HC Deb 11 June 1974 vol 874 cc1553-79

10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Roland Moyle)

I beg to move, That the Welfare of Livestock (Cattle and Poultry) Regulations 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th May, be approved. I think it would be convenient if we— [Interruption.]—also discussed the Welfare of Livestock (Docking of Pigs) Regulations 1974.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members who do not wish to listen to the Minister withdraw quietly so that the debate may continue.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are you aware that the clock above your Chair is not accurate and that the Government have stooped so low as to rely on an inaccurate clock, in keeping with their—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The clock by which the Chair works is perfectly accurate. The last debate ended at ten o'clock, according to the Standing Order. The other matter which the hon. Lady raises is not a point of order.

Mrs. Ewing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We were studying the clock most carefully.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mrs. Ewing

The Government have prevented a vote because they are afraid of a vote on the question of the Common Market.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Is this the way the House behaves? It is a disgrace.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not the way to address the Chair.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that if the so-called Opposition in this House had wanted to have a vote all they had to do, a moment before ten o'clock—and I gather that they were looking at the clock —was to move "That the Question be now put"? The fact that they have not got enough sense or intelligence to know the rules of this House is no reason why they should criticise those who do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The earlier part of the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman is correct. I will not comment on the second part.

Mrs. Ewing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While I accept everything that you have said, may I point out that intimation was given of a vote. There is no doubt that the Government were afraid to have a vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Moyle

In case it has escaped the attention of the House may I point out that I am moving, That the Welfare of Livestock (Cattle and Poultry) Regulations 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th May, be approved. I have also suggested that we discuss at the same time the regulations relating to the docking of pigs. The two sets of draft regulations were laid under powers provided in Part I of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 under which it is an offence to allow livestock on agricultural land to suffer unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress. That Act was passed when we were last in Government and it was the result of the report of the Brambell Committee in 1965. Parliament has already approved four codes of conduct for the welfare of cattle, pigs, poultry and turkeys, and these already give fairly authoritative guidance to producers who for the most part are only too anxious to secure the well-being of the animals—

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you please appeal to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) and her hon. Friends and others who are engaged in discussion about the previous debate to restrain themselves? Many of us wish to hear what the Minister is saying.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would be convenient for the House if hon. Members could hear the Minister.

Mr. Moyle

These matters are of considerable interest to large sections of our population.

As I was saying, these producers are for the most part only too anxious to secure the well-being of the birds and animals in their care. Those codes were brought before the House when my party was last in office, I believe by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), and we always envisaged that the codes would be followed up by regulations. The regulations we are considering tonight are the first of their kind and they will lead to a further stage in the development of a comprehensive policy for animal welfare. We intend from time to time to produce further sets of regulations as appropriate.

In drawing up the proposals for welfare regulations we can rely on the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. It has advised on the draft regulations we are considering tonight, and I take this opportunity to thank the members of the Committee for the conscientious way in which they have applied themselves to their duties and also to give our good wishes to the newly-appointed chairman, Professor Harrison, who has taken over the important assignment of chairing the committee.

The 1968 Act requires that the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland should consult all the interests affected by the proposals, and the Ministers have done that. The comments received as a result were referred to the advisory committee and modifications of the proposals have resulted from this process of consultation. We now consider that the orders represent a useful step forward for the House to take.

Perhaps I may say a little about the policy on mutilations. The Department has three principles which it adopts towards these problems. First, the Minister of Agriculture does not like mutilations, in principle, but we realise that some are inescapably necessary and that some are necessary because they may avoid the cause of greater suffering than if they were not carried out. Finally, we consider that in general welfare provisions should be firmly based on scientific data. But with mutilations we do not necessarily regard scientific proof to be essential. This would be so when a practice is not soundly based on animal husbandry considerations or where a mutilation does not reduce the overall incidence of suffering. Mutilation can, therefore, be considered harmful without scientific proof.

Our aim is to prevent unnecessary mutilations, and we regard them as unnecessary if the desired effect can be achieved by other reasonable means. We think that the more severe the mutilation the more it must be seen to benefit the animals if it is to be accepted. Those are our general principles. I hope that I can show—

Mr. Burden

I find it difficult to understand how the hon. Gentleman can say that the more severe the mutilation the more it must be seen to benefit the animals.

Mr. Moyle

If the hon. Gentleman, who takes a great interest in these matters, listens until I explain the matter further and explain how we approach the problem, he may have a greater understanding of the propositions at the end of my speech than he has now.

I turn to the tail docking of cattle. We are seeking, broadly speaking, to prohibit this operation. We do not consider that rigorous scientific proof is required to show that cattle without tails suffer unnecessarily. Nevertheless, there is scientific evidence to the effect that they would endure increased irritation and possible infection by insects. Some may claim that docking of dairy cows results in improvements in udder cleanliness and a reduced incidence of cracked teats, but these desirable objectives may be achieved without so drastic a measure as removing the tail.

