HL Deb 13 December 1977 vol 387 cc1977-96

2.54 p.m.

Lord STRABOLGI rose to move, That this House approves the code contained in paragraphs 1–41 of the Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (No. 5) (Sheep), laid before the House on 10th November. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that Code No. 5 of the Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock, relating to sheep, a copy of which was laid before the House on 10th November 1977, be approved. We are today dealing with a matter of animal welfare, a subject in which this House has always shown a keen interest—and rightly so. I am glad that it falls to me to have the honour to invite your Lordships to approve a document which represents what I regard as a useful step forward in the development of our provisions to safeguard the welfare of livestock in Britain.

The Code of Recommendations before your Lordships is, of course, the latest in a series. It deals with the welfare of sheep, which in Great Britain are a species of livestock of very considerable importance. We already have Codes relating to the welfare of cattle, pigs, domestic fowls, and turkeys, the current versions of which were approved by the House in 1971. If your Lordships approve the present Code, we shall have Codes for all the main species of livestock kept commercially in this country.

Your Lordships will note that in the Preface to the Code, we have quoted Sections 1(1) and 3(4) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, which explain the status of the Code in relation to the law of the land. Noble Lords will observe that the Code is not mandatory. Its main purpose is to serve as a means of promoting livestock welfare by making an authoritative body of welfare advice available to farmers and stockmen. Its other purpose, as the Act explains, is to provide supportive evidence in a prosecution case.

We agree, however, that in addition to non-mandatory welfare codes there may be some particular welfare matters for which regulatory action may be appropriate. The 1968 Act gives us the necessary powers to do this, and these powers were used in 1974 with the approval of Parliament to make two Regulations and an order to prohibit or control certain practices considered to be inimical to welfare. The need for further provisions of this nature is reviewed regularly, and where the need can be clearly demonstrated we are prepared to introduce further measures.

Successive Governments have always considered it appropriate that satisfactory standards of livestock welfare should, so far as possible, be secured and maintained through a policy of advice and encouragement, and this is made possible by the very real concern shown by the British farmer and his workpeople for the welfare of the livestock in their care. Our experience in the case of cattle, pigs, and poultry, for which welfare codes already exist, has been that this is the right way to proceed. It is therefore our intention to use the Code for sheep in the same way, once it has been approved and issued.

The Agriculture Ministers have been advised on the content of the Code for sheep by the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. It is plain to see that the Committee have given considerable thought to the drafting. The existing Codes, upon which previous Ministers were advised by the same Committee, have proved to be extremely useful documents, both to the farmer and to the adviser. I am sure your Lordships will agree that the Advisory Committee has made a workmanlike job of this new Code for sheep, and I should like to pay tribute to it.

Your Lordships will perhaps appreciate that sheep are a species of livestock for which the drafting of a welfare code is not an easy task. Sheep husbandry is carried out on bleak uplands as well as on sheltered lowlands, and with hardy mountain breeds and downland types of sheep of numerous breeds and crosses. It is essentially an outdoor form of husbandry, and is usually extensive in character. Sheep are rarely permanently housed; when they are housed it is normally only for part of the year—for example, during winter, or for a limited period of their life, such as while being artificially reared as lambs. Consequently, it is seldom practicable or, indeed, necessary for welfare code recommendations to include detailed advice.

The precautions that are necessary to ensure welfare are set out in broad terms in the Code, and specific requirements are given only when the need is clear. Thus in paragraph 9 the Code states that colostrum is vital to the newly-born lamb. Some of your Lordships may be concerned that the Code inevitably speaks in such general terms and may question the need to make recommendations which no flock master or shepherd could possibly fail to observe. The Government recognise that the proficient farmer or stockman can be expected, almost instinctively, to follow the Code without thinking, but we believe it is no bad thing to give a reminder, even to the experts. As for those with less skill or experience, we consider that the Code contains sound welfare guidance on the avoidance of welfare problems.

The official advisory services will be able to give detailed guidance on the application of the Code in individual circumstances, and your Lordships will note the new idea of annexing to the Code a selective list of advisory publications. The information in these publications reinforces and amplifies the advice given in the Code, and we hope that this list of references will prove useful to farmers and stockmen.

