HL Deb 07 December 1978 vol 397 cc374-400

8.22 p.m.

Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they will introduce further measures to protect animals, particularly live food animals for slaughter, and horses. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I regret that we have to begin so late, and I thank noble Lords who have already indicated their desire to join in the debate. So I must be considerate towards them at this time and be as short as I can.

After the Question had gone down on the Order Paper, there was a double-page feature in the Daily Mirror for two successive days on the activities of dubious dog dealers and dog snatchers for National Health Service hospitals; so I notified the Minister that I would wish to ask a question or two about that. So I have three questions to ask: the first is about horses; the second is about the export of live animals for food; and, thirdly, I wish to ask about dogs supplied for hospital research and laboratory research.

It distresses me to say that I do not think the record of this Government on the protection of animals is anything like as good as it should be. I have said this before and I shall go on saying it until matters improve. I am trying to dismiss the fear that the Government are both dilatory and fainthearted in this field of public morals in relation to man and the animal kingdom. To me it is a very serious matter involving deep considerations of moral philosophy. I have said before also that if the Government are to live up to the policy outlined in the booklet Living Without Cruelty, published by the National Executive of the Labour Party recently, they have a long, long way to go.

Here we are again on the eve of another Recess, with little sign of action where action is overdue, though to be fair—and I must be fair—the Government have recently announced a welcome change in one protective feature of our regulations about the export of horses: namely, the minimum protective values. These have been substantially increased with effect from 27th December; in many cases they have been doubled. Noble Lords may recall that the export of live horses and ponies is permitted only by licence. A licence is refused if the value of the animal is below the relevant minimum protective value, and the minimum protective values stipulated in the statutory orders are designed to ensure that horses going abroad are destined for riding, breeding or work rather than for the butcher's hook. For example, the present minimum protective value of a Shetland pony not over 10½ hands is £60, and it will soon be £145. For a heavy draught horse the present minimum value is £300 and that will be going up to £715.

These substantial increases are welcome because they will give added protection to horses being sent abroad. I know that the Minister probably does not share the pessimism about the size of the loophole of the old values which many of us in the animal welfare movement hold. The figures for exports of live horses this year are not in excess of those for last year: that must be admitted. Nevertheless, it is desired to increase the protective values which, on present values, give no real protection to horses at all because prices are still rising and horses are worth more dead than alive. I think this is a most welcome step. Having regard to my earlier strictures, I think the Government deserve a good mark on that.

I pass now to another aspect of the protection of horses which I have raised several times before. I believe we must do much more to protect horses at sales and auctions and in transit by road, so I am pressing once again for the application to horse sales of the protective conditions already imposed by the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 upon the sales of farm animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs. Your Lordships may remember that horses and ponies are not given the protection that farm animals get at markets and sales. Under the Markets (Protection of Animals) Order 1964 for sheep, cattle and pigs, while farm animals are given some protective conditions at auctions and sales in all sorts of ways, horses are not included. Horses and ponies may be sold anywhere at any time of the day or night with no protection other than the general law relating to the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and conditions at many horse sales and auctions are still far from satisfactory. There are many complaints of overcrowding and rough treatment being made about that.

I raised this matter last on 15th December 1977 and I then supplied the Government with a list of auction sales regularly held in different parts of the country which gave rise to concern among observers who were watching what was going on. On 5th April this year, I asked the Minister how things were going and he replied at columns 163 and 164 of the Official Report. I shall paraphrase it. He said that a survey of conditions was going on in 132 locations where horses were sold. A good deal of the survey had been completed. They had found, in 13 of the cases, some minor shortcomings in the conditions that should be applied to them. Then came a powerful passage at the end of the questions, when in reply to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who asked whether the results of the survey, if not the survey itself, would be published, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi replied: Yes, my Lords; we believe in open government. Moreover, we shall consult with all interested bodies, including, of course, the important animal welfare societies". Open government is apparently to be the guiding principle of the present Government from now on, in more than one direction. But a year has passed and I ask the question: Where are we now?

I shall tell my noble friend one thing. Where we are now is just about 20 miles from Southall Horse Sale, which is held weekly and is one of the oldest and biggest, and was described to me recently by a senior police officer as a cesspit. That is what is on our doorstep. I shall not go into the lurid details, though I have them, but I await with interest the appraisal of Southall Market when open government produces an open report. I am informed that the Ministry of Agriculture, in an effort to remedy some of the shortcomings of these auction sales, already has a draft code of practice formulated by expert and horse welfare opinion, and I am told that it is even acceptable to the auctioneers, which is surely a very good start for any reform of auction sales. So what are we waiting for? May I ask my noble friend where we are now with that?

Another point on horses, which I must mention, is that there are serious weaknesses in the enforcement of the provisions of the Transit of Animals (Road and Rail) Order 1975. These are complicated matters, and they are complicated still further by the existence, though large parts of it have been revoked, of the Transit of Horses Order 1951. There are widespread breaches of the orders reported from many parts of the country. For example, there appears to be a lamentable failure to observe some of the strict conditions under which animals of different species shall be separated for the purpose of transport, and larger animals kept apart from smaller ones in order to avoid serious damage to them.