Those hon. Members who are familiar with the welfare code for cattle will know that it recommends docking only when a veterinary surgeon advises that it is necessary because of injury or disease. Under the draft regulations docking for health reasons would be allowed when carried out by a veterinary surgeon, and the regulations would have the effect of making the code provision mandatory, if approval is given by the House.

Next there is the surgical castration of poultry, which will also be prohibited, broadly speaking, by the regulations, if they are approved. This is an operation that can result in the death of the bird, and the proposal to ban the operation of surgical castration is strongly supported by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association and many welfare organisations. If the operation is abolished the scope for producing capons will be limited, but in fact very few people practice the operation at the moment, so we do not expect any great difficulty to arise as a result of the ban. In any case birds similar to capons can be produced by use of hormones and special fat-inducing diets.

The welfare code for poultry, already issued, recommends against the practice of surgical castration and the proposed regulation will have the effect of making the code's recommendation mandatory on everybody.

We come now to the problem of the de-winging of poultry. We seek here to substitute feather clipping for de-winging. Operations on poultry to impede flight are normally restricted to the more nervous strains of bird. The object is to prevent losses among the flock as a result of panic, which may occur from time to time. De-winging has been carried out on day-old poultry by removing the terminal wing joint, usually of one wing only, I should stress, or alternatively the main wing tendon may be severed. Both these operations result in a permanent mutilation and involve sensitive tissue. The case for prohibiting these is based on the ready availability of an alternative method which is, basically, clipping the flight feathers of one wing, which is almost as effective. It is not a permanent way to prevent birds flying in panic, but it can be practicable. Furthermore, the need for de-winging has in any case been reduced much in recent years through the development of strains of bird less likely to panic. We believe that the practices we propose to ban are no longer necessary. The welfare codes for poultry come out against de-winging, and instead recommend feather clipping to reduce the effects of flightiness.

Finally, on the first of the two draft sets of regulations, we come to blinkers, which are used to limit the forward vision of poultry in order to prevent them from attacking one another. The welfare code recommends against the use of blinkers which may cause injury and advises against their use except as a last resort and when it is clear that without them there would be more suffering in the flock. Blinkers are used only on a small number of broiler breeder birds.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey was Minister of Agriculture, he asked the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to re-examine some of the original welfare code recommendations about which the House had expressed concern. This re-examination included the use of blinkers. The Committee found that blinkers had no advantage over other methods of controlling the propensity of birds to attack each other. On the contrary, there were notable disadvantages, one being that attachment of those held in place by a pin involves piercing the nasal septum. This can result in damage, partly from the insertion of the pin, and can cause damage to the bird if it catches the blinkers in the wire mesh of the cage and tries to free itself.

We think that the proposed prohibition is fully justified, but blinkers which can be attached without mutilating the bird will be available for occasional use when other remedies prove to be ineffective. They can have plastic blinkers which are occasionally used by a veterinary surgeon and which do not require a pin through the nasal septum.

That completes the tally of mutilations which we proposed to prohibit under the Cattle and Poultry Regulations. Two things emerge. First, none of these mutilations is practised much in this country. Second, they are practised to some extent and our farm livestock would be better off without them.

Turning to the second set of regulations, our approach to the docking of pigs will be somewhat different. We will allow it in certain circumstances and for certain purposes. I would remind the House that my rt. hon. Friends have made the Docking of Pigs (Use of Anaesthetics) Order 1974, which has also been laid before Parliament and is subject to annulment on a resolution of either House. The order and the regulations are complementary.

We are not proposing a prohibition of pig docking as is the case with cattle. Instead, we are introducing a control where none has hitherto existed, and we consider that what we are proposing will be a sound practice. Docking is one of the principal practices adopted to control tail biting in pigs. This vice is widespread and causes considerable suffering. I am advised that the pig readily becomes bored and when he does so starts biting the tails of his neighbours. Removing the tails swiftly, neatly, humanely and skilfully is a way of eliminating that suffering.

There have been many different attempts to tackle the problem, but none has been as effective as docking of tails. Giving pigs toys to play with or more straw for bedding have been attempted but have never quite been successful. We dislike mutilations in general and we are reluctant to endorse them unless it is absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, we have considered that it is essential that the docking of pigs should take place so as to prevent tail biting.

In the young pig up to about seven days of age the tail has little or no sensitivity and a quick clean cut is no more than a minor operation. In older pigs the tissue of the tail becomes more sensitive and we consider that the services of a veterinary surgeon and the use of anaesthetic are essential safeguards against unnecessary suffering.

We believe that it would be right to continue to permit preventive tail docking of pigs not more than seven days old and to allow a layman to do it without the use of an anaesthetic. After that period a veterinary surgeon should be permitted to dock older pigs and he should use an anaesthetic for the operation. The order places a restriction on the method to be used and in either case requires a quick and complete severance of the part of the tail to be removed.

