HL Deb 12 May 1976 vol 370 cc943-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will seek to dissuade the British Railways Board from banning the carriage of pets sent by stores to purchasers.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, in exercising their commercial judgment as to what unaccompanied livestock should be carried by rail, the British Railways Board have to bear in mind the objectives of the rail freight business and the requirements of the animal protection legislation. The Transport Users' Consultative Committees were set up under the Transport Act 1962 to protect the interests of dissatisfied members of the public.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many storekeepers will soon be bankrupt because they are losing all their business? I fully appreciate the British Railways Board's objection to carrying racing pigeons, for instance, but it is different when animals and birds are carefully packed and fed while being conveyed from the seller to the purchaser.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I appreciate that there are problems connected with this, and we have to leave it to British Rail, who know about the workings of British railways, as to which forms of animal life they should accept for transport. There are problems, under the Transport of Animals (General) Order, about the watering and the feeding of animals in transit. I can only suggest to my noble friend and to other Members of your Lordships' House who are concerned about this matter that the proper procedure would be to consult their Area Transport Consultative Committee, who are able to put pressure on the British Railways Board.


My Lords, if I were to send a sheep by rail how would British Rail know whether I wanted to keep it as a pet or use it on my farm?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I think British Rail would have to take the noble and learned Lord's word whether it was to be a pet or an animal for his farm.


My Lords, if I am correct in assuming that the British Railways Board will not, in theory, take an animal, is it possible to send it by post?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I do not think the Post Office would welcome some of the things which might be sent by post.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I speak as a pigeon-fancier, and I can assure my noble friends that it is a very expensive business—that the action which has been taken by the British Railways Board in regard to the conveyance of racing pigeons has forced the organisations responsible at national level, as well as at district level and local level, to obtain their own transport for the conveyance of these pigeons from place to place for racing purposes, thus causing a big loss to British Rail? I am rather surprised that British Rail are turning away business which ought to have been profitable for them and which has been in existence for years, ever since I was a boy.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, British Rail are in difficulties at the moment because they are making a loss on their freight. The present total traffic in livestock produces a revenue of about £500,000, out of a total freight revenue of £280 million. Between one-half and two-thirds of this represents the classes of traffic which are to be retained. The revenue from the carriage of pigeons, which is the category which is producing most public interest and pressure, amounts to only £150,000. I know there will be difficulties for the owners of pigeons, but I am sure that if they all use the services of their Members of Parliament and of Members of this House, and if they write to their Transport Users' Consultative Committee, they will probably get some results.


My Lords, with reference to the last answer but one given by the noble Baroness, may I ask her whether she is aware that it is quite customary to send queen bees by post?

Viscount LONG

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, in a recent letter to the Fur and Feather magazine, the British Railways Board said that the only animals or insects they could transport by rail were waterfleas, maggots, crabs, oysters and one other which I cannot remember? Could the noble Baroness advise us how one waters those various species?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, they are packed in such a way that they do not need any care in transit.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)

My Lords, could the Minister please say what is to happen to the large-scale transport of pedigree dogs, which has gone on for years and which brings considerable revenue to the railways? How are these dogs to be transported?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, at the moment the only way we can suggest to the noble Baroness is for them to be sent by road or to be accompanied on railway journeys. But, again, if there is a substantial trade in the transport of pedigree dogs—and I accept that there is such a trade—I can only repeat what I save said: make your views known to your Transport Users' Consultative Committee.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that this does not affect the carriage of day-old chicks?

Furthermore, would the noble Baroness agree that the reason why the British Railways Board have lost such a great deal of the livestock trade, particularly in sheep and cattle, is because they appear to have deliberately thrown it away by not catering for it?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, day-old chicks can still be sent by rail, because for up to 72 hours they do not need any attention by way of feeding and watering.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether she would agree that pigeon racing is not only a matter of great pleasure to thousands in the North but is now becoming an industry? The action of the British Railways Board, in restricting the transport of racing pigeons, is having a deplorable effect on that industry. Can the British Railways Board at least discuss with the Pigeon Racing Association some change in the rates which they charge, so that an agreement can be reached?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I think it would be helpful if the Pigeon Racing Association would ask for discussions with British Rail. At this time I have no knowlegde as to whether they have done so. But there must be thousands of people in this country with racing pigeons or with an interest in them, and I can only repeat, my Lords, that they should all be writing to their Area Transport Users' Consultative Committee.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she can arrange for the view of this House to be transmitted to the British Railways Board, without going through the medium of the Transport Users' Consultative Committees?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, this House has handed over the responsibilities for British Railways to the British Railways Board, and they are therefore responsible for the running of British Rail. I am quite sure that members of that Board, or their officials, read Hansard and are aware of what happens in this House and in another place: but we have not the right to indicate to British Rail which goods they should accept for transport and which they should not.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she thinks that the very small economy that apparently can be made in this way is worth upsetting a vast number of people who are going to be troubled by this change?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, this is something which British Rail no doubt have to take into consideration, but we as Parliament have required British Rail to run their freight business commercially. They have been given the responsibility at the moment to try to eliminate the deficit at present running at £60 million a year. Therefore, we have to give them the freedom to arrange their business as they think best. If individuals or organisations do not like it then, once again, will they write to their area transport users' consultative committee?


My Lords, does accepting that British Rail have to run their railways mean that the House of Lords cannot give an extract of what they feel? We do not have to be eliminated because British Rail run the railways. That would mean that we could never express any view at all, because before long everything will be nationalised and we shall not be able to say anything to anybody.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am sorry to have to repeat that this is a matter for the British Railways Board and it is because of the commercial implications in meeting their obligations under the Transport of Animals (General) Order 1973 that these problems have now arisen.


My Lords, your Lordships have adequately represented the rights of day-old chicks, and, through the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, the rights of sheep in transport; but I think—although I am in the hands of the House—that 10 minutes is enough for one Question.

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