The Code was approved in another place on 6th December and, once approved by your Lordships' House, it will be printed and a copy will be posted to every sheep farmer in Great Britain. We also intend to send copies to veterinary surgeons in private practice, to agricultural education and training establishments and to university departments of agriculture. It is our aim to make sure that the advice that the Code contains is available wherever it can be put to good use in the interests of livestock welfare.

Since 1968 the veterinary staff of the Ministry of Agriculture have been visiting sheep farms in Great Britain to check on observance of the Act. In addition, they have maintained a general oversight of livestock welfare standards when visiting sheep farms in connection with any other aspect of their official duties.

On only about 15 of the premises visited during this time were some of the sheep considered by the veterinary staff to be suffering unnecessary pain or distress. Official welfare advice was given in all these cases, and in over two-thirds of them the welfare problems were speedily resolved. Prosecutions were begun in the remaining cases.

I think this is a very clear indication that our sheep farmers and their stockmen generally exercise the high standard of management and stockmanship upon which good welfare standards so much depend. I submit, too, that the policy of my right honourable friends of seeking to achieve and maintain satisfactory standards of livestock welfare by advice and encouragement is amply justified.

We shall continue to rely upon the veterinary officers in the State service to exercise surveillance over the welfare of sheep, using this new Code as an advisory tool. In addition, we shall ensure that advice given by others in the official advisory services is in line with the Code. My Lords, I believe that all this can only be to the benefit of the welfare of the sheep, and I express my confident hope that your Lordships will approve the Code. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House approves the code contained in paragraphs 1–41 of the Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (No. 5) (Sheep), laid before the House on 10th November.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I regret that the confidence shown by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is not reflected on this side of the House, for a very good reason: that there appear to be gaps in the Code. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to three specific areas. The first is water. This is dealt with in paragraph 8, which states: Drinking water should be available to all sheep". It will be within your Lordships' recollection that when we examined the other Codes we made a number of observations. On the sheep code, this is one.

Secondly, there is no reference to shade for the animals. There is reference to shelter in paragraph 20, and in paragraph 38 there is reference to shelter for young lambs. However, the problem of shade occurred most markedly in the summer of 1976, when for about three months of the year the landscape took on the appearance of Northern Spain. Furthermore, the problem of shade affects sheep at other times of the year—occasionally in the spring, for example—but there is no reference to the need for shade. This problem has to be coupled with the outbreak of elm disease throughout the country and the enormous effect which it has had upon tree cover. It is our view that this is a serious omission from the Code.

Thirdly, there is no reference to the opportunity being given for scratching. In many parts of the country it is a matter of management to provide scratching posts on buildings and in fields—either the roots of old trees with sharp points or deliberately planted posts which are set up from time to time.

How right the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, was to refer to the very high standards of stockmanship which obtain in this country. They are very well known throughout the world. It is our view that it would be most unfortunate if this Code fell short of perfection. If it is to be used as an advisory tool, as part of a group of Government publications which are passed to university departments and to others concerned with agriculture, what a pity it would be if there were serious omissions.

I return to the matter of water, which was raised in another place. As my honourable friends mentioned on 6th December, very often it is a matter of stockmanship that water is not provided. Since sheep are herbivorous, very often they obtain the moisture that they need from either beet tops or other forms of food which carry within them sufficient moisture for the animal. If, therefore, paragraph 8 remains in the Code: Drinking water should be available to all sheep", and farmers and stockmen decide that to provide it is unnecessary, they will offend against the Code and conceivably will be liable for prosecution. That is a mistake. Codes are intended for guidance and if unsatisfactory guidance is given in a Code it should be amended before it is approved by Parliament. Noble Lords will observe that the front of the document bears the stamp, "Not yet approved by Parliament". I believe that these items are worthy of consideration before your Lordships give effect to the Code.

If is difficult to know how we should proceed. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has asked your Lordships to approve the Code as it stands. However, may I ask that the questions which I have put to the noble Lord should receive a satisfactory answer. Otherwise, we on this side of the House will find it quite difficult to know how to proceed.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I was a little puzzled as to how to describe the Code, but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor helped me out by referring to a Bill that he was about to introduce as a load of rubbish, and, with his permission, I should like to refer to this Code in those terms. I shall not do so, however, because it has been produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, for which, believe it or not, I have a very high regard. With your Lordships' permission, therefore, I shall content myself with just saying that, for two reasons, the Code is platitudinous rubbish.

