§ 2.35 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to the serious seasonal overcrowding which obtains at Norwich cattle market and to the distress which is caused to cattle through being kept for protracted periods without water; whether it is possible for action to be taken with regard to such conditions under existing enactments relating to markets or fairs; and if not, whether steps can be taken either to amend the law in that respect or to set up a committee of inquiry to examine conditions in markets generally throughout England and Wales.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, I think the occasion my noble friend has in mind is June 7, when there were crowded conditions at Norwich market which were due to quite exceptional circumstances. The flow of trade had been held up for a month because the market had been closed on account of foot-and-mouth disease and, in addition, the Smithfield and dock strikes were creating a very keen demand for all kinds of home-produced meat. This combination of circumstances is unlikely to recur.
1028 I understand that there are facilities for handling nearly 2,000 cattle at this market and that, until these exceptional circumstances occurred, the facilities had proved adequate to deal with the normal seasonal trade. Nevertheless, it has been recognised for some time that the old cattle market at Norwich is in surroundings too congested for efficient working in modern conditions, and work has already begun on the site for a new market at Harford which will replace the Norwich market as soon as possible.
The Protection of Animals Act makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to animals and also specifically prescribes penalties for persons confining animals without suitable food and water. I do not consider that any special action is called for. I think that I can assure my noble friend that conditions are generally satisfactory throughout England and Wales and that the numerous market improvements and reconstructions now being carried out reflect the sense of responsibility felt by market proprietors towards animal welfare.
§ LORD DORCHESTER
My Lords. I thank the noble Earl for his reply. My figures do not entirely correspond with his. The market, I am told, can house about 800 beasts. My information is that there were approximately 2,500 at the sale in question. I do not quarrel about the 700, but it remains that Norwich market was overcrowded to the extent of 1,000 animals. I think steps should be taken to prevent such a happening from occurring again.
My Lords. I can only say that the figures with which I have been supplied show that there were pens for at least 1,500 non-attested and 400 attested animals and that the excess number on that date did, unfortunately, cause congestion. But the noble Lord's figure of 700 to 800 is really an under-estimate.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, may I ask to whom this market belongs and whether any proceedings were taken with regard to the event referred to in the noble Lord's Question?
I am not sure to whom the market belongs but it is operated by two firms of auctioneers. I understand that no proceedings were taken and that there was no specific complaint made that day by the inspector of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.