HC Deb 24 January 1961 vol 633 cc119-38

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peel.]

7.53 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

This debate stems from a letter which I received on 1st November from a gentleman in Norfolk who wrote: The enclosed Press report of the stampeding last week of 100 cattle near Newark Railway Station, attributed by the R.S.P.C.A. to have been brought about as a result of thirst, has caused concern to many. The newspaper report to which the Gentleman referred was in the Daily Express of Saturday, 29th October. It is headed: Stampeding cattle were thirst mad—says R.S.P.C.A. The Daily Express staff reporter wrote: Thirst started the stampede of 100 black Aberdeen-Angus cattle near Newark railway station, Nottinghamshire, it was stated last night. Four animals were drowned as they ran into the flood-swollen River Trent. For nearly five hours drovers and police with lassos and sticks rounded up the rest of the herd. The only watering trough at the station, from where the cattle were being driven to the market, was removed a year ago despite protests, says a report by the R.S.P.C.A. Had there been a trough there would have been no stampede. The society says the trough should be replaced, more drovers be employed, and cattle should not be driven along an unfamiliar road at dusk. This prompted me to put a Question to my hon. Friend on 14th November, which was reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT for that day under the heading "Transit of Animals (Water Supplies)". I asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food:

  1. (1) what steps he has taken to satisfy himself that animals in transit on British Railways are provided with water in accordance with the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, and Transit of Animals Orders;
  2. (2) if his attention had been drawn to the circumstances in which 100 cattle stampeded, because of thirst, when being driven from Newark Station to the market on Friday, 28th October; and if he will take immediate steps to satisfy himself that water is available for farm animals at every railway station at which they are habitually loaded or unloaded."
My hon. Friend replied: Railway authorities are required to provide water at all stations habitually used for loading and unloading animals, and I understand that water was available at Newark Station on the occasion to which my hon. Friend refers. It is of the greatest importance for the health and comfort of animals that water should be offered and we are telling our veterinary officers to keep a closer watch on this. Under the Diseases of Animals Act this is the responsibility of the consignor and of the person in charge of the animals. I then asked my hon. Friend if he was— aware that in fact the troughs have been removed from this station, and that the only watering facilities available were two shallow narrow buckets? This report came from the R.S.P.C.A. I went on to say: These cattle were loaded on to the train at 1 p.m. on the 24th and off-loaded at 5 p.m. on the 25th. They were without water for at least 28 hours. Does my hon. Friend realise that the watering conditions at Newark were just not available to ensure that these animals could be watered in a reasonable time if it had been so desired? My hon. Friend replied: I know that the animals had been on the train for a long time, but the information which my hon. Friend has given does not exactly accord with the information that I have been given. It is, of course, intolerable to deny animals water in a way that amounts to cruelty. but local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of these regulations and I understand that investigations are taking place in this case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 4, 51 I was not completely satisfied with this, but I had already written a letter to Sir Brian Robertson, Chairman of the Transport Commission, on 1st November, the day on which I first put down the Question to my hon. Friend. On 25th November, I received from Sir Brian a letter which showed that he had very kindly carried out a close investigation of this matter. In his letter to me, Sir Brian Robertson wrote: The General Manager of the Eastern Region tells me that 213 calves … I believe that is an error and that they were in fact store cattle— were loaded on to ten wagons at Newcastle-ton, Roxburghshire, between I p.m. and 2.30 p.m. on 24th October, 1960. The Goods Agent at Newark learned that these animals were expected to arrive at Newark (Northgate) Station at 12.30 p.m. on 25th and they would be in position for unloading at Newark (Castle) Station at 2.0 p.m. In fact, the wagons were in position for unloading at 1.45 p.m., By this time these beasts had been in our charge for about 23 to 25 hours. The regulations stipulate that cattle in transit must be watered at intervals of not more than 24 hours, or 27 hours where the journey can be completed within that time. You will see therefore that British Railways were not required to water these stock before they arrived at Newark. The consignee, Mr. Murphy, did not apparently arrive until 3.0 p.m., when he started to unload the first five wagons. Five only. He accepted delivery of all ten wagons and gave a clear signature for the consignment. Mr. Murphy enquired about facilities for watering the cattle and was shown the portable troughs provided. I notice that in your supplementary question last week you referred to troughs which had been removed from Newark Station. The point is the fixed troughs were removed because traffic at the station includes attested cattle which, of course, may not use the same troughs non-attested beasts… This is at variance with the information I received, but I am quite willing to accept it. In their place, therefore, four portable troughs were provided; these can be cleaned out and disinfected when necessary. Mr. Murphy did not however make use of these troughs, apparently because he was pressed for time, and at about 5.0 o'clock he drove away the 105 cattle he had unloaded to the cattle market, a distance of about 100 yards. The cattle had then been without water for a minimum of 28 hours. He was allowed to leave the remaining five wagon loads of cattle over-night at his sole risk and expense. It is important to note that at this juncture the Goods Agent drew Mr. Murphy's attention to the fact that the R.S.P.C.A. might find cause for criticism in this arrangement, but Mr. Murphy accepted the responsibility for feeding and watering. The cattle left over-night were driven away the following morning without incident; the 'stampede' mentioned in the Press referred to the beasts which had been driven off on the afternoon of 25th October; this incident occurred after they had left our premises. When the Divisional Veterinary Surgeon of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. called on the Newark Goods Agent on 2nd November and told him that the Minister required full details about what had happened, he was supplied with all the relevant information in regard to the transit and delivery of the cattle. Two days later the Vetinerary Surgeon called again. The mains water supply to the cattle dock at Newark (Castle) Station was demonstrated to him, and the Doncaster Traffic Manager, who showed him round, gave a full explanation of the way in which the railway staff had correctly carried out their duties. I want to make the point that Sir Brian has stated that the British Railways employees correctly carried out their duties. I find no quarrel whatever with that. The letter concluded: The General Manager has carefully reviewed the matter, and he is satisfied that the staff at Newark were willing and able to supply water for these cattle on arrivel. It seems, therefore, that any criticism in regard to the way in which the beasts were dealt must be levelled against the consignee. It is perfectly clear that some at least of these animals received no water between 1 p.m. on 24th and 5 p.m. on 24th and at 5 p.m. on the 25th. Even if the troughs which were provided at the loading point had been used it is quite likely that they were without water for some considerable time before they arrived. It is possible that that is the case. I would go no further than that.