There appears, also, to be a lamentable outcrop from the grace given in 1975 to vehicles then in use for animal transport, because an exemption from some of the essential future requirements was granted to vehicles which were being used for animal transport on or before 1st August 1975. These vehicles are exempted from the important Article 3 and Schedule 1 of the order as regards construction and maintenance, and that exemption lasts until 1st August 1980. I believe that five years' grace was too long to begin with, and experience has shown that to be so. But three years have gone and two years are still to go. Some of these vehicles have long passed their best, probably being sold to less reputable dealers, and that may explain why there are so many ramshackle vehicles seen at markets at the present time.

This question of transport is of great importance since, as I have mentioned earlier, there is a limit on the number of slaughterhouses. There are now five—the previous figure was four—slaughterhouses in this country authorised for the slaughter of horses for the carcase trade with Europe. That means that, wherever they come from, horses must go to one of the five at Huddersfield, Crawley, Norwich, Bristol and Nantwich. That is all I have to say about horses, and now I have a few words to say about the export of live animals for slaughter.

There was a debate on this matter on 23rd March 1978, on the eve of the Easter Recess, on the day of publication of the report of the Agriculture Department on the subject of the export of live animals to Europe. Since then, values have gone up, though I am glad to see that the numbers have kept fairly steady, but they are very high indeed. On average, we are exporting to Europe at the present time about 30,000 live animals each month. The figures last year for sheep and calves were running at the rate of about 390,000. We thought that we were going to have a debate on this a long time ago. Indeed, in March this year when the report came out I asked when we would have a debate:, and we have never had one. There has never been a debate in another place, either. Indeed, there are Early Day Motions down signed by large numbers of Members of the other House, asking when. they will get a debate, but still the Minister claims the right of all Ministers to silence on the subject.

Finally, I come to dogs. On 14th and 15th November, the Daily Mirror ran a very big feature on this question of dogs, where they come from aid where they go to, and I think that that newspaper is to be congratulated on its courage and persistence in rooting out and exposing the evil s of the abuse of animals. Immediately after that exposure, a piece appeared in the Balham and Tooting News and Mercury of 17th November, from which I quote briefly: Hard-up health chiefs have to ask medical researchers at St. George's Hospital in Tooting to buy animals for experiments ' on tie cheap '. After a shock report in a national newspaper, St. George's Medical School Administrator, Dr. Julian Axe, said that: Due to financial restraints by the Government we are obliged to go to unaccredited sources for some animals. The ex-racing greyhounds which are not purpose-bred are used for research. The Medical School takes great care to ensure that no pets are used for research". Then there were some admissions later that, for example, the Medical Research Council cannot be oversure that it is getting all its animals from accredited sources. Mr. Michael Funnell, the Press Officer for the RSPCA, is reported to have said: There are only 220 RSPCA officers in England. We just don't have the time to catch the snatchers who must make a fortune out of their trade. It's terrible".

Almost at the same time, a letter which has come into my hands was received by, I presume, a research laboratory in North London. I shall not mention the name of the person who wrote that letter or the address that it came from. However, it came from Cambridge and this letter to the research establishment said: I am writing to enquire if I can supply you with animals for research? If so, please contact me, either by phone or letter, at your earliest convenience. All animals are in good health and would be delivered to you under humane conditions. If you are interested, I would be obliged if you would state the type of animal required and prices paid per animal, approximately". The question is: where are these animals coming from? I want to ask my noble friend a simple, plain question: Will the Government ensure that the National Health Service hospitals are instructed to stop buying dogs and cats from these dubious sources? It will be no comfort to people whose pets are missing, and who wait anxiously but in vain for their return, to tell them that their pets have gone in a good cause to the National Health Service. I say to the National Health Service hospitals: Please stop this disreputable trade by refusing to buy from shady dealers.

Also, I think it would help if the Government gave closer and more urgent consideration to the report Dogs in Society. This was the report of a working party which sat for a long time but upon which no action has yet been taken. If applied, however, it would introduce an entirely new era of dog care and dog discipline.

My final question is this: Has my noble friend anything more to say about the consideration which he assures us is being given by the Government to the setting up of a standing commission or committee to inquire into a wide range of matters concerning animal protection and welfare?

8.42 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful, even at this late hour, to consider a subject so important as animal welfare. If it is not presumptuous to say so, we should be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for bringing so constantly to your Lordships' attention, in a series of interesting debates, this particular subject. The noble Lord referred to his debate on 14th December of last year in relation to the horse meat trade, to his debate in relation to the export of live animals on 23rd March and, further, to his debate on 25th July last on the export of live animals. In many cases, similar matters have been repeated on three occasions. But what is so important is that there are gaps in the legislation. Abuses arise daily, and I should like first to address myself, in rather the same manner as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to horses.

Horses are sold at auction where there is no requirement to have present a Government inspector. I join the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in his plea for a re-examination of the situation, whereby the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 could be invoked and Section 20 of that Act applied to horses and ponies. Furthermore, the situation in regard to the whole body of legislation requires considerable thought. I have been looking at the body of legislation which covers this field. The basic Act is the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, with which this Unstarred Question is not concerned. However, there is a series of subsequent Acts of Parliament: the 1894 Act, the Protection of Animals Acts of 1911 and 1964 and, based upon those Acts, a whole series of transport orders—for instance, the Animal (Sea Transport) Order 1930 and the Transit of Animals Order 1927.

