HL Deb 11 February 1964 vol 255 cc528-41

5.35 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Protection of Animals (Amæsthetics) Bill, 1964, be now read a second time. I must start by referring to the Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, 1919, which contained Schedules listing the operations for which an anæsthetic, general or local, had to be used. That was considered satisfactory for the time, but later the British Veterinary Association thought, because of the new operations and new techniques of anæsthetics which were constantly being devised, that it was impossible to schedule for any considerable length of time all the various surgical operations for which an anæsthetic was required. Accordingly, they sponsored the Protection of Animals (Amæsthetics) Bill, 1953. That Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, and received a Second Reading on October 22, but lapsed at the end of the Session.

A new Bill was then introduced in another place in 1954 by the noble Baroness, Lady Davidson, and eventually became the Protection of Animals (Amæsthetics) Act, 1954. That Act replaced the 1919 Act and, instead of listing the operations which must be performed under an anæsthetic, it provided that all operations an animals which involved interference with the sensitive tissue or bone structure should be carried out under an anæsthetic, except those listed in the First Schedule.

The British Veterinary Association had some proposals for amending the 1954 Act. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, replying to a question from Mrs. Barbara Castle in July, 1962, said that he was in touch with the veterinary profession on the subject of the possible amendment of the Act. An ad hoc committee of the British Veterinary Association later reviewed the Act, and recommended that the following classes of operation should always be carried out under an anæsthetic: (a) the castration of a male dog, cat, horse, ass or mule; (b) the castration of a bull, or a male sheep, goat or pig over the age of two months; (c) the de-horning of cattle by any method, until actual physical severance of the horn occurs; and (d) the dis-budding of calves by actual cautery or incision.

They also recommended that the use of the rubber ring method for the castration of male animals or for the docking of lambs' tails should be permitted only if the ring were applied in the first week of the animal's life. A petition asking that the Protection of Animals (Anæsthetic) Act be amended was presented to the Speaker of the House of Commons in July, 1963, and later that month, in reply to a Question from me, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, said that it was intended to introduce legislation to amend the Act.

That brings us to the present Bill. Clause 1(2) has the effect of requiring that dogs and cats may be castrated only under anæsthetic. An Amendment was proposed in the Committee stage of Lady Davidson's Bill in 1954, that the castration of a dog should always be performed under an anæsthetic, but, after some discussion, for reasons which I need not elaborate, it was withdrawn. The elimination of dogs and cats from the classes of animals which may be operated on without an anæsthetic is the purport of this subsection. I must say that the present proposal has the strong support of the veterinary profession.

Clause 1(3)(a) would have the effect of removing from the First Schedule the reference to horses, asses and mules, and consequently would make it unlawful to castrate these at any age without using an anæsthetic. The Protection of Animals (Anæthetic) Bill of 1954 provided that the age above which horses may not be castrated without an anæsthetic should be eighteen months, but this was reduced in Committee to twelve months. An Amendment was also moved in Committee to require that the castration of horses should never be performed without an anæsthetic. This was the only Amendment on which the Committee divided, and the Amendment was defeated by 10 votes to 8. So from 1954 to the present time it has been legal to castrate horses up to the age of twelve months without an anæsthetic. It is now proposed that horses shall never be castrated without an anæsthetic. In that Committee in 1954 it was strongly urged that the process of applying an anæsthetic to a horse might damage its prospects for racing, and so on. But the development of tranquillisers and anæsthetics has made it no longer necessary to use these physical methods of restraint—that is to say, casting a horse and so on—and in the opinion of the veterinary authorities the whole operation can now be carried out with complete safety.

