HC Deb 04 February 1966 vol 723 cc1534-8

3.42 p.m.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

I beg to move, That this House should lay down statutory minimum standards of space and comfort for all animals kept in such conditions so that every animal shall be able to stand, lie down, turn round, have reasonable light, &c.; that periodical inspections by Government-appointed persons should be compulsory; and that a study should be made of the effects of the antibiotics, &c., used to prevent disease, and as to the possible effects on human males whose diet may often include chicken livers from artificially caponised chickens in view of their known sterilising effect on dogs and minks whose food has included caponised chicken offal. Factory farming has come to stay. It saves costs and it increases production, but at the same time it is open to many dangers. When properly done, it produces cheaper food, and it must be realised that skilled labour in agriculture is hard to get. A skilled farm-worker is every bit as skilled as any man in a factory. Every penny he gets is deserved.

The sentimentalists who know nothing about farming are naturally apt to say how cruel it is to confine animals instead of letting them run about in the fields. In many cases they are better off, although the farmer does not think of that so much. What he wants to do is to bring up an animal to killing age as well as he can. If an animal is not comfortable and happy, it will not thrive, and it cannot be kept going simply on antibiotics.

My aim is to get a minimum standard laid down. Two years ago I was fortunate enough to pilot the Riding Establishments Bill through this House. We know, of course, that the majority of riding establishments and schools are very good, but a minority were the opposite, and it is the same with factory farming. The majority of farmers are decent, honest chaps who try to look after their animals properly, but there are others who want to get rich quick and who do not have the necessary knowledge of the work. We want to lay down a legal requirement that every animal shall have room to stand up, lie down, turn round, have sufficient light, etc.

A few years ago I went over several Government experimental farms in Canada. In one very big poultry house with everything modernised—automatic feeding and all the rest—I was horrified to see about 200 ready-plucked chickens, all alive. They had been feather picking. There was hardly a sound feather on one of them. Presumably they were overcrowded and bored and were probably also lacking some green food or some vitamins. They would be killed at five or six months, but they looked absolutely horrible. That state of affairs could have been prevented by debeaking. If chickens peck each other and one bleeds, all the rest set on it. That sort of thing should be prevented if possible. We want to see the minimum of cruelty and the maximum of efficiency.

The public in general say that broiler chickens have no taste, but that is Nature at work. No young wild animal has any smell or scent at all. The only protection that young hares have is that they blend with the ground and do not move and the fox cannot smell them out. The same thing applies in countries where there are red deer and wolves. A red deer fawn lies down and keeps absolutely still and will not be found unless the wolf actually treads on it. There is no scent to guide the wolf. I once went to a deer park where there was a drive to kill off the late fawns to keep the stock strong. For lunch we had an eight-day-old red fawn, and it was just like eating flannel. There was simply no taste in it at all. It is Nature's way of protecting the young animal. It is not the fault of the broilers if they have no taste. Hang the bird long enough and the taste will be there!

Some years ago in this House I raised the subject of the artificial caponising of chickens, a process which makes the chickens grow bigger more quickly. A pellet is put in the neck, and it is supposed to take four months to dissolve. But part of the pellet remains in the liver. If the chicken is killed rather earlier, or if the pellet does not know the rules and does not dissolve quickly enough, anyone making chicken soup from such a bird can caponise whoever takes the soup. An hon. Member who used to sit on the other side of the House said at the time that his wife was caponising him because she was always giving him giblet soup.

About a year ago the owners of a mink farm got £24,000 damages because the contractors supplied food which included offal from caponised chickens. That lost the owners of the farm a whole breeding season. At that time I also quoted the case of the owner of a very well-known breeding and boarding kennels who when he went to London would return with half-a-dozen sacks of chicken offal in the boot of his car. The chicken offal, which came from Leaden-hall Market, went in with the rest of the food.

The owner could not make out why his stud dogs were not breeding. He brought in the veterinary surgeon, who asked what he was feeding them on, and it was found that the chicken offal was responsible for what had happened. It took six months to get rid of the effects. So I should like to know whether there is any danger to people who have too much giblet soup. When I raised the matter, the Ministry of Agriculture said that there was a danger and, what is more, that it was issuing a new leaflet telling breeders—not the public—about the danger. But the Ministry of Health said that there was no danger.

Obviously, animals vary in their habits. The ruminants—cattle, sheep—chew the cud and must lie down and digest their food, and then they are happy. So cows and so on must be allowed to lie down. I understand that elephants sleep standing up, and horses do sometimes, but they also like to roll. But if a sheep rolls, he stays on his back and one has to pull him up again. So one cannot lay down broad rules to cover all types of animal. But all we want to do is to ensure that there is laid down a minimum space per animal or bird and that, as in the Riding Establishments Bill, there shall be compulsory inspection periodically to ensure that factory farms are properly run.

This will be a great step forward. It should ensure that factory farms will be carried on with the least possible cruelty and with the greatest benefit to all concerned.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

The House is very grateful to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) for his Motion. This is a matter which has received a great deal of publicity in recent months. It seems that man has ventured into this kind of factory farming with tremendous rashness. We are always saying that man interferes with his environment, and, indeed, that unless he did so, human life would be impossible, but it seems that in recent years, in the search for more and cheaper food, a great many experiments have been conducted and methods of producing food have been investigated in conditions which make them appear to be adventures into the unknown.

The Motion is most timely, because I, amongst many others, do not know enough either about factory farming or about its repercussions to feel very confident about consuming some of the food which is produced under these conditions. As a human male, I am naturally very perturbed by the implications of one part of the Motion, unless steps are taken to satisfy the people that these methods are not harmful to humans.

Not long ago I heard of a Lancashire cotton mill which had been turned into an egg factory. Those of us who were brought up on stories of the Industrial Revolution will remember the stories of Lancashire cotton mills. I was horrified at the idea of one of those dark, satanic mills being converted into an egg factory, with rows and rows of hens confined there. After all, for many years we complained about the conditions under which mill workers had to exist. The idea of eggs being produced in such an environment does not fill me with much satisfaction.

There is a need for a much closer scrutiny of factory farming methods, so that we can be satisfied that the food we eat every day does not contain elements which may ultimately do us great harm.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)

I, too, am grateful to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) for enabling us to have this debate, even though it will be a very short one. Judging from the questions put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House during Business questions yesterday, there are many hon. Members who would like a much longer debate on factory farming.

The title of the Report of the Brambell Committee sounds much less emotive than "factory farming". It is, "Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems." The Report of the Harrison Group on factory farming is a worth-while document for all hon. Members to read, whether or not they are interested in some curbs being placed on those who practise intensive husbandry.

It is a pity that Government Reports—blue books—rarely carry photographs. I only wish that the Brambell Report contained some of the photographs contained in the pamphlet entitled "Unlived life—a manifesto against factory farming". If one is to believe the evidence of some of these photographs, animals are being kept in very poor conditions, amounting almost to certain forms of cruelty.

I should like the Government to introduce as soon as possible legislation on the Brambell Report. Some of the methods practised by farmers—not always farmers, but purely business men—in intensive husdandry are almost vestiges of the dark ages—the system of sweat-houses for pigs, where pigs have virtually no room to move; the system by which calves are kept in exactly the same pens for 12 weeks until they are slaughtered for veal and after the third week of their life are unable to turn round. As the consumption of veal is increasing, reaching 11,000 tons in 1964, the Government should get moving with legislation to ensure that, if veal production and consumption is to increase, at least the animals are kept in some sort of—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.