HL Deb 17 June 1974 vol 352 cc738-46

3.10 p.m.

LORD STRABOLGIrose to move, That the Draft Welfare of Livestock (Cattle and Poultry) Regulations 1974 laid before the House on May 14 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient to noble Lords to discuss these draft Regulations together with the draft of the Welfare of Livestock (Docking of Pigs) Regulations 1974, which was also laid before the House on May 14, and for which a Motion for approval appears on the Order Paper. The House will have noted that the drafts of both these Regulations were approved in another place last week.

My Lords, the powers to make these two draft Regulations are contained in Part I of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, under which it is an offence to cause or allow livestock on agricultural land to suffer unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress. Noble Lords will be aware that this measure was enacted following a recommendation of the Brambell Committee in 1965. Under the powers taken in the Act, Parliament has already approved four codes of recommendations for the welfare of cattle, pigs, domestic fowls and turkeys. Producers are for the most part very much concerned to secure the well-being of the animals and birds in their care and the codes give them authoritative guidance in this. These codes were first brought before the House by my noble friend Lord Beswick when we were last in office, and revisions to some of the recommendations were approved in 1971 on a Motion by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. We envisaged that in addition to the codes there would be regulations concerning certain aspects of livestock welfare. The two Regulations which your Lordships are invited to approve are the first of these. Their approval will represent a further stage in the development of a comprehensive welfare policy.

My Lords, noble Lords will know that the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is available to the Government in drawing up proposals for welfare provisions. The Committee has advised on the content of the present draft Regulations. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the members of this Committee for advising us so conscientiously over the years. As we are required to by the Act, we have consulted the interests affected by these proposals, and the comments received were considered by the Advisory Committee. As a result of this consultative process, the original published proposals have undergone some modification. We consider that those now presented for your Lordships' approval represent a useful step forward in our continuing efforts to make soundly-based provisions for the welfare of farm livestock. We largely depend on them for our food supplies, and it is our duty to ensure that their well being is safeguarded.

These draft Regulations are concerned with practices which involve mutilations of animals. Before I deal directly with them perhaps the House would wish to know our general views on this question. Let me say first that, in principle, we do not like mutilations. But it has to be acknowledged that some mutilations are necessary for sound husbandry reasons and that others may be justified because greater suffering may be caused if they are not done. As a general rule, we consider that welfare provisions should be firmly based on scientific findings. Our aim is to prevent unnecessary mutilations, and we regard them as unnecessary if there are other reasonable means of achieving the desired effect. So much, my Lords, for the principle. I will now turn to the two draft Regulations. These deal with five practices involving mutilations, and your Lordships will no doubt note how our proposals reflect the criteria I have outlined.

I should like, first, to deal with the tail docking of cattle. We do not consider that rigorous scientific proof is required to show that cattle without tails suffer unnecessarily. But, none the less, there is scientific evidence that without tails cattle would endure increased irritation and possible infection carried by insects. It may be asserted that if dairy cows are docked, udder cleanliness is improved and the incidence of cracked teats is reduced. It can equally be maintained that it is unnecessary to go to the lengths of removing the tail to achieve these desirable objectives. Nor could one justify docking as the means to protect the milker whose job may place him in a vulnerable position. Again, other means are available for avoiding this. The welfare code for cattle, as your Lordships will be aware, recommends docking only when a veterinary surgeon advises that it is necessary because of injury or disease. Under the draft Regulations, docking for health reasons would be allowed when carried out by a veterinary surgeon, and the Regulations would have the effect of making the code provision mandatory.

Next, my Lords, I come to the surgical castration of poultry. This is an operation that can involve mortality. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association and welfare organisations are strongly in favour of our proposal to ban it. Of course, if surgical castration is ruled out it means that the scope for producing capons is limited. But, in fact, very few people practise it nowadays, so we do not expect the ban to give rise to difficulty. In any case, birds similar to capons can be produced by way of special diets. It therefore seems right to do away with surgical castration, and I hope your Lordships will agree. It is, as I have said, an operation which can result in death. The welfare code for poultry recommends against the practice, and the proposed Regulations will have the effect of making the code recommendation mandatory.