These proposals fit in well with the general principles that I outlined. We are dealing with a situation—and this might be of interest to the hon. Member for Gillingham in view of the intervention that he made—in which greater suffering can occur if this mutilation is not permitted. As much as we should like to dispense with all tail docking there is at present no case for a complete prohibition.

Somebody has inserted in this speech the phrase that it is a case of "spare the tail and spoil the pig". I claim no paternity for that phrase but it might be a short phrase that will allow hon. Members to bear our argument in mind.

A considerable amount of research into the cause of tail biting has been carried out in recent years in many countries, and particularly in Europe, and when positive results become available we shall be in a position to reconsider the matter. Until then we consider that the control that we propose will do much to improve welfare standards in pig husbandry along with the welfare code recommendation for this species. That recommendation is that docking should not be carried out unless prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and that is, of course, unchanged.

I am grateful to the House for the attention which it has given to me in moving these orders. It may be, with the permission of the House, that I would like to address it again after hon. Members have made their contributions. It may be that they will raise some matters to which answers will be required.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

The Conservative Party welcomes these orders. We welcome the start of a comprehensive range of similar orders dealing with animal welfare. I welcome them especially because I know that some of my colleagues who were in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had a hand in their preparation.

The real problem in the pig world at present is not the prevention of cruelty but the farmers' financial return. I appreciate that I should be out of order to continue with that matter, but I believe that something must be done to improve their position. I draw the Minister's attention to the exceedingly difficult position facing pig farmers.

The prevention of cruelty to animals is a worthy aim. We support wholeheartedly any move in that direction. People today, and rightly so, are sensitive to animal welfare. When we think of the cruelty that is going on in the world including human beings, it is gratifying to know that we have some say over the control of cruelty to animals. That is why we very much welcome these orders.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that it is important to remember that this aim should not be confined to this country but should be applied to the other members of the EEC. I believe that we must work towards the harmonisation of our laws on this subject in the Community. What consultations did the Ministry have with its colleagues in Brussels? How far have we got in harmonisation of these matters? How do the standards we are seeking to introduce compare with those elsewhere in the Community? It is important that we should be as concerned about animal welfare in the Community at large as we are with it in this country. I must not develop this line of argument, but it is important that we as individuals should care and be concerned about animal welfare wherever animals are.

The welfare of livestock is very important to a farmer. Farmers do care, in spite of what some people say. It is in their own interest that their animals should, as we say in the farming world, do well, and they do not do well if there is any cruelty or irritation or any problems. There is far too much loose talk to the effect that farmers do not care and are only interested in the financial return. That is not my experience in many years of farming. It is true that the odd farmer might be cruel, and if so he must be punished. That brings me to the question of the fines involved in these provisions. What is the maximum fine for contravention of these orders?

I have castrated many hundreds of pigs —a little more violent operation than nipping off the tails. I have found that up to the age of 8 days is about right. After an operation done up to the age of 8 days, whether it is taking teeth out or docking tails or castration, the little piglet soon goes back to what we call the "milk bar" and forgets the problems and difficulties. So I wholeheartedly agree that the stipulation about age is about right.

The vice of tail biting is very serious. First, the conversion rate of the pig goes down, which is a serious matter these days as feed is so expensive. The old method was to paint the tail or give them toys, as the hon. Gentleman said. In fact, the most successful method was to leave an old chain link tied up so that the pig had something to bite at all the time.

Let us admit that to be a pig is quite a boring operation. A pig may be well housed and well fed, but it just sits there full of food and that means that it gets slightly irritable. It will then start this unpleasant habit of tail biting. The hon. Gentleman is quite right—it is caused by boredom. What research has been done into the vice of tail biting? I understand from a colleague who was at the Ministry in the last Government that work was being done on research. What is the position now?

In the end, I believe that most farmers have reached the conclusion that the removal of the tail at an early stage is best. It is quite effective for the consumer as well. Anyone who has been concerned with the slaughtering of pigs knows that, in the old days, one could see a large number of pigs whose tails and quite a bit of leg were damaged and poisoned by the effect of the vice of tail biting, with the loss of good pork meat.

Regulation 2(1) reads: the docking of the tail of a pig which is livestock for the time being situated on agricultural land is prohibited". Does that apply only to pigs on agricultural land? What about the intensive pigholding which is perhaps in an old warehouse or on a concrete slab? Does the regulation cover that?

Regulation 2(2) refers to the rendering, in emergency of first aid. In all my experience of pig farming I cannot think of an emergency when a pig caught his tail in something. If the animal is ill that is a different matter.

Again, we welcome the regulations on cattle and poultry. The remarks I made at the beginning about the pig and his tail also apply to the bullock. It is not the tail that worries the farming community but the carcase price. I have always been against the docking of the tails of cattle. It is an unpleasant operation and cows suffer from the absence of a tail. They are unable to get rid of flies and other insects that irritate them. I am surprised that this problem was not dealt with long ago.

