HL Deb 21 June 1979 vol 400 cc1177-204

6.44 p.m.


rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will set up the Council for Animal Welfare announced in the last Parliament and, if not, what alternative they propose. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we pass from a debate on shipping to a proposal for the setting up of a council for animal welfare which perhaps, unlike shipping, does arouse emotions and is of deep concern to a great number of people throughout the land. In order to have the matter in full perspective, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I go back to the announcement made by the then Prime Minister my right honourable friend Mr. Callaghan on 22nd March of this year. In the House of Commons he announced: The Government share the growing concern about the treatment of animals and have decided to set up a council for animal welfare to maintain an oversight in this matter and to advise the Government. The council will have the power to review existing legislation and recommend legislative or other action on any animal welfare matter and to propose improvements in the existing advisory machinery. That machinery includes the farm animal welfare advisory committee and the advisory committee on the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1976, which is soon to be reconstituted with new terms of reference. In addition, the Government are appointing a new advisory committee on the transport of farm animals. The council for animal welfare, which will have its own independent chairman, will comprise the chairmen of these three committees, which will constitute its standing committees, together with a number of additional independent members. A further announcement about the council's composition and terms of reference will be made as soon as possible".—(Official Report, Commons, col. 718). That is the end of that quotation, but there was a Press release from No. 10 Downing Street on the same day. In notes to editors the Government's proposals were embellished a little: The Government decided to set up the council in view of growing public concern about animal welfare generally. The council represents a new and independent approach to animal welfare and a focal point in what is a very diverse field. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the council will be empowered to review legislation concerning animal welfare and to recommend legislative or other action on any animal welfare matters. Although its terms of reference have not yet been finally decided, it will be within the scope of the council to examine any aspect of animal welfare and make recommendations on action that needs to be taken. Areas for consideration could include use of animals in laboratory work, seal culling, deer poaching, field sports, transport and export of animals, cruelty displayed on TV and in films and the treatment of animals in zoos and circuses. Although the council is not being set up to investigate individual complaints, the public will be free to write to the council on any policy matter affecting the welfare of animals and the council will follow up matters raised by the public with the appropriate representative bodies". That was an announcement made to the great satisfaction of a very large number of animal welfare societies. They looked forward to the appointment of this council and to see it begin its work. Then the general election intervened, so naturally those of us who had been working in this movement were anxious to know what the attitude of the new Government would be towards the announcement made by their predecessors. I raised this matter when I spoke in the debate on the Address on 17th May. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in reply to what I said, teased me a little, and he half accused me of being a Conservative. It was all good natured and taken in very good spirit. But the disquieting aspect was that he said (at col. 219 of Hansard): I am bound to say that we do not agree with the previous Government concerning the desirability of having a council for animal welfare, but that is a disagreement about means and not about ends I let that pass. I realised that 17th May was early days after the new Government had taken office.

I ought perhaps to apologise now for not having given the Minister notice beforehand that this was the matter I was going to raise in my speech on the Address. He might have been better equipped to deal with it had I done so. However, the matter has been pursued further in another place, and on 14th June, Mr. Walker, the Minister for Agriculture, said, in column 600, in reply to a Question: The announcement by the previous Prime Minister was generally welcomed as an important advance in this area. Obviously we have studied the last Government's specific proposals and they will be influencing our thinking. I ask the hon. Gentleman to wait until we announce our own detailed proposals, but I assure him that the objective of those proposals will be exactly the same as the intentions of the previous Government". That, so far as I am aware, is where the matter now stands. So I am hopeful that I raise this matter again at a timely moment to bring to bear on the Government's thinking considerations which I think should carry some weight.

