HC Deb 08 May 1964 vol 694 cc1640-52

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

This Clause makes certain vital alterations to the intention of the Act bearing the same title, which was steered through this House in 1954 by the then Member for Hemel Hempstead, Viscountess Davidson. Its intention is to reduce still further the suffering to animals caused by castration or docking.

Subsection (1) repeals paragraph 5 of the First Schedule to the 1954 Act. It requires that forthwith cats and dogs shall be castrated only under anaesthetic, whereas the 1954 Act permitted the castration of any male dog before it had reached the age of three months, or of any male cat before it had reached the age of six months. This Amendment to the original Act has been strongly supported by the veterinary profession, on the advice of an ad hoc committee of the British Veterinary Association which was set up to look into this and other matters contained in the 1954 Act.

Subsection (3) has the effect of removing from the First Schedule to the 1954 Act the reference to horses, asses, and mules, and makes unlawful the castration of those animals at any stage except under an anaesthetic. The complete abolition was resisted during the consideration of the 1954 Bill, because it was clear that, in so far as the operation might involve the throwing of a horse, a valuable racing animal might be permanently damaged in consequence. But since then the development of new anaesthetics and tranquillisers make it no longer necessary to employ the physical force which was necessary in the past in castrating some animals.

It is now possible to carry out the operation without any danger to the welfare of the animal, and without any pain to it. The operation can now be carried out completely safely under an anaesthetic. This is also the advice of the British Veterinary Association, and it endorses this alteration.

The subsection also reduces the age above which a bull or a male sheep may not be castrated without an anaesthetic. Under the 1954 Act this was permitted up to the age of 12 months, but it has now been reduced to three months. The British Veterinary Association pressed strongly that it should be reduced to two months, but the difficulties which would be experienced by some hill farmers in collecting animals was taken into consideration, as was also the possibility that bringing in free-ranging lambs might involve the loss of their mothers, and a compromise of three months was reached. The veterinary profession made the point very strongly that animals become progressively sensitive as they grow older, but I think that the House will agree that it is a great improvement to have reduced the time during which an animal may be castrated without an anaesthetic from 12 months to three months.

Agricultural interests also pointed out that calves of hill-suckled herds are not generally castrated until between four or six months and that it would encourage contravention if the age above which anaesthetics must be used for their castration was set as low as six months, when an extra collection of the cattle would clearly be necessary. It would apply only if it were wished to castrate without the use of an anaesthetic. It might be done on the second collection. In view of the circumstances the R.S.P.C.A., the Council of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the veterinary profession, agreed with representatives of the farmers that the age above which bulls and male sheep may not be castrated with an anaesthetic should be set at three months.

Subsection (3) will reduce to two months the age at which goats and pigs may be castrated without an anaesthetic. Under the 1954 Act and the period was three months in respect of goats and seven months for pigs, so that there is some gain in respect of goats, and certainly the reduction of the castration period without anaesthetic for pigs from seven months to two months is a considerable improvement. This is in line with the repre- sentations of the British Veterinary Association. In 1954 when the suggestions were resisted it was held that it was difficult to expect farmers in some of the remote areas in Scotland and Wales, and in certain areas in England, to call in a veterinary surgeon to castrate pigs below the age of five or six months. The evidence suggested that there was a general movement towards carrying out this operation on pigs much earlier than heretofore, and that two months would not bring any difficulties or problems for the pig rearing industry generally.

Subsection (3) also makes it unlawful to castrate by use of a rubber ring, or other device to restrict the flow of blood to the scrotum, if it is applied later than the first week of the animal's life unless it is anaesthetised during the whole time it is carrying the ring. This is clearly impracticable, in view of the fact that this castration method takes up to three weeks.