Some owners of large dairy herds find cows' tails unpleasant. It is annoying to be splashed in the face by a tail that is covered in manure, but however an- noyed one may be, that does not warrant the cow's tail being cut off. Regular trimming and washing of the tail would eliminate many of the problems experienced by farmers.

One other practice that I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister and his officials is the putting of a tape round the tail to number the animal. There are various methods of identifying cows and bullocks. The danger of the taping method is that it cuts off the circulation of the blood and the tail drops off. I am unhappy about that method of identification.

I welcome the regulations on dairy cows and bullocks, but I am not an expert on poultry. I have had little experience of keeping poultry on any of my farms. With modern methods of caponising there is no need to castrate birds. The impeding of flight and the clipping of wings is allowed, but it is unnecessary when birds are housed inside. They do not fly very much. If they get scared they might move quickly into one corner.

Mr. Moyle

The regulations apply to the clipping of wing feathers.

Mr. Mills

I believe that there is a future in breeding birds without any wings at all, because they are not much use for eating. Again, developments in this area would eliminate certain problems.

As for the fitting of blinkers, I wonder what this process is designed to achieve. I have never seen a blinkered bird. The Minister attempted to explain the situation I thought that certain coloured lights, such as a blue or red light in the house, helped to prevent birds fighting and getting irritable with one another. I see no need for the fitting of blinkers.

We welcome these regulations as a real step forward. I look forward to seeing further measures in dealing with animal welfare. I hope that the Minister can answer my questions, particularly that relating to harmonisation of our animal welfare regulations in the Community.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I welcome the regulations and endorse the points made by my hon Friend the Member for Devon. West (Mr. Mills), but I should like to take this opportunity to put one or two fresh matters before the House.

We see from paragraph 2 of the regulations dealing with the docking of pigs that certain actions require to be undertaken by veterinary surgeons which are not required to be undertaken at present. I hope we shall be given some idea of the extra number of veterinary surgeons who will be required because of the extra legislative obligation which is to be placed on their profession. I hope we shall also be told whether the additional veterinary surgeons will be found. I understand that veterinary surgeons are becoming rarer and rarer; their time is fully occupied at present. Perhaps the Minister will say what response he has had from the British Veterinary Association in the face of these requirements.

The Minister said that these regulations amounted to a form of consolidation of the codes of practice. I welcomed the code when it was introduced. Perhaps the Minister will say what we may expect in the way of new orders of this nature which may now be imminent. It is all very well to say that not many people will be required to castrate pigs over seven days old, but in the not too distant future we may also have to cope with other dehorning and castration requirements.

In addition to my concern about the lack of vets to deal with these extra burdens, I am worried about the effect of these obligations in the present state of the livestock industry and wish to know how the farmer will afford these additional vets' bills. We are being badgered from pillar to post with increased petrol charges, overdraft rates at a record level, and all the rest of it. The huge veterinary bills which a farmer has to bear are likely to be augmented if we face a succession of regulations of this kind. Furthermore, large wage claims are likely to be imminent. It is just not acceptable that further burdens should now be placed on farmers' shoulders.

The Minister gave a clear and forthright explanation of the regulations but did not (ell us much more than we might have been told had my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West been called on to present them. It was really a Ministry brief, which the hon. Gentleman presented very well, but will he tell us whether the NFU has been consulted, whether the British Poultry Federation has been consulted, and what are the views of the Meat and Livestock Commission? If he has not consulted them and ascertained their views, why not?

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) will point out, if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is strange to see two sets of regulations before the House which refer continually to a Cruelty to Animals Act which is 98 years old. Clearly it is a good Act, and it must be an effective one, but if this Government wish to establish their authority on a non-party basis they could do a great deal worse than bring forward a non-controversial measure in the shape of a Cruelty to Animals Bill.

I conclude by repeating that it is not possible for the farming community to absorb many additional veterinary bills. It is being held down by its debts at the moment. Many farmers do not know where to turn. The production of livestock is a long-term business, and considerable outlays have to be made. What is more, there is no guaranteed return to the producer. There is no platform under the end-product. Yet these regulations will give rise to additional veterinary bills which the farming community will have to meet.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. I was very generous— I do not know whether I was not foolishly generous—to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). Since so many hon. Members wish to speak in this short debate, I hope that they will confine themselves to the docking of tails, and so on, with which these regulations deal.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I shall not trespass on your generosity unduly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I intend to be very brief and to take up one or two of the matters which the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) discussed.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that where the regulations refer back to the 1876 Act it is high time, for many reasons unconnected with this debate and which therefore we cannot pursue now, that the legislation was brought up to date by the introduction of a new measure.

I also welcome the regulations and the consolidation within them which there is for the codes of animal welfare which many of us, notably the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), have called for in debates over past years. However, I differ from the hon. Member for Harborough in emphasis when he advances the argument that farmers will find these provisions hard to bear; that they will involve additional expense; that perhaps it is not done by their competitors; and that other Europeans are not so stringently overborne.