When we are dealing with animals in circumstances such as this when they are driven into unfamiliar surroundings, into pens at railway stations with all the noise there and forced into narrow cattle trucks with all the inconvenience and unnatural circumstances of travel, a high state of anxiety is created. I think we all know that, whether it be human or any other animals, those conditions always promote thirst, very considerable thirst.

Only 105 of the 235 cattle were unloaded on the 25th. They were given no water because of the circumstances which I have mentioned. They were driven away at 5 p.m., and Mr. Murphy, the cattle dealer concerned, gave the railway authorities a clear signature and took responsibility for feeding and watering those animals.

It is almost always dark at 5 p.m. at that time in October, and it is very seldom light before about 8 a.m., but in any case I think we can accept that those cattle would not have been fed or watered between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., when the cattle which had stampeded were being rounded up by Mr. Murphy, his stockman, the police and others. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me whether those cattle were fed and watered before they were removed from that station the next morning, whether they were given an opportunity of taking water before they were driven out and, if possible, at what time those 130 animals were driven away from the station the next morning. If, indeed, they were loft until 8 a.m., there was a period of at least 43 hours in which those cattle were neither fed nor watered. Surely—and I put it no higher than this—I have established a prima facie case. I should like to know whether my hon. Friend has been able to ascertain the exact circumstances of those cattle which remained in the trucks overnight.