If the Code is to be used in an advisory capacity, as the noble Lord's honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned in another place on 6th December, it cannot do much harm; but it cannot do much good, either. As my noble friend Lord Sandys has already pointed out, reasonable shepherds already do what is suggested in the Code. Unreasonable shepherds do not, and producing a mass of paper will not make them do it, either. Too much paper is chucked at shepherds and farmers.

If the Government really believe that producing this little piece of paper will make unreasonable people become reasonable, I implore them to think again. What it can achieve (if that is what it is trying to do) is further to hinder me—or may I use the term "fox" me?—in discovering among what comes on to my desk what is and what is not important. I should have thought that, to your Lordships, that would be important. I can assure your Lordships that 99 per cent. of the Codes that are sent to farmers—and we have been told that every farmer will receive one—will end up in their wastepaper baskets, and I should much prefer to see it end in your Lordships' wastepaper basket than in my ditch as litter. Added to that, it will cost quite a lot in postage and I thought that your Lordships were keen on reducing postage so that we might send cheap Christmas cards, which I believe some of your Lordships are very keen on doing.

The other side of the matter—and I shall not keep your Lordships long—is that if it is not going to be advisory it is going to be enforced. This was suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary in another place on 6th December. If so, who will do it? This really could make worse nonsense and in some hands it would be positively dangerous. I know that I am going to fly rather low here and be shot down but, sadly—and I mean this absolutely sincerely—the relationship between farmers and some animal welfare organisations is not of the best and such a Code as this could only make it slightly worse if they use it in a stupid manner, which I hope and pray they will not do.

My noble friend Lord Sandys has already mentioned various specific points and I entirely agree with what he has said. I should also like to comment quickly on a few more. Paragraph 2 refers to absence of lameness. What shepherd can honestly say that his sheep are not lame? They will be lame today and OK tomorrow, or vice versa. Heating: heating at the top of Snowdon, my Lords. What is wrong with the Aga? I will also refer to another rather dangerous item—paragraph 16 on castration. Castration must be done with an anaesthetic according to the Act. For various reasons, Welsh lambs are not castrated at birth—or very few are; most of them go off fat before they need to be castrated but, when they come down into the lowlands and maybe I buy them, they then have to be castrated. I hope I am not going to make myself a criminal but I am afraid that at that stage it is impracticable to use an anaesthetic, and indeed it would not help if they are pinched. That is a low flier and I accept that I shall probably be shot down upon it!

Paragraph 19 refers to electric fences. If they do not cause pain and distress, how do you keep the sheep in? This morning I have already chased 400 tegs across kale. It was very wet; I wish my electric fence caused a lot more pain! It is a rather stupid remark, if I may say so.

Lastly, sheep dogs. It is said that they should not grip sheep. Of course they should not grip sheep, but I might remind your Lordships of the other side of the story, that sheep dogs which do not do their jobs meet an untimely end. I think one should remember that: it is why they are such a marvellous breed. I might also add an extra paragraph—42—saying that if a shepherd sees a sheep with three legs there is obviously something wrong, but I shall not.

If your Lordships think that I have a natural fear of paperwork and that my office is in a muddle, you are quite correct; but I suggest that it is not in quite the same state as is the Ministry's office. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told us, there is an advisory publication entitled Sheep, and then it says: "Available at the time of going to press". When I rang up on Saturday there were only 10 of the 24 available, so before they take the mote out of my eye they might take out the beam in their own.

I agree with the comment made by my noble friend Lord Sandys in regard to the words: "Not yet approved by Parliament". I should like to ask your Lordships not to approve it. I am sure I am not allowed to ask that and I should not get you to do it anyhow. I do not know how to do it and I am sure it would be out of order anyway, but I should like to see this in the wastepaper basket. Failing that, I should like to ask four questions of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. First, who will enforce the Code? Secondly, it talks about rapid diagnosis of ailments. This requires handling arrangements, and handling arrangements are very expensive. Will the Government ensure that the profitability of sheep farming is sufficient to ensure investment in satisfactory handling equipment and fences? Thirdly, will the Government assure me that the Code is not a basis for prosecution, or explain how it is to be used if they do intend to bring shepherds to court?