It is very interesting to look at this legislation and to see how, time and again, Parliament has directed attention to the situation with regard to the transit of animals, the subject with which we are dealing today, but has been unable to find a satisfactory solution. I am fully aware of the enormous change which has taken place in the transportation system between the end of the last century and today. Now there are roll-on, roll-off ferries. There is also the air transport of calves to distant places, et cetera. There is a very strong case for a review of the legislation and for the removal from the Statute Book of antique or harmful legislation which imposes an unnecessary burden. New legislation might well be more acceptable to the trade and also more adaptable to present circumstances.

I am well aware that recent legislation has taken off the Statute Book a whole range of different provisions. We struggled for years with the recommendations of the Brambell Committee and the recommendations of the Balfour Committee, and their incorporation into a very important piece of legislation—the European Convention on the Protection of Animals during International Transport—has only recently been accepted. That became law only two days after the last debate on this subject initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I think the noble Lord cast some doubt in that debate on whether that recent piece of legislation contained loopholes.

I shall not take up much time on the issue of the protection of horses, because the noble Lord has dealt with it in detail. However, I should like to join him in what he has said. The noble Lord believes that the Government have been dilatory and faint-hearted. I believe that in the past many Governments have been dilatory over bringing legislation up to date. Nevertheless, it is true that it is extremely difficult to match legislation with new procedures because the trade moves very much faster than Westminster. But we must not be faint-hearted. Again this was the noble Lord's charge, and I am quite sure that it is not the Government's aim to let the matter rest. Indeed, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will not permit the Government to let it rest. My noble friends on this side of the House will not permit it to rest, either.

I should like to refer to one page in an important report by the agriculture Department, to which reference has already been made; namely, the report of March 1978 on The Export Trade in Live Animals for Slaughter or Further Fattening. Perhaps I may turn to paragraph 62 on page 16 which relates to widespread dissatisfaction with the minimum weights for calves. This is one criticism of the report, and I hope that the Government will be able to give attention to it and, indeed, to a number of other recommendations contained in this very important document.

If I may refer to the question of dogs, in conjunction with many of your Lordships I have read the very significant features which ran for three days in the Daily Mirror in the middle of last month. I believe that there is an issue here of great and very wide public significance— that is, the theft of pets. The article referred to a shadowy organisation, better known in the business as "The Runners". Although this organisation was apparently known, for some time it was not believed to exist.

The RSPCA are well a ware of the repeated incidence of the disappearance of pets in large numbers from the streets of towns and cities up and down this country. The only reason for this continuous repetition is to lay emphasis upon the undoubted existence of a body of persons which removes or steals licensed, and indeed unlicensed, animals which are private property. I think it is true to say that dogs, if licensed, are animals which it should be a criminal offence to steal, but I do not know whether it is a criminal offence to pick up a stray cat. Here may well be a gap in the law and it is a further matter for investigation. I would suggest that the dogs issue is one of very wide public significance, because of course this is the time of year when a large r umber of puppies are sold and, only too unhappily, shortly after Christmas they end up in the hands of unlicensed persons and ultimately they may well end in the laboratories referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships a moment longer than is necessary, but I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in returning to this subject and I should be particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, if he can supply the answer to one particular question of which I have given notice. It is this. In regard to the code of practice at auction sales, has the Minister taken any action about conditions at sales and markets where horses are handled, so that a code of practice, which was suggested two years ago by the late chief veterinary officer, to improve welfare conditions for horses and ponies may be implemented? I shall be most grateful if the ncble Lord can advise your Lordships whether action has been taken in that regard.

8.52 p.m.


My Lords, I feel in rather a false position. The only reason why I put my name down to speak tonight was because it was thought, by me and by others, that somebody from these Benches—which I had better mention are the Liberal Benches—ought to support, and would like to support, as I do, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in his numerous attempts in this matter. I support all his intentions and I had better make it clear immediately that anything I say is not said on behalf of the Liberal Party but on behalf of myself, because I have nothing technical to add to what has already been said.

I should like slightly to widen the scope of the debate, which is not confined solely to horses and dogs but which includes other animals for what could be called slaughter. I had better say at once that I am not a vegetarian. I do eat meat, and I very much dislike seeing what I sometimes see in reports of slaughterhouses, reference to the well-intentioned methods (which possibly the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, may be able to say something about) of, for instance, stunning animals before they are killed. All these things are done with the best intentions, but sometimes we do not know whether they are doing more harm than good. In that connection I should like particularly to support what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asked for; namely, a Standing Committee to look into this matter.

My feeling about animals is that with some it is quite easy to identify oneself and with others it is not so easy. Anyone in the glamorous world of show jumping can identify with horses. I have always failed to do so—at least, the last time I was on a horse I failed to. I had always been told that if one fell off in front of a horse it would not kick one's teeth out. But I found that was wrong, or that the horse had not been so instructed. I think most of us have a repugnance to horses being slaughtered, except where necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned Shetland ponies. I do not know what the conditions are for New Forest ponies, which I believe are bred almost entirely for food. I am not suggesting that the conditions are bad, but I should be glad if the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, could tell us something about that.