There is a mood in this House and in the country for much more stringent controls over cruelty to animals, which extends not merely to the mutilations discussed in the regulations but also to the questions relating to where and how animals are kept, what injections they may be given, and matters of that kind. All the arguments which we heard rehearsed in the last Parliament in our debates on the export of live animals do not hold water.

I welcome these regulations. In the case of the ones concerning cattle and poultry there is little more to be said after listening to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). I do not believe these practices to be widespread. Almost all the farming community abominate them and will not be sorry to see them go.

I make one point for the unfortunate pig. It appears that the pig is the only animal covered by my hon. Friend's preamble, in which he said that one had to be certain that the mutilation caused was alleviating a greater suffering. My hon. Friend went on to say that the pig became easily bored. As we know, the pig is a neurotic animal, though highly intelligent. It is a much maligned animal. If one cuts off the pig's tail, one does not remove the cause of the boredom. All that one does is to stop other pigs biting its tail; but they may well do other things.

The hon. Member for Devon, West, with his lengthy experience of castration, and so on, could perhaps tell us about the vice of tail biting. But I should like to know whether, in the research which has so far been done into that vice, there has been established any causal connection between the conditions in which pigs are kept and the spread of the vice. This is a serious matter. From Regulation 2(1) of the regulations I derive rather more comfort—but for different reasons —than does the hon. Member for Devon, West. It seemed to me that one could read that regulation to suggest that in situations in which pigs were kept in intolerable and overcrowded conditions they were not subject to the freedom from tail docking which the order in general gives them. Whether or not that is so and whether that is the reason for the particular wording of that regulation I do not know. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can enlighten me.

These regulations have made a significant improvement in the conditions in which animals will be kept by eliminating many of the more senseless mutilations. If we now keep clearly in mind the reasons why tail docking is carried out and why it should continue, and can satisfy ourselves that these are valid reasons—I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Minister advanced valid reasons—we shall have gone some way at least, on the point about mutilations, to ensure that animals are kept in better conditions and endure less suffering in future.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I heard the Minister refer to the Brambell Committee, in the setting up of which I think I can claim to have had some influence. There is no doubt that there is a great and growing feeling in the House and the country generally that farm and other animals should not be subjected to unnecessary suffering. It is my view and, I think, the view of most hon. Members, that it is not the fanatical who influence opinion in these matters but people who realise that farm animals are bred and reared for human use but that, because of that, we must treat them with the utmost possible kindness.

We all welcome the regulations. I remind the Minister that the Brambell Committee reported in April 1965. These regulations have come out of that report, but it has been a very slow period of gestation and production. However, it is a start. I hope and believe that the hon. Gentleman will tonight be able to assure us that other measures proposed by the Brambell Committee will appear in the near future to assist in ensuring the welfare of farm animals in particular.

The House is at its best when it discusses non-party matters. Certainly, animal welfare is a non-party matter. It stretches right across the House, as it does across the country. This augurs well for the future.

The regulation relating to the docking of pigs states that pigs shall not be docked other than by a veterinary surgeon after they have reached the age of seven days. We all accept that. It is a considerable move forward. But the statement in Regulation 2 that the docking of the tail of a pig which is livestock for the time being situated on agricultural land is prohibited, unless and so on, is ambiguous. Let us have a more precise description of agricultural land. The pig could apparently be taken into a garden next door to the agricultural land and there the operation could be performed without any penalty. That would be within the law, because it would not be on agricultural land.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) raised the point about buildings that are not on agricultural land. That wording should be amended to make clear to everyone who might be engaged in pig husbandry precisely what it means.

The other point about which I am concerned is that when the pig is up to eight days old any stockman can remove its tail. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said that because veterinary surgeons will be called upon to conduct the operation after the pig has passed the age of eight days, and that will be costly, the gates may be thrown open for a wholesale docking of pigs' tails before they have passed that age. Might not that mean that there will be a tremendous increase in the number of pigs docked before they reach the age of eight days?

I remind the Minister that, as well as his own Ministry officials, the British Veterinary Association is against mutilation, and we welcome that fact. There is no doubt that hon. Members are also against mutilation, except in extremes, when it has been proved to be necessary, and it could not be proved to be necessary in most cases.

One hon. Member asked how the habit of tail biting originated, and whether there had been any research. It was stated at a conference that there was a growing awareness that tail biting and the provision of bedding were closely linked. Professor Ekesbo has demonstrated that tail biting is seven times as prevalent among pigs without bedding, and a recent publication by Lennart Backstroom in Sweden contained a great deal of information on the importance of bedding to good pig husbandry. I suggest that the Minister makes that known to his officials and veterinary staff, so that the information is conveyed to pig rearers. That would considerably reduce the need for docking pigs. It would be done only in extreme cases after they had passed the age of eight days. It would have to be done by a veterinary surgeon, but if the proper husbandry conditions were provided, as suggested by those eminent researchers, there would not be the tremendous cost expected by my hon. Friend.