May I say in passing that if there is one piece of advice I could presume to give to Ministers, Governments, trade union leaders or employers all those who have to do with the contentious affairs of public opinion and the conflicting interests and points of view of many people—it is this: Always give full weight to moderate leadership. I ask the Government to give full weight to the united voice of moderate leadership in the animal welfare movement at the present time. When I was in government, one of my jobs was to try to bring together the voluntary bodies who were dealing with social affairs. It was not a rewarding experience. I have since done my best to bring together a diversity of organisations dealing with animal welfare, and I am very glad to say that over the last 12 months there has been a remarkable unity between those bodies in their approach to the political parties during the recent general election. Never before have parties been approached by such a solid and united voice of animal welfare societies—and may I add with pleasure that never before have political parties responded to that in such a way, by including in their respective election Manifestoes promises about animal welfare.

I am not going to prejudge the conclusions of the Government. Action is what is needed. What we are talking about concerns machinery and methods: how to get things done. Action is really the keynote to all this and, in some areas, speedy action, too. What I think I should say is that, if there is to be an alternative to the proposed council, then it should be something better and not something worse. It should be something that will yield action and not delay it, or, in some cases, postpone it almost indefinitely. It should bear unmistakable signs of the probability of positive action, and I am sorry to say that I do not feel confident about this. I feel I want some assurances here, if I may say so.

Why does this proposal for a council appeal so strongly to the animal welfare societies? The answer is that they were all unitedly in favour of it. They put forward this proposal to the three main political parties, and the Labour party and the Liberal Party Manifestoes pledge themselves in favour of this. The Conservative Party, while making very welcome and valuable promises on specific measures of animal protection, did not mention this proposal.

The Government have a proposal before them which has been so strongly backed by the welfare societies and also, may I say, welcomed by a number of the trade protection societies: that I do know. When the Minister of Agriculture went round asking various interests in the field of animal husbandry and so on, he found a very ready response to the idea of the setting up of this council. The Government must have very good reasons for dropping this idea, if they do drop it, in favour of something else. We, the representatives of the animal welfare societies, set out in our own booklet the reason why we strongly favour this idea and we were delighted when the last Government finally took it up and gave a pledge about it.

The great value of a council of this kind would be to have a clearing house for the wide range of animal welfare in a field where at the present time there is not only diversity but a great deal of disconnected activity, departmentally speaking. It would be a very good thing to have somewhere to go—a body which could watch for overlapping or for lack of co-ordination and get particular matters attended to by relevant departments. Where, for example, do we go in Whitehall for a study of conditions in zoological gardens or circuses? Where do we go for cruelty which is shown on films or on TV? Where do we go on a question of the realities of, say, live hare-coursing or stag hunting, to give a few examples? I know of no department which would take responsibility, unless cruelty were involved. It is a curious thing how the approach of human beings to animals has always been in terms of cruelty. Unless there is cruelty, it seems to be all right. Hardship, discomfort, psychological disorientation and things of that kind seem not to concern a lot of people who would normally think they were reasonably kind persons. So I think there is a great deal in this proposal which is probably not visible at a casual glance.

Finally, there are various aspects of the exploitation of animals which gather momentum when commercial interests are strongly backing them but which are not really noticed until they become so serious that it is difficult to reverse them. Therefore, I am going to end with a plea: If the Government are still reflecting on this matter and if their minds are still open to discussion, will they allow representatives of the animal welfare societies to see a Minister and talk it over? I do not think the Government should set aside a decision of the last Government on a non-political matter of this kind, to which so much importance is attached by the animal lobby, without first listening to the argument. Are the Government prepared to respond to that request? I earnestly ask them to do so.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for raising this very important Question, asking the Government whether they will set up the council for animal welfare. Dr. Shirley Summerskill, when Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, said in another place during a debate on animal welfare on 23rd March last that the Advisory Committee on the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act is to be reconstituted and is to have new terms of reference, which will give it a much wider role. Perhaps we may know this evening whether this new Government are prepared to carry out that commitment.