The conditions about the transit of animals is clearly laid down in Statutory Rules and Orders, 1927, No. 289; namely, the Transit of Animals Order of 1927. One section is headed, Watering of Cattle and Swine during Transit In paragraph 18, we read that they shall be watered within 24 hours or, if the journey can be completed, within 27 hours. It adds, dealing with water supplies at railway stations, that At every railway station at which animals are habitually loaded, unloaded or detained during transit, the railway company or companies concerned shall make a provision of water to the satisfaction of the Minister… I remind my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend that they are responsible. The Order lays it down that this provision of water shall be made for the animals carried, or about to be or having been carried, on the railway, and such provision of water shall be easily accessible to the animals so carried ". It then lists the offences and makes it clear that, If anything is done or omitted to be done in contravention of any of the provisions of Part 11 of this Order, the owner of the animal or his agent—the railway company carrying the animals or owning or working the railway on which they are carried and also in the case of overcrowding… shall be deemed to have committed an offence.

In 1950 we had the Diseases of Animals Act. Section 22 is headed "Provision of water and food at railway stations". It reads:

  1. " (1) The British Transport Commission and every railway company shall make a provision, to the satisfaction of the Minister, of water and food, or either of them, at such railway stations as the Minister, by general or specific description, directs, for animals carried, or about to be or having been carried, on the railway of the Commission or company.
  2. (2) The water and food so provided, or either of them, shall be supplied to any such animal by the Commission or company carrying it, on the request of the consignor or of any person in charge thereof.
  3. (3) As regards water, if, in the case of any animal, such a request is not made, so that the animal remains without a supply of water for twenty-four consecutive hours, the consignor and the person in charge of the animal shall 124 each be guilty of an offence against this Act; and it shall lie on the person charged to prove such a request and the time within which the animal had a supply of water."
The Act also gives the British Transport Commission power to charge the consignor for any services which provide food or water to an animal.

In his letter Sir Brian Robertson stated that one of the reasons that there was no permanent trough at Newark was that it was not permitted to allow attested cattle to drink from troughs from which non-attested cattle had been drinking. But that no longer applies. That difficulty has been removed in view of the clear order to the effect that there are now none other than fully attested herds in this country. If there were any difficulty for the British Transport Commission or anyone else on that score previously, it has now been removed, and it should be seen that proper and permanent troughs are made available at all unloading and off-loading cattle points.

On 19th January, I was very glad to receive a latter from the R.S.P.C.A., whom I naturally had asked to pursue their inquiries. It reads: As I mentioned, we have only recently heard that two large water troughs have been installed at Newark Railway Station, and in reporting this our inspector states 'Cattle etc. arriving at this station should never again be kept short of water '. These permanent cattle troughs are, I understand, approximately six feet long by one foot wide and one foot deep". I think that we can all rejoice in the action obviously taken by the British Transport Commission at Newark, and I sincerely hope that similar action will be taken at every other station which is habitually used for loading or offloading cattle.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I have no desire to blame anybody—neither the British Transport Commission's employees nor even the unfortunate and misguided Mr. Murphy, who does not seem to have carried out his duties as he should—for what has happened in the past, for nothing can rectify:the position of these poor, unfortunate cattle. But I ask that this shall not be allowed to happen again. I hope that this occurrence will prove an example of what can happen, I believe largely through ignorance, and that we shall be able to do something about it.