Although I find it difficult to identify myself with horses, I find myself much more in a position to identify with hares, or even with tortoises. There was a case in the papers the other day of a chef in a well-known hotel who had committed unspeakable cruelty on a tortoise in order that it might be eaten. I do not want to be frivolous, but I think that in looking at some of the animals which are not generally regarded as animals, and considering how much pain is inflicted on them—I am not talking about geese, because one of the very few things that I have ever given up is eating pâté de fois gras. I do not think it happens in this country, but I understand that unspeakable pain—or, to put it mildly, discomfort and inconvenience—is caused to the geese.

An interesting case of something which I have enjoyed eating in the past is the lobster. The other day the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said—and I entirely agreed with him—that he very much regretted that on all these questions of animal food the industrial side, and what he called "welfare do-gooders", are split up, whereas they ought to be able to get together and agree on the right way of doing things. I should call them not so much the "welfare do-gooders" and the industrial side as, possibly, the scientists and the poets. Lobsters are not a familiar theme of poetry. Indeed, the only poem I can remember is Lewis Carroll's "Tis the voice of the lobster; I heard him declare" which ends with some rather interesting lines suggesting that even a lobster might be frightened before it is killed. When the sands have run dry, in a voice like a lark He will speak in contemptuous tones of the shark; But when the sea rises and sharks are around His voice has a timid and tremulous sound". Perhaps that makes the lobster rather too human.

If we take the scientific approach, sometime ago, before the war, Professor J. B. Haldane had an argument with some friends and colleagues as to the most humane way of putting a lobster into water. It was generally thought that the most humane way was to plunge it straight into boiling water rather than to put it into lukewarm water and then boil it up slowly. Being a scientist of considerable industry and courage he arranged this experiment for himself with the help of two laboratory assistants, a thermometer and a large copper bowl. He got into it and recorded his own experience until he lost consciousness. His view was that that was a fairly comfortable way of doing it. Whether it would be for a lobster, I do not know.

However, we have now so many scientific methods of trying to register what is and what is not right that I feel a Standing Committee could do a great deal of good in possibly abolishing some unnecessary pain that is being inflicted on animals, which, unless one is a vegetarian, will be killed and eaten. I think this could be done without in any way damaging the economy. I have already spoken for longer than I meant to, which was five minutes. I have no other point to add, except to stress the value, as I believe, of appointing a Standing Committee to look into all these questions.

9 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for putting down this Question, and I am only sorry it comes at this late hour when we cannot really let ourselves go on the subject of animal welfare. There are so many sides of this subject which should be covered that it is very difficult to pick out any particular one. I must agree with the noble Lord; I do not think this Government have a particularly good record in animal welfare, but perhaps when the noble Lord replies we shall get a different impression.

What to me is quite extraordinary is that the concentration of enforcement of animal welfare is more and more being put on to the environmental health departments of district councils. I think there are nine Acts covering dogs, none of which appears to be being enforced properly, and when they are enforced they are enforced in a most uneven manner throughout the country. I would ask the Government, on the subject of dogs, whether we could not at some time soon have a consolidation Act which could in fact be policed and enforced, rather than the partial supervision here and there of all these Acts. I am particularly interested in the Pet Animals Act, the Animal Boarding Establishments Act, the Breeding of Dogs Act and also the Guard Dogs Act. We are waiting for the Guard Dogs Act to be completed. When are we likely to see this? These are all welfare Acts and they are not being operated properly.

If I may turn to horses, the subject has been covered by a number of noble Lords, so I shall not go into what they have said. I would refer first of all to the Riding Establishments Act. This appears to be working reasonably well when it only requires an annual inspection, but there are considerable worries about these trekking establishments which only operate for a few months and appear to avoid the inspection under the Riding Establishments Act, due to the short time the}' operate. In any event, the horses which are there are not necessarily there at the time of the inspection; they may be brought in afterwards or taken out before. The subject of ponies and pony trekking establishments needs considerable further investigation by the Government. I trust and I hope that they may be able to give it some consideration, and will be able to say something about it.

The other thing which is worrying particularly the British Veterinary Association is the keeping of animals for experimental purposes. They are not at all happy that overall this is under any control whatsoever, except by those people who are in fact keeping them. The other subject which worries me, and I think worries a number of people, has been mentioned tonight and concerns particularly dogs and cats. The provision of these animals is under virtually no control at all. I hope the Government will be able to tell us that their views are that, within the foreseeable future, animals such as dogs and cats and rodents should be supplied only by people who are recognised to be keeping the animals properly for this purpose.

I have spoken a number of times on the export of live animals, and I think my views are well known. I do not like it, and I shall never like it. It still amazes me that things which do happen can happen. It astonishes me why the Ministry should permit the export of calves to Italy at a time when they are being brought before the European courts for cruelty in the methods of their slaughtering. One of the most hopeful signs that I have seen is the interest which the EEC are now starting to take in animals. My only hope is that, if the Government will not do anything, the EEC will, and that they will be rather ashamed if the decisions of the EEC go further than their own decisions.