Lastly, if a shepherd is brought to court, who will sit in judgment? Will it be justices of the peace? If so, they might be town justices. Will the Government assure me that, before convicting a shepherd of cruelty on any of these grounds, they will ask for professional advice? I should like to see the Ministry of Agriculture veterinary officer called in; I should like to see other shepherds called in and, obviously, I should like to see the National Farmers' Union Livestock Committee called in. I should like to know to whom the court would refer.

I am sorry to be so critical but I feel that I can finish by congratulating the Government on one point in the Code. It is this: it is entirely appropriate that your Lordships should be discussing this matter of sheep and shepherds at Christmas time.


My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments because what I have to say does not arise directly out of the action we are asked to take this afternoon. I believe that in our thoughts, if not in our actions, this afternoon is what happens to our sheep and lambs when we pack them up, ship them to the coast, and send them over the Channel for slaughter in Europe. There are two sides to the lives of animals in this country: the care that we give to them while they are with us and the indifference we show towards them when they leave us. This traffic is being conducted on an increasing scale and the port of Dover is fully occupied all the time by the transport through it of more than one half of the hundreds of thousands of live animals which are being shipped across the Channel for slaughter.

The RSPCA's special investigation unit which has been operating at the expense of a voluntary organisation and not at the expense of the Government, has been following these cargoes in Europe and has seen what has happened to them; and much that we are discussing this afternoon on the care to be given to our animals in this country is disregarded when they get to the other side of the Channel. I know that the Minister is undertaking his own investigation into the conditions for the export of live animals for slaughter, and I should like to ask my noble friend how that investigation is progressing.

I have tabled a number of Questions of late to get information about this traffic. For example, I have asked whether shipments were sent over the Channel in force 9 and 10 gales such as we have had recently, and was relieved to hear that shipments have been suspended in very bad weather, although I am still awaiting a reply to a Question about a particular cargo on a particular ship which went over during that period. So I make no apology for raising now, as I shall raise again and again, questions relating to animal welfare in this country and exposing, if I may respectfully do so, the ambivalence of many of us towards animal welfare in this country, and attitude can be one of great kindness and great care for animals while we have them, but, in many cases, complete indifference to what happens to them afterwards. This applies to horses, and I shall be raising that subject tomorrow. It applies to dogs, it applies to sheep, it applies to the little woolly lambs that all the children of this country are encouraged to love and cherish—all this is part of the enormous traffic in living animals which are sent under conditions which, I am sure, if we could see them for ourselves, we should find intolerable.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was quite right when he said the point he wanted to make had nothing to do with what we are discussing at this moment, but I do not think we would begrudge him the opportunity of again putting on record something about which he feels deeply. I should like to support my noble friend. When, some 23 years ago, I was complimented by being invited to become a junior Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and was there for three years, one thing always delighted me. I felt that in that Department, certainly during that period, there was less bureaucracy than in almost any other Government Department, and I thought that was a matter of some pride. But it does strike me as being bureaucratic in the extreme that this Code, which certainly does not cover the whole field, is going to be circulated over a wide field, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said; it is going to cost a great deal of money, and I should have thought to little purpose. It could well be that it will irritate the people to whom the noble Lord paid compliments for being very good in looking after their stock. If it is that this Code of Practice does not cover, for example, the important point to which my noble friend Lord Sandys referred, they will not have any respect for it in any case.

The question I should like to ask, because the matter has not been made absolutely clear, either in another place or here so far, is this: Is this purely an advisory document which will not have the force of law behind it and will not be produced as the basis for instituting proceedings against anyone, or is it going to have the force of law behind it? Is it going to be produced in order to justify a prosecution which may have been brought by someone who perhaps does not know so much about the actual incident he is bringing before the court as the shepherd or the farmer himself? I should have thought it ought to be made absolutely clear whether or not the document has behind it the force of law, and even at this late stage I believe it ought to be examined to see whether the expense that will be involved in printing and circulating it is really justified, bearing in mind the commonsense possible good that could flow from it.

