HL Deb 22 June 1954 vol 188 cc15-26

3.15 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I do not feel it will be necessary for me to take up much of your Lordships' time in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I say this because your Lordships will remember that an unopposed Second Reading was given in your Lordships' House to the first edition of this measure on October 27 of last year, just before the end of last Session. I pointed out then that, owing to lack of time, the Bill could not make any further progress during that Session of Parliament, but I suggested that there were many advantages to be gained by discussing there and then the general objects, so as to enlist the support and sympathy of Her Majesty's Government and ascertain whether there were any points of a general nature that any of your Lordships might care to make.

This procedure, I suggest, turned out to be very satisfactory. It enabled the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to declare that the Government were in full support of the Bill in principle, and also enabled him and other noble Lords to make one or two observations about how the Bill might be improved in various minor ways. In consequence, it was possible at an early stage in the current Session of Parliament for this measure to be redrafted in the light of the observations made by your Lordships and also by the Parliamentary draftsmen and officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, and to be introduced and passed through all its stages in another place. Since, therefore, the measure has not only been discussed already at some length in this House and approved by it in principle, but has also been subjected to long and careful discussion in another place, I am hopeful that there will be no difficulty in placing it on the Statute Book without undue delay.

May I now recapitulate briefly the objects of the Bill and the ways in which it modifies the Bill which received a Second Reading in your Lordships' House last October? Its main object remains to bring the law up to date so far as the use of anaesthesia is concerned for animal operations. It does away with the Anaesthetics Act of 1919, which listed in six Schedules certain operations on certain animals which should be subject to particular types of anaesthesia. The Bill now before your Lordships proposes that all operations on all animals which involve pain, with certain minor exceptions, should be carried out under the influence of anaesthesia, it being left to the veterinary surgeon to decide what specific agent he will use and how it shall be administered. The main changes from the Bill which received its Second Reading here last October are that it has been extended to cover Scotland and in connection with the minor operations which are to be exempted from compulsory anaesthesia. These minor operations, as previously, are dealt with in a Schedule.

The Schedule has been modified in two respects: first, we have clarified the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland so far as concerns their power to modify the Schedule, subject to Parliamentary approval. This responsibility is now limited to paragraph 6 of the Schedule, which deals with the maximum age up to which it will be permissible to castrate certain male farm animals without the use of anaesthesia. Secondly, so far as concerns the castration of these animals, and also of dogs and cats, we have laid down in the Schedule certain definite maximum ages, rather than, as previously, leaving these ages for the Minister to prescribe after the Bill is placed upon the Statute Book. These ages have been the subject of much discussion and debate by the various experts and organisations concerned, and although they may not satisfy everyone, they do embody a compromise which I hope will be regarded as reasonable and acceptable in all the circumstances. In any event, however, it will be possible for the Ministers to modify the ages, so far as farm animals are concerned, if they care at any time in the future to submit the necessary amending order to Parliament for approval.

I think that is all I need say about the technical aspects of the measure, but should like to mention the organisations which have given their support to the Bill, so that your Lordships may fully appreciate that the measure is one that is the subject of happy agreement between the agricultural and animal breeding associations, and also the animal protection societies. The Bill itself was prepared by the British Veterinary Association, and it is supported by the entire veterinary profession, including the Scottish branch of the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Other interests concerned which have given their full approval include the Animal Health Trust, the National Farmers' Union, the National Cattle Breeders' Association, the British Horse Society, the Kennel Club, the R.S.P.C.A. and the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals.

