for everybody else. I think I am too junior to talk about the silly old woman the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned. I am very pleased to see the Lord Chairman here, who I am sure will have taken on board all the points, and I will equally draw them to the attention of my Leader. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, made some comments about eating habits. He might recall that the junior Whip on the Transport Bill could not leave then and he has to do the Transport Bill now; so he loses on both counts.

My Lords, I am delighted that this Bill, which in one shape or another has been running for so many years, and which my noble friend Lord Craigton has guided over many hurdles, is now within sight of the finishing line. I hope that the House will give it its final reading and that today we shall see it past the post.

On Question, Bill passed.