9.8 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest. I am a vegetarian and I have been so for 70 years. On the whole, I think, physically I am a pretty good advertisement for that practice. However, my concern tonight is not to state the case for vegetarianism, but to urge support for what my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby and others have said regarding practical measures to prevent cruelty to animals.

I have been in this House for 14 years and I have been very much impressed by the interest of your Lordships in animals: dogs, horses, otters, badgers and eagles. I have sometimes thought, by the emotion expressed, that there has been more interest in animals than in human beings. Therefore, I think that the House should be sympathetic to the plea which my noble friend Lord Houghton has made. His case has been overwhelming and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and the others who have followed him have made their pragmatic, practical proposals for action by Her Majesty's Government.

When I speak in the House I usually seek to be constructive and to suggest the action which could be taken. With your Lordships' permission, tonight I shall make a different approach. I want for a moment or two to put the philosophical case for human beings approaching the problem of animals in a more sympathetic way. We human beings owe an immense debt to the animal kingdom. Life from the lowest forms has evolved over billions of years, and finally, in only the last 2 million years, it has reached the human being. The animal kingdom is the nursery of man. Darwin's theory of evolution emphasised the struggle for existence—the fittest surviving. That was corrected very largely by Kropotkin in his book Mutual Aid which showed that co-operation has been responsible for evolution as much as the factor of competition.

But admittedly in that process of evolution one species has lived by destroying a large number of the species below it, and that fact is very often used today in favour of the principle that man is justified in exploiting animals. He certainly does so. In the United Kingdom over 5½ million animals are officially known to be used for experimental purposes. About 65 per cent, of those experiments on living animals are for commercial purposes; one-third of them have no medical object whatsoever—they are carried out for such things as household and garden products; synthetic tobacco, as regards which I admit I am guilty myself, and, believe it or not, cosmetics for the decoration of women's faces. It is for those purposes that one-third of the 5£ million experiments on living animals are carried out. There is now factory farming with its infamous cruelty to poultry, pigs and cattle. They are imprisoned for our tables and treated as raw material for our tastes. There is the abominable trade in cattle and horses—continuous living cruelty—for the trade on the Continent, to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has drawn so much attention.

We justify all this and we justify indifference towards it because of Darwin's theory that one species evolves by living on another. But surely when the human being evolved a new level of consciousness was reached. It brought compassion, a hatred of cruelty and a sense of the universal life, identifying us with all of the past, the present and reaching out to the future. For the first time living beings were able to plan according to ethics.

One of the many birthday cards I recently received on my 90th birthday contained the text of the speech of Chief Seattle when Washington sought to buy the land of the Indian community. He said: The deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices of the meadows, the body heat of the pony and man— all belong to the same family". It is in that spirit of identity with all life and with the animal kingdom that we must face these problems.

For those reasons I welcome Labour's charter for animal protection, Living Without Cruelty, which includes impressive sections on the two matters which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, raised of live animals and live food animals for export. The campaign against cruelty to animals and cruelty to human beings is one; we are all a part of one family.

9.18 p.m.


My Lords, I must declare an interest, in that I farm and, therefore, I shall refer to sheep and cattle for slaughter, and not to horses. As for dogs, I do not consider them to be live food animals. However, I see the point of exploring any cruelty, and I believe that exposure is a better way of prevention than legislation. Therefore, it is on three counts that I would make a plea to Government to consider very carefully before they embark on any new legislation or, indeed, new regulations regarding animal welfare.

First, we understand so very little about our attitude to animals; indeed, what I, as a farmer, might consider cruel might be totally different from what the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Brockway, might consider cruel. I suppose that for someone who does not farm—and I believe I am correct in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, must be one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House who do not—some of our attitudes and indeed our philosophy towards our job, and in particular our animals, must seem illogical.

On the other side of the picture, I believe that the large majority of pets are kept on the border of cruelty. Noble Lords may say that I am being unfair. Maybe I am. For that reason I would never criticise the keeping of pets; I do so myself. However, the point I am making is that the question of what is and what is not cruelty is not possible accurately to define. It is a very imprecise science.

Secondly, farming, in particular livestock farming, dates back to primitive man, as we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. Things are not done or changed overnight. Hurried decisions and moves in farming are nearly always wrong. Changes should be made gradually, and be allowed to develop. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, admit that progress has been made, certainly so far as horses are concerned. I ask him, with the greatest respect, to continue to bi patient: I am sure more would be achieved.

Thirdly, I am deeply suspicious that control and legislation ever achieves much—if it does achieve anything at all—and certainly in an area which (as I have said before and indeed the noble Lord, Lore Brockway, said it) is so imprecise as what constitutes animal cruelty. Indeed, often regulations and legislations are counterproductive. If I may, I shall give just one example. It is the law contained in the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954 which was amended by the 1964 Act. In that Act, under Section l(4)(b) the de-horning, except by caustic stick, is forbidden without an anaesthetic.