If there are any points which, in my anxiety to save time, I have not dealt with, but which are of concern to any member of your Lordships' House, I shall be only too pleased to give the necessary explanations, if called upon, either at the end of this debate or in private discussion. As I have indicated, there is inevitably the necessity for a certain degree of compromise in any measure of this kind. I hope, therefore, that if any noble Lord should feel disposed to put down an Amendment, he will not do so until he has given me the opportunity to explain, if I can, why the Bill has been drafted in the way it has. I have already indicated that certain minor drafting alterations have been made in the measure to meet the wishes of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Scottish Office. In the circumstances, I am hopeful that the Bill will enjoy a speedy and uninterrupted passage through your Lordships' House, so that it can reach the Statute Book at the earliest opportunity, and so enable the veterinary profession of this country to ensure that the advances in knowledge in animal anaesthesia which have been made in recent years, both as a result of their own efforts and as a result of the efforts of scientific experts, will now be applied in practice. I regard it as a great pleasure and privilege to associate myself with the British Veterinary Association in this undertaking, and I hope that the House will now be prepared to give the measure a unanimous Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there is much that I need say. As the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, has said, we had a discussion on a similar Bill to this on the last day of last Session, and I am happy that I can welcome this Bill, as I did the other one. It is true that, although I welcomed the earlier Bill in principle, I had one or two minor criticisms to make. I also said that the Government, reluctantly, could not find time to introduce the Bill themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Stamp, was fortunate, and found somebody to introduce the Bill in another place; and it has now come up here. If I may say so, I find the noble Lord's second edition better than his first. Certainly all the criticisms which I had on that occasion have now been fully met, and on behalf of the Government I am happy to give our unqualified approval to this Bill. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the mover of this Bill shares my gratification at hearing what the Government spokesman has had to say about it; indeed, I do not think there will be any difference of opinion in your Lordships' House as to the desirability of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Stamp, has pointed out that it is, in principle, the same as the Bill which your Lordships approved without a Division when it was introduced in this House and given a Second Reading last October. We knew at the time that the noble Lord's Bill would fall for lack of Parliamentary time, and I myself—and I think other noble Lords, too, though my memory may be at fault—urged the Government, in view of the support which the Bill had received from your Lordships, and the unanimous support of the interested organisations outside, to adopt the Bill and make it a Government Bill this Session.

I must admit—I hope that I shall not be accused of Party criticism, because this is far from being a Party point—that I am sorry the Government did not respond to that appeal, because a Government Bill always gets more time for consideration in Parliament than a Private Member's Bill, however admirable that Bill may be. If the Government had fathered this Bill, there would have been sufficient time for this House to carry out its function of making minor Amendments to legislation which reaches it after consideration in another place. The present Bill is still a Private Member's Bill, and we know full well that a single Amendment made to it at a later stage in this House will send the Bill back to another place, and if this happens, the Bill runs the risk of being lost. I must confess that I had some ideas about the Bill—they may be bad ones; I do not know whether they are good or bad—and I should have liked to suggest one or two minor Amendments. However, I shall refrain from proposing any Amendments, and I would add, with the utmost diffidence, that I hope other noble Lords will follow the same course, for the reason I have already given. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, was urging the same procedure, in a modest way, when he suggested that any noble Lords who wished to put down an Amendment should first consult him about it.

No one can doubt the value of this Bill, which makes it a general rule that anaesthetics should be used for animals, though it specifies various minor exceptions to this rule and in this way reverses the procedure under the 1919 Act. But I should like to say, as it has not been said so far, one thing. We have this measure largely due to two circumstances: first, to the initiative taken by the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, last year: and secondly, to the unanimous support given to his previous Bill by your Lordships when it came before this House for Second Reading. The present measure is, I feel, an example of the useful influence that this House can still exert. I believe this to be so partly because it gives scope for independent-minded Back-Benchers, like the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, and partly, also, because the judgment of this House in matters like animal welfare, which do not directly touch on Party politics, is widely respected. The extension of the franchise in the last 100 years was, fortunately, stopped at adult franchise—even the most ardent egalitarian jibbed at animal franchise. So long as animals continue to have no votes, our opinion on this subject will, I am certain, carry a great deal of weight and will not be suspected of the slightest Party bias.

There are two small matters in relation to this Bill which I should like to mention. I do not know whether they are Second Reading or Committee points, but if they are Committee points, perhaps your Lordships will excuse me, because I do not intend to say anything during the Committee stage. The first is this. In subsection (4) of Clause 1, the word "animal" is defined in a delightful way which defies both common sense and the dictionary, so as to exclude birds, fishes and reptiles. I admit, of course, that this definition is necessary for the purposes of the Bill, but it does raise one point which I think deserves consideration. Whatever we may think about the sensibility of fishes and reptiles—and that, of course, is a matter which is open to question; even a philosopher like Herbert Spencer, who was very careful and conscious about cruelty to animals, was willing to fish—there can be no doubt that birds feel and suffer pain if they are injured; indeed, the legislation for the protection of birds shows that that is accepted by public opinion. It would therefore appear to be both humane and logical for this Bill, in its definition of animals, to include, as well as mammals, at least domestic fowls and birds used as pets. At the moment it is confined to mammals.