There were some objections from farmers who stated that in respect of lambs of this age it would be extremely difficult to apply the ring, but that is not admitted by the veterinary profession. In view of the difficulty maintained by the farmers and because there are of course other methods available for the castration of lambs without anaesthetic up to the age of three months, this, restriction on the use of a rubber ring has the full backing of the veterinary profession and the animal welfare societies. I repeat that it can cause considerable suffering to the animal to which it is applied.

Subsection (4) refers to paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Schedule to the 1954 Act and exempts minor operations from the general requirements concerning an anaesthetic. This subsection lists operations which may never be counted as minor operations and accordingly an anaesthetic would always have to be used when they are performed. Subsection (4,b) clarifies the position with regard to the dehorning of cattle, making it a surgical operation. This is customarily performed by a member of the veterinary profession. Its performance without an anaesthetic would probably constitute an offence at the present time, but this paragraph will leave no doubt that it is an offence when the Bill becomes law.

Subsection (4,c) makes it unlawful to disbud calves without an anaesthetic except by chemical cautery again in the first week of life. It is unlawful to use any other method without anaesthetic. This again is in accord with veterinary opinion. Subsection (4,d) deals with the docking of lambs' tails by the use of a rubber ring or other device which restricts the flow of blood to the tail. The arguments for its restriction are the same as those used for its restriction in the case of castration. Most of the suggestions contained in this Clause conform with the proposals made by the ad hoc committee of the British Veterinary Association. They certainly conform with views which have been expressed by animal welfare societies. I am thankful to say that, in general, the farming industry is in favour of the implementation of the Bill.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

We must all be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for having introduced this Bill so lucidly. I rise merely to support what it is that we are endeavouring to achieve by the Bill. Those of us who concern ourselves with the question of cruelty to animals are often asked why we do not appear to devote so much time to the problem of cruelty to children. The inference is not a true one. The House spends a great deal of time on that problem. I spent a morning this week and one last week in a Standing Committee dealing with a Measure relating to adoptions. Our concern about cruelty to children is not so much because children are human, as because they are helpless, and animals are even more helpless.

I am often asked what constitutes cruelty and whether the causing of pain under any circumstances is cruel. The ethical definition must be that cruelty consists of causing unnecessary pain. I do not think that anyone would deny that human beings have a right in many instances to cause suffering for a whole variety of reasons when it is justified by an absolute and overriding necessity. The criterion in the case of animals must always be whether the pain to be inflicted is necessary or whether it might be avoided. Human beings have a perfect right to take animals for food and to keep down vermin. Farmers have a perfect right to prevent the destruction of crops and other human food. The overriding question is whether the pain and suffering caused will be caused necessarily or unnecessarily.

The original Act of 1954, which this Bill amends, was a great advance. It was an excellent Act, but there has been considerable disquiet in recent years about its adequacy, and, in fact, whether or not it ought to be amended. I believe that there is now widespread opinion not only in the animal welfare societies but among veterinary surgeons as well that the Act is very much overdue for amendment, and I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and those who are sponsoring the Bill have the support of the veterinary profession in everything that they are doing. I think it adds great weight to what they are doing that they should have the support of the veterinary profession as well as that of the animal welfare societies.

The first decided weakness in the 1954 Act is that its provisions do not apply in cases of certain operations mentioned in the First Schedule to the Act: The castration of any male dog before it has reached the age of three months or any male cat before it has reached the age of six months. In other words, the Act of 1954 did not go far enough.

As I understand it, the intention of the Bill is to restrict the exceptions—I think that my hon. Friend said that—in the First Schedule and so to enlarge the classes of operations in which an anaesthetic must be used. I would say that that principle is right unless anyone can show to the contrary that such a provision would not be practicable or workable. I have heard no suggestion from anybody that this is the case, and, therefore, I think that we ought to accept the Bill.

I gather that the effect of the Bill would be to repeal references to dogs, cats, asses and mules altogether, in which case no castration of any male dog, cat, ass or mule could be performed after the passing of the Bill without the use of an anaesthetic. If that is so, I think it is entirely admirable and that we ought to support it.