The point that my noble friend Lord Sandys made is a relevant one. In this Code of Practice it says that water "shall be available". If water is not available, that will be an infringement of the Code. But, as my noble friend said, there are many instances where, in the view of the people who understand these matters, it would be detrimental to have water available to that extent; it would not be in the best interests of the livestock they have in mind. If the force of law is behind this Code, and if a part of the charge against someone is that he had not got water available, when his view and other expert view is that water ought not to be available for good technical reasons, is not that making nonsense of the law? Is not that the sort of thing that causes people who want to be law-abiding to be irritated? I have a lot of sympathy with the general view that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, put, but Parliament's job is to be incisive and reasonable in the documents it produces, particularly if those documents are likely to be produced as evidence as to whether or not someone should be prosecuted and, possibly, fined.


My Lords, as what I believe is termed a flock-master, in that I have 250 Kerryhill ewes, I must confess that I have not studied this document. But all those I have spoken to who are in a like position refer to it as being rather a farce. I would support the noble Lord in what he says about thinking again. I should like to take up one point, that about castration. In Australia and here I have always used the New Zealand ring point for castration. What are we now going to do? We have now got to have injections. This seems to me to be flying absolutely in the face of all reasonable experience in managing sheep. If I may make one reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said on the subject of crossing the Channel in a force 9 or 10 gale, I have done that in my boat, and I do not see why sheep could not do it also.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I declare a quite considerable interest in the subject of sheep, and I have read this document. All I can say about it is that if any of the shepherds I employ did not do any of these things they would not be where they are now. I, and my husband before me, have had shepherds from generations of the same family. If I issued this document to them, they would either laugh or they would say, "Is this somebody who wants to know? If so, it is a pity they did not keep it inside the Department. It is quite useful to the Department, no doubt, but everything in this document we have been doing for 30, 40, 50 years all of which is quite true. I think this is such a simple document that, quite honestly, it does not produce anything which is new; it does not produce anything of any significance beyond the ABC of shepherding, which is already very well known to anybody who is engaged in the industry.

There is nothing wrong in saying that it is a good idea to care for sheep, that it is a good idea that they should have good conditions. Of course that is all right. But to spend a lot of money on it, to issue it to every farmer, particularly to those engaged in this type of industry, is, I honestly think, a terrible waste of money. I am sorry to say so because I think the noble Lord's intentions are admirable in every way. This seems to me to be something which the Ministry of Agriculture must have had on their shelves and thought they must bring out now. I cannot believe that it makes any contribution at all. It is really a waste of money and a waste of time. That is perhaps rather a strong statement, but that is what I feel about it.


My Lords, like the noble Lord behind me, some years ago I was also a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, responsible for the welfare of farm animals, and I had to stand at the Box defending different charges when it was believed that things had gone wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to our callousness when it comes to parting with our animals and their transport overseas. I can recall in those times, 15 years ago, that the ill-use of animals within this country, ill-use about which complaints were made, was not when they were on the farm but when they were being transported from the farm to an auction mart, being handled in the auction mart, being transported again from the auction mart, either to ports from which they might be proceeding overseas—we had that trouble even then—or else, maybe, to other auction marts or to a slaughterhouse.

I am not suggesting that all hauliers and all transport contractors are callous men, because they are not. But the very nature of the job they have to do makes it very difficult to observe all the conditions in a Code like this. I should like to ask the noble Lord to explain to us when he comes to reply, why it is necessary to produce all this to every farmer and shepherd in the land, but not to produce some similar document at the same time dealing with the handling of these animals after they have left the farm, perhaps to go to an auction mart or to a port for export. That, I should have thought, is the area to which it is much more important for the Government to give attention and to give priority. In saying that, I do not in any way want to lay charges against those who have the job of handling, but I had to make the point in such a way that I hoped the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, would realise that it had some substance.


My Lords, I also have an interest and I promise not to detain your Lordships for long. When the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, talked about all Governments being concerned with the welfare of sheep, I could not help thinking that I had been in very close touch with shepherds for 50 years but only in fairly reasonably close touch with Governments for 25 years. I assure the noble Lord that if Governments of both Parties looked after the less happy people in their community even half as well as shepherds look after their sheep the country would be much better placed.