I turn now to operations on poultry to impede flight. These are normally restricted to the more nervous strains of bird. The object is to prevent losses among the flock should they panic on being disturbed. De-winging, or pinioning, is carried out at day-old by removing the terminal wing joint, usually of one wing only. Alternatively the main wing tendon may be severed. However it is done, the result is a permanent mutilation of the bird. The case for prohibiting these practices is based on the ready availability of an alternative; that is, clipping the flight feathers of one wing. This does not involve interference with sensitive tissue. Although it cannot be done at day-old and it is not permanent in its effect, it is a method which is practicable. Furthermore, the need to carry out these operations has been much reduced in recent years through strains of bird being developed which are less likely to panic. We believe the practices that we propose to ban are no longer necessary. The welfare code for poultry recommends against de-winging, and instead advises feather clipping as a means of reducing the effects of flightiness.

Finally, in this the first of the two Draft Regulations, we come to blinkers. These are used to limit the forward vision of poultry in order to control aggressive behaviour. Nowadays, of course, they are used only in a small number of flocks of broiler breeder birds. The welfare code recommends against the use of blinkers which may cause injury. It advises against their use except as a last resort and when it is clear that without them there would be more suffering in the flock. Your Lordships will recall that in 1970 the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee re-examined some of the original welfare code recommendations about which concern had been expressed. This re-examination included the use of blinkers. The Committee found that blinkers had no advantage over other methods of controlling aggressive behaviour. On the contrary, there are notable disadvantages. Also, there are dangers of serious injury if these blinkers become entangled in the wire of the cage and the bird attempts to free itself. We think the proposed prohibition of such blinkers is fully justified.

These, then, are the mutilations we propose to prohibit under the Cattle and Poultry Regulations. None of these mutilations is very much practised in this country. I suggest though, my Lords, that this is no reason in favour of inactivity. They are practised to some extent, and we believe that our farm livestock will be better off without them. The proposed Regulations will prevent them being used in future, and on that score alone I submit that the Regulations are worth while.

Perhaps now, with the leave of the House, I may turn to the second Draft, which is concerned with the docking of pigs. In this connection I would remind noble Lords that my right honourable friends have made the Docking of Pigs (Use of Anaesthetics) Order of 1974, which has also been laid before Parliament and is subject to annulment on a Resolution of either House. The Order and the Regulations are complementary. Noble Lords will note that we are not proposing to prohibit pig docking as in the case of cattle docking. What we are doing is to introduce a control where none has hitherto existed, and we consider that our proposals match the circumstances.

Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to explain why we propose to treat pig docking differently from cattle docking. Tail-biting is widespread in pigs, and causes considerable suffering. Docking is one of the principal practices adopted to control this behaviour. But unless docking is carried out at the right time and in the right manner it too can cause unnecessary suffering. Numerous cures and palliatives for tail-biting have been proposed. Some are in use, with varying degrees of success. However, none of them has been shown to be generally effective. The causes of tail-biting are not as yet of course fully understood. Many possible causes have been suggested, including genetic, environmental, nutritional and so on. But as I said in my opening remarks, we dislike mutilations in general, and we are reluctant to endorse them unless it is absolutely necessary. But we have concluded that in the present state of scientific knowledge there is no general alternative to docking as a preventive to tail-biting where this habit can be expected to develop.

The tail of a young pig up to about seven days of age has little or no sensitivity, and its removal by means of quick clean cut is no more than a minor opera- tion. In old pigs the tissue of the tail becomes more sensitive, and to prevent unnecessary suffering we consider it essential that docking should be performed by a veterinary surgeon with the use of an anaesthetic. We believe that it is right to continue to permit preventive tail-docking of pigs not more than seven days old, and to allow a layman to do it without the use of an anaesthetic. But for the reasons I have just given we consider that only a veterinary surgeon should be permitted to dock older pigs, and that he should use an anaesthetic for the operation. And we think it right to require that the method to be used in either case should be the quick and complete severance of the part of the tail to be removed.

It would perhaps be useful at this point to sum up our proposals on pig docking. The Draft Regulations now before the House for approval would prohibit the docking of pigs more than seven days old except by a veterinary surgeon, and would also specify the method of docking to be used in all cases. The Order which my right honourable friends have made prohibits docking without anaesthetic when the pig is more than seven days old. The effect will be that the docking of pigs up to seven days old will continue to be permitted subject to the requirements as regards the method to be used which the Draft Regulations impose. Noble Lords will however wish to note that the recommendation in the Welfare Code for Pigs that docking should not be carried out unless prescribed by a veterinary surgeon remains in force.