The picture I wish to paint to your Lordships is that of a single suckler outwintered herd—and there are many of them; and indeed I had one until the green pound made me give it up. On arrival in the morning you are faced with seven or eight newborn calves, which must be castrated and should be dehorned. Surely it is kinder to creep up quietly and castrate and de-horn that calf before either it is aware of your presence and, more important, its mother is aware of your presence, rather than, as the law demands, inject the anaesthetic into each horn, wait five minutes for it to work while the mother is hollering its heart out.

Here is a case of the law being an ass, and as a result the farmer will either break the law or fail to de-horn. If there is a single humane treatment I should like to see done, it is the encouragement— although again not through legislation— of more de-horning of cattle. The damage done in lorries, and indeed in cattle yards, by horned beasts hitting each other in my opinion certainly does cause cruelty. I would support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, if he could think of a practical way to encourage de-horning of commercial cattle. I believe a chance was certainly lost when we had the calf subsidy. So I ask the Government to read again the O'Brien Report; to read again the Ministry of Agriculture's Report of March 1978 on the Export Trade of Live Animals, to which noble Lords have referred.

I must draw noble Lords' attention to Appendix A, in which you will see listed 40 organisations to which the Government referred. I do not believe it is fair to say—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said—that the Government have not consulted. They have; 40 people here. For once—and I hate saying this because there is nothing I like doing less than to congratulate the Government, whether it be blue, pink or yellow—I really consider that the Government have worked very hard on animal welfare. As I say, I do not really like saying that.

Having said that, I think that the Government would be better advised to rely, as I think they are doing, on the oldest motive of all—self-interest. The farmer and the slaughterer are the people who are financially involved, and if their lambs and bullocks do not have kindly treatment throughout their lives up to slaughter, they will suffer financially. If for that reason only, they will ensure humane treatment. I happen to believe that farmers are not the cruel creatures that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, sometimes gives us credit for. But even if we are, I am sure that everybody in your Lordships' House will agree that it is rare to find a farmer who enjoys throwing his money away, and that is what cruelty does.

Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord that there is always the rogue farmer just as there is the rogue politician, rogue doctor or the rogue vet, but I am sure he will agree with me that legislation will not get rid of those sort of people anyway. I believe there is an unnecessary divide creeping in between farmers and the opposite side, whoever they may or may not be. As always, the best way to resolve our differences is not on the Floor of the House, or on the floor of any other house, but quietly over the proverbial pint, and not by further Government measures. Our interests are the same, if for ostensibly different reasons and philosophy, and it just must be possible for us to resolve them without further legislation and regulation.

9.26 p.m.


My Lords, it is characteristic of my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby that he is not content with introducing one subject of importance but on this occasion has successfully introduced several, and the debate has ranged over horses, dogs and cattle and was further extended by the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, to include lobsters. It has, nevertheless, been a well balanced debate and I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, took part and struck a realistic note as a working farmer. I hope that during my speech I shall be able to convince your Lordships that the Government, as Lord Stanley rightly said, are much more concerned about these matters than would have been evident from some of the speeches of other noble Lords.

I should like at the outset, in reply to my noble friend, to deal with the important question of the export of live food animals for slaughter or further fattening and try to give some indication of the factors which are causing the Government to think very carefully on this matter, about which so many people feel deeply, and I am sure what my noble friend Lord Brockway said impressed us all.

First of all, one has to recognise that where the welfare of animals is concerned, national boundaries should be of little relevance, provided that the legal protection of animals is reasonably equivalent on both sides of those boundaries. A major factor contributing to such equivalence is of course EEC legislation. That is why the Government must take into account the extent to which current and proposed EEC legislation could protect animals during international transport.

Your Lordships are of course aware that since 1st August of this year EEC Directive 77/489 has been in force. That is the Directive which lays down general requirements for the protection of animals during international transport. Its provisions cover all farm animals and horses, domestic animals such as cats and dogs, other mammals and cold-blooded creatures. Its provisions apply to all intra-Community trade and to animals being exported to or imported from third countries. It lays down general requirements for the construction of their means of transport and containers, for when and how animals should be tied, for ventilation and density, and so on. It prohibits the carriage of animals which are ill or injured or where their stage of pregnancy makes them unfit to travel.

Two major requirements apply generally to farm animals and horses. The first is that before they start an international journey, they must have an inspection by an official veterinary surgeon and be certified by him that they are fit to travel. The second is that the times between feeding and watering on the journey should not exceed 24 hours unless the destination where the animals are to be unloaded can be reached within a reasonable period. My Lords, that is where the Commission's new proposals offer considerable advance, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Brockway will take note of this.

These proposals are for a Directive designed to implement Directive 77/489 in a number of ways. The most important of these is the proposal that food animals will not be allowed to undertake an international journey unless they are accompanied by a travel document which will log the time when their journey started, and when they pass through particular checkpoints, so that the intervals between feeding and watering can be monitored, and appropriate action taken. The Commission is hoping to finalise its proposals and to send them to the Council before the end of this year. The Commission's proposals will no doubt need further refinement, but there will be opportunities for this to be done when they pass through the Council's machinery of scrutiny.

