HL Deb 27 February 1964 vol 255 cc1249-56

4.18 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Dowding.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Enlargement of classes of operations in which anœsthetics must be used]:


The Amendment in my name concerns the age at which a bull calf may properly be castrated without an anæsthetic. The existing law is that it may not properly be castrated without an anæsthetic at an age older than twelve months. The Bill substitutes three months; and my Amendment seeks to make it six months. If the operation has to be performed after the proposed age, it must be done with an anæsthetic, and probably that means it should be done by a vet, because anæsthesia is not something which should be left in the hands of an unqualified farmer or shepherd.

I move this Amendment mainly to see what hill farmers feel about it, and also to hear what the Government have to say. Very little was said on this subject on the Second Reading of the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, aired a cognate aspect of the subject when he discussed rubber rings, but nothing much was said about the problems concerning the hill farmer and bull calves. Naturally, I am anxious that the law as we make it should be in the best interests of those animals which we keep for our own use. Therefore, I should like to hear what others have to say about this Amendment, as it affects animals quite considerably.

I am prepared to agree that bull calves are probably best castrated below the age of three months, and I think that probably most of them in fact are castrated below three months. But this is not entirely the normal practice. It is frequently done between four and five and a half months. There are certain difficulties, so far as hill farmers are concerned. As your Lordships know, hill-suckled herds that are wandering on the high hills, ranging with their mothers, are not brought down quite so readily, and are not so easily and conveniently handled. So it frequently happens that a man will bring in a batch of calves and do them at one go, and then he will bring in another batch and do them at another go. Therefore, whereas probably the bulk of them are being castrated at under three months, quite a number of them will be slightly older.

Then again, there is the question, with hill-suckled herds, of keeping a calf for a bull. If you have a good calf that is likely to turn into a bull (you cannot always recognise this at under three months), you may want a little longer to decide whether you are going to keep it as a bull, or whether you are going to steer it. Again, some farmers like to castrate calves a little later than three months because they think that they grow better this way, from the point of view of the beef animal. It is not quite the same question as not castrating them at all and butchering them uncastrated straight off their dams, as in the case of a lot of black-faced lambs which are not castrated at all and are butchered at, shall we say, three months-plus, uncastrated. Nor is it quite the same as the bull beef, which is becoming very popular now, where the animal is kept as a bull calf up to, say, nine months, or even older, and is then butchered, uncastrated. But it is cognate with this new Russian system to half-castrate animals. It is in a way a sort of primitive way of doing the same thing—that is to say, to let them grow on a little longer uncastrated.

This is the sort of problem that, so far as the hill farmer is concerned, affects him if the noble Lord's Bill goes through unamended. I feel that six months would be a perfectly reasonable age at which to put it. I do not think there is any more cruelty in castrating at six months than in doing it at three months. Also, it falls into line with the special concession which is granted to hill farmers to have their calves subsidised at six months instead of eight months, as is usual. On ordinary farms the age is eight months, but in the case of hill farmers, with the rather later born calves, the subsidies are give at six months. Of course, before the calves are subsidised they must be properly castrated, and must have properly recovered from that castration. So in fact, in allowing the hill farmer six months, in most cases in fact it probably means five and a half months.

When the noble Lord introduced this Bill, he said that he had the best veterinary opinion. I wonder how far veterinary opinion has been consulted over this matter. I know that, for instance, the local branch of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons where I live, in North-West Cumberland—and that branch ties in with the Dumfriesshire branch, and I think probably covers as far as Kirkcudbrightshire—have not been asked to consider it. I think that is a fairly important point. Hill farmers live in these wild, out-of-the-way places, and points of this sort are apt to be forgotten when the general principle is under consideration. The general principle of three months is, I am sure, a good one, but it does raise these difficulties for hill farmers, and I am not entirely sure that they have been fully consulted, at any rate so far as the local branches are concerned.

There is one last aspect of this matter. If the age stays at three months I think there will be a tendency for the law in this respect to be brought into contempt, in that farmers will not obey it. Nobody can say whether a calf is three months old or five months old: its age is what the farmer says it is. This, of course, applies also to subsidising calves, which are not normally supposed to be subsidised until they are eight months' old. So long as the calf is well grown, the subsidy officer accepts what the farmer says. The same thing applies here. If this Bill is passed unamended, and the age remains at three months, the farmer will frequently castrate an animal at five months and merely say that it is three months.

I would have raised similar objections to the rubber rings, but I do not do so for this reason: that it is impracticable for the hill farmer to castrate or tail lambs in the first week—and he does not tail lambs in the case of black-faced sheep. I do not want to raise this point, because veterinary surgeons do not like rubber rings anyway; and anything like this which is impracticable, from the point of view of tailing or castrating lambs with a rubber ring at one week, will tend to discourage people from using the rubber rings at all. I think the same thing to some extent applied to the burdizzo, or bloodless castrators: on the whole, vets do not care for them. They inevitably leave dead tissue which is bound to decay, and they also tend in this way to release a certain amount of histamine into the blood, which I understand possibly inhibits the best growth. So I leave that side of the subject alone. But I hope the noble Lord will perhaps meet me so far as the bull calves are concerned, and will be willing to allow the age to be six months instead of three months. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 16, leave out ("three months") and insert ("six months").—(Lord Henley.)

4.27 p.m.