I can envisage only benefits if the decision setting up the council, outlined by Mr. Callaghan on 22nd March, is effected by the present Government. Considerations included in this council were use of animals in laboratory work, seal culling, deer poaching, field sports, the transport and export of animals and other measures. I should like to comment on one or two areas about which I feel strongly, although I admit that I am not an expert and the view is one of a layman.

One is the export of live animals to the Continent for slaughter. There are instances of calves being exported when only three or four days old. I believe this practice to be disgraceful and inhuman and it should be stopped. There are also cases of animals being cooped up in confined areas for long periods without food or water while in transit, before arriving at their destinations to be slaughtered. I have read of cases of over 24 hours and one of 48 hours, when animals were in this condition. It may seem ironic to advocate slaughtering an animal two or three days before necessary, but I cannot see why in many cases this is not done before export, thus alleviating suffering. I believe that our abattoirs are at the moment working under capacity and tanneries are facing a redundancy situation. What we are, in fact, doing is giving profit and employment to our competitors.

Anyone who has visited a battery henhouse in operation surely cannot condone a practice where hundreds of hens are cooped up in confined spaces all their lives, never seeing the light of day. I have seen this and it did not impress me one bit. A pet shop owner would be prosecuted if a pet bird was displayed in a cage so small that all it could do was either stand up or sit down. I should like to see legislation directed in this area. While speaking on the subject of pets I agree with Mr. Stephen Ross, who said in another place on 23rd March that he would like to see a ban on the importation of tortoises. The percentage of tortoises that are dead on arrival is terrifying, sometimes as high as 85 per cent. The same applies in the case of birds and many other animals which are imported after being taken from their natural environment.

So much has been written and said regarding experiments on live animals that I think the truth should be known. I believe that a lot of these experiments are painfully cruel and unjustified. I should like the Government to investigate thoroughly this area of experimentation and report to Parliament their findings as soon as possible. The Liberal view on animal welfare is straightforward and honest. It is that the human race should act as trustee for the rest of the natural world, and not as its master. It is a view that I believe in, and is one that should be universally held.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad indeed that my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has asked this Question and, with him, I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to give us some kind of answer. Like him, too, I should like the proposition which was initiated by the late Prime Minister to be the proposition which is accepted. If this Government have other ideas, again I would endorse what my noble friend said when he pointed out that, if an alternative is to be proposed, then it should be a better one than the one already put forward. My noble friend has dealt with what was contained in the Press release and the last Prime Minister's Statement, and your Lordships will be pleased to know—because nobody would thank me for a long speech at this time of night—that that gets me over four or five pages of my notes.

In another place on the day following the Press notice, a debate was initiated by my honourable friend Mr. J. W. Rooker, and the report of that debate is contained in the Hansard of that day, 23rd March, at columns 1874–87. In my view, Mr. Rooker covered the ground completely and very well indeed. There is, of course, no time to reiterate all the points he made, and it would be wrong for me to do so. I should concentrate on those matters about which I am particularly concerned.

I know that people have been greatly shocked. Most of them have not read that speech of Mr. Rooker's, but they have seen Press notices and have also seen television. There is a tremendous groundswell, because people are concerned about the welfare of animals, seeing them as the responsibility of man, because they are themselves more or less helpless. But on television recently, my wife and I saw rabbits being forced to inhale cigarette smoke—to prove what? Surely we know enough about what cigarette smoking does to people in terms of lung cancer. Human evidence has shown that over and over again. So why subject animals to what must be sheer torture, for no good reason at all that I can see?

Furthermore, who can condone the dropping of substances into the eyes of animals to find out whether they cause smarting, blindness, distension of the iris and so on, simply in the interests of proving that cosmetics will not harm a woman's eyes or skin? I find that absolutely and completely disgusting. I am afraid that I speak strongly, but I feel strongly about this matter and so do women. My wife saw that programme. She is not more emotional than most people, but when she saw what was happening to those animals she almost burst into tears. Other things are being done. Animals are subjected to a stress situation to cause anxiety, in order to determine how animals react and how they behave in such circumstances. Are these things —and there are many others which Mr. Rooker quoted, but which I do not have time to mention—really necessary? Is it necessary to go to these lengths to find out something which, in any case, most of us know already? I think not, and I believe that many people like me also think not.