Clause 1(3)(b) would reduce the age above which a bull or male sheep may not be castrated without an anæsthetic from twelve months to three months. An Amendment to accomplish this was proposed in the Committee stage of the 1954 Bill, but it was eventually withdrawn. It was then stated that it might not be possible in remote parts of the country, and particularly in Scotland and Wales, to get in a veterinary surgeon to perform the operation when required when they had to be castrated up to the age of twelve months. The British Veterinary Association originally proposed that the age should be reduced to two months for bulls and male sheep; but the farming interests pointed out that hill-farming lambs are not brought down from the hills until they are older than two months, and if they were gathered at an earlier age there would be considerable risk that they would lose their mothers. The British Veterinary Association pointed out that animals become progressively more sensitive to pain as they grow older, but agreed that castration without anæsthetics would not cause much more pain to a three-months-old lamb than it would to a two-months-old lamb. I must apologise for reading this speech, but it is so full of detail that I could not memorise it all. Also, I think it is important that I should give these details, because it shows that this new Bill is not somebody's brain wave with the date arbitrarily fixed, but that the veterinary authorities and the farmers have been consulted throughout, and to a very large extent it records an agreed compromise.

The farming industry also pointed out that male calves of hill-suckled herds were not generally castrated until they were between four and five months old, and that it would encourage contravention if the age above which an anæsthetic must be used for their castration were set as low as two months, and an extra collection of cattle would be necessary. In view of these circumstances, the R.S.P.C.A. and the Central Council in Scotland of the societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and the veterinary profession, agreed with the representatives of the farmers that the age above which bulls and male sheep should not be castrated without an anæsthetic should be set at three months. This morning, when I came into the House, I received a letter from the Secretary of the R.S.P.C.A. giving the wholehearted support of his Society to this Bill.

Clause 1(3) would reduce to two months the age above which goats and pigs may not be castrated without an anæsthetic. At present the ages are three months and seven months respectively. In the Protection of Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, 1954, the ages were set at six months and seven months respectively, and an Amendment was moved that they should be reduced to three months. The Amendment was agreed to in the case of goats, but resisted in the case of pigs. Lady Davidson said that there was a reason for resisting the Amendment in the case of pigs, that in the remoter parts of the country and in Scotland and Wales the farmers are in some cases a hardier and tougher breed, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to bring in a veterinary surgeon when necessary to castrate pigs five or six months old. The evidence suggests that the adoption of the present proposal would cause no hardship to the pig industry, because early castration is now practised very widely.

Clause (1)(3) would make it unlawful to castrate an animal by using a rubber ring or other device to restrict the flow of blood to the scrotum applied later than the first week of the animal's life, unless it was anæsthetised during the whole time that it carried the rubber ring. This would be quite impossible, of course, because castration by this method takes up to three weeks. The practical effect of this new paragraph 6A, therefore, is to forbid the use of the rubber-ring method for castration unless it is applied within the first week of the animal's life. This proposal is, perhaps, likely to prove the most contentious one in the Bill, but the opinion of the Veterinary Society is that this method of castration by constricting the flow of blood to and from the scrotum causes a great deal of suffering over a longer period. Farmers have objected that it is not always possible to apply the ring in the first week of a lamb's life because the testicles have not developed sufficiently for the purpose. Now that other methods of castration are to be permitted, with amæsthetics applied by laymen and not by veterinarians, I very much hope that the practice of using the rubber rings will fall into desuetude.

Clause 1(4)(a) and paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Schedule to the Act of 1954 exempt minor operations from the general requirement concerning anæthesia. This provision covers those operations which may never be counted as such minor operations and, accordingly, an anæsthetic would always have to be used when they are performed. In Clause 1(4)(b), the de-horning of cattle as a surgical operation is an operation which is customarily performed by a veterinary surgeon and so its performance without an anæsthetic probably constitutes an offence at present. This paragraph is included, however, so that there shall be no doubt.

Clause 1(4)(c) would make it unlawful to dis-bud calves without an anæsthetic except by chemical cautery applied within the first week of life. It would therefore be unlawful to use any other method without an anæsthetic. This is in accordance with veterinary opinion. Clause 1(4)(d) deals with the docking of lambs' tails by using a rubber ring or other device to restrict the flow of blood to the tail. This is subject to the same argument as castration by rubber ring; it is permitted only if the ring is applied during the first week of the animal's life.

That completes the examination of the Bill itself, but there is another Act in existence to-day which has some bearing on the case. It is the Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1948, which requires that the castration of animals of any of the classes that we have been talking about this evening above a certain age must be performed by a veterinary surgeon. That means, of course, that the operation must not be performed by a layman; and that is still the law. I do not think it is going to affect the question very seriously because the ages that were set at that time were very high. For instance, a horse might not be castrated over the age of two years except by a veterinary surgeon. Now, horses have come out of the Schedule altogether and may never be castrated without an anæsthetic.