I gather that what the Bill does then is to substitute for the provisions in the First Schedule of the 1954 Act, as far as they affect bulls, sheep, goats and pigs, the lower ages that are set out in the Bill, that is, three months, three months, two months and two months. I believe that these provisions are right. I understand, too, that even this has the backing of the veterinary profession. In that case, unless anyone can produce any very potent argument against it, I think, again, that it is entirely admirable.

I believe that a good deal of research has gone on into the time at which, for example, a bull comes to maturity. I understand that nowadays it is generally admitted by everyone that 12 months is definitely too old in the case of a bull. The British Veterinary Association has pointed out that the development of a calf and genetilia is rapid—between the ages of 3 and 6 months—and many reach the age of puberty in five or six months. Consequently, any Schedule that lays down that castration can be performed without anaesthetic on what would be a fully adult animal during the second six months after puberty is obviously one which would result in inflicting great and unnecessary pain and suffering on the animal. Therefore, I think that the provisions of the Bill are right.

The British Veterinary Association has endorsed entirely the intention to lower the age to three months in the other cases. Indeed, I understand that it would have preferred two months but that it has agreed to three months on general grounds of practicability—to use its own phrase "to fulfil what is good law, namely, workability." I think that the age limits suggested in the Bill are fair. They are realistic, workable, sensible and humane and should be imposed. A glaring weakness which is apparent even to me in the 1954 Act is the inclusion in the First Schedule of the words, "any minor operation". I do not know how at the time of the passing of the Act I never noticed that weakness, but I imagine that other hon. Members who were more alert in the matter might have done. Perhaps I was not paying the attention that I ought to have been paying to the Measure. It really seems to me extraordinary that we should have included a provision quite so vague as this one.

1.15 p.m.

We have only to read the two subsections in the First Schedule to the original Act to see how vague they are. Subsection (7) says: Any minor operation performed by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner, being an operation which, by reason of its quickness or painlessness, is customarily so performed without the use of an anaesthetic. Could anything be more vague or unspecific than that? Subsection (8) reads that without anaesthetic can be performed Any minor operation, whether performed by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner or by some other person, being an operation which is not customarily performed only by such a surgeon or practitioner. Again, we could not have anything quite so loosely worded as that. I cannot imagine how any lawyer permitted it.

Where a prosecution is involved for infringement of the Act, I should have thought it quite possible for any one witness or any one magistrate to regard an operation as painless for the purpose of this subsection and for others not to so regard it. One can see the possibility of confusion there. The door was obviously left wide open for all kinds of indiscriminate practices and it is right, as I understand what the Bill proposes to do, to tighten the matter up. As I understand it, the main purpose of the Bill is to remove these doubts and ambiguities and to prevent under cover of the words "any minor operation", the castration of male animals without anaesthetic, with the exceptions mentioned.

The term "any minor operation", that is, an operation not requiring anaesthesia, should not apply, and very rightly so. The Bill is quite specific about the dehorning of cattle, the disbudding of calves, except by proper cauterisation, and the docking of lambs by the loathsome method of the rubber ring except within the first week of life. Members of the farming community are as human a body of people as the rest of the community, but in their profession, as in others, there are exceptions. This Bill, rightly, will deal with them. I believe that it will prevent a good deal of unnecessary suffering.

Quite properly and constitutionally, the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, but it may be of interest to the House to know that our legislation there marches with the 1954 Act—it is, in fact, almost precisely the same as that Measure—and I profoundly hope that if this very proper amendment to the law is made, the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament will see fit to follow suit.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

It is quite clear from what we have so far heard that some alteration in the 1954 Act is not only desirable but necessary. Public opinion now quite rightly demands that these processes that have been going on from time immemorial should not cause any unnecessary suffering to the animal. The object of the Bill is to restrict the number and type of operations that may be performed without anaesthetics on animals. To people outside it will probably come rather as a shock that animals can be operated on without anaesthetics, but there are anomalies and loopholes in the 1954 Act, and Clause 1 seeks to close some of the more obvious and undesirable ones.