I thought that one of the right steps to take was to write to the British Veterinary Association who, after all, know more about the care of animals than do most people and to ask them for their views about the regulations as they now are and whether they have any proposals. They were very kind and looked into the matter, and they wrote to me on 19th January in a letter which reads: Following your conversation with Mr. Anderson —incidentally, he is the secretary— the Farm Livestock Committee of this Association discussed the regulations governing the transport of animals by rail. These regulations are set out in the Transit of Animals Order of 1927 and further conditions are imposed by the veterinary staff of the British Transport Commission. It is an important point to establish that there is a fully qualified veterinary staff associated with and working for the British Transport Commission. Undoubtedly they will be watching this matter very much more closely in future. The letter, referring to this committee of the British Veterinary Association, continues: The members of the committee are of the opinion that the regulations provide adequate safeguards in relation to feeding, watering and the number of animals conveyed in each wagon and that the veterinary surgeons employed by the British Transport Commission are fully alive to the necessity for ensuring that animals are carried speedily and humanely as possible. However, we would stress the need for ensuring that animals are allowed access to water immediately before loading and that all employees of the Commission are aware of the provisions of the Order and of the necessity for implementing them. I have one or two suggestions to make. I suggest that at any stations through which large numbers of cattle pass the members of the veterinary profession who are associated with the British Transport Commission should ensure that at least two men at those stations have had some instruction in dealing with animals that may pass through. It is unnecessary for me to stress to any greater degree the necessity—particularly now that there is no difficulty regarding non-attested herds—of ensuring that adequate permanent troughs are available.

I say, further, that I cannot understand why there should be any great difficulty in producing permanent troughs that can be drained and disinfected from time to time. That seems a simple precaution that, even with permanent troughs, should not be beyond the ingenuity of man. It seems to me one of the vital points that could be dealt with.

When a contract for the conveyance of farm animals by rail is made, the consignor and consignee should be provided with a summary of his responsibilities to those animals under Acts of Parliament so that he should be left in no doubt whatsoever and, if there is any contravention of an Act, there will be no excuse. I hope local authorities, the police and others will make examples of such people.

In this enlightened age—and time has passed since the original Order in 1927—has my hon. Friend or his officials ever thought of looking into this whole question of the transit of animals? I feel it is important that animals should not in any circumstances be left travelling on railways, shunted into sidings, or penned in cattle trucks for longer than is absolutely necessary. I hope the British Transport Commission will do all it can to ensure that any goods trains to which cattle trucks are attached are sent to their destinations as quickly as possible. I hope that farming newspapers and others who are interested in informing the farm industry and keeping them informed will take note of the responsibilities of farmers and cattle dealers under Acts of Parliament. I hope that they will do all they possibly can to ensure that they are made aware of them so that we may at least retain our name for the humane and proper treatment of our animals.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

Like the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), I have received some correspondence about the newspaper articles to which he has referred. I wish to express to the hon. Gentleman my deep gratitude—and, I believe, the gratitude of animal lovers throughout the country—for the way in which he dealt with this case tonight.

One of the most deeply-seated characteristics of the British people is a love of animals. Apart from cruelty to children. nothing arouses the wrath of the public more than cruelty to animals. The correspondence received by right hon. and hon. Members is an indication of the depth of feeling which there is whenever illustrations of cruelty, caused either by thoughtlessness or deliberate cruelty, are brought to public attention.

The hon. Member for Gillingham has already given the full details of this case, and, like him, I do not wish to apportion blame. However, I believe there should be a special injunction for people responsible for moving animals in any part of the country, not only on the railways but on the roads as well, to remember how easy it is, by inadvertence, to cause fear and, therefore, cruelty, to animals. The mere fact of travelling under unusual conditions is enough to strike fear into the animals. Special consideration should be given by the Department as well as by those organisations concerned with the well-being of animals in the country to devise ways and means of lessening fear. Could there be a permanent water supply with the animals? It seems to me possible that they could have a water supply on the journey. I do not know the difficulties, but it may be that the Parliamentary Secretary, who is himself very well versed in the care of animals, will have some observations to make.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

British Railways sometimes seem to find it difficult enough to have drinking water on passenger trains.

Mr. Thomas

I am willing to leave two-legged animals for the time being.

The hon. Gentleman knows that British Railways need prodding from time to time, and on this question I believe they are a little too conservative, with a small "c". They have been accustomed to things going on in one way. Even good people can take risks they should not take and can be thoughtless about animals, much as in this case where animals were left overnight and where everybody thought it was someone else's job to see to them.