In the same way, for bulls, goats, rams, boars, cats and dogs, the ages are all fixed much higher than they would be now. So, although this law remains in existence it ceases to have much effect, because (and this is the important part) the implied prohibition of the application of anæsthetics by laymen no longer exists, and this is, I think, a very important point of the Bill. It is, I believe, recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and by the veterinary societies, and so on, that farmers themselves, or their farm hands, may properly be allowed to apply anæsthetics.

The difficulty of making that power general at present consists in the fact that most anæsthetics are on the poison list and cannot be supplied without an order from a veterinary officer. But there is a recommended anæsthetic, called "Lignocaine", which is not on the poison list and can be obtained through an ordinary chemist without great difficulty. This is an innovation; it is strongly supported by the veterinary fraternity, and I think that it will result in a great deal of alleviation of suffering of animals. But there is just this caution. I understand that if these anæsthetics are applied by an unskilled person they may quite possibly do more harm than good. I am therefore asking the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, supposing this Bill goes through, whether it would not be a good thing to circularise all farmers and stockholders advising them not to allow anæsthetics to be applied by any of their staff unless he has first received instructions from a veterinary officer. That, I hope, will remove the danger of inexpert application. I am sorry I have been so long in explaining this new Bill, but I hope it has been clear, and I now beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I think we must thank the noble Lord for the introduction of this Bill and for the many details which he has given, both as to past Bills and what may happen under this proposed Bill. It is a short Bill. Perhaps it is none the worse for that. At any rate, I do not want to deal with the details which were covered by the noble Lord, but I want to put one or two points very briefly. This Bill amends the 1954 Act. That has been in operation for only ten years and I am wondering why it is necessary at this particular stage to amend that legislation. Of course, it may be the result of experience, the discovery that that Bill does not quite meet the situation in regard to certain classes of animal disease and animal operations.

I was wondering also, in listening to the noble Lord, whether or not the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had been consulted, but in almost the final sentences he mentioned the College. I ask that because, in looking at the 1954 Act, I see that the Minister may, after consultation with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons—they are the persons concerned—do certain things, and I concluded that these were referred to and agreed to before that particular Act was passed. Among the things the Minister can do under that Act is to make orders to reduce the ages, and I wonder whether any orders have been made in the intervening years. Perhaps the Minister can say whether any orders have been made under the 1954 Act, whereby the ages included in the Schedule which has been referred to by the noble Lord have been reduced in any way, or whether it is sufficient now to adopt that previous Act and introduce orders to amend it.

I asked whether the Bill was the outcome of experience, and I wonder whether it has come to the notice of any noble Lord or anybody concerned with the Bill that there has been malpractice and a good deal of animal suffering through insufficient experience. None of us are infallible in anything, and it is quite certain that neither "vets" nor experienced farmers or farm workers can be quite certain that any operations they carry out will be successful. I heard of one two or three days ago where two young bulls were castrated by an experienced farm worker. One died and the other is very seriously ill at the moment. So it shows that none of us can be certain that any operations we carry out, with or without anæsthetics, are likely to be successful.

This Bill is restrictive in the sense that it restricts the operations on animals which may be performed without the use of anæsthetics, and I think it is, for that reason, a sensible little Bill, a decent little Bill, and one which should merit our support. There may be one or two minor details which have to be amended if the Bill receives its Second Reading to-night and comes up later. For instance, the noble Lord referred to the docking of lamb's tails and the castration of lambs. There are other means now of castrating lambs which one could mention. As he said in regard to hill farms—and the same applies to other farms where large flocks of sheep are kept—it is difficult to do this work in the lambing season when everybody is busy, to put the rubber ring round the tail or do any other operation within a week.

