§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Merton and Morden)
I beg to move,That this House strongly reaffirms its responsibility for the promotion of animal welfare; expresses its deep concern at evidence of ill-treatment and cruelty to animals within the United Kingdom; draws attention to the urgent need to strengthen the state veterinary service; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take serious account of proposals for animal welfare measures when drawing up its own legislative programme.I make no apology for bringing this matter to the attention of the House at a time of grave national crisis. Crises come and go, but animal welfare is a continuous problem, and has been for many years. Furthermore, I consider it to be incumbent upon this House from time to time to state that it has a definite duty to promote animal welfare—indeed, to promote the welfare of all those who cannot help themselves. In this I include children, the aged, and other members of the community whose needs are more often before the House, but it is rare for us to have time to discuss the welfare of animals.
Let there be no doubt that animals do feel pain. To all well-meaning people that may seem a trite remark, but one of the justifications for those who ill-treat animals is, "Well, they do not feel the degree of pain. They would not notice."
The report of the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals in 1951 made it clear that there are good reasons, anatomical and physiological, for accepting that animals suffer in much the same way as human beings. That being so, there is a duty incumbent upon us to see that they are not only not cruelly treated, but well treated.
I extend this proposition to all kinds of animals. It is easy to work up 828 enthusiasm when something fluffy and attractive is ill-treated. From time to time we see this in newspaper reports and articles. But we should remember that the nervous system even of a rat is highly developed and that it, too, can feel pain. I ask the House to extend its sympathy to all living creatures who would not otherwise enlist our sympathy because they are considered as pests, or are unattractive to look at.
When I was considering what aspects of ill-treatment to bring before the House today for consideration, I was faced with an embarrassment of choice, because many spheres give rise for concern. I turn, first, to one which I know is controversial—field sports. No doubt their opponents would call them blood sports. I take a rather puritanical view. I believe that field sports can be justified only if the animal that is hunted needs to be controlled and hunting is the most humane way of doing it. I suspect that by these criteria many field sports would cease.
One such sport that I loathe and detest is hare coursing. The National Coursing Club, in evidence to the Scott Henderson Committee, which dealt with cruelty to wild animals, admitted that the object of hare coursing was to test the stamina and ability of the greyhounds, not to kill hares. Therefore no question of controlling a pest can arise.
It seems perfectly possible—indeed, it happens—for greyhounds to be tested in other ways than chasing a live hare over a course for about 30 seconds, as I understand it. Even the National Coursing Club admitted that a slight delay sometimes occurred before the hare was killed. I suggest that that is an under-statement. The hare may go through agony for quite a time before being killed by either the hounds or those who are responsible for them.
I think there have been no fewer than five Bills on this subject since 1970. I am a sponsor of the latest one. There were also at least four attempts to deal with the subject in the last Parliament, but all met with singular lack of success. I can only hope and pray that the latest Bill will be passed, although I suspect that it will not be.
Otter hunting, too, is a deplorable pastime. It is very easy to describe an 829 animal as a pest which ought to be exterminated, without thinking too deeply about it. It is said that otters kill a lot of fish, so everyone jumps to the conclusion that they must do unmitigated harm. But nobody pauses to consider whether they kill things which are harmful, so that, on balance, they may do far more good than harm, and that is the criterion which I should like to see adopted in relation to field sports. It is now many years since the publication of the Scott Henderson Report, which was a somewhat weak, anaemic and wishy-washy document.
I turn now to another aspect of the Scott Henderson Report—the poaching of deer. Legislation was passed on this subject. It seems to me that in an age of inflation the penalties embodied in the relevant Act are far from satisfactory. The maximum penalty is a £50 fine or three months' imprisonment, or both. I understand, from an article in the Sunday Telegraph in September this year, that between £50 and £60 can be obtained for a single deer carcase, such is the demand for the meat of this animal. The article contained a horrifying account of the kind of torture to which deer are being submitted by poachers in the New Forest. One unpleasant trick seems to be to string up wires between trees and drive the deer into them under cover of darkness, pursued by lurcher dogs. The deer's throats are then cut, or the wire winds round them so that they are unable to eat, and starve to death. There is a clear case for the penalties to be greatly increased.
Unfortunately, not only wild animals are ill-treated. Even those which are regarded as man's pets are not so well treated as one would wish. For example, many vets—and this applies also to the British Veterinary Association—are alarmed by the imports of exotic creatures which people do not know how to care for and which find it difficult to live in the British climate. One vet has written to me to say that he believes that of the tortoises that are imported from abroad only 20 per cent. survive their first winter. That is a shocking indictment. The law needs to be clarified on this point.
But what of man's best friend, the dog? We probably all have pets which we look 830 after and cherish, and we lament bitterly when they die, but no fewer than 250,000 dogs are destroyed each year because they are not wanted and are abandoned by their owners. There is, indeed, great over-production of dogs. In my file on this subject I found a Press cutting dated January last year, reporting that it was estimated by the superintendent of the Plymouth Cats and Dogs Home that no fewer than 60 puppies and dogs had been returned to the home, either by being hurled over 15 ft. high walls or by being tied up and left outside. One can imagine that that behaviour will be repeated all over the country as irresponsible people who have bought pets at Christmas, perhaps for children, are tired of them by the New Year. This is, indeed, a grave problem, and various suggestions have been put forward for dealing with it.
One which commends itself to me is the reform of dog licensing. It is ludicrous that the sum of 7s. 6d., or whatever is its equivalent in decimal currency, should still be charged for the acquisition of a dog. I suggest that the cost of the initial licence should be very much higher, and that the licence should extend for three years. One could perhaps fix the licence fee at £1.12 or £1.50 which would be roughly equivalent to the cost of buying a licence every year but might deter the making of irresponsible purchases on impulse. What is more, I believe that the licence should be due the moment a puppy changes hands, and not six months afterwards as at present. The present arrangement only assists people who are anxious to get rid of a dog when they find that they must pay out.
§ Mr. William Price (Rugby)
Would the hon. Lady go one step further? Is she attracted to the idea that it should be necessary to obtain a licence before actually getting a dog? This might stop a good deal of the impulse-buying which we see at Christmas.
§ Miss Fookes
Yes, that would be a very reasonable point to take into consideration.
Furthermore, it might be useful to adopt the practice in some countries, of attaching a tag to a dog's collar as another check. Another suggestion which has been put to me is that a 831 differential licence might be useful, so that one could favour a bitch which had been spayed. That might help to lessen the number of unwanted dogs that are born. Be that as it may, there is a clear case for a reform of the law.
Another aspect to which I should like to draw the attention of the House is the docking of dogs' tails. It first came to my attention because a constituent of mine, a Mrs. Oldershaw, found herself expelled from the Weimaraner Club—that is a continental breed of dog—because she refused to dock the tails of her dogs which she then attempted to show. The British Veterinary Association found against this practice, and has publicly said so since 1969. No less a body than the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons also came out against it in a memorandum last month; it regards it as an unjustifiable mutilation, and discards completely the outworn theory that it helps a dog in some ways, such as when it is used for hunting. The college thinks that there is far more damage caused to a dog by having its tail docked than would be caused if it were left undocked, and it calls upon the Government for legislation.
It would like to see included in legislation regulations to ensure the banning of other mutilations, as and when that is shown to be necessary by the state of scientific knowledge. I wholeheartedly share that view. I am indeed concerned about the widespread mutilation of farm animals. I know that in many cases it is perfectly justified, but, too often, there is a tendency to multilate without sufficcently considering the reasons for it. For example, there is the docking of pigs' tails, which is said to be a sign of good husbandry. But, very often, docking may conceal the fact that the pigs are trying to bite each other's tails because they are under stress, and that is a sign that all is not well with the husbandry. So it is easy to mutilate without considering what is really being done.
What is more, there seem to be considerable anomalies in the law relating to mutilation. Perhaps someone can explain why one may not castrate a dog or a cat at any age without the use of an anaesthetic but it is permissible to do so to a bull up to the age of three months and a stallion up to the age of 12 months. I wonder whether there is 832 all that difference in the degree of pain felt by these respective animals. It seems to me that the whole practice of multilation needs to be reviewed and certain of its provisions altered and tightened.
This brings me to the whole practice of intensive farming, we are firmly told that it is necessary for the economic life of this country and for the production of relatively cheap food. Nevertheless, I am concerned about various aspects of it. Indeed, there was a committee which reported in 1965, the Brambell Committee, which expressed severe reservations about the whole matter of intensive animal husbandry, and it stated categorically that it disapproved of the confinement of animals over a long period of time whereby most of their natural behaviour was stifled.
I make no secret of the fact that I do not knowingly or willingly eat eggs produced by battery methods. Neither do I eat veal in case that has been produced by a method of which I disapprove. If I had my way—and, clearly, I shall not—there would be no battery hens whatever. I have seen some battery hens recently, in both cases abroad, and I could not but be struck by their miserable appearance and by one feature which shocked me considerably, which was that the birds which had been in the cages longest had rubbed way the feathers on their necks to the point where they were bleeding. I have not seen this of recent years in this country, but it seems to me quite obvious that they must be suffering from stress.
Neither can I see that they can fully stretch their wings. It seems very strange to me that there is a law against confining wild birds so that they cannot stretch their wings, and yet we are willing to do this to chickens which in normal circumstances are able to fly and do, in fact, fly. As I have said, veal products also fill me with horror.
Intensive farming, we realise, is probably here to stay, but I am aghast that such rules as we have are not mandatory. It is true that the code of recommendations which followed the Brambell Committee have been revised within the lifetime of this Parliament, but I am not at all sure that they are strict enough. Even if they were, I believe it is vital that they should be compulsory.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
In fact, the codes which were originally put forward were not accepted by the House; there was a revulsion against them. They had to be taken back and looked at again. The last Government undertook to do this. The present codes came out as a result of that, and they were improved slightly.
§ Miss Fookes
I thank my hon. Friend for adding that piece of information; it is most useful. I believe that we have a very long way to go in this matter before we can consider ourselves fully civilised.
I now turn to the question of the treatment of animals in transit, particularly those in transit for slaughter.
I am aware that we had a full-scale debate on the subject of the export of live animals for slaughter, and I would not wish in the time at my disposal to go over the whole ground again, except to say that I fully supported those who were against this practice on principle. I hold by that view, although I recognise that we are now awaiting the report of the O'Brien Committee on the subject of the export of animals for slaughter, but I give notice that, whatever that committee may say, I stand by the evidence produced by the RSPCA, and nothing will induce me to sanction the export of live animals for slaughter.
Indeed, I am concerned about the conditions in which animals are transported within this country. I received an assurance from my hon Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in answer to a parliamentary Question recently that she was satisfied that all was well. But I am not satisfied. I understand, for example, that very young calves—those known as bobby calves—destined for slaughter are transported from Scotland down to the South of England. I can see no justification for making animals undergo this lengthy travel. I put it to the House that we ought now to be taking, as the principle, the recommendation of the British Veterinary Association that animals should be slaughtered as near the point of production as it is possible to get. I believe that this is the direction in which we ought to be working. Clearly, some of these recommenda 834 tions which I have suggested will not meet with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I believe it is a matter on which we ought to press and press again.
I am further worried about the shortages in the State Veterinary Service. This only serves to worsen what I believe is in any case an unsatisfactory position. The British Veterinary Association has made quite clear in public—and I believe it has made representations, too, in private—its views about the state of the service. It says that morale is low and recruitment is wholly unsatisfactory. It says that there are supposedly 330 field veterinary officers but that the number is about 100 short. This is an appalling shortfall.
I am not concerned today with the reasons why the service has got itself into this state or what ought to be done to improve the career prospects for these veterinary officers. They will, I am sure, understand that I do not lack sympathy for their personal plight, but I am concerned today with the effect of these shortages on animal welfare.
The British Veterinary Association estimates that at least 75 per cent. of the routine welfare work is not being undertaken, and I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me how many routine visits have taken place in, let us say, the past year—routine inspections of veal production units, of battery hens, broiler poultry, slaughterhouses and markets. All these things are cause for concern.
One matter in which I have particular concern is the transport of animals. I recall that when my hon. Friend was answering a parliamentary Question about the transport of animals from Ulster to the English mainland she made the point that these animals have to be inspected by a veterinary officer. But if we are so short of these officers how can we be sure that these inspections are made? I doubt whether many of them are in fact made. I should like my hon. Friend to take a good look at the whole State Veterinary Service with the object of ensuring that its members have a good career structure, that suitable recruits are attracted and that they can carry out these all-important routine inspections.
835 The Brambell Committee stated the principle that where we have continuous control of animals, so do we have continuous responsibility for them. I leave that thought with the House on this aspect of the subject.
I come now to the last part of my motion, which calls upon the Government to have some kind of legislation ready at each Session. One of the weaknesses of our animal welfare legislation is that it has been largely the product of private Members activities. In saying that, I wish in no way to underestimate the important contribution which has been made by private Members. But for them, our animal welfare legislation would be in a parlous state indeed.
I have counted up the number of animal welfare measures during the past 100 years. It seems that there are about 36, and of these only four were the product of Government initiative. I regard that as a very poor record.
In my view, any Government, of whatever political complexion, should include in their legislation for each Session any necessary animal welfare measures, and they should deliberately look for what needs to be done. Too often we have the impression that they brush off attempts to bring in such legislation. Indeed, most Ministers, if I may say so, suffer from what I call the dread disease of Civil Service paralysis. They seem unable to take a step unless the case is proved to the hilt, unless there is a public outcry. I want to reverse that process for the future and ensure that they take these matters on board themselves without constant prodding by private Members.
I go further than that. I believe that it is now necessary to take a good hard look at all our animal welfare measures of the last 100 years. Let us look at the deficiencies apparent in them, and sit down, with an interdepartmental working party, to codify them into, perhaps, half a dozen animal welfare measures. Here, I suggest a few headings under which one might work: first, wild animals; second, pet animals; third, laboratory animals; fourth, farm animals; and perhaps a sixth dealing with the transit of animals, which would cover all groups.
It may well be that that division would not prove practicable, but what I am 836 anxious to establish is that a Government Department or Departments should sit down and work this out so that we bring everything up to date.
In that way, not only would our own animals fare better in this country but we could, I believe, set an example to the world. I do not see how we can offer the piecemeal legislation which we have at present. On the welfare of dogs, for example, there is one Act of Parliament which makes it illegal for a person to have a dog licence if he has been found guilty of cruelty. How ridiculous—one whole Act of Parliament for that single purpose which could be embodied in one clause of a major Bill.
We cannot export that kind of animal welfare. But if we had an up-to-date code we might start by persuading our partners in the Common Market that it was a good idea, and we might then go further with other European countries and countries elsewhere in the world. I am well aware that, whatever be the shortcomings of our legislation, in many countries the situation is infinitely worse. Once we have put our own house in order, I should like to see what we could do by way of influence.
But private Members' initiative is not enough. We look to the Government to give a lead. I trust that we shall not look in vain.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Mr. William Price (Rugby)
I offer my congratulations to the hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) on her choice of subject today. We have waited a long time for an opportunity to discuss animal welfare on a broad front. I greatly enjoyed the hon. Lady's speech. For a long time we have known of her deep interest in animal welfare, and she has today made a compelling contribution, showing great knowledge and a good deal of concern. We should all be grateful to her.
I am not sure that we always appreciate in the House the strength of feeling outside about animals and their welfare. It is a matter which cuts across the party political system, and it is right that it should. There is no monopoly of concern on either side of the House or among our supporters in the country. The great majority of us want a humane and 837 compassionate society in which all living creatures, animals and humans, are treated with respect and dignity.