I feel that I must oppose this Amendment very strongly, because it is against the whole purpose of the Bill. Some clear facts have been laid down by the British Veterinary Association which I feel destroy any evidence the noble Lord has produced. I sympathise very much with his feelings for the hill farmer, but, after all, bull calves are not owned by any farmer in such numbers that they would be impossible to deal with. The British Veterinary Association have pointed out several facts. First, there is the fact that development between three months and six months is very rapid indeed, and the state of the calf between those ages would be very different. A healthy bull calf may well have reached puberty by the age of six months, and in that case the operation would be a very painful one indeed. Naturally, the ideal thing would be to have anæsthetics used in all circumstances, but one quite realises that this is impossible. I do not think that one should allow the operation at an age greater than three months, because I feel that beyond that age the development has been too rapid and too great, and the operation therefore would be far too painful. I hope the noble Lord will not press this Amendment.

4.30 p.m.


I should like to speak for a short time against this Amendment. I feel that what the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said is quite correct: that you cannot compare the age of three months with six months, and a bull calf of six months can feel far more inconvenience at this operation than a calf of under three months. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, drew a parallel between hill cattle and hill sheep. I agree with him that in the case of hill sheep it may be very difficult for the hill farmer to gather in 2,000 or 3,000 sheep; there may be low cloud for a long time. But, compared with the number of hill sheep, the hill farmer when he has a herd of hill cattle may have 30, 40 or 50 beasts, and to say that he cannot gather them all in within three months is, I think, rather far-fetched. The noble Lord also said that if you have a calf that you are anxious to keep as a bull, you will obviously want to keep it for over three months to see whether it is going to improve sufficiently in its conformation to warrant being kept as a bull. If that is so and it does not improve sufficiently, then all you have to do is to have it castrated at five or six months, or if you like, at eight months, under an anæthetic used by a vet. So I really cannot support this Amendment.


Some doubt was raised by the noble Lord who moved this Amendment about whether the veterinary profession as a whole were behind this Bill. Of course, I cannot answer for every branch or every section of the profession, but the fact is that it was the British Veterinary Association who made the original proposal for the reduction of the age at which bull calves might be castrated without an anæsthetic; and their proposal was two months. The hill farmers were then consulted and these other points about the difficulty of rounding up and gathering in all the calves in time were taken into consideration, and at that meeting three months was agreed upon as a reasonable compromise.

The noble Viscount who has just spoken has dealt with the question of the considerable growth which occurs in bull calves between the ages of three and six months. As a rule, bull calves are well developed at this age, with a marked increase in the blood supply to the reproductive system, and certainly they will be far more sensitive to pain at that age than at three months. We must not overlook the fact that this Bill is designed to preserve animals from all unnecessary suffering. Therefore, I would not be inclined to agree that the age should be raised beyond three months.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised one new point: the difficulty of ensuring that this law would be universally complied with. I think that, on the whole, the inhabitants of this country are more law-abiding that one would expect, if one's only source of information were the daily papers because it is the law breakers rather than the law abiders who get most of the notices. Admittedly, it would be quite impossible to ensure that no infraction of this Bill, if it becomes an Act, ever takes place, but one has to think of the general compliance with the Act. I think that rather a good parallel may be taken from that of the Act which prohibited the slaughter of pigs without the use of a humane killer or some method of stunning. I dare say it happens more or less frequently that some pig owner in a remote part of the country kills a pig without any preliminary stunning, but I believe the Act has been accepted as a whole, and an enormous amount of suffering is saved to a very large number of animals. So I am not inclined to accept the argument that it would be very difficult to enforce this regulation.

Assuming that this Bill goes through and it becomes illegal to castrate a bull calf over the age of three months without an anæsthetic, the farmer still has two alternatives. One, is to employ a veterinary surgeon to carry out the operation, but, as I tried to explain on the Second Reading of the Bill, it is now possible and legal for the owner of an animal or his accredited representative to adminster an anæthetic himself before the operation is carried out; and that is a possibility which I think has been rather overlooked. There is, of course, the obvious danger that ignorant and unqualified persons may attempt to apply the anesthetic themselves. But one would very strongly advise any farmer or owner who intends to take advantage of this new power to get some instruction from a veterinary officer on three particular points: the first being the exact point at which the puncture should be made, the second being the precise dose which should be applied, and the third, the period of time which should elapse after the application of the anæsthetic and the beginning of the operation. As there are these two possibilities open to the farmer, I personally should not be inclined to accept this Amendment and I hope the noble Lord may see his way to withdraw it.


It is far from my wish to press this Amendment. As I said at the beginning, I raised it really to air the subject because I did not feel it had been aired at all on Second Reading. I think there are difficulties as far as the hill farmer is concerned, and I do not think these difficulties have altogether been answered by the two noble Lords who spoke against my Amendment or by the noble Lord whose Bill this is. I have no wish to press this and I intend to withdraw it. But I think there are one or two points which the noble Lord raised which I had not said very much about, in particular about anæsthesia. I think, in the first place, that anæsthetising an animal is very often as painful and disturbing as performing this very minor operation. Certainly this is so in the case of a tom cat, referred to in another part of the Act; it is very much quicker and easier to perform the operation than to anæsthetise it, which is very distressing to it. Secondly, I think unbridled use of anæsthetics by amateurs, even on animals, is something very much to be discouraged.

Those are merely two points I raise because the noble Lord expatiated on them a little. My basic point is still the difficulties for the hill farmer, and I do not think these have been answered, and I cannot help feeling that when this Bill goes to another place some of these points on this particular item of the three months as opposed to six months will possibly have a rather rougher passage than I have been able to arouse for them in your Lordships' House. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.