I turn to the regulations concerning the mutilation of cattle—the docking of the tails of cattle and the castration of a male bird by a method involving surgery. I am sure that there are other methods which are equally efficient. We must welcome that, because this is a most dangerous and painful operation. I applaud the decision to stop the de-winging of fowl. I was appalled, some years ago, when the Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee said that this was still quite common and was carried out in deep litter houses because birds could become frightened and would fly. This caused loss of weight, and so on. So that I could understand more clearly precisely what the operation meant I asked what would be the equivalent operation on a man.

His reply was that it would be equal to removing the fore part of the arm, from the elbow. That is a shocking mutilation, and obviously had to be stopped. I am delighted that these regulations will stop it. At the same meeting the Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee spoke of the pain and distress that could be caused by blinkering chickens. I am delighted that this has been stopped.

There is one omission in the regulations relating to pigs which I regret. I hope that the Minister will look into it. The British Veterinary Association and all animal welfare organisations, and vets generally, are quite definite in their opinion that the punching of pigs' ears should be stopped by law—that it is a nasty, bloody and painful business, and that there must now be alternatives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough referred to the number of veterinary officers in the Ministry. Quite fortuitously I received a Written Answer on this subject yesterday. Obviously these regulations will have to be supervised if they are to be meaningful. I had asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: how many qualified veterinary surgeons arc now employed by the State Veterinary Service; and by how many this falls short of the full complement. This was the reply: 529 qualified veterinary surgeons and 22 research officers with scientific qualifications are employed full time against a total complement of 690. The shortage of 139 is partly offset by the employment, on field duties, of some 65 veterinary surgeons as temporary veterinary inspectors on a daily fee-paid basis." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June 1974; col. 454, Vol. 874.] That means that even using those men to the full there is still a shortage of 74 veterinary surgeons in the Ministry. I should like the Minister to tell the House what steps are being taken to increase the numbers and bring the service up to full strength. I hope he will tell us how, with these regulations, the requirements under the codes of farm practice generally will be supervised and how they will be affected, if adversely, by the extra duties imposed on veterinary officers in seeing that these regulations are complied with.

I am sure that all hon. Members, and many of the public, will be grateful to the Minister for bringing forward these regulations, which were set in hand by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber). He first asked for information from interested bodies as far back as June last year. This shows very well how animal welfare cuts right across party politics, to the great benefit of this House and of animals.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

I regret that tonight we are discussing prevention of cruelty to animals measures rather than measures preventing financial cruelty to their producers.

I was most impressed, as were all hon. Members, to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) assure us at some length about the ability that young piglets have speedily to ignore the pain and forget the problems of having been docked, and to rejoin their fellows. Pig producers in Cornwall wish that they had the same ability to forget that is seemingly enjoyed by young piglets.

One does not ignore the ability of the Government in their cruelty to pig production. No Governments have done more than this one to reduce cruelty to animals, simply by discouraging production in British agriculture.

I should like to put one specific point to the Government. I am concerned, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), about the docking of pigs up to the age of seven days, and I wonder whether the Minister can give slightly greater reassurances than at present exist on the question whether the operation up to seven days can be carried out by unqualified people without supervision, or whether it is necessary for a producer to serve notice of time and place so that there can be at least central supervision of the operation taking place.

I want to take the Minister up on another remark he made about poultry, when he referred to the use of blinkers to prevent forward vision. I express the hope that his Ministry, if it needs forward vision, will shed the blinkers that it has worn for nine weeks.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I want to ask one question and emphasise a point, but first I join in the welcome for the introduction of these regulations.

It is ironic that the regulations, both entitled "Welfare of Livestock", should be introduced by a Government who have demonstrated less interest in the welfare of livestock, in the wider sense, than any Government in post-war history.

I am concerned about the ambiguity in both orders. My hon. Friends the Members for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and Gillingham (Mr. Burden) referred to livestock on agricultural land. I wish to refer to an earlier point in the same regulation. Regulation 2, on the docking of pigs, reads the docking of the tail of a pig which is livestock for the time being situated on agricultural land and the other set of regulations refers, also in Regulation 2, to the case where the animal or bird in question is livestock for the time being When is an animal or a bird not livestock for the time being or at any time? May we have clarification on that point? This seems to be extraordinary drafting and totally unnecessary verbosity.

Farmers will be amazed that a Government which rightly shows so much sympathy towards the proper treatment of pigs, cattle and poultry can show so little for the plight of the producers of those animals.