However, apart from that, most of the matters that my noble friends have raised are true. I honestly think that this is a total waste of money. I shall no doubt receive this document and I should like to direct your Lordships' attention to the one possibly valid point in the argument; namely, that nowadays there are a number of people, especially in England who, because of the changing pattern of agriculture which happens from time to time, are beginning to become interested in sheep; who do not have skilled shepherds and who are handling sheep perhaps for the first time on their farms. It may be of some use to give them a document of this kind, but I promise the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that to do so in sheep country would be a total waste of time and it would make us all the laughing stock of our shepherds if they thought that we were spending time discussing this kind of matter.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, the Code has had a very mixed reception in your Lordships' House, unlike in another place where it met with general approval throughout, with one or two minor reservations. However, that, of course, is no reason why noble Lords should not criticise it as much as they like. I shall endeavour to answer the various points that have been raised.


My Lords, there is a very good reason why it received an almost unanimous approval in another place. It was discussed at 1.30 in the morning.


My Lords, remembering the autumn of a year ago, even if it had been discussed at 1.30 in the morning in your Lordships' House, your Lordships would still have been full of vitality and energy. I am sorry and disappointed that the Code has not met with greater approval and, quite frankly, I am rather surprised. We already have Codes relating to the welfare of cattle, pigs, domestic fowls and turkeys, and this Code follows on. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has said that there were too many pieces of paper. In my view this is a very precise Code. It consists of only 11 pages and it is very briefly set out. Some of your Lordships have also been concerned that the Code inevitably speaks in such general terms and may question the need to make recommendations which no flock master or shepherd could possibly fail to observe.

The Government recognise that a proficient farmer or stockman can be expected almost instinctively to follow the Code without thinking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, said so rightly. However, we believe that it is no bad thing to give a reminder even to the experts, and even experts—perhaps I may direct this partly to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley—surely have open minds and can learn from time to time. As for those with less skill or experience, we consider that the Code contains sound welfare guidance on the avoidance of welfare problems.

I have been asked a number of questions and perhaps I should deal first with those riased by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. The noble Lord asked, first of all, about the question of drinking water. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this matter. The object of the Code recommendation at paragraph 8 is to ensure that sheep do not suffer through water deprivation. No one will be prosecuted simply because he failed to provide water, but if his failure leads to the sheep suffering unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress, then it is not unreasonable that action should be taken against the person responsible. It is appreciated that, in some husbandry situations, sheep are able to obtain an adequate water intake from their diet—for example, roots, grass and dew. However, it has been widely noted that, even when they obtain sufficient liquid from such sources, they appear to relish the act of drinking. The Code's provision is considered to give reasonable guidance in this area. Sheep can, in some situations, survive for an appreciable period without water as such, but it may not be desirable for them to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, also raised the question of shade for sheep and suggested that the Code should recommend provision of an area of shade in which sheep could gain protection from sunlight in hot weather. He mentioned the drought of a year ago. The sheep in full fleece is a very well insulated animal and its wool insulates it from direct sunlight as well as from the cold. A newly shorn sheep will, of course, lack that insulation, but, in general farm practice, there cannot be many situations where some natural shade is not available. I agree that sheep should not be denied access to a shaded area, perhaps under a bank or a wall, but it was not considered reasonable, in view of the minimal nature of any hazard to their welfare, to recommend the artificial provision of this in all husbandry situations. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, also raised the question of the need for sheep to scratch. It was not considered to be reasonable to make a specific recommendation in the Code, although it is likely that sheep which wish to indulge in that activity would find a natural means of doing so.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, also raised a number of matters. First, he asked about enforcement. This matter was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I remind the House that the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 already makes it an offence to cause unnecessary pain or distress to livestock on the farm. Although breach of a Welfare Code does not of itself render anyone liable to prosecution in any proceedings for an offence under the 1968 Act, the Act itself makes it clear that such a failure may be relied upon by the prosecution as tending to establish the guilt of the persons concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, also raised the question of lameness. For all sheep the welfare Code recommends inspection at appropriate intervals for signs of injury and the treatment without delay of injured, ailing or distressed sheep. It also recommends that stockmen should be experienced and competent in the prevention and treatment of foot-rot. We believe that that is sound advice. The noble Lord also raised the question of castration. I can appreciate that some hill farmers may find it onerous to comply with the requirements of the law on the use of the rubber ring method, but I feel bound to point out that the control exists to prevent unnecessary suffering to the animal and those who find themselves unable to observe the seven-day rule should not use this method of castration. I should have thought that if a flock on hill land is properly supervised at lambing time, as the welfare Code recommends, there will be little difficulty in meeting the legal requirements on castration.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, also asked about sheep dogs. The worrying of sheep by dogs is a difficult problem and the Code rightly draws attention to the need to keep dogs under control. Also, as regards England and Wales, it draws attention to the rights of a flock owner in this matter. I am sorry that the noble Lord also found that all the advisory publications were not available. I shall, if I may, go into that matter and write to him about it. He also raised the question of electric fences. Electric fences should not cause unnecessary pain or distress, and that calls for proper installation and maintenance. It is accepted that a momentary shock may cause pain, but that is regarded as necessary.