The letter of the law protects some people who can say, "It was not our duty to see to them; they had been signed off our hands". I earnestly hope that the fact that the hon. Member for Gillingham has raised this matter in the House on the Adjournment will have given a warning to the farming community and to people in the transport industry who are responsible for moving animals that public opinion will not tolerate any indication of cruelty caused by thoughtlessness or indifference.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

I join with the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) in commending my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) on having raised this case of the transit of cattle. I have always been concerned with the treatment of animals in transit and, like the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, with the treatment of animals generally.

In recent years there has been a great improvement in the treatment of animals in transit. The treatment of animals, especially fatstock animals destined for slaughter, was at its worst, probably by circumstance, during the days of the Ministry of Food. I suggest that it was at its worst then because vast numbers of live animals had to be shipped to centres of intensive population, often in difficult circumstances. Now that there has been a return to the free trade in livestock, it is not to the financial advantage of anyone, be he Irish cattle importer or a person who has bought stock at a fatstock centre in this country, to leave animals in discomfort for lengthy periods.

Animals suffer much harm in such circumstances. If they are fatstock, their condition deteriorates rapidly. If they are store stock on their way to a store market, their value is apt to fall very rapidly if they are without water for any length of time. Nevertheless, there are circumstances, even today, when animals experience grave discomfort in transit—on the railways, especially, but also on the road.

I wholeheartedly join my hon. Friend in suggesting that wherever possible watering facilities be installed at railway stations. It would not be very difficult to make sure, and in so doing satisfy our general conscience, that watering facilities are installed at all stations where they are needed. After all, the cattle trade is fairly regular. Cattle are constantly imported into this country from Ireland to the same ports. They make their way from those same ports to the same selling centres. It should not be too difficult to instal reasonable watering facilities at all such centres and at all points in between.

I join my hon. Friend in suggesting that all employees of the British Transport Commission should be made fully aware of the orders which are in existence for the treatment, particularly the watering, of cattle in transit and of the necessity of implementing them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this subject. I hope that his valuable action in getting this debate under way this evening will help to make conditions better for livestock in transit in the future.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

We all know that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) speaks with great authority in matters of this kind, but I am sure that he would not wish to imply that the Ministry of Food was responsible for cruelty to animals in transit in the time that it was in existence.

Mr. R. W. Elliott

It was the system.

Mr. Hayman

That was during the years immediately following the war when there was a shortage of vehicles, etc., everywhere.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) and with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North that we are indebted to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for bringing this matter before the House tonight. I am glad that we have rather longer than is usual in an Adjournment debate to discuss this vitally important subject.

Much has been said about British Railways, but the owner of the animals is the man mainly responsible. From what the hon. Member for Gillingham said it seems that British Railways did what they were required to do at Newark. It was the owner who, from thoughtlessness or carelessness or for some other reason, was responsible for the cruelty to the animals.

I am not in agreement with the hon. Member for Gillingham in his statement that he feels that, once the case has been ventilated, there will be no need for prosecution. I had an old friend who was a magistrate for very many years. He is dead now. I well recall him saying. I am hard on two lots of offenders."

Mr. Burden

Nothing that may be done to that gentleman now can help those poor unfortunate cattle. I shall be happy to know that in future he will give no cause for prosecution. If that is the case, I shall be happy if no steps are taken against him in this, instance.

Mr. Hayman

I certainly hope that that individual will not give cause for concern again. As I was saying, my old friend once said to me, "There are two classes of offenders against whom I am hard—those responsible for cruelty to children and those responsible for cruelty to animals, because neither types of sufferers can speak for themselves in a court of justice".

This may be just one example of something that may be far more prevalent than we know. During Question Time on 14th November, the Parliamentary Secretary said: Railway authorities are required to provide water at all stations habitually used for loading and unloading animals…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 4.] Later, he said that he was telling the veterinary officers of his Department to keep a closer watch on this matter, and later still he said that the local authorities had some responsibility.

