HL Deb 27 October 1953 vol 183 cc1379-91

3.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Bill this afternoon, I feel that I owe your Lordships some explanation. At first sight I may seem to be taking up your Lordships' time unjustifiably, in view of the fact that, even if the Bill is given a Second Reading, it obviously cannot possibly make any further progress during the present Session of Parliament. But I believe there are many advantages to be gained by discussing at the present time the general objects of the Bill, and the reasons why it is considered necessary. In the first place, I entertain the hope that it may be possible so to enlist the support and sympathy of Her Majesty's Government that, in spite of the demands on their time, they will be prepared to reintroduce it as a Government measure—a course which would obviously be preferable. Or it may be possible to obtain the support of a private Member having the necessary facilities for it to be reintroduced in another place. Again, whilst I fully appreciate that this is not the occasion on which to discuss points of detail, it may well be that your Lordships have some important points to make and valuable suggestions of a general nature to raise. In the light of such comment it might well be possible to amend the Bill in various details before it is reintroduced, either in this House or in another place. This would undoubtedly expedite its progress. For these reasons, all concerned feel that a most useful purpose would be served by giving this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon.

Before proceeding to outline the main object of the Bill I should like to emphasise that it is not concerned with euthanasia or the slaughter of animals, which might well be the subject of separate legislation, now that the Northumberland Report, dealing with the slaughter of horses, has been published. Nor, of course, does it deal with scientific experiments on animals, which are subject to the provisions of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876. The main object of this Bill is to bring the law up to date so far as it concerns the use of anæesthesia in connection with operations on animals. Since the passage of the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act of 1919, there have been a number of important advances in the development and range of anæsthetic agents which can be applied to animals. Moreover, there have been equally numerous developments as regards new operations and the invention of new techniques for applying anæsthesia. Furthermore, in 1948, a new Veterinary Surgeons Act was placed on the Statute Book, which placed additional restrictions on veterinary sur- gery by unqualified persons. In the light of these considerations, the veterinary profession has felt for some time past that an amendment of the law relating to the use of anæsthesia for animals was long overdue. As the Government of the day appear to have found some difficulty in finding the necessary time to introduce the required amending legislation the profession itself has taken the initiative in having a Bill drafted to achieve such amendment of the law as they consider necessary. This is the Bill which I submit to your Lordships this afternoon.

As a medical man I do not claim to be an expert or authority on veterinary matters, but I am assured that the Bill which I have introduced into your Lordships' House has the complete support of the veterinary profession and of a number of organisations which are concerned with the matters with which it deals. For instance, the draft of the Bill itself was prepared by the British Veterinary Association, which, in the veterinary field, is the equivalent of the British Medical Association. It has also the support of the Scottish Branch of the British Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and the Animal Health Trust. The National Farmers' Union, the National Cattle Breeders' Association, the British Horse Society, and the Kennel Club all give it full and strong support. I am further informed that the R.S.P.C.A., in principle, are glad to support the Bill. The P.D.S.A. has expressed a similar view It may well he that other organisations concerned may equally be recorded as supporters of the measure, but in view of the fact that it was printed only at the end of July there has not yet been time for all concerned to express themselves on the subject. It is, however, encouraging to note that up to date the British Veterinary Association, who have taken a leading part in the matter, have not been informed of any opposition.

Returning to the Bill itself, I would emphasise that whereas the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, 1919—which by Clause 4 of my Bill we seek to repeal—applied only to a limited class of animal, namely, horses, bovines, clogs, and cats, this amending Bill will apply to all animals, but not to birds, fowls, fishes, and reptiles. These have been left out because I am informed there is as yet no anæsthetic development which is satisfactory for use in operations applying to them. It is, of course, conceivable that this position may change as years go by, and for that reason it might be possible to consider adding to the Bill at some later stage an amendment giving the Minister power, after suitable consultations, to bring some of this category within the Bill if he should think fit.

Furthermore, the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, 1919, as well as being concerned with only a limited range of animals, was concerned only with a limited number of operations upon them. Sat out in six Schedules to that Act are three lists of specific operations—on horses, dogs and cats, and bovines respectively—for which a general anæsthetic is obligatory, and a further three lists for those classes of animals for which a local anæsthetic is obligatory. The veterinary surgeons are satisfied that those lists have become completely out of date. Some of the operations for which general anæsthesia is obligatory could be far more humanely performed, if indeed they have to be performed at all, with the use of an up-to-date local anæsthetic.