In the other place during the same debate your Lordships' House came under considerable criticism, because in May, 1978, your Lordships rejected the Hare Coursing Bill which had been passed in another place. One consideration, aside from others, was that that Bill was a Government Bill which would normally have been allowed to go through. I understand that it was because it was not in the published Government programme that that did not happen. I do not know for certain, but that is the explanation that was given. For myself, the fact that the Select Committee was divided, and that this was not made clear to the general public, still rankles. The general impression got about that this was a unanimous decision of the committee, but in fact it was not; the committee was divided four to three. My noble friend Lord Aylestone, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and I were opposed, and clearly opposed—if one reads the report of the meeting it is obvious—to the suggestion that the Bill should not proceed. We wanted it to do so.

As a result of the misunderstanding which was allowed to develop I, for one, received a number of letters, mostly from irate women who accused me of all kinds of character faults, of brutality and of being the kind of person who would set a dog on a cat just for the pleasure of doing it, and I suppose that I have a kind of conscience about this. At the time, I dearly desired that that Bill should proceed. It has been tried so many times, and has failed so many times, that I suppose I felt a little guilty, because my colleagues and I were not successful on that occasion. That incident taught me something which I was beginning to assess for myself.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has said, this is a highly emotive subject. Where emotion is rife, reason and logic fly out of the window. The people who support hare coursing are, almost without exception, very nice, plain country folk—people one would respect and like to be friendly with without any qualms at all. Surprisingly, however, when it comes to the question of hare coursing they appear to have a blind spot. Because of this, I think that some of our debates went haywire. I am afraid that I found that some of the arguments which were put forward amounted to pure rationalisation, and some of them were entirely inconsistent. We were told, I think correctly, that shooting causes more pain and suffering for the hare than being hunted down by hounds. I am prepared to accept that argument. But it was also explained to us that in certain parts of the country hares are preserved for the purpose of hare coursing, and that at the end of the season they have to be shot so as to keep them under control. So what happens to the argument that shooting is more brutal and more painful for the hare than being hunted by a dog? It falls completely to the ground.

Other arguments were put forward which I was completely unable to accept. We were told by an expert called to give evidence that hares do not experience mental fear or mental pain when they are being hunted. I am sure that many other people besides myself cannot accept that argument. I cannot prove this, of course, but it seems to me to be obvious common sense that if an animal is being hunted and has to run for its life it must experience fear and that that fear must be painful and distressing.

My point in support of the idea of a council for animal welfare is that this kind of question which evokes emotion can better be dealt with by an independent body so that rational thought can be given to the points which are made and so that common sense, logic and persuasion can play their part as opposed to emotions running very high. I fully mean what I say. I know very well that the people who like hare coursing—blood sports, if you like—are perfectly respectable, decent, responsible people who have this blind spot. Having said that, however, I must add, with absolute sincerity, that my profound conviction is that man has a duty to other forms of life. He has a duty to treat them with respect and to allow them their own innate dignity. It is wrong for man to use animals, as they are used in hare coursing and in other ways, as a source of pleasure.

I shall leave that question and turn to my own industry. In agriculture, people are closely connected with animals, and I hope your Lordships will agree with me that farmers and farm workers would not willingly inflict suffering upon any animal. There may be exceptions when greed or something else intervenes. I am thinking of the way in which animals are treated when they are transported, particularly when they are transported abroad. By and large, however, the people who work with animals respect them and would not harm them or cause them pain if they could possibly avoid it. My own union, the NUAAW and the National Farmers' Union, have expressed concern about the transportation of live animals both at home and overseas. We know that very undesirable things sometimes happen, again particularly overseas. Cattle are kept cooped up for too long in cattle trucks, with no proper food and without water. There is no doubt that this does happen, but I believe, thank God! that it happens very infrequently. Of course, this is known not only to the farming industry but also to others. The RSPCA and other organisations which look after the welfare of animals have complained from time to time about this practice.

