Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
Like every other hon. and right hon. Member who has spoken, I am pleased to welcome this Bill, which contains progressive animal welfare measures that, in some cases, are long overdue and deliver on the manifesto pledges contained in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. As that manifesto put it,
“High standards of animal welfare are one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”,
and this country has always been ahead of the field on animal welfare.
The restrictions provided for in the Bill on keeping primates are absolutely right. Primates, as we have heard, are highly intellectually sophisticated creatures with complex needs that should be kept only in specialised, properly adapted conditions, which is what the Bill will achieve. Similarly, the restrictions on the import of pet animals will, as we have heard from many hon. Members, address the long-standing and worrying issue of puppy smuggling.
I also welcome the provisions relating to dogs that worry livestock. I represent a largely rural constituency, and I know the damage that dogs can do to sheep and other livestock if not properly controlled. It is good that the Government have decided to update the law in this area, but may I suggest that the provisions in the Bill still do not go quite far enough? The maximum fine that can be imposed under the Bill is £1,000. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) introduced her own ten-minute rule Bill on 20 July on this very issue. She pointed out the inadequacy of that fine, when farmers frequently face losses of many thousands of pounds. I agree with my hon. Friend and suggest that the upper limit of the fine should be reconsidered. In our rural areas, dog worrying is a serious concern and a heavier fine is more than justified in order to deter irresponsible dog ownership.
I strongly support the provisions prohibiting the export of livestock for slaughter, which is a very stressful practice for the animals concerned. In all my time in this House, I dare say I have had more letters from constituents on this issue than most others. The ability of Parliament to legislate for the prohibition of the export of live animals for slaughter is a direct benefit of our departure from the European Union. I congratulate the Government on introducing this measure.
I will turn to the provisions relating to zoos contained in part 3 and schedule 5, and I would like to consider them in a little detail. I have a particular interest in this matter, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for zoos and aquariums under the inspired and, as we have heard today, heroic leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). I echo his words entirely. The late David Amess would be delighted to know that this Bill was going through. If ever there were a proper memorial for our dear friend, this Bill is it.
I have a further interest, in that my constituency is home to the Welsh Mountain zoo, the national zoo of Wales. The zoo’s chief executive, Mr Nick Jackson, is a highly respected figure in animal conservation in the United Kingdom and is also a Government zoo inspector of some 37 years’ standing. I have found his advice on the Bill invaluable, and my remarks have been significantly informed by his advice.
It need hardly be said that zoos are an important national asset, with significant societal benefits in recreation and education. Perhaps most importantly, British zoos are a hugely important international resource for animal conservation. The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or BIAZA, is a conservation, education and scientific wildlife charity. It is the principal professional organisation representing zoos and aquariums in the UK, and the APPG works very closely with it. BIAZA zoos participate in more than 800 conservation projects and 1,400 research projects and deliver education sessions to more than 1 million students every year. It is an internationally respected organisation in the field, and its views should be listened to.
Both BIAZA and Mr Nick Jackson have expressed concern about certain provisions of the Bill. The preparatory work for the Bill, and its amendment of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, have been proceeding over the past two years in tandem with a revision of the Secretary of State’s standards of modern zoo practice. Those standards are periodically revised and updated in the light of modern zoo thinking, under secondary legislation provided for by the 1981 Act. This process of periodic revision of the standards is fully supported by the British zoos community.
Although the Government’s advisory body on zoos, the Zoos Expert Committee, has been involved in the revision of the standards, there has been, according to Mr Jackson and BIAZA, a somewhat regrettable lack of consultation with the wider zoo community throughout the process. That is a matter of concern, because the Bill’s provisions transfer the broad definition of zoo conservation out of primary legislation—currently under section 1A of the 1981 Act—and into secondary legislation: that is, into the Secretary of State’s standards through schedule 5 to the Bill. It amounts to a significant transfer of power to the Secretary of State, who will be able to create new obligations, or amend existing ones, in terms of the conservation role of zoos, with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. There is concern that this change is proposed to be made without sufficient consultation with BIAZA or the wider zoos community.
BIAZA and individual zoos fully understand the Government’s desire to strengthen the conservation role of zoos through legislation, and they acknowledge that good zoos have nothing to fear from good regulation. However, it is a concern that, under the Bill, prescribed conservation activities will no longer be set out in primary legislation, but will be moved to secondary legislation through the repeal of section 1A of the 1981 Act. On the face of it, that may seem a good idea, giving the Secretary of State flexibility to modernise zoo conservation standards over time as the needs of the natural world change, without having to return each time to Parliament to amend the primary legislation. I dare say that is why it is so framed.
However, that same flexibility could feasibly also result in moves, for example, to interpret the conservation role of zoos narrowly and lose touch with the broad understanding of zoo conservation as accepted by zoo associations across the world, by global conservation organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and by the public. I therefore would be grateful if the Minister confirmed why it has been decided to move the definition of conservation from primary legislation. Why is it not on the face of the Bill? Conservation, after all, is the bedrock of all modern zoo activity. Surely, therefore, at least its key elements should remain within primary legislation.
That is not to say that conservation should necessarily remain as defined in section 1A of the 1981 Act. That definition probably should be modernised. If, however, there is a good reason for not incorporating the definition of conservation activities into the Bill, at least mechanisms should be put in place to ensure full transparency and proper consultation and accountability when that definition comes to be compiled and revised.
One possible mechanism could be to enhance the role of the Zoos Expert Committee, with clearly prescribed functions in advising on the formulation of conservation obligations and any revisions. The ZEC could have similar powers to the newly proposed animal sentience committee to publish independent advice to which the Secretary of State must then respond.
Finally, a further concern is that, under section 18(l)(b) of the 1981 Act, a zoo can appeal if aggrieved by a condition attached to its licence. Paragraph 17(2)(a) of schedule 5 to the Bill removes that right. That will preclude appeal against any condition relating to standards specified in section 9 of the 1981 Act, which under paragraph 9(3)(b) of schedule 5 will be conservation standards. However well-crafted a standard may be, there is always a danger that it could be applied incorrectly. A right of appeal is surely therefore necessary, and perhaps the Minister can explain why it is thought appropriate to preclude such a right.
To conclude, I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to the concerns expressed by such respected organisations as BIAZA and such respected figures as Mr Nick Jackson. This Bill is good and highly welcome, but it could be even better. I therefore strongly urge the Government to give serious consideration to the points I have raised with a view to putting forward appropriate improvements when the Bill goes into Committee.