Another factor which the Government are considering closely is the suggestion which has come forward from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, as well as from the body of which my noble friend is so distinguished a chairman and from the Farm Animal Welfare Coordinating Executive—that there should be some permanent, independent, advisory body which could advise the Government on animal welfare matters. This suggestion is a very far-reaching one, and the Government are most carefully considering it. We must also look at its relevance to the issues we are discussing today.

We have to look at the nature of the livestock industry, and the extent to which a limitation on movement—in both domestic and international journeys, since welfare in transit is equally important in both cases—could affect the different activities within the fattening and the slaughtering aspects of that industry. The economic aspects of continuing, or discontinuing, all, or parts, of the export trade must also be carefully assessed.

Many people see the live export trade not only as undesirable morally, but as positively damaging to our economic interests. The point has been made—and I think that it was repeated this evening by my noble friend—that we should export on the hook, instead of the hoof, so that we gain the benefits not only of added value, but of increased employment opportunities, particularly in our slaughterhouses. There are, however, complex reasons for the existing pattern of trade, not the least of which is that it meets a particular demand from our customers, which would not be met by simply substituting meat for animals. There could also be important consequences for our producers. There can be no doubt that live exports have a significant effect on their incomes and production plans, including those in the dairy sector which provides most of the exported calves. A lost market outlet for live animals could lead in due course to lower production with wider ranging consequences. These are complex issues which all have to be taken into account before the Government can reach a decision.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, raised the question of the EEC and Italy. The EEC Directive 74/577 requires animals to be stunned before slaughter, although exemptions are made for emergency slaughter; and of course ritual slaughter is outside the scope of the Directive. Your Lordships will know—as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said— that Italy failed to take the necessary measures to implement the Directive and was found to be in breach of it by the European Court of Justice. I am glad to say that she has now introduced appropriate domestic legislation.

I come now to the question of the: welfare and protection of horses, a subject which is also close to my noble friend's heart as well as to the feelings of this House. My noble friend has raised a number of important questions about the welfare of horses in the course of this evening's debate, and indeed there are one or two major points on which I hope to be able to offer some reassurance. I should like, though, to speak generally on this question, and particularly with reference to the New Forest ponies referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington. The slaughter of healthy horses and ponies before the end of their natural lives and the export of horsemeat are frequently criticised. There have also been suggestions that the slaughter of these animals should be prohibited by law. These views have recently been stimulated by the New Forest pony sales. The problem is that the supply of horses and ponies at sales greatly exceeds the demand for those for riding, and that the alternative for those animals not bought for recreation is usually to put them down humanely. The compassionate feelings aroused are entirely understandable, but surely it would not be in the best interests of surplus horses and ponies to prevent them from being humanely destroyed. This would be bound to result in over-population, starvation and neglect—a form of cruelty of its own. A ban on the use of horsemeat for human consumption would have no justification on welfare grounds.

There has always been great concern about the possibility of horses being exported for slaughter. One of the methods used to prevent this is by imposing, through a Statutory Instrument, minimum values below which various categories of horses and ponies may not be exported. This was referred to by my noble friend, and I am glad to confirm that within the last few days the Government, after consultation with all the organisations concerned, have made a new Horses and Ponies (Increase in Minimum Values) Order, which will come into effect on 27th December, which has significantly raised these values. The increases not only take account of increases in prices of horsemeat abroad, which of course would be the incentive for exporting them, but also builds in a safety factor against further price increases. Agriculture Ministers will continue to keep these revised prices under review so as to make sure that this valuable safeguard against the export of horses for slaughter is maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has spoken about unsatisfactory conditions at some horse sales. During the debate in your Lordships' House in December last year, my noble friend, as he reminded us today, drew attention to disturbing reports of conditions at auctions and sales of horses and ponies. Last year I said that a code of conduct for horse sales produced by the British Horse Society and sent to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by the British Veterinary Association would be examined by officials to see whether it could with advantage be included in any new legislation which might be made in relation to welfare at horse and pony auctions and sales. As part of the examination of the situation, officials of the State Veterinary Service carried out a preliminary survey of the places where horses and ponies are sold or auctioned. As I explained to my noble friend last March, that survey indicated that the welfare arrangements on these occasions are generally satisfactory, although in a few cases minor shortcomings were noted. This preliminary survey has been followed by a more detailed survey designed to give fuller and more specific information than was originally collected, so I think I can assure my noble friend that we are not dragging our feet. The material collected about the facilities at premises and the practices which take place has now been analysed, and Ministers will shortly be asked to decide what action would be appropriate and what form it should take.

Some doubt has been expressed about the extent to which the various transit orders made under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 are being effectively applied within Great Britain. As your Lordships are aware, responsibility for enforcing these orders rests with local authorities, who last year took 890 prosecutions under legislation dealing with cruelty to animals. The survey of horse sales which has now been completed will be made available to local authorities and I am sure that they will want to keep a particularly careful eye on conditions in any market where they have been found to be less than fully satisfactory.