In this connection, I think your Lordships will be interested to know that Sub-Committee D of the EEC Committee have studied and largely welcomed the proposed implementation of Directive 77/489EEC on the protection of animals during international transportation. This was mentioned by my right honourable friend Sir John Silkin in the debate on 23rd March which I have already mentioned. If adopted, this Directive would ensure that a certificate stating the times of loading and export accompanied the consignment of animals and that the times of arrival at the continental port and at the final destination would be added up by competent authorities, together with details about feeding and watering. It is not possible to go into the details of the Directive. However, I can tell your Lordships that this Directive is welcomed by the industry and we hope that it will be implemented. We believe that improvements need to be made.

It is getting late and a long speech would not be welcomed. I want to repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for asking this Unstarred Question and to say to the Minister that we sincerely hope that an indication of the Government's view will be given by him. I assure the House that this is a matter of quite considerable concern to the people of this country, and with us they would welcome the institution of a new body of the type which has been proposed.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, if in the few words that I say on this subject I irritate or indeed annoy the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I hope he will accept that I entirely agree with his aim that animals, not just farm animals (although obviously I am most concerned with them), must be properly cared for, fed and protected from cruelty. Every livestock farmer knows that, if only for financial reasons. It is in the way of achieving that objective that I perhaps differ from the noble Lord. I am pleased indeed to hear that if I take an opposite view to that held by the noble Lord, Lord Collison, he is not necessarily going to condemn me to the nether regions.

At the moment we have the RSPCA, the Farm Animals Welfare Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee on the Administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876, Codes of Practice introduced after the Brambell Committee, to which I shall refer later, an active and efficient veterinary service, not to mention special committees that are formed to look at specific problems, such as the one chaired by the noble Lord, Lord O'Brien. In passing, I commend his report to the noble Earl, Lord Grey. It is quite an interesting report. We now have a suggestion that we should have a council for animal welfare. Is it proposed —and I await the Government's reply with interest—that this council, if formed, should take over all the duties of all the bodies that I have just mentioned? If so, I hope the Government can assure me that it will have a majority of farmers on it. I ask this because my understanding of the work to be done by the council, reinforced by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, means that it will mainly apply itself to farm animals, whereas I suggest that it is in the domestic area, particularly dogs, where special attention is required.

So far as farm animals are concerned, I do not think the proposed council will achieve anything for two main reasons. First, it is dangerous to legislate or regulate to prevent cruelty to farm animals, partly because we ourselves differ—and I have said this in your Lordships' House before—on what is and what is not cruel, but more so because one person can do certain things to animals and cause suffering, whereas another person doing the same job does not.

I will bore your Lordships for one moment by giving a perfect example. I used to drive my own lorry to Anglesey from Oxford with cattle and when I got there, even though I had obeyed (as I thought) scrupulously all the rules and regulations when I unloaded my cattle they looked as though they had been on an overcrowded commuter train. Recently, I had somebody else drive the lorry. I am fairly certain, if not sure, that he breaks a considerable number of the regulations regarding breaks, but when the cattle get out they really do look as though they have had a first-class ticket on Concorde. Therefore, I say that one person can do something to an animal and get away with it and another person cannot.

I could give exactly the same story of a case of ewe lambs coming from Scotland, but I will not bore your Lordships further. However, I doubt very much whether the proposed council for animal welfare would appreciate such a thing, or indeed be able to countenance such rule-breaking. Indeed, I believe they would be tempted by their very existence to suggest and make even more regulations and rules.