I wish to stress the point made by my hon. Friends about vets. The regulations will increase the obligation put upon the State Veterinary Service, assisted as it is by vets from the private sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West pointed out, these are only the beginning, and other regulations will follow in due course. They will place ever greater obligations on the service. How will the vets cope, and what are the Government proposing to do to provide more vets in the service

The obligations of the regulations could add marginally—I stress "marginally"—to the costs of producers. There are, however, straws which break camels' backs, and I hope the Government will soon display as much concern for producers as they are displaying for the live stock.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

There will be widespread gratitude to the Minister for the way he has explained the regulations. I am concerned only with the one dealing with pigs. I was somewhat startled at some of the points made by the Minister. He said that it was essential to continue the docking of pigs, because the vice of tail biting was widespread. I am a pig producer, and over the years I have produced and marketed many thousands of pigs. I can think of only one case of tail biting on my farm, and that was 10 years ago. I had been on holiday, so had my manager, and we had a relief man in charge who obviously was not up to the job. When we returned we found that in one pen there had been an ugly outbreak of this vice. I immediately turned the pigs out into a field. The curious thing was that it was not boredom which drove them to it but something in the diet. There was a curious spectacle of their nose-diving into the earth as if they were looking for some kind of mineral. Within 24 hours the vice had gone, and after three days they were put back in the pen and all was well.

When the hon. Gentleman attributes all this to boredom he is talking rather old hat. With due respect to those advising him, the point about boredom was the current wisdom about a decade ago. The matter is now far more complicated. The trouble is partly to do with sophisticated compound feeding stuffs, and I suspect that the high protein content makes animals more aggressive than those which we knew when we were children. The hon. Gentleman may recall that in his youth there was hardly ever any tail biting on Welsh farms. It may be a genetic factor with certain strains or breeds of pigs. I hope that those who advise the hon. Gentleman will consider the deeper possibility and will not repeat the assertion that the vice is widespread.

I cannot believe that to tail pigs serves a useful function. It may be a guide to the management and may indicate whether the pigs are being well looked after. I cast doubt on the way the regulations have been phrased. If it is right, as the hon. Gentleman says, that pigs have this propensity, we can be sure that they have not got it in the first week of life. Their inclination is then different, and therefore the propensity develops much later, always after weaning and probably when they are three or four months' old.

I feel, therefore, that the regulations will permit—indeed, almost encourage— the docking of tails, on the assumption that tail biting will develop some weeks later. That is a wrong assumption. It is thoroughly bad practice for pig producers to embark on docking of pigs on the assumption that biting will occur at some later time. I hope, therefore, that those who advise the hon. Gentleman will consider some of the philosophy behind this action.

Mr. Peter Mills

I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says, but surely it means that we ought to have more research into this matter before we proceed?

Mr. Body

Research is simple, and 1 have done a lot of it. The Parliamentary Secretary should make an arrangement to come to a farm where a great deal of research has been done on this matter over the years. He will then see that there has never been a case of tail biting, other than that which I mentioned, which happened 10 years ago. There is a case for research, but in a well-managed pig unit tail biting does not happen—and certainly should not happen. I like to see tails on pigs. Where there is tail biting there is something radically wrong with the management of the herd, or with the diet—or a lack of straw bedding may be a factor.

I greatly regret the whole practice of docking tails and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will never again say that it is essential and should be allowed to go on. It is not essential. It is necessary only when the farmer is not doing his job properly.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Moyle

With permission of the House. I am encouraged by the overwhelming basic support given to the regulations, which augurs well not only for them but for the continuing and comprehensive policy of animal welfare on which we hope to embark as a result of the codes, reinforced by regulations from time to time.

I am afraid that I must disappoint the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) by saying that we have no specific plans for further regulations. But the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is considering the possibility of further regulations. As it brings forward advice to us we shall draft regulations and lay them before the House.

I cannot tell the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) precisely whether our standards are being matched in the EEC, but I shall see what information I can get for him. Harmonisation has not proceeded particularly far, but the machinery for securing it is in full flood. We are in contact with our opposite numbers on farm animal welfare matters through regular machinery.

Mr. Burden

Does the Minister agree that whatever delays there may be in the Community in improving the welfare of animals must not inhibit our intention to proceed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Moyle

That argument would receive general assent, I think, but I am describing the situation as it is at present.

As for penalties, Section 2 of the parent Act says that a breach of these regulations will lead to a maximum fine, on summary conviction, of £100, or to three months' imprisonment, or both. In the case of a repetition of the offence, the maximum fine may be doubled.

The hon. Member for Gillingham quoted a Swedish professor—whose name tripped off his tongue with greater facility than it would off mine—and his research into tailbiting. My officials were discussing his research with him only a fortnight ago. They are not convinced that his work is entirely applicable to United Kingdom conditions. Experiments have been made with better bedding, and so on, and have not been entirely successful.

We were all grateful to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) for suggesting a considerable number of lines of research. I am sure that in the initial stages of drawing up a programme those common experiences will be important guides for our scientists. The tale he told us paid an unsolicited compliment to his skill as a pig raiser rather than undermined my argument that there is a substantial amount of tail biting and that we need regulations to meet it.

We are fairly confident that the definition of agricultural land will cover the sort of problems that hon. Members have raised. If pigs are moved off non-agricultural land the Protection of Animals Act 1911 comes into effect. That Act makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering of any sort to animals. The people operating on animals would not have the protection which is afforded them in the orders under that Act.