I have recently had an example of this interest. On behalf of the parliamentary animal welfare group, I recently sent out a circular—nothing more than that; no pressure, no argument, but just a circular inviting people to join—and this week alone we received 85 replies. That is a remarkable indication of the concern among Members of both Houses, and on both sides, in a subject which interests their constituents.
Perhaps I should declare my interest. I think that I can claim to be the hardest-liner in the House on animal welfare. I am a vegetarian for moral reasons. I am opposed to all killing, with the single exception of essential medical research. I can speak only for myself, but I find it impossible to draw any distinction between an animal killed in the name of sport—a subject which, as the hon. Lady said, arouses so much feeling—and a bullock slaughtered at an abattoir.
Perhaps I am so emotionally involved that it is not possible for me to make a considered judgment. I acknowledge that that could be so. There are those who will argue that my stand is quite unrealistic, and I should not dispute that. All I say in my own defence is that I try to be consistent.
I have never fully understood how a Member of this House can have for lunch a great fat steak and then come in at Question Time and cause a row about hare coursing. I do not seek to criticise others for that, save that I feel that it is somewhat illogical, any more than I should expect them to criticise me. This is a matter which must be left to one's personal feeling, and one's decision is based upon that feeling.
My wife and my child are not vegetarians. I put up with that. I pay the bill. I do so reluctantly, but I should not seek to impose my strange views on anybody else.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
What kind of shoes is my hon. Friend wearing? Are they leather?
§ Mr. William Price
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that. Usually, I wear shoes made of synthetic material, 838 but I am in some difficulty now, and I had better explain what happened. My wife bought my shoes—as she buys my clothes—on the assumption—she was certainly told this—that they were made of synthetic material. I discovered later that they were, in fact, made of pigskin, and, on the small salary that the taxpayer offers me, I cannot afford not to wear them out. But we did make inquiries—I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to say this—and we understand that this particular pig died of natural causes.
This, of course, is where we run into great difficulty over animal welfare. We all have our different priorities. For some it is factory farming and for others blood sports. For many it is anti-vivisection.
I should like to spend a short time on the most controversial of these and the one that has interested me the most—blood sports. I do not do so because I see it as part of the class battle, an accusation that is frequently laid against my hon. Friends. I do not wish, in this matter at least, to beat the landed gentry over the head. I do so because I believe it is wrong to kill, and nothing astonishes me more than the fact that Parliament tolerates hare coursing, deer stalking, fox hunting, otter hunting and all the other evils of a so-called civilised society. How can we ban cockfighting and bull-baiting when Parliament permits hare coursing?
§ Mr. Price
Apart from anything else our attitude is totally inconsistent, and it is a scandal that successive Governmens have done nothing about it in spite of overwhelming public opposition. How is it that a country magistrate can impose a fine—and I say it is never heavy enough—on the person who starves a domestic rabbit to death, yet will take part in the tearing apart of a wild one by greyhounds? That seems to me very strange. How can we say that a domestic animal is entitled to a greater degree of protection 839 than one running wild? That is inconsistent and illogical, because an animal is an animal and a life is a life. One cannot be separated from the other even if, as the hon. Member for Merton and Morden says, one looks less pretty than the other.
We have an odd situation in this country, and it is time that Parliament took appropriate action, starting with hare coursing. It may be argued that we are denying the masses their entertainment My experience of hare coursing suggests that it attracts a tiny element of well-heeled hooligans and nothing more. They are a disgrace to the human race. I have had my say in this House on hare coursing many times, including last week when the Minister predictably refused legislation to ban it. I will leave the matter there.
May I speak for a moment instead about stags and use one incident to illustrate the argument. It took place at Dulverton in October, and this is how the People newspaper, which has a fine record on blood sports, described it with pictures
THE CHILLING SCENE, above right, is what is known as being in at the kill: a threshing mob of hunt followers with water in their boots and blood on their hands.Their quarry is in there somewhere if you can make it out—a single, defenceless, exhausted, beaten stag.It had been pursued relentlessly by men who shot at it. It had been attacked by hounds who outnumbered it. When it was dragged, ignominously, from the river, its agony, mercifully, was over.One man who watched had a word for it: sickening. And he was life-long hunt supporter—until then.He was Mr. Frederick Huish. I have in my possession sworn statements from him and his son Michael, and they do not make pleasant reading. I shall not weary the House by detailing what they say but their statements are readily available to anybody who wants to see them.
What greater indictment of hunting can there be than that? I suggest that it is barbaric, wicked, evil and unnecessary, and yet we have allowed it to continue. The Chairman of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds is Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen, who, I understand, is a former Lord Mayor of London. Anyone who engages in that sort of activity is totally unfit to hold public office. He is involved at best in thuggery and at worst 840 in butchery. I am sure that he would join with all of us in condemning a bunch of hooligans who kicked a cat to death for pleasure. I ask him to consider what sort of example he is setting to these youngsters. What difference does he believe there is between his behaviour and theirs? In the People article he was quoted as sayingHunting is enjoyed by hundreds of people from all walks of life.I do not disagree with that. But he is talking of hundreds out of a population of 55 million. It is not our job to pander to the wishes of the majority, but the public have made their views known for so long that we have no right to turn a blind eye.
There are two things I should like the Government to do, but, like the hon. Member for Merton and Morden, I hold out no hope for either. First, they should provide parliamentary time for the Hare Coursing Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). It is a disgraceful state of affairs that a few hon. Members, fortunately missing today and often without the courage to identify themselves, have been able to kill off one Bill after another. We are not asking the Government to bring in the Bill only to give us time and to let us test the feeling of the House. Let us have a democratic vote, and if I lose I for one will accept it, although, of course, we should win. The last Labour Government gave us the time just before the General Election, and the next one is committed to a similar course. There are sufficient Conservative Members with the interest and good will to exert enough pressure on their Government to adopt a similar course of action.
Secondly, I should like the Prime Minister to give one Minister special responsibility for animal welfare. If sport and the arts rate this kind of attention, surely that is true of millions of animals. My choice for such a Minister if there were a Labour Government would obviously be myself. Under a Conservative Government, clearly, it would be the hon. Member for Merton and Morden, and I say that without in any way being disrespectful to the Parliamentary Secretary. The problem with animal welfare in this House generally is that there is a proliferation of responsibility. It is strange that there is no one 841 here today from the Home Office. Of course, we do not want two Front Bench speeches, but this is a Home Office matter. If there were a Minister with special responsibility—clearly, the subject would not warrant one Minister spending all his time on it—and if the Government had someone to advise them of the feelings of Members of Parliament and their constituents they might not have to suffer defeats like the one they sustained over the export of live animals for slaughter.
This good Samaritan might do us a favour. He might have some success in banging together the heads of people and organisations involved in animal welfare. The amount of squabbling that goes on does credit to no one and makes progress very difficult. Consider the disputes between the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports—and I am on the governing bodies of both. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and I are doing our best to sort out some of these problems. There is also the conflict between organisations concerned with vivisection and so on. There should be no dissension. We should all be working for the greatest degree of protection for animals that it is possible to achieve. The resources are available, the people are there and the public will demands it.
Despite the poor attendance today—this is not the best of days—I believe that there is a greater interest in animal welfare in the House nowadays than at any time since I have been here, and I am sure that the same is true of our constituents. I hope that we do not only have a good discussion, important though that is. I look to the day when we can legitimately call ourselves a nation of animal lovers.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Miss Mary Holt (Preston, North)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) on bringing this subject before the House, especially in a time of emergency. The British way of life has always closely involved our people with animals, and it is right that even in times of emergency we should show that compassion which our history has always displayed.
842 I want to deal with one or two topics which have not yet been comprehensively dealt with. First, to promote animal welfare, it does not seem necessary to have performing animal acts. Few intelligent adults today enjoy seeing animals going through such acts. These performances, especially in travelling circuses, are the barbaric relics of the old circuses of Roman times—the wild beast shows and gladiatorial contests. Today they are to be ranked in the same primitive category as bull-fighting, although they may not be so savage.
Many circus animals are noble animals. There is something very distasteful in seeing the odd postures that elephants have to adopt in mounting tubs, seeing bears made to cling to careering motorcycles, tigers jumping through hoops, and horses forced to rear on their hind legs at the approach of their trainers—usually suitably equipped with whips and sticks when dealing with the wild animals. Even more distasteful is the way that the wild animal tamers seek the applause of the vulgar populace.
In former ages, people used to enjoy bull-baiting, bear-baiting and cock-fighting, but, as a more enlightened attitude has grown up, this sort of performance has been banned. Today, films and television enable people to see wild animals in their natural habitat, and game parks bring within reach wild and exotic animals from abroad to be seen by ordinary people.
Circuses and travelling animal shows no longer perform the function that they had in former times, of educating people and satisfying their curiosity about wild animals. Moreover, more people travel abroad to see wild animals in their natural state and native surroundings. What purpose does it serve today to see these unfortunate animals forced to go through these degrading acts—degrading more to their tamers than to the animals themselves?
Lions and tigers are never tamed in this country. One suspects that some cruelty must be involved in their training. There must at least be a considerable amount of inhumane discipline. After all, we have all had domestic pets, like dogs and cats. It would be impossible for me to have taught my dog to do a back somersault. My dog trained me, not the other way around. I think most 843 people have had that experience. Apart from the training, the close confinement that these animals have to endure in cribbed cabins, constantly travelling, is to be deplored.
Public opinion in this century has changed. People are no longer prepared to accept without question the exploitation of performing animals by ruthless and greedy circus proprietors and tamers anxious for gain. It is more than time that performing animal acts were banned. Some people say that children would be deprived of enjoyment, but no doubt that argument applied equally when it was suggested that bear-baiting and cock-fighting should be forbidden. There are many other equally satisfying forms of enjoyment and entertainment for children, besides performing animal acts, with their quaint and barbaric appearance.
Children, with their innocent minds, do not appreciate what is involved in training these animals or putting on a circus performance—the long hours of discipline, the constant travelling, the cruelty of the confined cabins for animals which, in their ordinary nature, would roam freely over the surface of the earth.
It will be appalling if, this Christmas—especially with the shortage of electricity—the British public have to endure a television display of a circus entertainment. There is nothing to prevent circuses being limited to trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns and variety artists, without the necessity for performing animals. However, when I put down a Question to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department asking whether he would take powers to ban performing animal acts, I was appalled to receive the bald reply, "No." One expects from a Conservative Government, at least in this day and age, some lead to public opinion and some steps towards more progressive measures in regard to performing animal acts.
I want to turn now to the question of the conditions in which animals are transported from abroad. My hon. Friend mentioned the conditions in which they are transported in this country. There is a European convention for the protection of animals during international flights which requires member States to observe certain minimum requirements, such as 844 inspection by veterinary officers at the exporting airport, adequate space and suitable containers, but there is increasing evidence that there are no adequate safeguards to prevent suffering to creatures that are sent by air to this country.
I recently forwarded to the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry a report about a wild eagle—I am sure that many hon. Members were concerned about this case—which arrived at London Airport in a cage too small for it to stretch its wings. Also in the cage was a live pigeon, intended to be the eagle's food. Both birds arrived utterly exhausted, the pigeon terrified and bleeding. My hon. Friend talked of cases of small tortoises or terrapins arriving here in conditions in which no creature should be transported.
I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to make representations at the highest level to those Governments in the countries of origin and also, where necessary, to ban the import of animals and birds for sale in pet shops where it is shown that unnecessary suffering regularly occurs.
Turning to experiments upon animals, I want to voice the extreme anxiety of many members of the public at the increasing numbers of creatures used for research. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) in an Adjournment debate some months ago, gave the figures, as did Lord Willis a few weeks ago in another place. They show that, whereas the number of creatures used for research purposes in 1960 was 3½ million, by 1969 it had grown to 5½ million, which is roughly the number used today.
Whereas in 1960 there were 7,000 licences for vivisectors, today there are 16,000, yet there are only 13 Home Office inspectors to examine the conditions in which creatures have experiments performed upon them. I suppose that we must accept reluctantly that there is a necessity for us to conduct tests and experiments on animals, but it is also necessary and desirable that tests and experiments should be restricted to purposes that have some medical or scientific benefit. Animals should not be used in tests for such frivolous purposes as the preparation of new cosmetics for women. Many women, if they knew what went 845 on, would not use the cosmetics and shampoos that are now available.
Lord Willis, in another place, reported—and I have read similar accounts—that rabbits have had shampoo squirted into their eyes until they were blinded. They suffered intense pain during the testing of a new shampoo. It is wrong that the public does not know what is going on. It has no means of finding out. If it knew what was going on, it would go mad. It should be known that 86 per cent. of the operations on animals and birds are performed without anaesthetics.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)
The House is aware that over 150 hon. Members signed an Early Day Motion last Session which called on the Government to set up a research institute to inquire into alternatives which would not involve the use of animals. I am sure that that motion would have had the fullest support of all hon. Members. Everything that the hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) has said has been correct. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) for introducing the motion and bringing these matters to our attention.
§ Miss Holt
I am obliged for that intervention. I welcome the Bill that has been introduced by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), which proposes alternatives to experiments on animals, whenever possible. Recently Lord Willis, in another place, introduced a Bill concerned with cruelty and experiments, which I welcome wholeheartedly. It would have introduced a measure of public control over licensed premises of torture. I cannot describe them as anything else. Unfortunately, that Bill had to be withdrawn owing to the intransigence of the Government.
I hope that the Government will try to provide an increasing measure of control over the premises in which experiments are conducted. I support wholeheartedly my hon. Friend's motion. It expresses something of our common ideals and principles. They are the ideals and principles of our heritage.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I think that all hon. Members will congratulate the hon. Member for Merton 846 and Morden (Miss Fookes) upon introducing this motion and upon the efficient way in which she did so. The hon. Lady dealt with a wide range of subjects. Although there has been criticism that we are discussing matters which are not too important at a time of a so-called crisis, this is a complex subject which should be aired. That has been amply demonstrated by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Mary Holt). The subject extends from cosmetics to the boots of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price). It includes hunting and pets, including dogs.
I thoroughly agree with what the hon. Member for Preston, North said about the importing of pets for the sake of having something different. We now import chipmunks and exotic birds. There is no reason to try to satisfy a child's craving for something which we all know will soon be forgotten. Animals or birds that are forsaken by children must either be turned loose or killed. That is something which I deprecate.
We must try to control the number of dogs in this country. At one time I had the relevant figures, but I think that the RSPCA kills approximately half a million dogs a year, or handles half a million and kills about 300,000. Those figures apply to stray dogs. I supported the idea that the dog licence should be increased to £2. It is a good idea that a person should have to buy a licence before being able to buy a dog. The licence fee should be sufficiently expensive to represent a deterrent. When I hear some people talking about the cruelty that is inflicted on dogs I am amazed to learn that the same people will keep a dog in a town flat. I consider that that is just as cruel as anything else that people might do to dogs.
I hope that the Minister's Department has taken a close look at a situation which occurred recently when a certain visitor brought a dog into this country. How did that dog get here? We know that it came from a country where the disease of rabies is endemic. I hope that the Minister will consider that matter, irrespective of the person to whom the dog belonged.