My Lords, I should like now to come to the question of horse meat exported to EEC countries and the issues which are in the mind of my noble friend and other noble Lords today. There is legislation which protects the welfare of horses and ponies from the time when they are unloaded at slaughterhouses. The Slaughterhouses Act 1974 and the Slaughter of Animals (Prevention of Cruelty) Regulations 1958 both apply. The Slaughterhouses Act 1974 requires all horse slaughterhouses and slaughtermen to be specially licensed by the local authority. It also provides for animals to be stunned before slaughter (although there is an exemption for religious slaughter methods).

The Slaughter of Animals (Prevention of Cruelty) Regulations 1958, as amended, lay down requirements for the construction of slaughterhouses and the humane treatment of animals in lairages and at slaughter. Any operator of a slaughterhouse or knacker's yard may apply to his local authority for the special licence to slaughter horses but to qualify he must meet more stringent provisions for humane treatment than are laid down for other animals. These include structural requirements designed to make it impossible for any live horse to see another horse being slaughtered or to see the remains of any horse or any other animal. They also lay down special provisions on the lairaging of horses. Ministry veterinary staff, who visit frequently, keep a very close watch on throughput in order to ensure that it does not exceed the maximum number considered to be satisfactory in each case. Most recent reports show no indication of overcrowding.

There have been criticisms that the number of slaughterhouses licensed to produce horse meat for the EEC market is too few. It has also been said that the location of slaughterhouses involves some horses and ponies having to make too long a journey. I do not know whether noble Lords are aware that a further slaughterhouse was licensed at the end of September this year, thus bringing the number licensed to export to EEC countries up from four to five. It is located at Nantwich as my noble friend said—although he did not say, and may not have known, it is a new one—and will contribute to the reduction of long journeys from the North and from Wales. There is as yet no slaughterhouse in Scotland licensed to slaughter for the EEC market. Any application for an operator for a licence would, of course, be carefully considered.

I think it is worth emphasising that although horses and ponies may in some circumstances have to travel long distances to be slaughtered, their welfare is protected throughout the journey by the provisions of the various transit orders made under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said, which apply to horses.

I should like now to say, with all the emphasis at my command, that, bearing in mind some of the lurid details described by my noble friend, if persons attending sales see that horses are being transported, loaded or unloaded under bad conditions, it will clearly assist if they report the circumstances to local authority inspectors or to the police at the time so that the complaint can be followed up without delay. They would have the full backing of the law if they did that. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, spoke about dehorning. I am afraid I have no information on that; it was rather outside the scope of the debate. I shall take note of what he said and write to him, if I may. I must do the same to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, if he does not mind, about the question of the pony trekking establishments.

I should like now to say a few words about the supply of animals for experimental purposes, which was the other main subject of the debate. The Secretary of State for the Home Department is responsible for the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 which governs experiments on living animals calculated to induce pain. He has no power to direct licensees under the Act to acquire animals for experimentation from a particular source. Nevertheless, nearly all the larger experimental establishments breed their own animals or else acquire them from such bodies as the Medical Research Council's Laboratory Animals Centre or from breeders accredited under the scheme organised by the Medical Research Council as most pets are unsuitable for laboratory work because of temperament or physical condition.

As to the use of cats and dogs in experiments, I draw your Lordships' attention to two relevant considerations. In the first place, they are not widely used. In the second place, my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby knows that a licence holder under the Cruelty to Animals Act must hold special certificates. All these certificates, which are E, A, or B certificates depending on the nature of the experiment, must be signed by the president of one of the learned societies and also by a professor in a medical discipline. These signatories certify that the purpose of the experiment requires a cat or a dog and that a conscious animal is essential or that recovery from anaesthesia is essential. The Secretary of State for the Home Department has power to disallow these certificates.

To perform an experiment on a cat or a dog in the circumstances that I have described without the necessary certificate would be illegal. However, no one wants to see a well-loved animal, a well-loved family pet, ending its life in this way, as my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, have said, and of course I agree with them. The best course for any owner disposing of a pet and concerned about the possibility of the animal finding its way to a laboratory is to seek the advice of the RSPCA or a veterinary surgeon. My noble friend mentioned St. George's, Tooting. The medical school takes great care to ensure that no pets are used in research. All animals are purpose-bred with one exception. Ex-racing greyhounds which have already been culled as unsuitable for further racing are used for important research in developing new treatment for heart disease. They are all animals which are due to be killed. Their hearts are particularly suitable for research.

I too have read the articles in the Press referred to by my noble friend. But we have no evidence to suggest the theft of pets for sale to laboratories is widespread. Suspected thefts should be reported to the police. The existing law, the Theft Act 1968, as amended by the Criminal Law Act 1977, provides penalties for the theft or dishonest handling of stolen pets. Of course, it is also an offence to abandon a dog. It is an offence, if one finds a dog, to return it to anybody but its owner or to the police. The police also are not allowed under legislation to dispose of a dog into vivisection. All these matters have the full backing of the law. It is the view of the Cruelty to Animals Inspectorate, who visit research establishments, that those who purchase animals from dealers as opposed to breeders are fully aware of the law relating to pet stealing and are conscious of their responsibilities to ensure that supplies are legally obtained. Nevertheless, the need for a statutory scheme to control the supply of laboratory animals is under consideration by the Home Office.