There are, moreover, numerous absurd anomalies arising under the 1919 Act. I should like to quote one or two examples. First, the 1919 Act lays down that the operation for the removal of the ovary in a bovine must be carried out under general anæsthesia. The facts are, however, that under modern conditions ovariotomy is far more safely and efficiently performed, with the animal fully conscious and standing, under spinal anæsthetic. Again, the operation of stripping the wall and sole from the claw or hoof of any animal may be carried out with any anæsthetic, except for the horse, where a general anæsthetic is scheduled—and this in spite of the fact that the local anæsthetic known as nerve block anæsthesia is more easily, more frequently and more efficiently effected on this animal than on any other. Thirdly, operations for extensive tumours are included in the case of the horse but are not mentioned in the case of the dog, the species in which such operations are most often performed. The Act provides for such rare operations as quittor in the horse and enucleation of the eyeball, yet many common operations are not included, even though in some cases they require complicated anæsthesia—for example, reducing of fractures and dislocations, opening of joints, pinning and screwing of bones, amputations, operations on chest, lungs, heart or brain, and so on. The Act protects the horse for certain dental operations, such as the removal of a molar tooth, even in an old horse where the tooth is falling out, but no reference is made to tooth extraction in the dog, the species in which dental disease is most common and in which dental extraction is often necessary.

It is true that machinery is provided in Section 3 of the 1919 Act for modifying and extending the Schedules, but modifications on the scale required to-day are considered to be quite impracticable. Nor would they remain up to date for long, as knowledge of animal aæsthesia is continuously progressing and new operations are being developed. The veterinary profession take the view that it is now quite impossible to lay down in scheduled lists the kind of anæsthetic to be used for different kinds of operations. This must be left to the veterinary surgeon, since he is the only one capable of assessing all the requirements. The Bill which I have introduced therefore makes it possible, and indeed obligatory, for the veterinary surgeon, in all operations involving pain, to use whatever anæsthetic he considers most suitable. So far as machinery is concerned, the Bill proposes to make use of the enforcement machinery of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and to lay down that if henceforward anyone performs an operation on an animal without using an efficient general or local anæsthetic, so as to prevent the animal from feeling pain throughout the operation, it shall be deemed to be an operation which is performed without due care and humanity within the meaning of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911. He will thus become liable under that Act to the same penalties which apply to a breach of the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, namely, a maximum of £25 and imprisonment not exceeding three months.

In Clause 2 we define the type of operations to which the Bill is to apply, that is to say, any operation with or without the use of instruments which involves any surgical interference with the sensitive tissues or the bone structure of an animal. … It is, however, necessary to exclude certain minor operations for which it is not usual to use an anæsthetic and in which the pain involved is so comparatively limited, or so quickly over, that it would be impracticable to insist on the use of an anæsthetic. These minor operations are set out in a Schedule, and include such operations as the docking of dogs' tails before their eyes are open, and also operations which may be necessary in an emergency to save life or relieve pain. It may, however, be necessary as time goes on to make certain modifications in this Schedule in the light of experience, or in the light of new experiments with anæsthesia. In Clause 3, therefore, power is given to the Minister of Agriculture, after consulting the interests concerned, to make alterations in the Schedule, after seeking the approval of Parliament. It will be observed that in its present form the Bill does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. I am informed, however, that since the Bill was introduced, the Scottish interests have made it clear that Scotland should be included, and as this can be achieved without much difficulty by the introduction of certain Amendments, I can give an assurance that, if the Bill makes any further progress through Parliament, steps will be taken to introduce the necessary Amendments for that purpose.

So much for the detail of the Bill. With regard to its principles, I would emphasise once again that its main object is to ensure that the advances in scientific knowledge in the field of animal anæsthesia are applied in practice without legal hindrance. The veterinary profession are convinced that the time has now come when all painful surgical operations on animals should be carried out under conditions which will reduce the pain to the absolute minimum possible. My Lords, I trust that I have said enough to indicate why the Bill is considered so necessary. I also hope that ways and means will be found to bring it speedily to the Statute Book, and that this afternoon's debate will materially contribute to that end. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Stamp.)


My Lords, I trust I am not out of order in putting a question to the noble Lord, to ask him why this Bill has not been made to apply to Scotland. The noble Lord has not made that clear in his speech. It seems to me that any Bill such as this to bring the law of anæsthesia for animals into line with modern practice should be made to apply to the whole country, to Scotland and to Northern Ireland. Yet I see in Clause 4 that the Act of 1919, as far as it relates to Scotland, has not been amended. I am sorry I did not see the noble Lord before the House met to ask him personally. I hope he will excuse my putting this question, but the position seems to me rather strange.