I gather, from studying the proceedings in another place, that the objection to including birds under the Bill was that the veterinary profession do not know for certain how to anaesthetise birds. Against this view, an example was given of the successful application of a local anaesthetic to a swan with a broken wing. It was also argued that a veterinary surgeon in the London Zoo believed that local anaesthetics could be used successfully in relation to birds. For my part, I hope that we shall accept the expert advice which must have been tendered to the promoters of this Bill. It is obvious that at the present time expert opinion in this matter is divided, but in view of this division of opinion, and of the consequent progress of medical knowledge on anesthetics and their application, I should have liked to see this provision amended in a way that would make it possible for the Minister to make a statutory order to include birds at some appropriate time in the future. This is the procedure contemplated, I think, in Paragraph 6 to the First Schedule, and I wish that it had been applied also to this part of the Bill. As it is we shall have to wait for amending legislation, and sometimes it takes a long time for a Government to amend a Bill of this type.

There is one other matter to which I should like to refer briefly, and that is the question of the age limit, to which the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, referred, for castration of animals without an anaesthetic. This age limit varies according to the species concerned. It is as high as twelve months for a horse or a bull, and seven months for a pig. I think we shall all agree that the longer this operation is delayed, the more the animal will suffer. That being so, the time after birth during which castration without an anaesthetic is permissible should, clearly, be as short as possible. Everyone will appreciate the economic and practical reasons connected with farming, and especially farming in the more remote parts of this country, and in Wales and Scotland, which make it absolutely essential for age limits of this order to be included in the provisions of the present Bill; and I hope that considerations of this kind will be accepted as a valid justification for these age limits. Under the Bill, the Minister may alter the age limits by statutory order. I am glad that he has been given that power, and I think we must look to farmers, aided by the veterinary profession, to increase the use of anaesthetics before these age limits are reached, and in this way to make it possible for the Minister to use the powers which he has been given, which will obviously be a matter of great satisfaction for the humanitarian conscience of the country. I warmly commend this Bill to your Lordships, and I assure the noble Lord that we on this side of the House will endeavour to expedite its passage.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I have no intention of suggesting Amendments which might delay the passage of this Bill, or perhaps even kill it altogether. I think it is unfortunate that so many Private Members' Bills come to this House late in the Session, when they have to be taken as they stand or rejected because there is no time to put through Amendments. I am glad to see that this Bill gives further protection, in particular, to horses, but there are two questions that I should like to ask. I understand that, according to the law as it stands at present, unqualified persons can castrate horses up to the age of two years. Has there been any alteration in that regulation, or is that still possible? If it is, it means that unqualified persons may be castrating horses between the ages of one and two years with the use of anaesthetics.

The other question I wanted to ask follows what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said. What is the principle upon which these limits of age mentioned in the First Schedule were fixed? Presumably, the principle is that painful operations which are to be carried out without anaesthetics should be carried out in infancy, or as near that as possible, so that the suffering of the animal is as little as possible. I can well understand the exception that must be made to that principle in the interests of farming, particularly where creatures exist in numbers—sheep, for example—but I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us why the limiting age for a sheep should be twelve months, for a goat three months and for a pig seven months. Again, one is grateful for the improvement in the lot of horses, but even now a yearling horse probably feels just as much as a fully grown horse, and as a horse is so much an individual one had hoped that it might be possible to make the use of anaesthetics for castration of horses compulsory in all cases. However, as I said, I do not want to do anything to upset this admirable Bill. I would only ask the noble Lord whether he can enlighten me on those two questions which I have asked.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I have left it very late in the day to come into this discussion, and I am obliged to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, for easing my conscience to some extent with regard to this Bill by describing it as some improvement upon the position that exists at the present time. It seems to me that the provision in the First Schedule of a list of exceptions where operations can be carried out without an anaesthetic demonstrates that this country of ours, the country with the greatest reputation in the world for humane treatment of animals, has still some way to go before its reputation can be looked upon as being absolutely perfect in that respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Stamp, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said that the First Schedule dealt with certain "minor exceptions". It seems to me that if it were human beings who were being treated in that way, the fact that they were "minor exceptions" would not be much consolation to them. It has been pointed out that the Ministers, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the appropriate Minister South of the Border, have power to modify these conditions. It seems to me that the castration of a horse at an age as late as twelve months is not a happy arrangement and that there should be a modification of that particular provision. The noble Lord, Lord Stamp, then said that there had been a happy agreement about the arrangements that are embodied in this Bill, and he made reference to the fact, as I understood him, that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were in support of the Bill. My understanding with regard to the R.S.P.C.A's. attitude to the Bill is not that they support the Bill so much as that they do not take violent exception to it, because a certain concession is made to those who wish to see animals treated with the utmost consideration. There is no active opposition to the Bill by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If there had been such a disposition on the part of the R.S.P.C.A., I should be endeavouring to move Amendments and to improve the Bill along the lines that I consider necessary.