Secondly, I ask, what will this council do? It will be a Quango. I hasten to add that I am not against all Quangos, quite obviously; what about the wool board or indeed the milk board—where would I be without them? But being a Quango it will be accused, it may be unjustly, of sitting in comfort in Whitehall for the sole purpose of irritating and pontificating. Your Lordships may say that I am being unfair and I accept that I may be—indeed I am—but what I will not accept is that the great majority of those whom the council will be trying to influence will not, for better or for worse, take that unfortunate view, and therefore the work and advice that the council will do and will give would be—or could be—non-productive.

I also believe that there will be a tendency for the council to make useless pronouncements. After all, they have to show that they are being useful and worth their money. As an example may I remind your Lordships of the criticism which was levelled at the welfare code for sheep. Originally these codes were set up to recommend rules for intensive livestock, but so carried away did they get that they very stupidly produced a code for the welfare of sheep which your Lordships may remember got a pretty rough passage in this House, but nothing like the criticism which it received from shepherds and the farming Press, who made the code a laughing stock as a piece of bureaucratic interference. That is exactly what I fear the council for animal welfare would be tempted into doing and, as a result, its efforts would be counter-productive.

So far as farm animals are concerned, I believe the answer lies in trusting human nature a little more and, in particular, the effects of financial loss which all concerned always suffer if cruelty occurs. I believe we have sufficient watchdogs already, and I certainly welcome such specific inquiries into cruelty as the O'Brien Report, but I ask the Government to think very carefully before saddling farmers with more committees, councils and Quangos. We surely have enough of them on our backs already.

I should not pontificate on domestic animals, but I think that the Government are quite capable of producing legislation, with the help of Parliament, to control, say, dogs eating my sheep, or updating the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act, without having a Quango to advise them. Indeed, I agree with what I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said; that such a council might actually stop the Government doing anything. They would spend their time thinking about it rather than actually doing anything about it, but I await my noble friend's reply with interest.

7.28 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for raising this matter and giving those interested in it an opportunity to air their own views. At the same time I should like to apologise for missing the first few minutes of his speech, to which hurried when I saw his name indicated. I should like to refer first to his plea for moderate leadership and also to thank him for the exercise of that moderate leadership. Since he assumed the leadership of what I might call the animal protection lobby in Parliament it has been possible for the first time, because of his personal qualities, for the leader of that lobby and myself as the leader of the lobby dealing with the use of experimental animals for medicine and science to talk to one another and trust one another. The fact that I can tell the noble Lord in confidence what I am doing and he can tell me in confidence what he is doing, and that we trust one another and that he is an honoured guest at the annual dinner of the Research Defence Society, of which I am president, is entirely due to the personal qualities of the noble Lord and I should like to pay tribute to him. That does not mean that I agree with him or with his political friends on a large number of matters.

During the period of the party conferences last year there was a move—and I will not say that the noble Lord was entirely detached from it—under the slogan of "Bring Animals into Politics" to do the exact opposite of what I want to do, which is to keep animals out of politics. At the annual general meeting of the Research Defence Society, which exists in order to provide Parliament and the media with accurate information as to what goes on in the world of experimentation, I said that if the scientific community would back me I would take the responsibility for introducing a Bill into your Lordships' House to re-enact the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 and to bring it up to date. That Bill is now in an advanced stage of drafting with the parliamentary agents and I very much hope that, with the consent of my scientific colleagues, I shall be able to clear it for submission to your Lordships for a First Reading before we depart for the holidays. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has been in my confidence in regard to this and he has had all the drafts of the Bill.

He has never broken confidence for one moment, and I am now telling him that he is released and he can talk to his heart's content from now on. I have had many valuable suggestions from him in the course of drafting. During the lifetime of the last Government I had many confidential discussions with the Home Office on the terms of the Bill and I was lucky enough to be able to engage an ex-Home Office chief inspector as my chief draughtsman, as it were. During the course of our conversations I was able to have a conference with the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, and the then Home Secretary on the subject, and so far as I know his Department highly approved of the terms of that Bill. I am looking forward to the opportunity of discussing exactly the same matters with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in due course.