My Lords, I think I mentioned that, since the Bill was introduced, the Scottish interests have made it clear that Scotland Should be included, and we are proposing to introduce an Amendment to that effect if the Bill makes any further progress. I have said that already. I am sorry the noble Earl did not catch my words, but that is what I said.


I did not hear that. I thank the noble Lord.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords. I rise to support the noble Lord who has moved that this Bill be read a second time. It seems to me that while in the medical profession, to which I also have the honour to belong, we have our anæsthesia up to date, in the veterinary profession they have not. They are lagging behind now. They are governed by an Act of 1919, which is a very long rime ago, particularly in a world which is affected to a large extent by scientific discoveries. In fact, since 1919 there have been revolutionary discoveries in regard to modern medicine, and that applies equally to the veterinary sciences. The changes that have taken place since 1919 in the application of knowledge to medicines for human consumption and to anæsthetics for human use have been revolutionary. Changes have also been revolutionary with regard to animals, and it is quite clear from what the noble Lord has said that the present regulations governing the veterinary profession are out of date. What, in fact, this Bill proposes to do is to bring matters up to date. May I say (and I hope the noble Lord will agree with me) that it is quite clear that nothing in this Bill affects vivisection—I understand from the noble Lord's gesture that that is so. Vivisection is governed by other laws and not by this Bill at all, so I do not think that aspect of the matter need bother your Lordships in any way.

I do not propose to go into the detail into which the mover has gone, but the fact is that there has been a great deal of support, and no opposition, from all sections concerned with veterinary work, and from farmers and all those who know about the day-to-day details of work with animals. That shows clearly that the world which is mostly concerned with animal life is satisfied that this is a necessary reform. Under the present law it may be essential to use a general anæsthetic; for a particular operation when, in fact, a local anæsthetic is much better and causes less trouble. It may be that there are a number of points of that kind. In fact, the question of the use of anæsthetics in the veterinary profession is really out of date I hope therefore that this Bill will receive its Second Reading to-day. It is highly desirable that it should go through. I know it is the usual custom, when Private Members' Bills are moved in this House, for opinions to be aired and the matter concerned to be discussed. I hope it will be discussed by a good many noble Lords this afternoon.

But that does not necessarily mean that the Bill will come on to the Statute Book. For myself, I do not see any reason why a Bill of this kind, which has no political repercussions at all, should not receive its Second Reading and go forward. It is quite clear, for another reason, that this particular Bill will not be treated in that way, because the Session is coming to an end in two days' time. Apart from that, however, a Bill of this kind, initiated in this House, should be able to be passed through the other place, because this Bill deals with a matter which is of great scientific interest and of humanitarian and, in fact, general importance. There is practically no body of opinion of any kind against it. Therefore, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, and I hope the Bill will receive a Second Reading this afternoon.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to give my support to the Bill which is at present before your Lordships' House. It has two great advantages: in the first place, it is extremely short, and, secondly, it is a comprehensive Bill. I entirely agree with my noble friend that there is no point in extending the Schedule of the 1919 Act, because, with the changes in practice which occur from time to time, it is difficult to carry forward such a Schedule.

The real point of the present Bill is that it places firmly upon veterinary surgeons the responsibility of seeing that they carry out their surgical work in the most humane, sensible and reasonable way possible; in other words, it makes their work approach that of the members of the profession to which I belong, in which one does not have to do one's work by rule of thumb laid down in a Schedule. It is for that purpose that I trust your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading, and in that connection I support every word that my noble friend has said.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, it is a welcome feature of the presentation of this Bill that not only the veterinary profession but every kind of organisation interested in animal welfare is behind it and cordially supports it. As one who has been for many years associated with the P.D.S.A., I should like to support the Bill from that standpoint, and to put on record that we recognise its great importance, in view—as the preamble to the Bill itself says—of the scientific advances in anæsthesia that have been made during recent times. I am a layman, but from my contact with animal welfare I know that there have been revolutionary changes, and, from every point of view, these should be represented in all sections of practical, professional and administrative work connected with animal welfare. The P.D.S.A. has had a lot of experience in respect of anæsthesia for animals. It has always been much interested in the subject and has made it part of its policy that on all occasions where deep surgery is undertaken on animals an anæsthetic shall, wherever possible, be applied. That has been found possible, even under the conditions which prevailed before these revolutionary changes occurred. On behalf of all sections of animal welfare, as distinct from professional veterinary interests, I cordially support this Bill.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord who introduced this Bill is replying to the debate, I hope he will enlighten my ignorance in one particular respect. I am a little apprehensive about paragraph 3 of the Schedule which concerns the castration of any male or female domestic animal before it has reached the prescribed age. I do not know what the definition of a domestic animal is. For instance, I do not know whether a horse is a domestic animal. But the law as regards the castration of horses has, I think, been lamentably defective up to date. If I am right in my recollection, the castration of horses up to the age of two years can be performed by an unqualified person. I think there is no provision that even after two years an anæsthetic must be applied when this very agonising operation is carried out. So I should like to be assured that not only in the case of horses but in the cases of all other animals when there is a question of castration, their interests shall be fully and adequately safeguarded. In other respects I fully endorse the Bill. It has my most cordial support.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all interested in, and would wish to support, any measure which has as its object the prevention of pain and suffering among animals, and I should like to say at once that Her Majesty's Government have every sympathy with the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, in introducing this Bill. I have listened, as I am sure all your Lordships have done, with great interest to what he has said. I think he has given the House a very clear picture of what may be, and often is, involved in operations on animals.