My noble friend Lord Listowel made reference to the fact that animals have no votes. It is certain that if animals had votes, they would not be supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. In my judgment, it is regrettable that at this time of day those who for years have been carrying out these operations without anaesthetics should have become so enured to carrying them out in that way and apparently so accustomed to the amount of cruelty involved and pain and suffering caused, that they do not see the necessity for dealing with the matter on a wholesale scale and making certain that anaesthetics are used. I have been told that in respect of castration elastic bands are used to limit, to some extent, the severity of the pain that the animal suffers. Even so, it seems to me that the Christian conscience of this country should regret the present position. I hope that we may look forward in the not distant future to clearing up and completing the process of caring for animals that are operated upon in the way mentioned in the Bill. I feel sure that what I have said will evoke something from the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, and I shall be glad to hear of anything which will lead me to modify the feelings I have with regard to this Bill. I look forward to the day when we shall have an absolutely clean bill in respect of our dealing with animals.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene for only two or three moments because the noble Lord who has just sat down mentioned the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I am fully aware that noble Lords in this House speak for themselves as individuals and not for any societies, and I would not have intervened at all if the noble Lord had not mentioned that Society. I should like to make this point plain: that the Society do welcome this Bill; they support it strongly whilst, at the same time, reserving to themselves the right to say that this Bill, like so many other Bills, does not contain everything that they would have desired. But in case there is any doubt about that point, let me say, without any reservation, that the Society are strong supporters of this Bill.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord who, I think, is still Chairman of the Society, how pleased I am to have his assurance to that effect? My information was to the contrary effect. I am glad to have been corrected.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, in view of what I may call, I think, the wholehearted support that this Bill has once more received in your Lordships' House, it seems unnecessary for me to detain you for more than a few minutes, but I should like to refer briefly to some of the points which your Lordships have raised. First of all, with regard to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, concerning the exclusion of birds from the provision, the answer is that the efficient application of anaesthesia to all types of birds is still only in the experimental stage. So far as poultry is concerned, it would be wholly impracticable at this juncture to enforce anaesthesia.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, referred to the question of castration of horses up to the age of two years by unqualified people. Of course, that is now quite impossible, because castration without anaesthesia is allowed only up to one year. Up to one year of age, however, that would still be possible. That is my understanding. Then the noble and gallant Lord asked for some information as to how these ages for various animals have been arrived at. They represent a compromise between what the animal protection societies would like to have and what the organisations representing farmers and animal breeders are prepared to accept as practicable. The age for a bull and the age for a pig are related to the ages at which the owners of such animals can get licences to keep them as bulls or boars. Then, with regard to sheep, the age cannot easily be reduced because it is the practice on hill farms and in remote parts of the country for the sheep to be gathered in on only one or two occasions in the year. The noble and gallant Lord also referred to horses. When the Bill was originally presented in another place the maximum age provided in regard to a horse was eighteen months, but in the light of further representation the Thoroughbred Horse Breeders' Association agreed to a reduction of six months—that is, to one year. This must be regarded as the lowest at which any reasonable compromise could be enforced in present circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, raised the question of what constitutes a minor operation. It has been argued that the definition of a minor operation is not sufficiently tight, but it has been found virtually impossible to evolve a mere satisfactory form of words without going into excessive detail. It is thought that the wording of the Bill will work out satisfactorily in practice, and it is up to the animal protection societies to arrange to take suitable action under the Bill if they consider that there is any abuse of the facility given. I think that is all I have to say. If any of the points which I have attempted to answer need further explanation, or if any points occur to your Lordships following this debate, I shall, as I have said, be only too glad to attempt to meet them if noble Lords come and discuss them with me privately. I am sure we are all most anxious that this Bill should not suffer any undue or unnecessary delay at this stage which might, as one noble Lord has suggested, jeopardise its chances of reaching the Statute Book during the present Session. In conclusion, I should like to thank the, noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his kind references to the part I have been privileged to play in introducing this Bill into your Lordships' House, and to thank all noble Lords who have fully supported it. It is most gratifying that this piece of proposed legislation has made such speedy progress since it was debated in your Lordships' House last October, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all those who were responsible. I trust that nothing will now prevent it from becoming law at the earliest possible time.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.