I am anxious to know—perhaps the Minister can tell us, and I expect he will in the course of his reply—whether this Bill, which is a Private Member's Bill, has been vetted by the veterinary officers of his Ministry, and also whether it has the approval of the Government. If we can in any way help to relieve pain and suffering among animals, whether they are domestic or farm animals, I think we in this House, as in another place, should do everything possible by Act of Parliament to do so and so establish what we hope will be better conditions for animals on farms and elsewhere.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, this is not a revolutionary Bill. It is merely tightening up regulations which were made under the 1954 Act, and as such I think it is well worth while. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, quoted two cases where operations went astray and, as a result, animals died, and I think that sort of thing is an illustration of the reason why we should be careful to see to it that operations are not carried out other than by experts, except, of course, in cases such as he mentioned, of the docking of sheeps' tails, which is certainly a difficult problem.

I am not one of those who have the idea that animals have the same thought processes as human beings. I have no sentimental feelings about it at all, but I think it is important to prevent suffering, either among human beings or among animals. And there is no doubt that animals, even if they are not capable of reasoning and thinking, are capable of feeling pain. That is borne out by the statement of a well-known circus trainer, who once said that the circus trainer's three chief weapons were hunger, fear and pain. There is no doubt that animals are capable of feeling pain. One can tell that perfectly well, unless one is deliberately showing a blind eye, by their reactions. The trouble is that they cannot inform us of the fact except by those reactions.

This new Bill, I am very glad to see, removes from the possible classes of animals on which operations without anæsthetics can be performed, the dog, the cat and the horse, which I think is right because they are the three animals which one may say have the most sensitive reactions. This view, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Wise, has said, is supported by veterinary surgeons.

I think that my noble friend actually mentioned the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.


Yes, I did.


That is quite true, yes. Veterinary surgeons are not, as a class, sentimental about animals. They know their job well, and they know exactly what an animal feels and what it does not feel. Therefore, even if my speech is not too convincing, I think that possibly their opinion may be convincing. As to the de-horning of cattle I am a little uncertain, because I have never seen it done. I have no idea whether it is as painful as cutting one's nails or perhaps cutting through a tooth. It may be either. I think that one must leave that for the veterinary surgeon to decide.

In Clause 1(4)(d) we are concerned with the docking of lambs' tails. Why not apply this to dogs, too? I think this should apply to dogs. I know that it is the fashion (shall we say?) for certain dogs' tails to be docked, but I think that that should not be done without an anæsthetic. I entirely agree with what my noble friend said about the circularisation of farmers in the event of this Bill's going through. I have the greatest admiration for farmers as a race—they are a fine lot of men—but some of them are rather apt, owing to having dealt with animals so much, to be a little insensitive about them and about their feelings. It is not easy to make certain that they observe the regulations, and I think that circularisation would be a good thing and a wise means of seeing that the Bill is more widely applied.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but while listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, several points occurred to me upon which I feel I can make a contribution. With the noble Lord who has just spoken, I support the Bill and anything that leads towards the reduction of suffering among animals. I think all noble Lords will have that sentiment. I have some knowledge of the handling of horses and dogs, but, more than that, I have to declare an interest in that I am chairman of a company which manufacturers Lignocaine, a drug which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding. It is for that reason that I am speaking. Technically, this product is an anæsthetic, but it is because it is a novel product and its uses have been developed, as the noble Lord said, only in recent years that it occurs to me that it might be prudent to look at this Bill again, and that before the Committee stage the Government might perhaps consider the definition of "anæsthetic". I am not altogether prepared to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that "vets" are often insensitive. My impression of them is that, on the whole—


I did not say "vets". I said "some farmers".


Then I misunderstood the noble Lord, and I beg his pardon. My impression of the veterinary surgeon is that, ordinarily, he is not only highly sensitive but tender hearted; and, especially with the development of anæsthetics as they are available to-day, the saving of suffering to animals is a contribution to the veterinary surgeon's own skills and to that end he is readily willing to adopt any method which can save an animal pain, if only in the pursuit of his profession and in order to maintain the health of the animal.