The Explanatory Memorandum states By virtue of section 1 of the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954 if any operation which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or the bone structure of an animal is performed without the use of an anaesthetic so administered as to prevent any pain during the operation, it is to be deemed for the purposes of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912, to be performed without due care and humanity, thus rendering the person performing it guilty of an offence of cruelty, and liable on summary conviction to penalties. Certain excepted operations are mentioned in Schedule 1 of the 1954 Act. We are therefore faced with a group or category of operations which, if this Bill is not passed, can still be performed without an anaesthetic. That is entirely inhuman and quite out of touch with modern thought about cruelty to animals.

The operations that are at present excepted include the castration of dogs and cats before they reach the age of three months and six months, respectively, and the following farm animals: horse, 12 months; ass or mule, 12 months; bull, 12 months; sheep, 12 months; goat, 3 months, and pig, 7 months. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has said, people now realise that animals suffer at a very much earlier age than was originally thought.

It might not at first be thought that the use of the rubber ring would cause a great deal of pain and suffering, but this is not so. Theoretically, by painlessly restricting the blood supply one can get rid of a particular tumour, but the pain resulting from restriction of blood by the rubber ring is immense. One is artificially and slowly killing a very tender tissue in what can be an extremely painful manner. That is a most undesirable form of castration, and I am glad that this Bill makes it an offence.

Subsection (4) of Clause 1 makes crystal clear, what is ambiguous in the Act, that the castration of male animals, the dehorning of cattle, the disbudding of calves and the docking of lambs' tails in the way described cannot be regarded as minor operations. One might say that any of those operations in the human would be regarded as quite major.

Subsection (5) extends the definition of "cattle" to include bulls, cows, bullocks, heifers, calves, steers or oxen. In this way we increase the number of offences, and make a very useful addition to the Act by closing the door to some of the more undesirable practices.

1.30 p.m.

I hope that many of the farming and veterinary community will welcome the change as being a step in the right direction in the performance of necessary operations for good farming and the carrying on of normal husbandry. At the same time, we must emphasise that although they must be carried out it is up to those concerned to ensure that they are carried out in the most humane and reasonable way. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said, we have to strike a reasonable balance. Even if an anaesthetic is used there is a certain amount of pain after the operation, but the matters mentioned in Clause 1 are necessary. It is our duty to ensure that these operations are carried out humanely and with the smallest amount of suffering that is "animally" possible. I hope that the Committee and the House will receive with appropriate acclamation a Bill the substance of which is contained in this Clause.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

It might be to the convenience of the Committee if I intervened now, since, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Glyn) has mentioned, this Clause contains the operative part of the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) on bringing the Bill forward from another place and on expounding the Clause so ably and clearly. I am certain that the Clause will command the general support of the Committee.

As the Committee knows very well, we are a nation of animal lovers and so we all want to enlarge the protection which we and the law can give to the animals under our care. The 1954 Act gave a great deal of protection to animals, but there have been changes since then, and not only in techniques but also in the outlook on cruelty generally. I am sure that the Committee welcomes this change, because it shows that as a nation we are advancing probably quicker than most other civilised people.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and other hon. Members pointed out, the 1954 Act needs strengthening and bringing up to date in some respects. This is the purpose of the Bill. A great deal of study of the existing Act has been undertaken, particularly by a committee of the British Veterinary Association. I am also glad to agree with my hon. Friend that the provisions of the Bill are supported by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and by the societies for animal welfare and that full consultations have also taken place with farming interests.

I was glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South mentioned that farmers in general want to improve methods of humane treatment of animals. I re-emphasise that no farmer wants to inflict unnecessary cruelty. The aim of farmers is to keep their stock in the best possible condition so that they will thrive to the best advantage of the animals and of course of the farmer. Any unnecessary cruelty caused to animals can do nothing but stop this process. It is the last thing that the farming community wants, because, dialing daily with animals, farmers have an extremely humane outlook towards those which are in their care.