It seems to me that some Government Departments have had some responsibility in this, but that in this Newark case no one seems to have kept watch to prevent what happened before. I certainly hope that British Railways will make these things clear to all their employees concerned, and that at other stations where animals are dealt with they will provide, as they now have at Newark, new and suitable troughs. Local authorities, too, should be asked to look again at the duties that fall on their responsible officers, and occasionally to keep an eye on things.

As other speakers have said, the ill-treatment of animals, whether wilfully or by neglect, is a source of great concern to our people, and I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will seek to give full effect to what has been asked for by hon. Members on both sides in this debate. I would just make the further plea that hon. Members who are interested in animal welfare will themselves join the small all-party committee on animal welfare, which tries to do a good job.

8.38 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for raising a subject which has aroused very great interest. He has illustrated the general interest by citing a particular case which, I think, most of us will agree is not typical of the conditions under which hundreds, if not thousands, of animals are moved by road and rail every day. All the same, there is no reason why we should overlook any single case of apparently unsatisfactory conditions that is brought to our notice.

Anything that touches the welfare of animals quite properly arouses wide interest in every civilised country, and in this country perhaps more than in any other. We are traditionally a people with a love for animals, and at all times we are concerned to see that they are treated with humanity and kindness. I venture to doubt whether there is another country with a more acute conscience and a more comprehensive series of legislative requirements on this subject.

In the course of this reply I want to concern myself more with the general position, as I really think that that is of greater interest to the House. First, there are the basic Protection of Animals Acts to which my hon. Friend has referred, and those Measures make it an offence punishable by fine and/or imprisonment to convey or carry or permit to be conveyed or carried any animal in such a manner as to cause it unnecessary suffering.

That is a basic provision. This legislation is very comprehensive and covers every conceivable kind of case where it is alleged that unnecessary suffering has been caused to animals. I understand that the animal welfare organisations are fully aware of its scope, and they prosecute and frequently take other action under it.

Then there are the Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, and the Orders made under it to which my hon. Friend has also referred. These are more specific requirements as distinct from the general provisions of protection of animals legislation. Under them the British Transport Commission and other railway authorities have to provide, to the satisfaction of the agricultural Ministers, water and food or either of them at railway stations for the use of animals in rail transit, and that is generally done, even though the number of animals passing through some stations is not as great as it was before road transport developed as an alternative means.

Water and food so provided must be supplied to animals by the railway authority concerned at the request of the consignor or of any person in charge of the animals. The hon. Gentleman made that point, that it is the consignor on whom the first responsibility lies. As regards cattle, if such a request is not made, so that animals are without water for twenty-four consecutive hours, the consignor or the person in charge of the cattle is deemed to be guilty of an offence under the Act. There are certain exceptions to that, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

There is certainly a strong case behind this statutory provision that the responsibility for feeding and watering animals in transit should be laid fairly and squarely on the consignor or the person in charge of them. No one, and I least of all, will deny that it is of the greatest importance for the well being and comfort of animals that water should be offered to them when they are really in need and can take it without subsequent discomfort of ill effects. I made that point when answering the hon. Gentleman's Questions in December last.

It would be unreasonable to expect other people to take the ultimate responsibility. Let us suppose that some well-meaning person over-watered calves on a journey. He might have had the very best of intentions but this could easily have the worst of results. In those circumstances, the consignor might consider that he had a grievance against that person or even a case for an action for damages. But there are some consignors who do not take the trouble they ought. If a consignor is held to have failed in his duty to the animals under the general provisions of the Protection of Animals legislation or Orders made under the Diseases of Animals Act, he exposes himself to the risk of prosecution.