The position is that Ministers propose and courts dispose. It is always possible —whatever Ministers say, and however their officials advise them—for the courts to come to a conclusion that is not intended by an Act. In practice, we shall have to watch the matter and bring forward amending legislation as and when necessary.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

As the regulations stand, a coach-and-four could be driven through them—for example, by removing an animal from agricultural land on to adjoining land and there performing the operation. I appreciate that the regulations copy the words of the Act, but that does not mean that the Act cannot have its i's dotted and its t's crossed. Will the Minister consider a supplementary order to prevent the removal of animals from agricultural land for the performing of operations?

Mr. Moyle

I shall require notice before answering that question. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has brought into consideration the effect of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. That makes it a crime to perform certain acts on non-agricultural land which would have the effect of causing what we think the courts would consider to be unecessary suffering to animals.

Mr. Page

That Act is not so specific as the regulations. It would help if they were clarified so as to prevent their evasion.

Mr. Moyle

We shall bear in mind that comment. It is not necessarily a bad thing for a legal provision to be nonspecific. Sometimes it helps when the provision put forward is fairly general. That means that a number of matters can be brought within the principle. That may also help the legal profession. I shall require notice of the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. This is a matter which is concerned with bad animal husbandry rather than anything else.

On the general shortage of veterinary surgeons, the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) will not be the slightest bit surprised to learn that the Government are well aware of the fact that there is a major shortage of veterinary personnel in the Government service, and that unless we take action to remedy that shortage many of the provisions that we are discussing, and farming policy generally, will be difficult to apply.

My right hon. Friend is very concerned with the shortage of veterinary surgeons and is hoping to take action to remedy the problem to which the hon. Member for Harborough has drawn attention. The problem is compounded somewhat by a slight shortage of veterinary surgeons in private practice.

Mr. Charles Morrison

It seems that almost every successive Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been hoping to take action regarding the State Veterinary Service and vets generally. It is high time that a Minister, whether Conservative or Labour, took action instead of hoping to do so.

Mr. Moyle

I am in no position to announce precisely what we shall do. That is why I put my words in such a form. No doubt the contribution made by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) will be considered along with the points raised by other hon. Members. We are faced with a serious problem and the hon. Gentleman generously recognised that it was in existence under the last Government. We must try to produce a solution.

I hope that the hon. Member for Gillingham will not be too despondent about the slow process. After all, we had the 1965 Report and then the 1968 Act. This is probably a commentary on the reference the hon. Gentleman made to the 1876 Act, which has now been supplemented by the 1968 Act, under which the welfare codes and regulations are made, so we are not wholly in the hands of an Act nearly 100 years old; we are bringing it up to date. We are making progress all the time. There have been a number of stages in the process.

Some worry has been expressed about the fact that pigs may be docked in large numbers before the seven-day period. It is necessary for a vet to be consulted before the operation takes place, although it is true that a layman can do it up to that stage. Therefore, we are hopeful that pig raisers of the skill and level of knowledge which the hon. Member for Holland with Boston mentioned will not rush into mass docking of tails. In any case, they have to consult a vet to carry out the operation.

Mr. Burden

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that although a layman can carry out the amputation or removing of a piglet's tail before it reaches the age of eight days it has to be done on the advice of a vet?

Mr. Moyle

That is what I am advised.

Mr. Burden

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Mr. Moyle

In that case, I shall certainly consider the matter further and write to the hon. Gentleman—but that is the advice I have been given.

Emergencies may arise where portions of animals may get caught in fences or machinery, and so on, and they may get their tails damaged, in which case the vet may come in and have to perform an operation. On another point, a bird, for example, cannot be livestock when it is being raised for game purposes. That relates to the phrase to which the hon. Member for Devizes referred.

I think that I have covered all the points raised in the debate apart from the one raised by the hon. Member for Gillingham, about which I shall write to him.

Mr. Peter Mills

If the hon. Gentleman will give way to me he may be able to receive a note which explains the position to him. I think it is a fact that up to eight days one does not have to refer to a vet at all. I should be surprised if that is not so. But even so, it is a serious matter, because most good stockmen would not consult their vet for castration or the removal of a tail.

Mr. Moyle

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is only recommended, and not required. We are recommending that it be done and we hope that it will have its effect. Obviously, it would be wrong for people to go in for mass docking of tails purely on the supposition that later in the pig's life it might indulge in these vices.

A number of points were raised about the subject of agriculture generally which I felt were outside the scope of the regulations. If the Opposition had turned their minds to the support of agriculture instead of having the General Election, their farming constituents might be somewhat better off now than they are.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Welfare of Livestock (Cattle and Poultry) Regulations 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th May, be approved.

Resolved, That the Welfare of Livestock (Docking of Pigs) Regulations 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th May, be approved.— [Mr. Moyle.]

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