My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, raised—as I expected he would—the question of the exports of live sheep. Indeed, he extended that to deal with exports of all kinds of livestock and other animals. The question of whether live exports should continue, of course, is not one covered by the Code, or one that we would normally be debating today, although I am sure that my noble friend was right to deal with it if he wished. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has commissioned a Departmental inquiry into the development of the livestock export trade over the last three years. I submit that it would be better to await the outcome of that detailed examination of the facts before passing any judgment on the matter. I have no doubt that the Minister will take note of the observations made by my noble friend and other noble Lords. My noble friend also asked me when the report was expected. It is hoped that this will be early next year.

That is it. I am sorry that your Lordships do not think that the Code is perfect.


My Lords, could the noble Lord comment on my short speech and tell us why this Code should refer to the management of sheep on farms and completely ignore management when sheep are in transit in this country to and through auction marts, and maybe further? I submit that it is in that area where there is much more likely to be ill-treatment than on the farms.


My Lords, we have no evidence to show that sheep are exposed to a greater risk to their welfare while they are being transported than when they are on the farm. However, there are separate provisions for safeguarding the welfare of sheep and other animals while they are being transported by road, rail, sea or air. The provisions relating to sheep are in the form of orders made under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950, which is enforced by the local authorities. It is because of the existence of these orders that it was considered inappropriate to include these provisions in the welfare Code recommendations in respect of the welfare of animals during transportation.

As I was saying, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, does not think that this Code is perfect. Of course, this is not a perfect world and there is always room for improvement. However, we feel that the Code will help and go some way to meet requirements. But I shall bring everything that has been said by noble Lords, with all their great experience in these matters, to the attention of my right honourable friend and the Advisory Committee.


My Lords, do we have to pass this Code on to our shepherds?—because if we do, I am afraid that we shall be the laughing stock of our shepherds.


My Lords, I expect that that is for the shepherds to judge.


My Lords, would the noble Lord be so good as to take note of some of the things that have been said today, and make certain amendments to this document before he circulates it to all the farmers in England?


My Lords, I said that. I said that I would bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend and the Advisory Committee. I can do no more than that.


My Lords, the two questions that I asked the noble Lord—indeed, I wrote to him about them and they are Nos. 2 and 4—are there. Will any extra costs to the farmer be met by the Government; and, if a case is brought under the Code, who will sit in judgment? Will they ask for expert advice and of whom will they ask it?


My Lords, I do not think that any particular extra costs will be involved. It is a question of advising a Code of proper husbandry, which the very great majority of farmers and stockmen are already doing, including, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. I do not know why the noble Lord is so worried about it. Local veterinary officers, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will, of course, advise.


My Lords, the document does not look as though it is in draft form. Was it printed and ready for circulation before their Lordships had a chance to comment upon it? If the Advisory Committee wished, could the Code still be amended or is it actually on the shelves ready for distribution?


My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble Lord to the cover, where it says: Not yet approved by Parliament". On Question, Motion agreed to.