My Lords, I beg to move the approval of the first of the two Draft Regulations.

Moved, that the Draft Welfare of Livestock (Cattle and Poultry) Regulations 1974, laid before the House on May 14, be approved.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank Her Majesty's Government for giving us such a very clear description of these Regulations, and for enunciating them in a manner which is very easily understood, because the way in which they are set out is not at first sight altogether comprehensible. May I at the outset thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for taking us through the first set of draft Regulations and explaining the four different sets of provisions which affect cattle and poultry.

My Lords, may I say straightaway from this side of the House that we welcome these Draft Regulations. We welcome them in the first place because they follow a series of attempts over the last five years to promote the welfare of animals in this country. We welcome them, secondly, because such very great care has been taken by the Chief Veterinary Officer and his advisers in the Ministry to ensure that the greatest amount of information has been gathered before laying these proposals in draft before your Lordships.

This may mean that progress has been slow. My Lords, it has been slow. The Brambell Committee reported in 1965. As your Lordships will remember, the Committee was set up in 1964, a full ten years ago. I should like to refer to the Brambell Committee from the outset, and to quote the remarks made by Sir Julian Huxley in a letter to The Times of June 25, 1969, in this context, when he was writing in support of the Brambell Committee. He wrote these words: It is obvious to us that behavioural stress to animals has been completely ignored, yet it is the frustration of activities natural to the animal which may well be the worst form of cruelty, and this behavioural aspect has been pointed out clearly in the Brambell Report. I think we can be grateful to all those concerned with the drafting of these Regulations, in that they have followed to some extent the spirit of the Report, while bearing very clearly in mind the problems of the industry itself. With that in mind, I feel that the first proposal prohibiting the docking of the tails of cattle is very much in line with the Report and, again, represents a small step forward. The second proposal with which the noble Lord dealt in detail, concerning the castration of male poultry birds, needs little further explanation from me. However, I should like to expand a little on the third proposal concerning the operation on birds with the object or effect of impeding flight.

The difficulties of the industry in regard to feeding at the present moment are certainly very clear indeed, and the restriction of poultry from flight by severing the main wing tendon is an inhibition to what are termed galliform birds; that is, those birds used to nesting on the ground—the partridge, the domestic hen and so on. However, it is must less of a restriction to them than it is to passerine birds, which are used to flight and to nesting in trees. How can we differentiate between the two? We are assured that if it is carried out at a tender age the severing of the wing tendon may not cause very great suffering to the bird, but the question of multilation is involved here and I think that the minimum has been recommended. I particularly welcome the fourth proposal to ban the fitting of blinkers to a bird. Rarely can one think of a more unfortunate situation for a bird than to be rendered unable to see the light of day, and for a bird to suffer the penetration of its nasal septum by a steel pin. That ban will be universally welcomed, as the practice was an offence to civilised people in this country.

I should now like to turn to the wider aspects of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee's remarks, and to quote once again what they reported in 1970. For those of your Lordships who have a copy available, I am quoting from page 2 which reads as follows: The present Codes set bare minimum standards, and it would have been far better to have allowed ethical considerations to have filled the gap left by the doubts stemming from inadequate scientific knowledge. If this had been done, the Codes would have set high standards and left no doubts about their ability to ensure welfare. That may be. The codes at present enacted did set bare minimum standards, and what is attempted in these Regulations backs up the codes to a considerable extent.

Reading further in the same Report, we see on page 3—and I think it is germane to both the first and second proposals— It is tempting to think that if an animal is thriving its welfare is completely covered. But this argument has many flaws. We are dealing mainly with young animals in which the longer-term effects of permanent discomfort may not become manifest. The animals' tolerance may be masked by the routine use of antibiotics and by the reliance some systems place on near-darkness or multilation. It is a method of approach aimed solely at finding out the lowest common factors on which an animal can exist. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one fact. Those who imagine that these codes will have considerable application on farms in this country may be surprised to know that of over 4,000 farms visited by the inspectorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, only 36 fell below standard. These figures relate to visits carried out during 1970 and 1971, and they show how remarkably small is the number of farms where practices repugnant to most of us are carried on. In closing, I should like to say that we welcome these Draft Regulations and we hope that the Government will lay further Regulations before us in due course.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might beg leave of your Lordships to say just one or two words—


My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is now ready to make a Statement, and this is probably the most convenient moment for it to be made.