I should probably have declared my interest. I have declared it so often that it is difficult to remember to do so. I am a farmer and a countryman. I keep 847 animals. I have kept animals and worked with animals all my life. I have never thought that hunting did anything to control pests. To control pests we must kill in the quickest and most humane way possible. Hunting does not do that. I have lived in the country and I have seen all the cruelties—if that is the right word—which go on. People in the country see, for example, the weasel playing with a rabbit, the cat playing with a mouse and the fox killing chickens for no reason. One becomes inured to some of the cruelties that go on. I am not defending such matters. The fact is that one becomes accustomed to them.
If we were invited to vote on the question whether hunting should be continued, I should vote for its discontinuance. I do not feel very strongly for the fox, but I become annoyed when hunting people try to persuade me that the fox enjoys being hunted. I do not object to people tearing about the countryside with dozens of horses and scores of dogs, provided they do not try to persuade me that the fox enjoys the hunt. Having seen what a fox can do, I do not have much sympathy for it. As I have said, one becomes inured to natural cruelty.
I now turn to my main interest, namely, the keeping of farm animals and the handling of those animals after they leave the farm. Farming is a commercial enterprise. Farmers make a living by farming. There are economic pressures in farming. We must look for ways to overcome those pressures. The intensifying of production brings pressures to bear. We must look for different ways of doing things. We are a meat-eating country, as most countries are. If we are going to eat meat, ultimately every farm animal will finish up in an abattoir. If one is a vegetarian, not because one does not like meat but because one disagrees with the killing of anything, including animals, one finds some reality in my hon. Friend's remarks. But we have to be practical. We are a meat-eating country.
I want to deal with some of what I agree are the excesses created by economic pressure. The greatest of these is in the production of veal. If a country's economic situation is not good the production of veal for home consumption—some of it, of course, is produced for export and therefore helps 848 the balance of payments—is uneconomical. To make it as economical as possible, very close quartering of the animals has been carried out, which I deprecate. In such close quartering the animal cannot turn round. I accept that the animals look extremely well and happy, but this leads me to the question of stress and the old argument whether an animal has the same feelings as a human being. We all know the argument. I do not know the answer.
Lawrence Easterbrook, who was the agricultural correspondent of the News Chronicle for many years and a great lover of animals, once argued that in the 1914–18 war he could not have been more scared or more uncomfortable, yet he put on weight in the trenches. He therefore made out a case that we could not argue that because animals looked well in conditions of intensified production they were not under stress. But surely this proves the point that animals are different from us.
The plain fact is that if one applies various stresses—perhaps parallel with the sort of conditions in which Lawrence Easterbrook was scared and uncomfortable, but put on weight—animals will not give milk or eggs, or put on beef, or whatever it may be. I doubt whether the analogy carries much weight. One must admit that battery hens look very bad.
§ Mr. Burden
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the closer one confines animals in factory farms—the less room they have—the better they will do? This has been argued, but Brambell argued against it. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the closer one confines animals the better they are, because they cannot move around, with the result that they put on meat?
§ Mr. Mackie
I did not use the word "close." I said that if one put an animal under stress it would not put on beef, or give milk, or lay eggs, whatever it might be.
I think we should be clear what we mean by "intensive farming." I was pleased that the hon. Member for Merton and Morden did not use the term "factory farming" but referred to "intensive farming." Factory farming is 849 carried on not on agricultural land but on sites such as old aerodromes, for example. Intensive farming is carried on on ordinary farms.
The objection to the extreme of intensiveness is that the animal is so closely controlled that it cannot turn round, and so on. There is nothing to hinder a farmer producing veal by keeping the animals in pens, where they are able to turn round. They will not do so well, and sometimes the veal is not as good as people would like it to be, but meat can certainly be produced that way.
I admit that battery cages look terrible. I do not know how many the hon. Lady has visited, but if one goes in quietly and listens one can hear the hens caw-cawing and they do look happy. Hens will not lay eggs if they are badly treated, but I admit that towards the end of their lives they do not look very good in battery cages.
The use of broilers is a reasonable way to fatten chickens. One can also produce eggs in deep litter. Indeed, the organisation of which the hon. Lady is a member has passed the keeping of hens in deep litter as a reasonable way to produce eggs. I do not think that one can object to broilers, but I agree that they are a little thicker on the ground.
Then there is the question of pig sweat houses. Give a pig the choice of a bright, airy, reasonably temperatured place, or a wet, humid, muddy place, and it will choose the latter first. I know that pigs in sweat houses do not look well, but the figures show that when they are killed they are found to have less respiratory diseases than pigs in some of the other types of house which look more agreeable.
One of the things giving more trouble than almost anything else is the sow stall and the tethering. I did not attempt to look up the biblical reference because, as my old mother would be sorry to say, I am not too knowledgeable about the Bible. But in it there is a quotation about the badness of tethering oxen. Perhaps the hon. Lady will look it up for future use, because it is a good quotation. Over the centuries, cattle have been tethered. I do not think that one can really condemn tethering because it happens to confine the animal too much. 850 The tethering of sows is a much better method than the stall system. There are alternative methods, and if they are used properly I do not think that tethering should be condemned as much as it is.
Intensive beef production can be done on slatted floors in controlled ventilation houses, where the animals can be moved as calves after having been in pens. It is argued that they never see the light of day, never lie on straw, and so on. But, again, they look extraordinarily well and they put on weight at a great rate. I do not think that their meat is worth eating, but with other methods they do not put on beef so quickly, and the process costs most.
Some people want to stop zero-grazing, which means cutting grass and putting it straight into the animals. I cannot see what is the matter with that. It is done all over the world, but just because it is classified in this country as factory farming, people are against it.
There is too much condemnation of intensive farming as a whole without sufficient knowledge of it. Knowledge would show a lot of people that it can be done perfectly humanely in every way. The Labour Government brought in a code of management for farm animals. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) did not think it was enough and most hon. Members would like it to be mandatory. That would be one of the most difficult things to do. It is no use passing laws if we cannot enforce them.
The Government should certainly examine the question of the supply of veterinary surgeons, particularly those attached to the Ministry. I hope that they will do something about the veterinary service. Those serving in it are worried about the lack of numbers and of good career prospects, and about its rundown. Yet these are the people who deal with intensive farming, and if there are too few of them they cannot do the job properly.
I turn now to the subject of the treatment of animals when they leave the farm—and a very emotive subject it is. We all know of the cruelties that may occur, especially when moving beef and other fat animals, particularly to the Continent. It is a tremendous change for an animal to go from a farm on to 851 a cattle float, to be driven to the port and loaded on to a boat and taken across the Channel, and I am afraid that it has been proved that many of the Balfour Assurances have not been implemented.
There is no practical excuse for that. Nowadays there is no question but that with refrigerated vehicles all animals should be killed as near the point of production as possible and the meat then carried dead, as sides. But it is difficult to make the change as quickly as many people would like. Hon. Members may think that that is just an excuse, but making a change of this kind takes a little time.
As the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary knows, in 1958, after the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in this country had died down and we allowed imports of beef from South America to begin again we insisted that it should be boned, because foot-and-mouth disease had undoubtedly come to this country via bone marrow. The Argentinians said that they did not have the necessary facilities or equipment to bone the meat, and that anyway our butchers and consumers did not like boned meat. But gradually they built up a trade in boned meat. Unfortunately, they were able to find another market and now it goes mostly to Italy and elsewhere. Such changes take time, and it will take time before our customers on the Continent become accustomed to having meat on the hook instead of meat on the hoof.
The movement of store cattle and store sheep is another difficult problem. The production of these animals occurs in one part of the country—sheep are produced mostly on hill farms and store cattle are raised in the west and in Wales—while the farmers who feed and fatten them are in the east, and so somehow, store cattle and store sheep have to be moved.
The hon. Lady mentioned baby calves being moved to the south to be killed here. There is no excuse for shifting them live when they can be killed and shifted on the hook in refrigerated vans. However, it is difficult without stress to move calves born in dairy areas—where they will not be fattened even if they are reared—to the east, where they will be fattened. However, modern and more comfortable vans are now being deve- 852 loped and if the regulations are observed, so that there are frequent stops for the animals to be fed and watered at reasonable times, there is no reason why they should not be shifted fairly comfortably, although the difficuties must be remembered.
Some legislation on the subject is required, but we cannot make everything mandatory. Not to be able to enforce the law is worse than having a bad code. I compliment the hon. Lady on introducing the subject and thus giving me a chance to air a slightly different view, but still a view that must be considered.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) on giving us the opportunity to have this debate today. It is evident that this debate on animal welfare, as almost all debates on animal welfare, cuts right across party lines. The House is always at its best on these occasions, and what a treat it is for us at this time especially to be able to discuss a subject calmly, a subject on which both sides of the House agree in principle!
However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), who is my next-door neighbour, will ensure that her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping will have their attention drawn to what has been said. They, too, are closely involved, and it is no good our having this discussion today unless we have an assurance that what has been said will be brought to their notice and carefully considered.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been reflecting the public concern about cruelty to animals and the growing awareness of an ever-increasing number of people. There is deep concern about the exploitation of animals. Whatever the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) may say, there is definite evidence that animals suffer strain, stress, fear and pain as do human beings.
It is a wonderful argument that is often made—that which a person likes to feel subjective in the treatment of animals is objective when applied to the treatment of human beings. I happen to 853 be one of those who believe that there is not much difference in the ways many animals feel and the ways in which many human beings feel, and there is scientific evidence to show that.
§ Mr. Mackie
If the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD tomorrow, I think he will find that I did not use the expression "pain and stress"; I used only the word "stress". I do not think that there is any evidence to show that there is stress, although the meaning of the word "stress" may be open to discussion.
§ Mr. Burden
That may be argued, but there is no doubt that animals suffer as do human beings. At one stage in his speech the hon. Gentleman admitted that animals suffered stress in transit, and he has, therefore, admitted that they feel it.
§ Mr. William Price
Would the hon. Gentleman include fish in the categories of animals which suffer stress? I would; would he?
§ Mr. Burden
I would not know. I would presume it of most animals, but I do not think that there is scientific evidence to prove that fish do. There is evidence that warm-blooded animals, particularly farm animals that have been carefully tended, suffer in that way, especially if for much of their lives they have been in conditions quite contrary to those causing distress.
It is increasingly acknowledged that because we almost always arrange their lives from conception to death for our purposes, we have a direct and inescapable responsibility to ensure that domestic and farm animals are as free from discomfort and pain as possible and that death will be imposed as swiftly and as humanely as compassionate consideration can achieve. That must always be the yardstick with which we approach farming and the production of animals.
The introduction of factory farming, with all its implications for animals, and the ever-increasing number of animals being subjected to laboratory experiments are causing great concern to the public, not least to hon. Members, and they have shown it on a number of occasions. Pressures inside and outside the House caused the Government—I would almost say, forced the Government—to set up the Brambell and Littlewood Committees in 854 the mid-1960s, the first to look into factory and intensive farming and to ensure that animals subjected to it and used in it were given reasonable protection, and the second to ensure that there was proper control over vivisection, because of the enormous increase in the number of animals being used.
It was certainly not to the credit of the last Labour Government, and for a time this Government, that more than five years were allowed to pass from the time the reports from those committees were issued until the time that this House had the opportunity of debating them. That was despite constant requests for a debate. Many of the minimum recommendations of Brambell were completely ignored for five years. During the debate it was made clear that the recommendations and regulations which Brambell had suggested should be mandatory would not be countenanced. So we had codes of practice in their stead.
The House will remember that those codes were first produced by the Government of which the hon. Member for Enfield, East was a member. We debated them, and there was such a strong feeling that they were utterly inadequate that to save a Division, which I feel the Government would have lost, the then Minister agreed to take the codes back and reexamine them. That Government had no opportunity to do so. The codes were brought back by this Government in the comparatively early days following their return to office.
Again there was great concern about the strength of the codes. It was with considerable reluctance that the House agreed to them. It was thought that at least they were an advance on nothing, although they did not go as far as Brambell in setting minimum standards. The codes have now been in operation for a considerable time. They cannot be enforced because they are not mandatory. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member say that no laws should be passed which cannot be enforced. What is the use of codes of practice if there is not some process to ensure that they are followed? If there is no way of insisting that farmers comply with them, why have them? Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that they were a sop to hon. Members and to the public? I can assure him that feelings were running 855 high in this House and we wanted much more than a sop. It is because of this that I ask my hon. Friend to tell us what steps have been taken to ensure that farmers are following the codes which lay down minimum standards for the treatment of animals in intensive farming.
§ Mr. Mackie
It seems to be a sensible policy not to enact laws which cannot be enforced. May I point out that if a farmer is brought to court charged with cruelty towards animals it goes very much against him if it is proved that he is not carrying out the procedures approved of in the codes? The hon. Gentleman talks about the codes as a "sop". He would not think that if he knew the amount of time and work that was put into producing them. I do not think his memory is so good as to what happened on the night the procedures were debated. Veterinary surgeons were asked to see that the codes were adhered to and to report. If I remember rightly, the report was a good one.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Member said that a great deal of time had been put into this. Human beings often put a good deal of time into matters which are not very fruitful. I hope that this effort has been fruitful. Have visits been made by Government veterinary surgeons to all intensive farming units? If not, how many visits have been made to how many such farms? How many such units are known to the Ministry?
If the visits have been taking place, how many failures to implement the codes have been found? If failures have been found, have the farmers been advised, and have subsequent visits shown that they have taken that advice and brought their standards up to those set by the codes? If the codes of practice are the minimum standards, it follows that a farmer who is not carrying them out is practising cruelty towards animals. If this is the case, have there been any prosecutions against the operators of factory farming units?
The 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act is the main measure laying down the guidelines for vivisection and dealing generally with cruelty to animals. It is as well to look at it, because, although I know my hon. Friend is not responsible for it, and 856 that it is a matter for the Home Office, I think we should remember that it says:The experiment must be performed with a view to the advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering; andIt is also laid down that the places in which the experiments are carried out must be registered and visited. There is no question about the responsibility for ensuring that these conditions are carried out. The responsibility was firmly laid upon the Home Office. The enormous growth in the numbers of animals subjected to vivisection must have created problems. Fifteen thousand experiments involving animals are carried out each day. The total number of experiments in 1972–73 was 15,327,123.
- (2) The experiment must be performed by a person holding such licence from the Secretary of State, as is in this Act mentioned, and in the case of a person holding such conditional licence as is herein-after mentioned, or of experiments performed for the purpose of instruction in a registered place; and
- (3) The animal must during the whole of the experiment be under the influence of some anaesthetic of sufficient power to prevent the animal feeling pain; and
- (4) The animal must, if the pain is likely to continue after the effect of the anaesthetic has ceased, or if any serious injury has been inflicted on the animal, be killed before it recovers from the influence of the anaesthetic which has been administered ".
I am not an anti-vivisectionist. Regrettably, experiments are still necessary with a view to saving or prolonging human life, or easing human and animal suffering. But we must at all times ensure that before animals are experimented upon these yardsticks are used. If the experiments are designed to provide vital information they should be carried out. I am strongly against duplication and multiplication. Scientific instruments are available to enable experiments to be recorded, thus avoiding the need for duplication and multiplication. There is a great opportunity to use closed-circuit television for this purpose.
I would like to know—I presume that my hon. Friend will not be able to give the information because it does not involve her Department—how many places there are for experiments. According to the Act, each place must be registered. We are entitled to know this, as well as how many visits are made to these places. 857 It is mandatory on the Government to ensure that these places are visited.