It has been pointed out that the Amendment to the 1954 Act made by Clause 1(2) of the Bill means that the castration of dogs and cats can be carried out only under an anaesthetic. Another point which has been mentioned in the debate is the anxiety which some people may have about what might happen to a young horse whilst being anaesthetised. It was pointed out that great advances have been made and that as a result of the development of tranquillisers and anaesthetics it may no longer be necessary to use physical methods of restriction and that the whole operation can now he carried out in complete safety. I have castrated many young pigs in my time. It is a simple operation within the period of the first two months laid down in the Clause. If it is done after the two months it is right that an anaesthetic should be administered.

Another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham in his excellent speech concerned hill farmers and their anxieties about the castration of lambs and the use of rings. He rightly pointed out that rubber rings should not be used beyond the age limit laid down in this amending Clause, but if for some reason it is difficult for hill farmers to do this they have still open to them other methods of castration up to three months after the birth of the lamb. Therefore I do not think that the Clause imposes an insuperable burden on hill farmers.

As I have said, this is the main Clause of the Bill. I welcome it and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham has brought it forward. I emphasise again that the British Veterinary Association supports it. It feels extremely strongly about the use of rubber rings for castration and about the other matters which are the subjects of provisions in the Clause. I hope that the Committee will agree that this is a useful Bill in amending the 1954 Act. I hope that the Committee will allow the Clause a fair wind now and that later, on Third Reading, the House will also give it its blessing.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)

I was surprised to find that the first Act was passed as recently as 1954 and that we now have an amending Bill. We must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for having brought the Bill forward from another place. It is the experience throughout the world that farmers want to do everything that is essential for the safety of their animals and to ensure that they are caused the least possible amount of suffering.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary indicated that the Bill has the support of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and of the farming community. A Bill which can receive such massive support outside will certainly receive the full approval of this House. People with vast experience of what pain is and how it can be prevented are combining with the practical farmer in the field in support of the Bill.

Will there be a subsidy for farmers for anaesthetics? I am not in a position to quantify, but presumably a farmer will have to buy in large quantities. I should also like some information about what has been happening abroad. Is American legislation, for example, a little more robust than ours, or do we lead the world?

Mr. Burden

We lead the world.

Mr. Skeet

My hon. Friend has made a helpful interjection. Perhaps he will clarify. If we do lead the world then that is a great advance. I know that Australia and New Zealand have very high standards.

Mr. Burden

It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend was not present two weeks ago when we discussed the danger of the extinction of certain rare animals. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science has indicated that he will introduce a Bill to restrict considerably the importation of certain of the world's wild animals and it is his intention to get in touch with Parliaments overseas and animal welfare organisations in order to try and stop the point of sale for these wild animals, many of which are caught in conditions of extreme cruelty and are in great danger of extinction. That is an illustration of the advanced thinking about animal welfare in this country.

Mr. Skeet

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. The force of this Bill, then, will provide a precedent that other countries can follow. The value of insisting on certain standards is that others might follow.

Has medicine evaluated what degree of pain can be expected at any particular moment of this process? I know that figures have been given—12 months for sheep, three months for goats, seven months for pigs, etc.—but are we able to evaluate very accurately when pain will be sustained or is it simply an estimate? With all the new techniques available, including the use of tranquillisers, one would think it possible to by-pass some of the difficulties we have in mind. I do not think, however, that they will take us all the way.

This is an invaluable Bill. It is an improvement on the 1954 Act. Possibly in years to come further amendment will be made. The Bill provides a lead to other nations which will certainly be followed. It sets out standards that farmers and others will be persuaded to follow. This is a most useful Measure and is something that the House can do with great distinction. I commend this Clause to the House and again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden)

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.