That is probably the most sensible way of dealing with this problem. All the same, no one's mind can be finally closed on a subject like this, and I am sure my right hon. Friend would consider any suggestion for improvement that any hon. Gentleman would put forward. f have noted the suggestions that have been made about British Railways administration. I cannot answer for British Railways, but I can assure hon. Members that we will see that their suggestions are conveyed to that body.

My hon. Friend has made it clear that although he was raising a general question, he none the less wanted to give certain emphasis to the point that arose as a result of the unfortunate occurrence at Newark in October last. I believe we are all familiar with the general circumstances of that case and, as I said at the time, it is intolerable to deny animals water in a way that amounts to cruelty. But that does not detract from the generality of the argument that the responsibility for complying with the law rests on the consignor and the person in charge of the animals, and that the appropriate local authority is charged with the duty of enforcing the regulations made under the Diseases of Animals Act. I think they are alive to those responsibilities.

I was also asked if I could give details of what happened to the second batch of animals when they were unloaded and finally moved, I think on the second morning. To the best of my knowledge, they were given hay. I am doubtful about water. My hon. Friend will bear in mind that the consignor had taken over responsibility for those animals. They were no longer in transit and, therefore, the Order does not apply. I am glad that he made no attempt to pin any responsibility on British Railways, after the consignor had taken over responsibility.

Again, because British Railways do take a very great deal of 'trouble, I wish to make clear that the provision of troughs is very widespread in this country.

Mr. Burden

Before my hon. Friend leaves the other point, I hope he will forgive me for interrupting. According to what he has said, it would appear that there is evidence that these animals were given some hay. There is no evidence whatever that they were given any water. It seems to me that the provision of hay in those circumstances would, if anything, increase the suffering the animals endured as a result of lack of water. I emphasise that point. Whether it was ignorance or gross negligence on that occasion, I think it should be made perfectly clear that no recurrence of that kind of happening will be tolerated.

Mr. Vane

The local authorities and the animal welfare services concerned with that particular case have, I think, followed up such information as both my hon. Friend and I have mentioned. I think we ought to deal with the general position and with future administration rather than try to discover the exact circumstances of that particular incident.

I do not suppose that I am the only Member of the House of Commons who has driven cattle straight off the train and through a built-up area. Anyone who has done that knows that, however carefully the animals have been unloaded and driven, the job is by no means an easy one. People who have not had that sort of experience may not realise how easy it is for cattle, especially when there are large numbers of them. almost to panic and to start to gallop in different directions.

Rather different provisions apply to horses because, of course, the horse's digestive system is different from that of cattle. The railways there have certain wider responsibilities, but, nevertheless, the consignor or other person in charge does in the end have responsibility. If the journey is likely to exceed twelve hours, horses must on occasions be fed and watered.

Various suggestions have been made today about what British Railways ought to do in training their staff. It is not generally known that they have issued to all staff concerned with the handling of livestock a most comprehensive handbook on the subject, and in addition to that they have issued a very readable little book. with illustrations by Fougasse, who will be well known to readers of Punch. I do not think that they can be expected to do more. The matter could not be more simply set out with diagrams, and I think that this does meet the point which was made. These are admirable manuals, and the short guide is, in effect, a general code of conduct.

Without, I hope, giving anything away that I should not, I want the House to know that the burden of the advice given to railway staff about animals in transit is that, if no one else has given them water by the end of the period stipulated by the Orders, the staff may do so. In my view, that is an admirable concept of humanitarian instinct. The railways are prepared to stand by and make good the shortcomings of others, and when we in this House are sometimes very ready to criticise them for all sorts of other things we should, at least, give them credit where credit is due.

Transport by road is a somewhat different matter. There are no specific requirements of the law for watering cattle, sheep and pigs because, of course, it is so much easier and one has not to stop a train in order to arrange for such things. The general provisions of the Protection of Animals Ac[...]ts apply, and, again, special conditions are laid down with regard to horses.