How many people examine and authorise the applications for experiments? If there are more than 5 million experiments in a year there must be a considerable staff of examiners if these applications are properly examined. We should ensure that there is proper examination of these applications. How many requests for experiments have been refused in the last year, and what were the reasons for refusal? This is the sort of information which the House and the country, and particularly those interested in this subject, are entitled to have.
I regret that the Bill which the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) introduced last Session did not get on the statute book. I hope that he or another hon. Member will reintroduce it. If this is done, and it is reasonably early on the private Members' list, it will go through the House. However, I would rather see the Government bring forward the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. If they did so, it would be with his blessing, and it would still be a considerable achievement on his part.
Earlier this year there was a considerable outcry in the House and in the country about the export of live animals for slaughter. The Government reasonably early—perhaps foreseeing the pressure which would be imposed on them, but having, no doubt, taken note of the precise information about cruelty to sheep provided by the RSPCA and other private investigators, as well as a film taken by the BBC—withdrew the licences for the export of sheep for slaughter. The House said, quite reasonably and logically: if there had been cruelty to sheep, might there not be similar cruelty to cattle? The Government resisted this view. There was a debate and a motion was moved to include cattle.
As happens in animal welfare cases—I am convinced that it will happen even more, no matter what Government may be in power—hon. Members, irrespective of party, united and said "We will not have this." For the first time since 1950 the Government were defeated on an animal welfare measure. It was possibly the first time that this had happened in the history of Parliament. 858 The Government were defeated because some of us on this side of the House defied the Whips. It is extraordinary that hon. Members on both sides are more willing to defy party Whips on animal welfare matters than on almost any other matter.
The O'Brien Committee is to make recommendations on whether the trade in animals for slaughter should be reopened. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a responsibility for this matter. She and the Minister of Agriculture can, and I hope will—if they do not they will be in serious trouble—give an undertaking that, irrespective of what the O'Brien Committee recommends, the House will have an opportunity to debate its report before any action is taken on it. I hope that the Government will show less reluctance in bringing the O'Brien report before the House for debate than was shown in bringing the Brambell and Littlewood reports before the House.
There is one disquieting feature. On 23rd July the Government, as the result of a decision of the House, agreed that no more licences for the export of live cattle for slaughter would be issued. Despite the reluctance of the Ministry of Agriculture to give us the information, the House is entitled to know how many licences are still running and for how long they will continue to run. My information is that there are still considerable numbers of cattle being exported for slaughter. Questioners in the House have been told that it is not usual for the Government to give information about licences, but, in view of the firm decision of the House in July, we are entitled to know to what extent animals are still going abroad, and I hope that my hon. Friend will undertake to give that information.
Grave concern was expressed in the House about the distress and suffering to which animals were subjected in transit to markets and other places. Regulations were laid down about feeding, watering, distances and periods of stopping, and we regarded the regulations as a great move forward. I hope my hon. Friend will not think I am attacking her in referring to the Question I asked about this matter to which she promised to 859 reply. She wrote to me on 4th December as follows:In reply to your Question in the House on 22nd November about the welfare of animals, I promised to write to you about prosecutions or contraventions of the Welfare in Transit Regulations that have occurred in the past two years. This regulation is enforced by local authorities.As soon as I read that last sentence I knew that the rest of the letter would not be very helpful.
It goes on:Their efforts are supported by those of the Ministry's veterinary inspectors whose duties include regular visits to markets, to slaughterhouses and to ports, which are the points where it is most practicable to check on how animals are being carried. This of course is on top of the valuable work undertaken by the RSPCA's inspectors at markets, with which you will be familiar. The information on numbers of prosecutions or contraventions of the regulations for which you asked could not be obtained without a special approach to all local authorities, and I am afraid this would involve a disproportionate amount of time and expense. However, I am confident that the efforts of all concerned keep everyone on their toes in this matter.The person who wrote that letter must think that Members of Parliament are naïve. If, as the letter statesTheir efforts are supported by those of the Ministry's veterinary inspectors whose duties include regular visits to markets, to slaughterhouses and to ports.why cannot the Ministry give the information? It would not cause a great deal of trouble to get that information from the verterinary inspectors. Do they play no part in ensuring that the regulations are carried out? That is the sort of answer to a Question that infuriates a Member of Parliament, because it is obviously an attempt to evade giving information that the House is entitled to have. The regulations were laid down with a specific purpose, and we are entitled to know whether they fulfil that purpose.
I have received a letter from the President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons about the docking of dogs' tails. I reads as follows:I feel sure you will be aware of the statement issued last week by the Royal College to its members on the above-mentioned subject, but you may care to have a copy for your own use … I believe you may also be prepared to support us. If this is indeed the case I thought I should tell you that I have written to the Permanent Under-Secretary 860 of State, Home Office, asking for the introduction of preventive legislation.The writer refers to legislation to stop the docking of dogs' tails. I know that this proposal will almost certainly be objected to by the Kennel Club and some breeders, but surely the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons are in the same relationship to animals as are doctors to human beings. Surely, we must accept that if the members of that profession think it is not merely distasteful but cruel to dock dogs' tails, careful consideration should be given to introducing legislation to stop that practice. The mere comfortable look of the dog for purposes of showing should not be allowed to prevail over the opinion of the veterinary profession. The same respect for the opinion of the veterinary profession should be paid when the Government are considernig the question of live animals for slaughter, for on that subject, too, the veterinary profession is apparently unanimous.
The veterinary profession and the RSPCA are also opposed to the ear-punching of pigs and mutilation of grown adult animals. The Ministry says that the animals must be marked to qualify them for certain benefits and as a hallmark of quality. Will my hon. Friend ensure that careful and serious consideration is given by her Department's veterinary surgeons to whether some permanent marking other than the punching of ears can be introduced? It should not be beyond their wit. If the Ministry is unable to go that far, the RSPCA asks that holes shall not be punched in the ears of pigs and sheep that do not merit subsidy payment. That would be a big improvement, and I hope that my hon. Friend will give that assurance.
The time has come to look at the whole question of animal welfare legislation. It is almost a hundred years since a major Act on animal welfare was passed. In view of the exploitation of animals, the great numbers that are subjected to vivisection and the more enlightened and compassionate attitude today towards animals, the Government would do well to recognise the pressures that exist for new legislation on animal welfare.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) on her good luck in the draw and on introducing the motion in a most able manner.
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) made the valid point that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel deeply about animal welfare. I invite him to agree with me that this passionate interest regrettably diminishes as Ministers approach a possible temporary residence on the Treasury Bench. We have suffered from this lack of interest on a variety of subjects, but on none more important than animal welfare.
I draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to the terms of the motion:That this House … expresses its deep concern at evidence of ill-treatment and cruelty to animals within the United Kingdom".I compliment the hon. Member for Merton and Morden on including those words in the motion. The evidence is abundant. The abundance of evidence is equated only by the excuses put forward by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for not doing anything about the matter.
It is right that I should declare what might be described as an interest in this subject. I am the President of the National Society for the Abolition of Factory Farming. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), I shall not be put off by arguments about the niceties of words and there being a difference between "intensive" and "factory" farming. A delegation from the National Society for the Abolition of Factory Farming on a visit to the Ministry produced evidence to show that "factory farming" is the right expression. Animals are sometimes treated in a more disgraceful manner than that in which raw materials are shelved and housed in some factories. Therefore, "factory farming" is the correct phrase.
There is no doubt that many people are now aware of the appalling cruelties that we inflict on animals in a variety of ways. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) will confirm that whenever the issue of animal welfare arises in the House, be it merely on a parliamentary Question, the mail increases tremendously. I am sure that I 862 speak for my hon. Friend in saying that we welcome it. We receive letters from all parts of the country. I should like to impress on the Parliamentary Secretary that there is considerable interest in, as well as distress about, the way that we in Britain treat animals in general, whether as pets or for food.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East referred to the cruelty and savagery that goes on in the countryside. I respect my hon. Friend's views. I have gained a good deal of information from him apropros factory farming. We do not always see eye to eye on matters, but he is knowledgeable in this sphere. The cruelty and savagery referred to by my hon. Friend is the behaviour of the lower forms of animals. One hopes that homo sapiens, being of a higher order, would not emulate or imitate that behaviour. Wild animals cannot be classified as the unspeakable in hot pursuit of the uneatable. They kill not for fun but to eat. We do not. It will require courage to introduce legislation to control that kind of thing.
I should now like to refer to the Brambell codes, to which reference has already been made by other hon. Members. The codes, which are specific, are the result of a great deal of examination. They are reasonably sensible in what they proclaim should be adhered to. If the codes were adhered to, my argument this afternoon would not be so powerful as I claim that it is.
The Brambell codes are not idealistic; they are first-class practical proposals which display feeling and understanding. However, they are completely useless because they are not mandatory. They cover cattle, pigs, domestic fowls and the welfare of livestock. One code—it is appropriate to mention it at this time of the year—deals with the manner in which turkeys are treated.
The National Society for the Abolition of Factory Farming has gone into these matters in depth. The society's members, without being emotional about the matter, maintain that it is wrong to stuff turkeys before they are dead and that it is wrong to crowd chickens into small pens. Suggestions have been made that the society is not prepared to face the argument that this is a contribution to the eating habits of the nation. The 863 society has not tackled the issue in that way.
Members of the society have travelled all over the country. I should like to pay tribute to Mrs. Lucy Newman, the society's general secretary, who has done so much to organise and administer its work that it is able not merely to criticise, denigrate or run down what has been done but to put forward proposals which would ensure that there was no diminution in the supply of livestock for food if the ordinary methods of 100, 60 or even 40 years ago were to replace factory farming. Before factory farming was introduced into this country there was no dramatic shortage of food. I recall as a small child living in South Wales that the only thing that retarded the amount of food going into the family's larder was the fact that my mother could not afford to buy it. The food was available, but she could not afford it. We have never been so desperately short of food, not even in wartime, that we needed to resort to ugly, abhorrent, unjustified methods of producing it. So, because they do not have the backing of law, the Brambell codes, excellent though they may be in many respects, are not adhered to.
On my way to the House of Commons this morning, I listened to a BBC programme which dealt with fair trading. It seems that the Director General of Fair Trading has powers to take action against anyone who breaks the law. I should like to see the Brambell codes, and many of the points that have been adduced this morning from both sides of the House, incorporated into a Bill, which I am sure would have no difficulty in getting through all its stages, and we should then be set upon the road towards enforceable administration.
Mention has been made of the way in which animals are carted about this country or exported overseas. I realise that we in this House cannot legislate for the behaviour of people in other countries, but we in the National Society for the Abolition of Factory Fanning have evidence from field representatives of the manner in which animals are transported.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East talked about the need to stun an animal properly before it is done 864 to death. We in the society have evidence that in Belgium the system of pre-stunning animals exported from this country is to use a sledge hammer. While we may not be able to stop behaviour of that sort in Belgium, it ought to be possible to forbid the export of animals which will be subject to treatment of that sort, and to urge people to use their influence to ensure that that form of vulgarity ceases.
Many of the points to which I wanted to draw attention have already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby, by the hon. Member for Gillingham and by the hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Morden, who opened this debate.
We in the society believe that there should be a charter to indicate the sort of legislation which is required to deal with the growing menace of factory farming, which offends so many people in this country. It should be based on a number of simple facts; for example, that all factory-farmed livestock should be reared in pens and that, so far as possible, no cages should be used.
One hon. Member opposite gave the example of an eagle coming into this country which could not stretch its wings, and which was given a live pigeon for its midday meal. But a chicken has the same emotions as an eagle, and there ought to be just as much concern about chickens. We also believe that there is no need for animals to be tethered, that there should be adequate room for animals to groom themselves and, at least, to turn around or lie in a natural position. There are many cases in factory farming where animals simply cannot turn around. All birds should at least be able to spread their wings. Even if a bird is to be slaughtered, is it too much to ask that it should have the right to spread its wings?
To continue with the list of requirements the society believes that no animal should be removed from its mother until the natural weaning period has expired; there should be an investigation into the use of antibiotic hormones, arsenic and other substances which promote unnatural development; mutilation, such as de-beaking and horn-cutting, should be performed only by a veterinary surgeon when there is disease or injury; buildings should be properly ventilated; pens 865 should have a solid floor covered with straw; fresh clean water should be available at all times; all animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter; no animals should be transported in tiered lorries so that those in the bottom tier are fouled; there should be sufficient room on transporters for animals to turn around or lie down; lairages should be close to docks or slaughterhouses; all animals should be fed and watered before transportation and on reaching or leaving a lairage; and live animals should not be exported to countries which break the Balfour Assurances.
Anyone who listened to those requirements would be amazed to think that they were not being complied with, but they are not. Thousands of birds, chickens and turkeys are being kept in this country or transported without sufficient room to stretch their legs or wings. The Brambell codes state what should be done, but the brutal fact is that they are not being observed and some form of legislation is required.
We need the equivalent of the Fair Trading Act. We need a fair farming Act. I have led delegations on behalf of the society to the Minister of Agriculture, and we have always been listened to courteously and our points of view have been noted, but I regret to say that very little has been done.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has been impressed by the submissions made from all sides of the House, and that she will consider the possibility of setting up a committee to investigate those matters which might point the way to legislation. It should include knowledgeable members of the National Society for the Abolition of Factory Farming, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and of other interested organisations, as well as representatives of her own Ministry.
Because here is grave unrest in the minds of the people in this country about the welfare of animals, I fervently ask the hon. Lady to consider that possibility.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) not only for having chosen this subject for debate but for skilfully draft- 866 ing such a wide motion to enable almost the whole range of animal welfare to be discussed.
Last Session I was concerned with the export of live animals. Today I want to go back to my first love, so to speak, namely the question of pet animals—a subject that has so far only been touched upon in this debate. I had the luck, 23 years ago, to draw sixth place in the Ballot and to introduce a Bill which subsequently became the Pet Animals Act 1951. I appreciate that this is a Home Office matter. I am sorry that there is no representative of the Home Office present, but I am very glad to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agiculture, Fisheries and Food, and I hope that she will pass on my remarks.
The Pet Animals Act prohibits the sale of pets except from licensed pet shops which must conform to certain conditions before a licence can be issued by the local authority. At that time it was not expected that local authorities would continue to grant licences to the owners of stalls and barrows in market places, because it was thought that it would be difficult for such premises to meet certain conditions laid down by the Act, namely—and I am paraphrasing some of them—that all animals should be kept at all times in accommodation suitable as respects size, temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness; and they should be adequately supplied with suitable food and drink and visited at suitable intervals; that they should not be sold at too early an age; that all reasonable precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of infectious disease; and that appropriate steps should be taken to care for the animals in the case of fire or other emergencies
I suggest that, in terms of providing adequate food and drink, it is not difficult to care for pets sold from stalls and barrows in market places, and, indeed, in the event of fire. Clearly, barrows and stalls are hardly ideal from the point of view of accommodation, and there is plenty of evidence that it is difficult to enforce the rule that animals should not be sold at too early an age.
I want to turn to a typical example of a market with barrows and stalls where this sort of thing occurs. I refer 867 to Club Row, London's Sunday morning market, in what used to be called Bethnal Green but is now the borough of Tower Hamlets. Some traders take pets from their licensed premises, which they control during the week, and sell them from stalls on Sunday mornings. Cases have come to light of inability to meet the requirements of the Act, resulting in local authorities cancelling a stallholder's licence to sell pets in that market. The RSPCA thinks—and I agrees—that such places are not suitable for the sale of pets even if they are licensed by a local authority to do so. Furthermore, the fact that sales take place there encourages others to become freelance sellers and go to the market from places as far away as Mort-lake, on the other side of London, and offer pets to those who visit the market.