I understand that in the de-horning of cattle this new application of an anæsthetic is of great value. The only object of my intervention is to support what the noble Lord, Lord Wise, said about taking the veterinary profession along with the Government in a Bill of this nature. Off-hand, and from what I have seen of the available legislation, the only thing I can suggest is that perhaps a definition of "anæsthetic" might be considered as a help towards the end which the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, and all of us, I think, seek, which is to reduce so far as is humanly possible any suffering that may be caused to animals.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, may I just point out, from my own personal experience with regard to the docking of lambs' tails, that in wild hill country it is impossible to find all the lambs in a week? There may be thousands of sheep ranging over tens of thousands of acres; to find them all in a week is an impossibility. But we have found that if rubber rings are used up to the age of three weeks, no inconvenience is caused to the lambs. That is as far as we can ascertain. With regard to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, as to whether the de-horning of cattle is cruel, I may say I have often seen this done in Eire, and it is extremely cruel. The blood spurts out, and the bullocks make a great row. I can assure the noble Lord that it is extremely cruel. I cannot quite agree with him that all animals cannot think. I can assure the noble Lord that some animals can think, as I have occasion to regret.


My Lords, I did not deny that. All I said was that possibly they cannot think like human beings.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, it has been made clear that there is a general and characteristic wish to support a measure the object of which is to prevent pain and suffering among animals. We are a nation of animal lovers, and it is consistent with the feeling that we have for animals that we should enlarge the protection already given to them by the law. I have listened, as I am sure all your Lordships have done, with the warmest interest to the exposition of the purposes and contents of the Bill given by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, and I should like to make it clear that Her Majesty's Government have every sympathy with the objects of this Bill. I do not think there is much I need say, except that the Government favour the Bill.

In reply to the question addressed to me by Lord Wise, I could say that it is true, as he said, that the Schedule to the existing Act of 1954 reduced the ages, but our legal advice is that we have no power to remove animals from the Schedule. Therefore, we cannot reduce the period from twelve months to nil. In those circumstances, it is more desirable to have fresh legislation. We have not, in fact, made any reduction under the 1954 Act. There have been advance in technique which have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, and changes in outlook since 1954, when the present Protection of Animals (Anæsthetics) Act, 1954 was passed, and the proposals in the new Bill are the result of consideration of the working of the present Act by a Committee of the British Veterinary Association. They are supported by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the R.S.P.C.A., and the Central Council in Scotland of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

Full consultations have been held with the farming and welfare interests, and I feel sure that this new Bill will commend itself to the public in general and to all enlightened members of the farming community. We will naturally consider the closing suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, which was in the form of advice and, therefore, outside the terms of the Bill itself. I conclude by congratulating the noble Lord once more en bringing forward this Bill, and I hope that the House will, at the end of this debate, give it a Second Reading.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I often think that debates in your Lordships' House are most interesting when, like the lark's song, they are unpremeditated, and particularly when they rouse latent feelings in many noble Lords on behalf of animals and farming. This debate has shown that noble Lords on both sides of the House warmly support this small but humane and useful Bill. The only objections that have been raised, relating mainly, I think, to the tails of domestic and farm animals, are such as can easily be met during the Committee stage of the Bill, but I must confess that I have one worry about the future of the Bill.

This is a Private Member's Bill. Judging from the speeches we have heard this afternoon, it will clearly have a smooth passage through this House, but what will happen to it when it reaches another place? There its survival is a doubtful matter. I should like the Government to consider—and perhaps the Minister would think about this—whether the Bill could be adopted as a Government Bill. I understand from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, that when this matter was discussed in another place the Minister then said that the Government intended to introduce amending legislation. Alternatively, I should like to know whether the Government could give Government time for the Bill when it reaches another place. We are all equally concerned not only that our work should not be wasted, but that this useful measure should reach the Statute Book. I very much hope that the Minister who has spoken so warmly and encouragingly about the Bill this afternoon will give us whatever further assistance it requires to make quite certain that it becomes law.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I think that all the points have been satisfactorily cleared up by this discussion, with the possible exception of the use of the rubber ring on lambs for castration and on lambs' tails. I feel that that is a point that could well be left to the Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked whether the Bill had Government approval and the approval of the veterinary fraternity. The noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has spoken for the Government and also for the veterinarians, but I should like to add my own gratitude to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and to the British Veterinary Association for the wholehearted support they have given to this Bill and particularly for their great open-mindedness in the way they have looked at the possibility of anæsthetics being administered by laymen. My Lords, I have much pleasure in commending this Bill to your Lordships for a Second Reading.

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