I hope that what I have said will satisfy the House that the law provides in a comprehensive way that animals in transit should be properly looked after from the point of view of food and water according to the circumstances of the particular case. I am not saying that more could not be done. Of course, circumstances change. Not so long ago road transport played a much smaller part than it is playing today, but I should like my hon. Friend to know that we are at present in the concluding stages of a review of the whole of our transit regulations. My right hon. Friend recently reminded members of his veterinary staff of the need at all times to carry out their transit and animal welfare duties as a regular routine. Our veterinary staff have a great many duties. When all is said and done, there are some things which cannot be guaranteed by legislation, and the way in which a man treats animals in his charge is probably one of them.

Mr. Hayman

I am grateful for the Parliamentary Secretary's concluding sentences foreshadowing the bringing up to date of regulations. However, I wonder whether he would consider carefully the point made by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) that the National Farmers' Union might be asked to make known the feelings of the House concerning the responsibilities of owners of animals.

Mr. Vane

I cannot answer for the National Farmers' Union any more than I can answer for British Railways. I believe that the Union's annual conference is taking place at the present moment. If the hon. Gentleman wrote to the president what better platform could he wish?

8.51 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I wish to add one or two wards to this short but important debate and to congratulate the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) on having initiated it.

It was very good of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to pay tribute to British Railways, and I should like to be associated with that tribute. So often hon. Members come to the House and criticise British Railways, and sometimes a great deal of it is quite unfounded. It is good to know that British Railways have taken such considerable pains to make transport as easy as possible for animals. We are indebted to the Minister for the information which (he has given us about the lengths to which British Railways have gone to ensure that animals placed in their charge travel in comfort.

Mr. Burden

I do not think the hon. Member was present When I referred to this very important point. Sir Brian Robertson obviously took this incident very much to heart and a most extensive investigation was made into the whole matter. As the hon. Gentleman said, I think that British Railways have come out of it very well indeed.

Mr. Hoy

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have known Sir Brian Robertson for a long time. I knew him before he took over British Railways, when he acted in another sphere. I was under him in a junior capacity. I should have expected Sir Brian, with his efficiency, to have done that job. Although he has done that, it is not a bad thing that it should be said in the House of Commons that British Railways take trouble over the transport of animals.

I was a little disappointed that the Minister did not say something further about road transport until the concluding stages of his speech, when he replied to the question of one of my hon. Friends. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman had the question of legislation in mind, but I should have thought that the transport of animals by road called for a great deal of consideration, because this business has increased tremendously over the past few years. In these circumstances, I should have thought that legislation ought to be brought up to date.

I was glad that the hon. Gentleman singled out the question of the transport of horses. This is a matter which has filled the newspapers in recent months because of the considerable horse traffic between another part of the world and France. Perhaps the opportunity should be taken during this debate to pay tribute to the many men and women in this country who raised funds to safeguard these horses from the kind of torture Which was proved on a previous occasion.

Mr. Vane

I did not contemplate legislation, but I said that a review of the regulations was now nearing its close. That is a different thing. I hoped that I had made it clear that the general legislation applied to the transport of animals by road. The feeding and watering of animals moving by road, which is the subject raised in this debate, is not as difficult, because it does not mean stopping a whole train to feed and water them. It must be borne in mind that if a lot of animals have to be watered at small troughs, it may take a long time and it may not be easy to do the operation smoothly. None the less, it is important to see that even where animals are only occasionally loaded, the proper facilities exist.

My concluding word is again to the credit of British Railways. Many hon. Members have, no doubt, seen stock travelling by train and have noticed a brown ticket stuck on the side of the wagon. If they have taken the trouble to look at it closely they will have seen that 'it states not only where the animals were loaded and the station for which they are destined, but when they were last fed and watered, at what times they have to be milked, and so on. In fact, there is a proper record of all that is necessary to ensure their welfare during transit. In the end, however, it is surely the owner or consignor of the animals who should make arrangements with those with whom he contracts to move his animals to ensure that proper humanitarian measures are carried out.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Nine o'clock.