These pets include puppies, kittens, rabbits, guineapigs, hamsters, and even monkeys, and a whole range of wild birds which have been referred to in this debate, the names of some of which I have never heard; neither have I heard of one or two of the countries from which they come.
I should like to put an end altogether to street trading in animals. However, in order to avoid hardship to those whose livelihood depends on the sale of pets from stalls and barrows, I think it would be wise gradually to phase out street trading over a period of, say, five years, refusing to grant any new licences when the old ones expire. There are markets in the provinces of which I have no knowledge, but Club Row is a typical market in the London area.
I want to quote from the report of an RSPCA inspector, Mr. Kenny, who visits this market regularly. He says:It is the members of the public who ensure the future of the market and its prosperous survival. Despite themselves many travel from far outside the metropolitan area in the hope that they may get an animal bargain. The end result is that within a few days of purchase eight out of 10 animals acquired at Club Row arrive at the waiting rooms of veterinary surgeons, RSPCA clinics and hospitals, most of which are suffering from any one of a number of virus complaints. The majority of the stallholders in Club Row have pet shops elsewhere or work from council flats and private houses.He goes on to say:The worst offenders are the touts who sell puppies from inside their coat pockets and adult animals on leads on the island top of 868 Sclater Street. Many of these are known to me as cat and dog thieves. Some have convictions for stealing dogs… Two men appear each Sunday with different pedigree dogs for sale and they ask top prices and the public buy these animals. Then there are the bird boys who openly sell canaries and mules cages from off the wall top end of Sclater Street. Many of these have convictions for selling British wild birds. Half way down Sclater Street one sees the pigeon men with baskets and boxes of pigeons selling their livestock quite openly.There are two market inspectors employed by the GLC who do nothing about moving those people on. Many people come to the market in the hope that their lost pet will arrive and be offered for sale. It is surprising the number of dogs which are stolen and are never seen again.It is heartbreaking each week to see these animal lovers looking for their pets and not being able to help them.He says that there are 32 pitches in Club Row market where animals are sold from stalls. The types sold include parrots, cage birds, canaries, budgerigars, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, rats, snakes, reptiles, tropical fish, cold-water fish and small mammals, day-old chicks and ducklings, adult dogs, puppies—mongrel and pedigree—cats, ferrets and monkeys. I understand that there are seven shops which sell tropical and wild birds, one such shop being a zoological supplier.
I could quote many other birds and animals which are sold from Club Row market but I do not wish to detain the House too long. Anybody who goes to Club Row will agree that what goes on there is enough to warrant the prohibition of sale of pet animals of any kind from stalls and barrows in market places.
It was only with great reluctance, when we passed the Pet Animals Bill, that we left stalls and barrows subject to licence by the local authority under the Bill. Since then, enough evidence has been accumulated to show that they should be gradually phased out, although, as I say, in such a way as to avoid hardship to those whose living depends upon this trade. If that were done a great deal of unnecessary cruelty and suffering as a result of animals being sold in unsuitable conditions would be brought to an end.
I have twice tried to introduce an amending measure to bring about the gradual but complete phasing out of stalls and barrows. Unfortunately, in the Session 1969–70 my Bill was objected to on two occasions, in the usual way, and it got 869 no further. In the next Session, in 1970, it was objected to again, and then the General Election intervened, so that that Bill got no further, either.
I intend to try introducing such a Bill again this Session, to see what happens. Even if it fails, it will at least bring the subject to the notice of the House, and in that way we shall, perhaps, gradually get something done. It should now be made unlawful to sell animals in conditions such as I have described from stalls and barrows in market places.
Mr. James Hudson, one of the predecessors of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), once described the Home Office as the refrigerator of all warmhearted movements. I hope that we shall not have cause to call the Home Office anything like that today. I hope that the practice of pets being sold from stalls and barrows in market places will be seriously taken up and that something will be done to stop it.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
It is probably appropriate that at this time of year the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) should talk about pet animals. I suppose that we all had in our mail this morning the Press release from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, warning people about making presents of animals which can so easily finish up neglected or put on the streets as strays because the recipients either do not want them or quickly tire of them.
However, having said that, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I strike a slightly jarring note. On the occasion of the last debate which we had on these matters—on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), I think—the hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) admitted that she was faced with a moral dilemma. Repeatedly, when these debates come before us I find myself in exactly that difficulty.
I get a little tired of the highly emotionally charged atmosphere of the House when we discuss animals, in whatever context. I am an animal lover. I have kept dogs. My daughter now has two dogs and a cat. I hope, therefore, that I shall not be charged with a degree of arrogance 870 or indifference to the welfare of animals. But I repeat—I hope that the House will forgive me for doing so—my own personal experience. For four years I watched my wife dying of cancer. I knew that she was dying of it. She, I think, did not. I lived to see the end of her about five years ago. I say now, as I did on the previous occasion, that if every dog and every cat in this country were killed and as a result we found a cure for cancer, I should willingly pay the price. I would not wish my worst enemy to go through what my wife went through and what I went through.
I do not believe that the doctors and others who do the experimenting do it—as I think someone said—for the fun of it. They are doing it with a purpose. Some might say that it is a trifling purpose. The hon. Lady the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt), as I recall it, talked of doing it for cosmetic purposes. This word has often been used in the House as though it had to do only with what a lady puts on her face. But that implication was adequately dealt with in the debate in the other place by someone who knows what he is talking about, the Earl of Halsbury. He explained that "cosmetics" is a technical medical term used in the medical profession. It is not just what a lady decorates herself with. Indeed, if it were, I think I might be inclined to say to some of the ladies that they would look better if they dispensed with the expensive cosmetics on the market and occasionally gave themselves a good scrub with soap and hot water.
A similar argument was raised by Lord Willis when he referred to nicotine. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby, I think, talked of exposing animals to cigarette smoke to prove what was already proved; namely, that nicotine and cigarette smoking are one of the main causes of cancer. Again, Lord Halsbury said that there was an embargo on nicotine, and he asked Lord Willis whether he knewthat nicotine has a large number of uses as a pharmacological tool among others which are used to study nerve transmission. It is an extremely important pharmacological substance from the research point of view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 10th December 1973; Vol. 347, c. 992.]When we as laymen talk about these experiments as though they were done for 871 the sheer hell of it, we do a disservice to the people who are doing the experiments.
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is far more of an expert on these matters than I could ever hope to be, but many of the quesions which he asked about the number of licences, the number of inspections and so on were answered very fully by the Home Office Minister in the other place, Lord Colville of Culross. The noble Lord's speech struck me as extremely reasonable, couched in most temperate terms, in view of what I thought was the rather extravagant language used by Lord Willis when he sought to introduce the Bill.
Lord Colville referred to the Little-wood Committee at col. 985. It is all very well to say that we have had the original Act on the statute book for 100 years. That is so, but we have had successive committees of one kind or another which have looked into these problems to see whether the provisions of that Act could be improved or modernised. Littlewood recommendation No. 16 was quoted by Lord Colville. I wish to put it on record in this House. The Littlewood Committee took evidence from all the bodies which are concerned with this question and concluded:From our study of the evidence about unnecessary experiments and the complexity of biological science we conclude that it is impossible to say what practical application any new discovery in biological knowledge may have later for the benefit of man or animal. Accordingly we recommend that there should be no general barrier to the use of animal experimentation in seeking new biological knowledge even if it cannot be shown to be of immediate or foreseeable value.That seems to me to be a pertinent point. Perhaps the Government can be criticised for not seeking to implement all the recommendations of the Littlewood report.
Certainly I commend the hon. Member for Merton and Morden. She is well known for her compassion for animal welfare and she has, quite clearly, done a great deal of homework on this matter. She delivered her speech to the House in the perfect manner that she usually adopts. With all due respect to her and to others, it is a subject I would not have thought appropriate had I been first in the Ballot. I would have regarded the subject of battered children, for instance, as rather more important than cruelty to animals. I would have regarded the 872 question of battered wives rather more important than whatever we might or might not do to animals.
§ Mr. William Price
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but if we all took that view to its logical conclusion we presumably would never discuss animals in this House.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That may be, but it is for each hon. Member to devise his own priorities. I make no complaint, but it is important for the country to see that this House has its priorities right. The House has been criticised enough because of the apparent irrelevance of the debates we engage in when so much is so obviously wrong in our society as a whole.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden said that she had seen battery hens and did not like what she saw. I, too, have seen them and I did not like it, but I suppose we pay the price and get the sort of society we want. There is increasing demand for eggs and chickens, and we seek various means of mass-producing them. What is the more soul-destroying—being a hen in a battery complex or being a worker on a car production line? What could be more soul-destroying than being a car worker tightening one nut every minute of every hour eight hours a day for five days a week? Nothing is more soul-destroying than that, and probably the hen would choose to be in a pen rather than on such a production line.
§ Mr. William Price
When I won first place in the Ballot a few months ago I devoted my half day to the subject of monotony in the motor industry.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am glad that my hon. Friend has his priorities right in that respect.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden said that she does not eat veal but presumably she eats lamb and enjoys it, and that means killing a young helpless dumb animal. There are a lot of contradictions in the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price). He is a vegetarian. The hon. Lady is now to be a candidate 873 in one of the new constituencies in Plymouth. Perhaps I may quote an occurrence which is about to take place in that city, reported in the Daily Mirror of Monday 10th DecemberDozens of stray cats and dogs are to get a slap-up Christmas dinner.It's a nosh-up that would be a howling success in any company.For the pampered pets will be sinking their teeth into £200-worth of lovely grub.The money means they will be getting twenty-five tender turkeys and 200 lb. of succulent rabbit meat.The mouth-watering beanfeast, to be shared by 100 animals at the Plymouth Dogs and Cats Home, is being laid on by generous animal-lovers.But the £200 dogs' dinner hasn't gone down too well with some local charity workers. They believe that the money would have been better spent on helping old folk and the homeless.Red Cross official Mrs. Doris Angwin said: "There is far more suitable food for animals to eat.It would have been better if the money had been given to people who can't afford a decent Christmas dinner.We know of people who would give their eye-teeth to swap places with the animals.Another biting comment came from Shelter the group set up to aid the homeless.Local official Mrs. Jenny Walton said: "The idea is ridiculous and extravagant.The dogs probably wouldn't know the difference between a good bone and the meal they will get.The families we try to help would think it a rank waste of money. Some who live in the area near the home can't get enough to afford a decent meal.But the superintendent of the dogs' home, Mr. Ken Taylor, is unrepentant.He said: "I think it's a bloody cheek that other charity organisations should tell us how to spend our money.Our supporters have donated specifically to buy the animals a special Christmas lunch. If we said that some of the money was going to the elderly or the homeless we wouldn't receive half as much.What kind of society are we living in when a welfare worker can say that if he had appealed on behalf of the old people or the homeless he would not have got as much as he did in appealing on behalf of stray dogs and cats? The article quotes Mr. Taylor as saying:What our critics forget is that some people like to spend their money on animals. I can't tell them what to do with the money. They are giving to the cause of their choice.".874 Of course they are. There is an element of Tightness on both sides, but I tend to come down on the side of the human being and not on the side of the animal.
Another story appeared in The Guardian on 12th December:Plymouth Dogs Home, which is cooking £200 worth of turkeys for Christmas, has received so many cash donations it will add rice pudding to the dogs' dinner menuSo the dogs will have a good time, far better than the old people in Plymouth. We would have been far better employed talking about the great difficulties for old people than the difficulties facing dogs and cats.
§ Mr. Molloy
Of course I agree with what my hon. Friend says about this extreme example of absurd behaviour. But I know that the battered babies syndrome has been debated many times, and the subject of old-age pensioners is raised every time the Secretary of State for Social Services is here.
§ Mr. Molloy
I do not know of any old-age pensioners or poor people in my constituency who would say that their lives are brightened, poor though they are, because they know that animals are being ill-treated.
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend should not get too worked up. I am trying to point out coolly and calmly that our priorities are wrong, and that I regard human beings as infinitely more important than animals.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Very well. I agree that we are debating animals today, but I just wanted to put the thing in perspective; I think that we have our priorities wrong. I will now come back to the subject of animals—that will no doubt please my hon. Friends. I want to please everyone as far as I can.
Anyone who has a pet has a strong moral obligation to look after it. The Government have their obligation to ensure that what happens in the laboratories is done for good reasons, not frivolously. Shortly after the debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby, a letter appeared in The Guardian from Spike Milligan telling a 875 short story about a researcher who put a flea on his laboratory bench. When he said "Jump," it jumped. Then he cut its legs off; now when he said "Jump", it did nothing. He said "That proves that when you cut its legs off it goes deaf."
It is easy to make that kind of jibe at this laboratory work but I find it difficult to believe that that is the kind of play house that these researchers are in. That is not their job. They are trying to make progress with research in drugs.
In the other place the example of the thalidomide tragedy was quoted. It was pointed out that experiments took place on two species of animal. Lord Stamp said, in effect, that very few people could maintain that tissue culture could reproduce the conditions necessary to demonstrate the toxic effects of thalidomide on the foetus which had been demonstrated in experiments on only two species apart from man. In other words, thalidomide had been inflicted on monkeys and rabbits, and then only in a certain limited stage of pregnancy. He went on to say that if experimentation with that drug had gone on with more animals, the great thalidomide tragedy might have been avoided. That is just a little evidence to suggest that further experimentation on animals might avoid human tragedy, the consequences of which in this case we shall have to live with for a long time.
I was talking about the pet food industry. I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is not here. He is a lover of pets, particularly dogs. In fact, he has a dog-like look himself. I mean no disrespect to him. He sells pet foods in a major way in television adverts.
This is a major industry worth about £120 million a year, according to the Financial Times of September last year. Profits have risen enormously. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, who is present to reply to the debate on animals, is also responsible for food prices, including, presumably, non-human foods. If she is not, I think that she will still be interested in the figures that I received from the Library.
There are two major manufacturers of prepared pet foods in the United Kingdom. One is a subsidiary, I think, of the 876 American firm, Mars, called Pedigree Petfoods or just Petfoods, and the other is Spillers: I do not know whether that is a United Kingdom company or an American one. According to the figures with which I have been supplied, Spillers' pretax profits on non-human foods rose from £2.3 million in 1972 to £3.6 million in 1973—an increase of 50 per cent. in one year. Over the last seven or eight years, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association, taking 1964 as 100, one sees that the figure for dog food in 1972 was 135 and for cat food it was 161—the latter an increase more than the total retail price index increase for all foods.
So pet lovers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their pets. We all know that the only companion of many old people is a dog or a cat, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to keep them.
I hope that I have made one or two worthwhile points. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) and the hon. Members for Wembley, South and Preston, North talked about various ways in which we could protect animals from alleged cruelty. But we always come back to the means of enforcement. We are short of inspectors in almost every area of society—especially in factory legislation. This shortage causes more factory accidents than there are cases of cruelty to animals. Factory accidents are far more important than cruelty to farm animals. We are short of these people because of pay and career problems.