I do not think there is very much that I need say, except that the Government support the Bill in principle. Perhaps I should also say that, short though it is, I believe some details of the Bill will need further study. In particular, I have in mind the provision in paragraph 3, of the Schedule to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, has already drawn your Lordships' attention. The effect of this provision is that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries may, after consultation, make regulations for prescribing the maximum age at which, exceptionally, an animal may be castrated without the use of an anæsthetic. This is a question which might conceivably prove to be rather controversial, and as my right honourable friend's Departmental responsibility in this matter rarely goes beyond the farm, I think it would be better if the Bill itself were to specify the exceptions, rather than leave them to be dealt with by a regulation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, will agree that this particular point needs looking into rather carefully. As the noble Lord has said, there is no prospect of this Bill making any further progress this Session—there are only two more days left. I am afraid that I cannot give him any undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will be able to find time to take up the Bill themselves. All I can say at this juncture is that Her Majesty's Government support the Bill in principle.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I think the course of this debate has shown that the different interests affected by the Bill, the veterinary interests and the animal welfare interests, and the agricultural interests which are represented by the Department for which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, speaks, regard this as a good Bill. There has been absolute unanimity about the principle of the Bill. I think the fundamental consideration is that if it is wrong to cause unnecessary pain to animals then it is clearly right (and this is what the Bill proposes) that all operations involving pain, apart from certain classes of operation specified in the Bill, should be carried out under an anæsthetic. I have one question to ask about the Schedule. Obviously, an intention is not enough, and I should like to know whether it is absolutely clear in the Schedule that any operations conducted by scientists for experimental purposes, where consciousness of the animal is essential, are excluded from the provisions of the Bill. I think it is important that that point should be looked at, and that, if necessary, an alteration should be made at the Committee stage.

Apart from that, I have only one thing to add. It seems to me a pity that a Bill which has won such general approval should have no opportunity of passing into law. It will, clearly, be dropped at the end of this Session. May I address a request to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—namely, that, during the course of the next Session, the Government should seriously examine the possibility of including in their legislative programme a Bill on these lines? I know how heavy a legislative programme is. I am not sure whether I ought to be addressing this request to the noble Lord opposite or whether I ought to be addressing it to the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton. However, I am sure that he will give sympathetic consideration to what I am saying. Whether this should be a request to the Ministry of Agriculture or to the Home Office, I am not clear. It is a little difficult, in matters of this kind, to define Departmental responsibility. However that may be, I should like to ask noble Lords opposite who represent the Government to give this matter their consideration. It would be a great pity if the Bill again failed in the next Session simply because it was a Private Members' Bill and there was not the Parliamentary time for it which would be required if it was to pass into law.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that there is little that I need add to my previous remarks, except to thank all noble Lords who have supported this measure, and to assure them that any suggestions or comments they have made will receive the fullest consideration when Amendments to the Bill are being considered. With regard to the point raised by Lord Dowding, I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that the interests of horses in regard to the matter of the age of castration will be fully safeguarded. I might emphasise once again—I mentioned this earlier—that the Bill does not apply to scientific experiments on animals, which are adequately safeguarded and covered by the provisions of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876.I see no reason why a sentence or sentences emphasising that point should not be put into the Bill, if that is considered desirable. As several noble Lords have pointed out, this is a non-controversial measure, and it has evoked such widespread support and sympathy from so many groups of people, and is so obviously necessary, on humanitarian as well as on utilitarian grounds, that I cannot conceive that it should be subjected to delay or should be shelved at any stage. I therefore greatly welcome the general support given by Her Majesty's Government, though I must confess to some disappointment that they do not see their way to undertaking to sponsor the Bill's future progress. But with their blessing I trust that a way will be found speedily to bring it into law.

On Question, Bill read 2ª.