All Governments are well aware of the interest of hon. Members in all parts of the House in animal welfare. They should consider some of the points which have been made from both sides of the House. This is essentially a non-party matter. The Government should consider whether there is a case for modernising the 1876 Act. If that is so, they should accept their responsibility to introduce legislation. They should not leave it to private Members. I know that Governments take the view that for some matters private Members' legislation is pre-eminently the most suitable way of proceeding. Social matters of various kinds are a good example. The matter now before the House is one on which the Government should take the initiative. As far as I can gather, 877 neither the last Labour Government nor the present Government are convinced that the 1876 Act is working any other than efficiently. No acceptable alternative has yet been proposed.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I must start by declaring an interest. I have the honour to be a vice-president of the East Suffolk and Ipswich Branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) is not in the Chamber. I should have liked to have the opportunity of congratulating her upon introducing the motion. Unlike the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), I congratulate her on the reasonable, moderate and moving way in which she spoke to her motion. I do not regard the motion as in any way irrelevant.
I am sorry to speak following the hon. Member for Fife, West because much of what he said I found sour and jarring. I do not intend to take up the points that he has made, save to say that he must not forget that it was the Government of which he was a supporter, and of which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which introduced a punitive form of purchase tax on pet food generally.
Neither shall I follow the hon. Gentleman into the extremely difficult matter of vivisection. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), I am not a total anti-vivisectionist. Further, I cannot say, unlike the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) that I am a vegetarian. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham said, we must remember when discussing vivisection that the genuine needs of science must be met.
The ethos of a country can be judged by the way in which it treats animals and other groups in society which cannot protect themselves. It is totally unacceptable that animals should be bred and exported for the purpose of being sold for vivisection. That is a trade which we cannot control when animals are exported. There are no safeguards for what may be the most appalling suffering and cruelty.
§ Mr. Burden
It concerns many people that when animals arrive at their destination they will be subjected to a type of vivisection which would not be contemplated or licensed in this country.
§ Mr. Money
Yes, we have seen photographs of what has been done to animals which have been bred in Britain and exported. I am ashamed to say that those countries include countries within the Community. The form of vivisection which has taken place in those countries would have been totally unacceptable in Britain. A worrying aspect is that much of the research which is being done in other countries is identical with that undertaken in Britain. It is done for commercial purposes only.
On the issue of controlling the movement of animals, I am concerned about the Channel Tunnel. We do not know whether the tunnel is one example of Government expenditure which will fall under the axe on Monday. Nevertheless, in the discussions which we have had on the tunnel and during the passage of the Channel Tunnel Bill, no consideration has been given to one of the consequences of the Bill's being enacted in its present form, namely, the end of our quarantine policy. That applies not only to small animals being smuggled through the tunnel—a development that is self-evident—but to other aspects. If a hole is dug in France which ends up in England, we shall be faced with a similar situation to that which developed when the London Underground was built. Foxes and other rodents soon found that they could move from West Middlesex into Essex, avoiding the live rail. They were able to do so quite freely because of the tunnel that had been dug. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend, either today or at a later date, will give me an assurance on that matter. It represents a great threat, not only to animals but to human beings. It is an alarming prospect that, at a time when rabies is much on the increase in Europe, including some of the Community countries, rats and foxes will be able to move freely through what must be an uncontrolled entrance.
We must be well aware of the point made forcefully by the hon. Member for Rugby, namely, that there is a diversity of ministerial responsibility. Some of the matters which I wish to put to my hon. 879 Friend may not fall directly under her Department. They may come within the responsibility of the Home Office or the Department of the Environment. The hon. Member for Rugby made a good point when he said that there is a good case for far greater cohesion of ministerial responsibility. Every hon. Member has had the experience of writing to a Minister, whether about culling seals or the protection of dogs, and finding that his letter has gone from one Under-Secretary of State to another before finally arriving before the Minister whose responsibility it is.
My hon. Friend has been good enough to have been in correspondence with me. Earlier last month we were in correspondence about one of the aspects of factory farming which has given rise to a great deal of concern. It is known as Disposapen. I was grateful to receive a letter from my hon. Friend on 27th November, in which she said:Our veterinary officers … are satisfied that with certain minor improvements now under consideration these "—those are the pens—would meet all the essential welfare requirements for calves under proper management on a commercial farm.My hon. Friend then said that any householder who proposed to rear a calf for his own consumption would have to comply with the provisions of the Protection of Animals Act 1911.
A matter that worries many hon. Members is the glibness with which Ministers are inclined to quote a statute on the basis that Acts which have been passed create automatic protection for the animals concerned. I know that my hon. Friend, with her concern for these matters and her personal humanity, will do everything to ensure that the more unattractive face of factory farming is kept firmly under control. None the less, I hope that she will continue to keep an eye on this matter, because the possibilities of cruelty are considerable. What is of concern to the House is that it is no answer for my hon. Friend's Ministry to say that there are statutory provisions in being to stop exploitation of this sort. There must be machinery to stop it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Miss 880 Holt) both raised, with considerable force, the issue of pets. They spoke specifically of cats and dogs. We are all nauseated by the buying and selling of cats and dogs, particularly in cases where, as soon as they start to grow up, they are thrown out and sometimes driven a long way off, because the children or the people who bought them cannot be bothered with them any more. But I want to turn to the case of two other types of pet which are also a matter of considerable concern.
First, despite the passing of the Badgers Act, it is monstrous that the badger, which is the genuine British animal—far more so than the lion, which was a rather late imported heraldic animal—should not be totally protected. It is monstrous that, to please suburban children, badgers should be sold as pets. It is quite wrong that, in these circumstances, the digging up of badgers should continue. I hope that the Ministry will have a close look at the possibility of making the badger a totally protected animal—otherwise there is a risk that this noblest of British animals will not be available for our grandchildren to see.
The second pet with which I want to deal is the horse. Here, I have to tread carefully because I am conscious that what I am going to say will be read not only by constituents but by my immediate family. One of the most serious matters of concern in horse welfare is the immense popularity of the breed. All those who have had the experience of seeing livery stables know how many unfortunate animals—the same applies to donkeys—are kept in livery long after they should have been put to sleep, and how many of them are maintained in conditions quite unsuitable for them and are used for livery purposes in circumstances which amount to considerable cruelty.
One can go further. I have young children who, slightly to my horror—because I am frightened of horses, which invariably seem to bite any part of my anatomy which comes within reach—engage in a certain amount of mild showing and jumping. I am very concerned about the way in which horses seem to have become specifically a question of keeping up with the Joneses. More children today own and ride horses than, probably, at any time before, and there is an enormous amount of possibly unconscious but nevertheless real cruelty, in the 881 sense that many children do not know quite what to do with their ponies and often treat them at shows in a way of which they should be thoroughly ashamed. I have seen little girls belabouring their horses or ponies because they have come off them at a jump.
One of the ways in which the whole question of the manner in which ponies and horses are treated is by means of a horse tax. It would not be popular in large areas of the country, and it would certainly hit me in the pocket, but I think that it would stop the practice of keeping a great many animals, not for affection but in order to get the maximum use of their last years.
I suggest a substantial but reasonable horse tax. Anyone who can afford to keep a horse can also afford a tax on it. It would stop a lot of cruelty to elderly horses. It would provide a realistic basis, in that anyone wishing to keep a horse of that sort would approach the situation far more sensibly and would not merely have a string of horses in extremely poor condition. Of course, there would be the difficulty—always inherent in this kind of thing—that many horses are kept purely for agricultural purposes. But these could surely be exempted from the tax, just as sheepdogs are exempted.
The question of performing animals in circuses was dealt with fully and movingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North, but there is one aspect which I hope will be looked at in more detail, if necessary by the appointment of a departmental committee, either of the Ministry of Agriculture or of the Home Office. I refer to the exploitation of animals for advertising and performing purposes on films and television.
We would all be shocked if we realised the extent to which some of the animals—and one thinks particularly of cats used in cat food advertisements—are occasionally maltreated and, indeed, malformed in order to get the sort of reaction which will make them instantly attractive on television. One hears of cats which have had their teeth drawn or their mouths deliberately sewn up in some way in order to make them go to the right kind of commercial cat food at the right moment.
882 Another individual issue of the same sort, which I hope can be brought speedily to a conclusion in the EEC, now that it has laid down firm guidelines, is the shooting of small birds. Every country in the Community, even Italy, has now agreed to outlaw it. Only Belgium has not set its hand to the agreement. I hope that our representatives at the European Parliament will press this, so that small singing birds can be fully protected throughout what is essentially a very civilised part of the world.
One issue on which I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, West is the question of enforcement. Earlier this week, there was a debate in the other place on the Rabies Bill. In a speech of considerable significances my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor pointed out some of the difficulties that exist concerning the level of fines imposed by magistrates in animal cases. What he said cannot be repeated too often.
It is an affront to the ordinary civilised conscience of most people in this country when, for example, infringements of traffic regulations are dealt with by fines just as large as those imposed for offences of substantial cruelty to animals—such substantial cruelty that, if it had involved children, would almost certainly lead to a prison sentence or committal to the Crown Court but which, because it involves animals, can be shrugged off by magistrates' courts with fines of a purely formal nature.
I hope that when magistrates consider the powers available to them they will not bring the law into disrepute, as has often been done in the past, by treating offences of cruelty against animals as being in a different category from offences of dishonesty or assault against the person, but will enforce the law in an effective way.
I come back to the point that I made earlier. One is always grateful for the care and courtesy with which the Ministry of Agriculture, the Home Office and the Department of the Environment deal with many of the points one has to take up on behalf of constituents with regard to animals, but it is no answer merely to say that there are powers under the Protection of Animals Act or the Conservation of Seals Act, or whatever it may be, or that there are inspectors available, 883 occasionally from the Government veterinary service, or, more often, from organisations like the RSPCA or the Blue Cross, who can enforce the regulations.
Only in terms of effective enforcement can the voluntary work that is done by so many organisations, such as the Captive Animals' Protection Society, be brought into effect, thus assuring the public that the rather amorphous mass of legislation to protect animals is more than merely a lot of print in the statute book.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Donglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I suppose that what makes for the vitality of debate in the House is the clash of opinion among Members of good will who have opposing points of view on the topic under discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) introduced the only controversial note. That was a pity. I was looking round for the hunting men to tell us their view of blood sports, for example, in disagreement with the view expressed by some of my hon. Friends and by hon. Members opposite. Where are the doctors today, the doctors who turned up to block my Bill but do not turn up when there is a debate? There are, no doubt, others who have a different point of view, but we have not had the pleasure of seeing them in the Chamber today.
We are glad to welcome the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, though, of course, it is not within the province of her Department entirely that this subject falls. The hon. Lady comes from the wrong Department when we talk about the welfare of animals. She must remember, as the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) pointed out, that we were confronted with a slow-moving and even reactionary Department on the subject of the export of live animals for slaughter, a Department that resisted parliamentary force and public opinion until it was defeated, and it was only then that that disgraceful traffic was stopped. I say to the hon. Lady, for whom I have profound affection, that she does not come here clothed in a mantle of virtue on this topic.
I might even ask where my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West is, for I wanted to have a word with him. 884 It was from my hon. Friend that we got some examination of the moral philosophy of the matter. The House of Commons is not a good place for a discourse on moral philosophy; there are too many hard-bitten politicians in it.
My hon. Friend, not for the first time, moved into a mistaken analysis on a subject of this kind. It is no good asking whether we have our priorities right. The question "Have we got our priorities right?" is almost a cliché these days, and it is a nonsensical cliché. One puts first things first only when there is no time to do anything else, and there is plenty of time in the House to do something else—if one is not blocked from doing it when the opportunity comes.
What is the point of saying that it there is a battered baby and a battered animal one has to decide which cruelty one prefers to eliminate first? Both are evils and both should be got rid of. It is not a choice that we have to make, not an alternative.
My hon. Friend has now arrived in the Chamber, and so I put to him his poignant reference to his late wife—and about that we feel the deepest sympathy with him. He said that if he had to make the choice between saving the life of his wife and the destruction of every dog and cat in the world he would choose his wife. My hon. Friend never had to make that choice and he never would have to make that choice, and none of us ever will; it is a choice not within the scope of rational thought.
Happily, therefore, we can discuss this matter in a more objective spirit. My own moral philosophy in the matter—I hate to trouble the House with any moralising, but I wish in a sentence or two to define my own attitude, although it may not meet with the full approval of all Members—is that I do not accept the doctrine that human life is sacred and that animal life is not.
The distinction between human rights and animal rights usually rests upon a theoretical concept of man's position in the universe and his close relationship with God. I do not accept that distinction. I believe in the evolutionary explanation of the development of all living species and the need for human beings to rationalise their attitudes and obligations to the rest of the animal 885 kingdom, of which, in my belief, we form a part. I therefore reject any title by mankind to dominion over other species. I think that we should establish animal rights on the same basis as we establish human rights, and that is my approach to the motion.
I join in the congratulations to the hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) on being successful in the Ballot—we all hope to be successful in the Ballot at some time—and on the manner in which she moved the motion. When I first saw it I thought that it was probably drawn too widely and that the debate might go so wide that it would not be as fruitful as otherwise. I have changed my view about that, because the debate today has shown the wide perspective of animal well-being and welfare. We have presented the Parliamentary Secretary with a shopping list—it is most appropriate to present her with a shopping list—of all the things needing ministerial attention.
We have discussed a great many subjects; for instance, hare coursing. This is a disgraceful sport. If we have to get our priorities right, why can we not eliminate this disgraceful sport from the social activities of the people of Britain? Is not that a priority? I should have thought that anything making for a better civilisation was a priority.
Deer stalking is another abomination. So is the importing of exotic species by people who do not understand how to care for them and do not know what their natural habitat is, and are often cruel to them, although perhaps unconsciously. It represents wasted effort, wasted lives, wasted transportation, wasted money. Are we so affluent that we have money to spare for this useless indulgence of human sentimentality, or whatever it is that prompts people who want to possess these things?
§ Mr. Mackie
My right hon. Friend mentioned deer stalking. Deer stalking and deer hunting are two different things. Deer stalking is done with the rifle, generally speaking by a first-class shot, and there is no cruelty. Deer hunting is a horrible sport, followed generally in the West of England. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to make the distinction.
§ Mr. Houghton
I make a distinction between people who hunt for sport and those who are engaged on a more serious endeavour. But I decry killing for sport. I cannot see that there is any sport in killing.
I want to mention the subject of dogs. I recall that when I was in the Labour Government we considered raising the price of the dog licence. It was a difficult matter to decide. I certainly think that the licence should be produced before a person buys a dog. That was a point we considered. In dealing with this raising of the fee we had to contemplate a dreadful first year. We had to consult the animal protection and welfare societies, the RSPCA and the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals about whether they could deal with the large influx of dogs that might be handed to them for destruction in the first year following a sharp rise in the licence fee. We had to contemplate the destruction of hundreds of thousands of dogs in that first year, although it would probably have tailed off considerably in later years. I mention that as one of the problems that arose. I do not recall why we eventually did not do anything about it. I think there were serious practical difficulties of the kind I have mentioned.
We should have been firmer about the Brambell report. It was undesirable to make its proposals voluntary and to be a little weak about it. We should have grasped that much more firmly. It is never too late to improve on the first measures taken to regulate intensive farming conditions and produce some accepted standards for the keeping of animals and birds in this entirely new and rapidly developing branch of the agricultural industry.
I envy the integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price). There are few such noble men in politics. I congratulate him on being as good as he is. I freely confess that I am not. The first war ruined many of my ideals, including the hope that I could remain a vegetarian. My hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Merton and Morden, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) and I are all of the same opinion, that animal welfare should be brought under one Department so that there is an oversight of the activities of all other Departments in that respect 887 I remember that when I was in Government certain aspects of policy were placed in the hands of one Department which gave it a right of surveillance, scrutiny and intervention. Representatives of that Department could attend Cabinet committee and say "Our responsibility is for such and such, and our point of view on what you propose is so and so." It is a help if someone can turn up from a central Department for animal welfare at such committees dealing with factory farming, pet shops and other aspects of animal welfare and say "This is the opinion of the Minister responsible for animal welfare." It helps to draw attention to one aspect of a problem that might otherwise be lost sight of in a general review of, say, economics in the agricultural industry. That is something which should receive careful consideration.
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) mentioned performing animals in circuses. This needs more attention. Circuses are supposed to be fun. They probably are for the people who go to them, but not for the animals who perform in them. I agree with the hon. Lady that these are a survival from a primitive civilisation. With television, radio, our sophisticated forms of enjoyment and the development of the arts and culture generally, goodness knows why we have to go to circuses and encourage children to go to them. Have we not got enough in life? I would also inspect private zoos more closely. This is a new industry—the safari in the parks of ducal landlords trying to save large remnants of their land by going into show business with animals. That is another side of animal welfare requiring attention.
§ Mr. Houghton
I am grateful for that information. They are certainly adding to the matters which the Minister should study.
I have the greatest respect for the judgment, humanity and common sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie). He almost convinces me about some aspects of intensive farming. 888 I am sure he would agree that there comes a point at which we have to say that economics must give way to a humanitarian approach to the animals over which we have control, which are reared, bred and slaughtered for our survival.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and others have referred to experiments on animals. As the House knows, this is a matter which has engaged my attention in recent times. Figures have been quoted about the growing number of experiments and experimenters licensed under the 1876 Act. I had a short Bill before the House earlier this year which, unfortunately, fell for lack of time. If we are really interested in saving the time of the House and getting things done we need a different approach to Private Members' Bills.
It is absolutely monstrous that Bills which deal with matters of great public interest and about which there is a manifest desire for reform should be blocked after Second Reading by a handful of Members who care to turn up on a Friday afternoon and compel the Bill to run into the sands for lack of time.
§ Mr. Burden
I feel very deeply about this. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that when these Members object they should stand up and be counted and have their names registered in HANSARD?
§ Mr. Houghton
There is something to be said for that. It would not be in order to turn this into a debate on parliamentary procedure. But I recall what happened and how attempts at reform can be frustrated. My Bill received its Second Reading on 11th May this year. It was passed without a Division. There was little opposition to it on Second Reading, the occasion when the principle of a Bill is considered.
It is generally assumed that when a Bill has received Second Reading the principle of the matter has been approved by the House, and it then goes to Committee for more critical examination. My short Bill went to Committee on 23rd May. There were some objections from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department about certain provisions in it, but he did not seek to amend it. There were no amendments, and it came to the House for the Report and Third Reading stages. Until then a body 889 known as the Research Defence Society had not said a word about it. It was not until 4th July, when the Bill came to the House for its final stages, that the society began to be active with hon. Members. On the final day three or four doctors turned up, as well as others who had been disturbed by letters sent by researchers and others in their constituencies, and there was no time to deal with the points raised. Those points could have been dealt with in Committee, when there was ample time.
This fate befell not only my Bill. I have seen it happen to other Bills. Bills are given Second Readings and hon. Members do not bother to turn up for the Committee stages; they let the Bill go through Committee but put down amendments on Report to make sure that the Bill fails.
The Government should provide, as the Labour Government did, that a Bill which has received its Second Reading should not be allowed to fall through lack of time. The House should then be permitted to reach a conclusion on the Bill. Had that been the practice of the present Leader of the House, my Bill, in suitably amended form, would now be law.
My special interest is in animal experiments. Hon. Members have drawn attention to the remarkable increase in the number of researchers. Between 1970 and 1972 the number of licensed persons went up from 13,000 to 16,000. In 10 years the figure went from 6,800 to 16,000, and the number of experiments increased remarkably rapidly—from 3,701,184 in 1960 to 5,580,876 in 1970. Between 1950 and 1970 they increased, in round terms, from 1¾ million to 5½ million.
What are the experiments about? My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West referred to cancer research. But in 1972 only 7.45 per cent. of the 5½ million experiments related to cancer research, 4.06 per cent. were for diagnostic purposes, and just over 20 per cent. were for testing drugs sera and vaccines. We must not run away with the idea that it takes 5½ million experiments on animals to research into the causes of and cure for cancer.
Must we put animals to fresh torture to find substitutes for tobacco? Having 890 proved that nicotine is a cancer-inducive drug, must we subject animals to compulsory smoking for hours every day, week after week, month after month, in order to show that substitutes for tobacco are not cancer-inducive? Is this what animals are for? If people stopped smoking, not only would the lung cancer rate fall to a remarkable extent but many thousands of animals would be spared from experiments.
The Act provides that if an experiment on a living animal is calculated to give pain it must be performed with a view to the advancement of any discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering. That definition is apparently cover for an enormous and growing number of experiments which have to do with abrasives, cosmetics, make-up, eye drops and other beauty preparations. Do we have to put drops in animal's eyes to discover whether they will give a human being conjunctivitis? Do we have to discover the effects of certain detergents on animals before they are advertised on television in the pretence that they will wash whiter than white? Is this what animals are for? This is commercial; it is not physiological knowledge. Are we to say that because some men do not like the smell of other men a deodrant shall be tried out on animals to see whether it induces dermatitis?
Supervision of the growing number of experiments is urgently necessary. We have lost control over the number and nature of experiments. We have virtually handed over animal life to the researchers on a scale which they alone determine, subject only to their conforming to the conditions of the licence about anaesthesia.
Many years ago a radical Member of Parliament, Mr. Auberon Herbert, said when the 1876 Bill was being considered that the underlying aim of the Bill was to meet what was virtuallya revolt of a party of science against the authority of morality, and the pretension on her part to become an independent and sovereign State.That is what the researchers have become—an independent sovereign State within science.
I am sad that there is no sign that the Government intend to do anything about 891 the Littlewood report, which has been overtaken by later developments and needs fresh examination. Why cannot a Select Committee consider the Littlewood Report and its attendant problems and matters of interest to the House and call evidence from the various bodies concerned and make a report to the House on the matters which were examined by the Littlewood Committee? Why did we ask the late Sir Charles Littlewood to undertake his task and then do nothing about his work? This is eminently a subject for a Select Committee. The subject is nonparty, and a Select Committee has an opportunity of taking evidence, which a Standing Committee has not. A Select Committee could present a report to provide the basis, if desirable, for a Private Member's Bill or a Government Bill.
I do not often quote Queen Victoria——
§ Mr. Burden
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if a Select Committee were to be set up now it would be possible to introduce new legislation in 1976, a hundred years after the old Act? No Act of Parliament should remain for a hundred years without being looked at closely and renewed.
§ Mr. Houghton
That is an exciting centenary to look forward to, and something should be done about it.
When I was dealing with this matter earlier I was pleased to receive a letter from the Hon. Mrs. Juliet Gardner, whose grandfather, Lord Carnarvon, sought to introduce the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. When he was about to introduce the Bill he was called away to the deathbed of his mother, and someone else had to do it for him. Queen Victoria wrote a letter, condoling with him on being absent on this melancholy occasion and not being able to attend the House to deal with the Bill, in which she said:in the midst of his sorrow she knows that his heart will be with his work.She went on to refer to——the horrible, disgraceful and un-Christian vivisection.The days are past when monarchs send gracious messages to individual Members of Parliament saying that they are in favour of their Private Member's Bills. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, 892 West is not likely to get that sort of message.
I have a photostat copy of a letter which was published in The Times at that period. Letters to The Times in 1876 could be about 10 times longer than are present-day letters and still get published. The whole case against vivisection was set out by Mr. Auberon Herbert in a long letter to The Times in 1876. That is just a little light relief.
I seriously hope that the many matters that have been raised will be noted, so that we may begin to see some light in the cloudy atmosphere that surrounds animal welfare. In particular, I hope that we may use the Select Committee procedure to advance the cause which many of us have so close at heart
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)
On rising to speak in this debate on behalf of the Government, I wish first of all to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) for affording the House the opportunity of debating a subject which I know is one to which hon. Members, in common with most of their countrymen, attach considerable importance. I hope that the House needs no further assurance from me on my feelings in this matter. It is a topic upon which the British are known to feel very strongly; it is most certainly one on which hon. Members hold sincere views, and the range and quality of our debate this afternoon has fully reflected that sincerity.
The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) was a little less than fair in saying that I could not appear before him today in a white gown because the Government were defeated on 12th July on a motion dealing with the export of live animals. In January, before being defeated in the House, we took an action of suspension on the export of sheep on the basis of public opinion and report, and our own concern in the matter. I did not propose to mention the export of live animals for slaughter. Hon. Members know that this matter is being examined in depth by an impartial committee under the chairmanship of Lord O'Brien. Pending receipt of that report it would be inappropriate for me to comment. I understand that the careful 893 consideration and investigation required will take a little longer than expected, but the report will be available early in the New Year.
§ Mr. Burden
I asked my right hon. Friend to assure us that no action would be taken to restore this trade until the House had had an opportunity to debate the report and to declare its views on it. Surely, that is not in any way anticipating the deliberations or findings of the committee. I am asking only that the House should be able to exercise its proper right.
§ Mrs. Fenner
Yes, indeed. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noted the comment of my hon. Friend.
I turn now to the motion. I do not think that the House would wish to do other than strongly reaffirm its responsibility for the promotion of animal welfare. Nor do I believe that it would wish to do otherwise than express its concern over genuine evidence of ill-treatment and cruelty to animals. But I am equally of the opinion that my hon. Friend is mistaken in implying that ill-treatment and cruelty are as prevalent as the motion would have us believe. To believe that they are would be to go against the belief, which I am sure is true, that the British care deeply about their animals.
I do not accept the implication in the motion—which is often expressed in correspondence I receive—that livestock husbandry, when carried out under intensive conditions, is inherently cruel. This was not the view of the Brambell Committee, which reported in 1965, nor is it confirmed by the study of intensive methods made by our Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee over the years since its appointment in 1967, in response to a recommendation of the Brambell Committee; nor, indeed, by the report published by FAWAC in 1970 on a survey of over 4,000 livestock units carried out by the State Veterinary Service.
Where welfare is less than entirely satisfactory, we have usually found it to be the result of poor management. However, we have ample indications that the standard of management and stockmanship of British farmers and farm workers is generally high, and I do not think we have much to worry about on that score. When welfare is in jeopardy our stock- 894 men are only too anxious to set matters right without delay. There are, of course, some systems of husbandry about which we may have reservations, but in general it is not the system but the way it is operated that gives rise to welfare problems in intensive husbandry.
Hon. Members may like to remind themselves that in relation to welfare on farms we have the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, which makes it an offence to cause or permit livestock on agricultural land to suffer unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress. Also, the general provisions against cruelty in the Protection of Animals Acts, on which I shall say more later, provide further legal safeguards.
My right hon. Friend's Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee keeps a careful eye on all aspects of farm animal welfare. I pay tribute to the devotion with which the committee has applied itself to advising us on these exceedingly difficult matters. One of its major contributions has been to prepare for us the welfare codes for cattle, pigs, domestic fowls and turkeys. These are widely regarded as of great importance to welfare. They are advisory in nature, but a failure to follow them can be used as evidence in a prosecution for causing unnecessary suffering.
§ Mr. Money
Will my hon. Friend consider whether it would be a feasible and a good idea for her Ministry to issue yearly a return of prosecutions before magistrates or on what used to be referred to as indictments in the Crown Court, in the way that Her Majesty's Inspector of Factories makes a return of prosecutions regarding industrial safety?
§ Mrs. Fenner
In the light of the inquiries made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) I shall look into that matter. If my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden can provide me with evidence of malpractice in intensive husbandry on particular farms and will write to me with the details I shall undertake to see that they are considered with a view to action.
I want first to cover the general points and then I should like to take up individual points made by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Mackie
The hon. Member for Gilingham (Mr. Burden) was interested in what good the welfare codes did. He missed the point that in any agricultural grant that is given, particularly for buildings affecting animal welfare, the codes must be observed. The hon. Lady forgot that point.
§ Mrs. Fenner
Yes. In addition, there is the point to which I have already referred, that failure to follow the codes can be used as evidence in any prosecution for causing unnecessary suffering. The Brambell Report stated that there was a need for more research. The purpose of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee at this time is to consider the need for more research and to bring the matter before the Ministry.
I want now to turn to the question of the protection of animals in transit and at markets. Several hon. Members have referred to this matter. There are comprehensive regulations designed to safeguard the welfare of animals in transit within the British Isles, including those on journeys which start or finish overseas. These regulations cover transit by road, rail, sea and air, and all species of animals. Food animals and horses are protected by regulations that go into considerable detail.
In general, the enforcement of this necessarily complex legislation is the responsibility of the local authorities. I take the point made by several hon. Members about the number of people required to enforce it effectively. However, it is open to any public-spirited citizen who witnesses any acts of cruelty to report the facts as soon as possible to the local authority or to the police. This materially assists the effective enforcement of the law and enables action to be taken at once to alleviate any suffering which is being caused to animals. Sometimes I receive complaints long after an alleged incident, no action having been taken at the time to bring it to the attention of the enforcing authority. I should like to urge on those who witness acts of cruelty the importance of taking prompt action.
The veterinary officers in the Ministry are always ready to give professional advice and support to the local authorities and to the police. I have already mentioned that in addition to the specific 896 legislation relating to farm animal welfare——
§ Mr. Burden
I am sorry to interrupt, but I must press my hon. Friend on this matter. If these regulations have been imposed they must be enforceable. She said that to a large extent they are controlled by the local authorities, but that she has also received complaints from ordinary citizens and that the Ministry's veterinary surgeons have examined the matter. We are entitled to know whether any and, if so, what prosecutions have taken place. It should not be difficult to obtain that information. If the regulations are in force the information should be obtained so that we can be sure that they are working properly.
§ Mrs. Fenner
I take my hon. Friend's point. If I may refer to the letter that I sent to him, I am sorry that he took exception to the way in which I framed it, but the fact is that local authorities are responsible for enforcement and the police prosecute. The hon. Member for Ipswich suggested that we should have an annual list of such prosecutions. We do not have such a list at present, and it would be a very long process for me to acquire from local authorities details of prosecutions made throughout the year. But I have taken note of the points made by both my hon. Friends.
As hon. Members know, the welfare of all domestic and captive animals is provided for in the general law for the protection of animals against cruelty and neglect. Under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 it is an offence to cause, or for the owner to permit to be caused, any unnecessary suffering to any domestic or captive animal, whether by the commission or omission of any act. It is not for the Government to enforce this law, but any person or society may initiate proceedings under the Act in respect of any circumstances where there is reason to believe that unnecessary suffering has been, or is being caused. My earlier remarks on action of this kind are pertinent.
Although the part of my letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham called "waffle" made this point, I know he will not think that I am "waffling" when I pay most sincere tribute to the excellent work which the 897 RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations do in this respect, and in connection with other legislation which I have mentioned, which is well known to the House. Alternatively, if other people have not reported a matter to the local authority, it may be reported to the police who will decide whether or not to prosecute in the light of the facts of the case. In the event of a prosecution, it is of course for the court to determine whether an offence has been committed and, if so, what penalty should be imposed. The House may like to be reminded that in addition to a maximum penalty of a fine of £50 plus three months' imprisonment, this enactment provides that in certain circumstances the court may ban a person convicted of an offence from having custody of animals for such period as it thinks fit.
Apart from the general law against cruelty, there are many other measures which provide additional safeguards for certain activities of which training and exhibiting performing animals, the boarding of other people's pets, the sale of animals through the retail trade—I shall refer later to my hon. Friend's comments—and the keeping of horses for hiring out for riding are further examples. There remains the rather specialised and very important question of the slaughter of food animals.
During this century, successive United Kingdom Governments have been deeply concerned to prevent suffering to animals awaiting slaughter and during the process of slaughtering itself. It is no exaggeration to say that our requirements are among the most humane in the world. This is, however, a matter about which we must never be complacent. The execution and enforcement of the legislation is vested in local authorities, acting through their authorised officers. In addition, all officers of the Ministry have a right of entry into slaughterhouses and knackers' yards for the purpose of ensuring the prevention of cruelty.
But legislation will not of itself prevent cruelty, since—and I am sure that hon. Members who have expressed concern about any shortage of enforcing officers will accept this fact—it is not possible for officers to be present all the time. It depends ultimately on the humanity of the people concerned and upon the prompt reporting to the enforcing authority of 898 any acts of cruelty that are witnessed, so that the courts may deal with them. Cruelty in any form is abhorrent to the vast majority of people in this country and I often think that the local publicity given to court cases can be as great a deterrent as any penalty that the court may itself impose.
The second part of my hon. Friend's motion refers to the strength of the State Veterinary Service. This matter was discussed in another place a short while ago. Recruitment to the service, particularly of field staff, has not kept pace with wastage for several years, and it is a matter of concern to my right hon. Friend. There are at present 90 vacancies among the professional grades as against a complement of 656, but in the field service there are 64 vacancies as against an authorised strength of 451. The shortage of field staff is partly offset by the employment of about 60 veterinary surgeons as temporary veterinary inspectors on a daily fee-paying basis.
Hon. Members will know that the Civil Service Commission holds regular recruitment competitions for the Veterinary Service, but suitable candidates have not come forward in sufficient numbers. Various steps have been taken to improve recruitment—for example, the improvement of starting pay, earlier promotion above the basic grade and direct entry into Grade 1.
The Ministry, in collaboration with the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, has recently undertaken a detailed study of the factors affecting the career development of veterinary officers. Its findings are now being considered by the Ministry in consultation with the Civil Service Department and the Institution. The recently expressed views of the British Veterinary Association will also be closely studied. Proposals now being discussed relate to the structure and management of the Veterinary Service and career prospects generally in the service. I can assure hon. Members that these consultations will proceed as speedily as possible and that my right hon. Friend is anxious to increase the number of whole-time veterinary officers in the State Veterinary Service.
The final part of my hon. Friend's motion calls upon the Government to take serious account of proposals for animal welfare measures when drawing up their 899 own legislative programme. Of course, we always treat seriously any proposals made to us in this field. Successive Governments have already introduced provisions which afford a framework upon which we can build as more scientific knowledge on these welfare matters becomes available. There is already a considerable armoury of legislation. While I deplore cruelty to animals as much as anybody, I have no reason to believe that additional primary legislation is necessary at present to deal with the few distressing cases of cruelty which unfortunately occur from time to time.
This matter has been discussed by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) who knows so much about the traditions and procedure of the House regarding Private Members' Bills, and it is a fairly well-established tradition that legislation on animal welfare matters is an appropriate subject for private Members' initiative. It is worth reminding the House that during the last Session two Private Members' Bills—one for the protection of badgers and the other for bringing dog-breeding establishments under control—successfully completed their passage through Parliament and reached the statute book. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment on the procedure which permits objection, because obviously hon. Members on both sides of the House use that procedure from time to time.
But constant developments in agriculture and transport can call for fresh legislation, and, where Government action is appropriate, this has been taken. The Diseases of Animals Act 1950 enables Ministers to make orders to protect the life, health and welfare of animals, and in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1972 we took the opportunity to extend the 1950 Act so that it could be used to cover all living creatures instead of being restricted to those animals normally associated with agriculture.
Even within the last few months, important new safeguards have been introduced. An order which came into effect on 1st August last increased the minimum values specified for the export of certain horses and ponies, thus providing a further 900 safeguard against their being exported for slaughter.
§ Mr. Money
Reverting to the Diseases of Animals Act, is there not a worrying feature here? My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said in the other place earlier this week in the debate on the Rabies Bill that the average cost of quarantining a dog is £75, whereas the records showed that the average fine imposed for a breach of that Act was £30.
§ Mrs. Fenner
We are at present looking into the question of penalties under the Acts for cruelty to animals.
Another important new order came into effect on 1st September which for the first time extended the legislation protecting farm livestock in transit to all living creatures, and covered transit by air. This has enabled the United Kingdom to agree, with the majority of its partners in the EEC, to ratify on 1st January 1974 the European Convention for the Protection of Animals During International Transport. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that this is an important development.
Her Majesty's Government will use the oppotunities provided by our membership of the EEC to promote improved standards of animal welfare in Europe generally. The ratification of the convention by member States of the EEC will be an important step forward, but my right hon. Friend has also taken the initiative in suggesting discussions in the EEC on other aspects of animal welfare, particularly humane slaughter.
§ Mr. Molloy
If ratification takes place, shall we require legislation in this House to make it effective?
§ Mrs. Fenner
It will fall within our legislative processes, under our membership of the Community, according to the general procedures of the House, as other legislation does.
I was about to say, on the question of initiating legislation within the EEC on various aspects of animal welfare and humane slaughter, that we have already taken part in discussions and we are confident that they will result in progress. Also on the international front, we are playing our full part in discussions in Strasbourg on the drafting of a Council of Europe convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. We 901 have every hope that our participation in this worthwhile venture will lead to the application of acceptable standards of welfare throughout Europe.
I turn now to the matters raised in the debate. The right hon. Member for Sowerby referred to it as a shopping list, and my concern is that I shall not be able to deal with everything before the shop closes, because hon. Members have raised many different points in the course of today's immensely interesting debate.
First, field sports and hare coursing are by tradition very much subjects for Private Members' Bills. The House will know that the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has currently a Private Member's Bill which, I believe, is due for Second Reading on 1st February.
On occasions there are differences of opinion in different parts of the House on the subject of field sports. One of my hon. Friends referred to deer poaching. The Government are not necessarily convinced that higher penalties would necessarily prevent poaching. It is more a matter of the enforcement of the existing law. We recognise that the penalties in the Deer Act 1963 for unlawfully taking deer may be in need of revision, and we intend to look into the matter of penalties for that offence as well as for cruelty to animals generally.
The subject of docking of puppies' tails is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He and other Ministers would not wish to be discourteous to the House. They were unable to be present today because of other commitments. It was also difficult to judge from the motion precisely which Departments would be involved. The motion is widely drawn but I can assure the House that my right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments with some responsibility for animal welfare will have their attention directed to matters raised in the debate. I shall try to answer some of the points but any which remain unanswered will be dealt with in writing by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has written to the Home Secretaray urging that legislation to prohibit the docking of puppies' tails should be introduced. Representations are being considered. Again, however, this is a matter which private Members 902 so often find appropriate to raise when they are lucky in the ballot.
§ Miss Fookes
Is it not the case that private Members have to do something because Governments will not?
§ Mrs. Fenner
I take the point because, as I have said, it is traditional that this sort of legislation is often brought in by private Members. However, I remind my hon. Friend, as I remind the right hon. Member for Sowerby, that that comment is a little sharp and not fully justified. We suspended the export of sheep without waiting for a Private Member's Bill or for public opinion and representations to be made known to us.
On the mutilation of farm animals, the Government have already agreed to the laying before Parliament of the pig docking regulations, and proposals have been published for comment by the interested organisations. We have in hand a number of other proposals, and I hope shortly to be able to invite the House to approve other regulations relating to the mutilation of farm animals.
Hon. Members have referred to intensive husbandry. I know that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) does not like us to use that term, out the practice is referred to scientifically as such.
As I said, the Brambell Report drew attention to the lack of scientific knowledge, which is essential if sound provisions on animal welfare are to be introduced. The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is now studying the need for research, and I understand that its findings on this subject will shortly come to us. Then we can consider what should be done. I agree that sow stalls require further research and observation, and the committee is considering that.
I will not enter into the philosophical argument raised by the right hon. Member for Sowerby about imports of exotic animals. The importation of those species whose survival is threatened is controlled under the Animals (Restriction of Importation) Act 1964, administered by yet another of my right hon. Friends. That Act controls the importation of tortoises. Imports are permitted only in the early part of the year so that the animals can become acclimatised before the onset of autumn and their hibernation.
903 As for the State Veterinary Service, although it carries out inspections devoted wholly to welfare, its officers also exercise general oversight of animal welfare standards in the course of their other duties, and other Ministry staff are instructed to draw the attention of veterinary officers to any welfare problems encountered. Any complaints are immediately investigated. I know that my hon. Friend would accept that the need for the State service to concentrate on any imported notifiable disease like the recent epidemic of swine vesicular disease is a priority.
The Department did a large-scale survey of the transport of calves a few years ago and very few calves were found to be in anything other than a satisfactory condition on arrival. There was no indication that the length of the journey was a primary cause of stress, but my veterinary staff are doing a detailed scientific study of long-distance transport, and as soon as their investigations are completed I will take any necessary action.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) has had to leave. I wanted to add my admiration of his strict attitude and to say that I deeply respect his personal views as a vegetarian. I am not a vegetarian but, like every hon. Member, I want animals to be cared for and only humanely slaughtered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt), who has had to leave to return to her constituency, was concerned about experiments on animals, as were several other hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Sowerby, who has introduced a private Bill on the subject, has a special concern in this respect. Hon. Members will not expect me to answer fully, but I can assure them that all their contributions will be studied with great care by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North referred to animals imported by air. She referred to an eagle which received some Press coverage. The eagle had been fed with pigeons as food. The Transit of Animals (General) Order enables action to be taken against airline operators which bring in animals under unsatisfactory conditions. The order came into effect on 1st September 1973.
904 The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) referred to a well publicised small dog. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the dog was deported rapidly.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham if he took exception to my letter. I trust that he understands that as the local authorities have the figures it would have been an enormous task. I take note of the points which he has made. He also referred to the number of licences still existing following the decision of the House on 12th July to suspend the issue of further licences. I can inform my hon. Friend that the exact number of licences which were still running at the time that the decision was taken was not known. Some had become exhausted before the expiry date. The shipment of slaughter animals is now at a minimal level. I expect that all licences will be expired by mid-January.
I must tell my hon. Friend that, although the local veterinary service supports local authorities in their inspections and helps and advises them, we do not know the exact number of prosecutions. We will consider the point which my hon. Friend has raised. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend is well aware of the intense interest which is being taken by the House in the forthcoming report following the impartial inquiry by the O'Brien Committee. My right hon. Friend will undoubtedly announce his intentions on the report as soon as possible after publication.
The success of the provisions for the welfare of farming livestock cannot be measured by the number of prosecutions taken. Although I well understand my hon. Friend's interest in knowing the number, our aim is to secure satisfactory welfare conditions by encouragement and by advising adoption of the standards recommended. We believe that that policy is more effective than one of hounding the farmer, who is generally much concerned with the welfare of livestock in his charge.
§ Mr. Burden
Does my hon. Friend agree that when farmers and others disregard the regulations, which are very firm, the greatest encouragement for them not to continue to ignore them would be to prosecute?
§ Mrs. Fenner
I accept the deterrent effect of prosecution, but I believe in the securing of satisfactory welfare conditions by advising the farmer and ensuring that he measures up to the standards required in his farm. The ultimate sanction of prosecution will remain for use against farmers who persistently fail to respond to advice. But it has rarely proved necessary to have recourse to it.
§ Miss Fookes
If my hon. Friend is pressing the point that this kind of advice is more important than prosecution, does it not add to the point I made when I asked how many routine inspections are being made of intensive livestock units? I should like to know the answer.
§ Mrs. Fenner
If my hon. Friend is asking for an exact number, I cannot give it to her, but I can, as I have said, point out to her that our veterinary officers do this in connection with all their other work—as, indeed, do other Ministry advisers—on farms for many other reasons. They have the animal welfare aspect in mind when visiting farms, and can draw attention to any practices which are lacking when they make such visits.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North, speaking specifically on the subject of intensive husbandry, asked whether the Government would consider setting up a committee. Following the Brambell Report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was set up. It is composed of scientists, veterinarians, farmers and people primarily interested in welfare, all serving in a personal capacity and not as representatives of particular interests. I have every confidence that the committee covers the range to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I can see no reason to appoint another.
§ Mr. Molloy
I take the point that the committee exists, but it does not seem to have done much. Will the hon. Lady consider increasing its number, perhaps injecting some life into it if she can select people from the organisations I nominated?
§ Mrs. Fenner
I made the point that the committee includes people primarily concerned with welfare but not representative of specific organisations. I have every confidence that it is a wide-ranging committee, which is producing excellent 906 advice on the subject of farm animal welfare.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) referred to the sale of pet animals on Club Row stalls. The Pet Animals Act 1951 specifically allows stalls and barrows in markets to be licensed by local authorities for the sale of pet animals. I was about to say that my hon. Friend might feel that this would be a suitable matter to deal with when he is lucky in the Ballot next time, but I understand that he has already tried it on two occasions. But such sale is specifically allowed by the Act and I can only draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich expressed his concern about quarantine measures in regard to the Channel Tunnel. As he knows, the Rabies Bill is being presented, which I trust takes that point into account.
My hon. Friend also referred to one item of intensive husbandry which received some Press coverage—the calf-rearing Disposapen. I have had some correspondence on this matter. The designer of the pen, which has been closely examined by the Ministry, has produced it for commercial use, but I think that because it is a fairly small and mobile pen it received some spectacular Press coverage as a "do-it-yourself" calf rearing system, which gave rise to assertions that it could be used by a householder. That is why that perhaps rather odd comment I made in my reply may have struck my hon. Friend as extraordinary, but I wanted him to be sure that no one could possibly use such a commercial calf-rearing pen in the back of a small house because, obviously, of the local authority Acts.
My right hon. Friend used that illustration to point the need for the enforcement of any legislation, and all hon. Members throughout the debate have expressed concern about the need to enforce legislation. Perhaps in turn I may say that I am sure that all hon. Members will realise that no amount of inspection can ensure total enforcement. The humanity of people towards animals is subject to a 24-hour span, and, clearly, it cannot for all that time be examined, inspected, or enforced.
907 The Government consider that my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden has performed a valuable service—that comment has been echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the House—in moving the motion and giving us the opportunity to express our views and concern. We all seek to safeguard the welfare of animals, but it is important to take a balanced view of these difficult issues. The Government are fully aware of the general feelings of the House on many aspects of this question and will continue their policy of making such legislative provision as they consider necessary.
I hope that I have been able to cover all the observations by hon. Members. It was a fairly formidable list, but I assure them that the close atention of all Ministers concerned will be given to their contributions. However, while I have the utmost respect for my hon. Friend's motives in moving the motion, I have to say that it contains the implication that the position in the United Kingdom is unsatisfactory. The Government could not go so far as to support that part of the motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House strongly re-affirms its responsibility for the promotion of animal welfare; expresses its deep concern at evidence of ill-treatment and cruelty to animals within the United Kingdom; draws attention to the urgent need to strengthen the state veterinary service; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take serious account of proposals for animal welfare measures when drawing up its own legislative programme.