This, I believe, illustrates the merits of taking one subject at a time and not setting up the kind of council which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has in mind. If one wants a forum for public discussion, rather like a court as opposed to the senate of a university, a body which could make, as it were, pronunciamentos officially, and ask people to take cognisance of them, I would not have any objection to that. But if you want a body to do something it must have sufficiently confined terms of reference for the places on it to be filled by people who know the subject matter; and we cannot have people who know the subject matter on every aspect of animal usage that there is. The animal on the farm is one thing; the animal in transport is another; the animal in the slaughterhouse is a third, and the animal in the laboratory is a fourth.

Different Ministries are naturally in-spanned, as it were, into the supervision of the animals. Naturally, it is the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries which is concerned with farm animals, and must be. The Home Office is the keeper of our conscience in relation to experimental animals, and so on. Therefore, I believe more progress will be made if we deal with subject matter blocks in parallel, rather than trying to wrap them up in one all-embracing organisation. Therefore, while the noble Lord has pleaded with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to follow up the announcement of the last Government, I would plead with him not to do anything of the kind but to follow the line I am indicating.

For twenty years I have been the spokesman in this House of the lobby that uses experimental animals for medical and scientific purposes. I have always pledged myself in this House that I would never justify publicly anything that I condemned privately and that my private conscience and my public utterances should be aligned with one another. During the course of that twenty years certainly over three million animals have been used in laboratories for which I have had executive responsibility. I have always taken the trouble to go and look at some of these experiments myself to satisfy myself that what was reported as taking place was actually taking place.

In the case of the smoking dogs I went up to Alderley Edge, where the dogs were used, and I talked to the dogs, which was the best way of getting information about the extent to which they objected to a habit which gives so much pleasure to human beings. The noble Lord, Lord Collison, is one of those who gets a lot of pleasure from it. Why should it necessarily be cruel to request animals to co-operate in finding out? I am sure your Lordships have all talked to a dog at some time or another. If it kisses your hand and wags its tail and jumps up and asks to be petted, you know it is not a frightened dog. The animals did their smoking for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, had an hour's exercise, an hour in company with other dogs and the weekend off. Generally speaking, they jumped for joy on Monday morning when their trainers came along to re-commence the smoking exercise. The object of the exercise was to test the carcinogenic properties of a new smoking mixture which had been evolved between ICI and one of the tobacco companies (I think it was the Imperial Tobacco Company) in the hope that it would be less carcinogenic than normal tobacco. Had that experiment succeeded —and it may have succeeded; I do not know—large numbers of human lives might have been saved.

I cannot accept the strictures of my old friend Lord Collison. We worked together as colleagues in the gas industry for many years, and know one another well, and have debated this privately. It is not an example of sheer torture. The Dray test, in which one uses the eye of a rabbit to see whether there are any ill-effects from a cosmetic, is, of course, only employed where one has good reason to suppose that the substance in question is innocuous. You do not drop sulphuric acid into rabbits' eyes to find out if it burns them; you know it does, because criminals throw sulphuric acid at human beings and we know what the effect of sulphuric acid is. The presumption on all these matters tested for safety is that they are safe. It is only the exceptional instance that is not safe, and when this occurs and the animal is in pain the experimenter would have to put the animal down in accordance with the requirements of the Home Office, which is the keeper of our conscience on this matter. Therefore, the Dray test on rabbits is by no means as horrible as it can be made to sound if you want to arouse emotions in people.

Lastly, perhaps I may deal with a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Collison, mentioned, stress situations. Following traffic accidents very large numbers of human beings die on the way to hospital from what is called multiple injuries. They do not die from loss of blood; they pass into a state of shock and they quietly die. Nobody knows why. If one could find a remedy for this, it would save very large numbers of human lives every year. Therefore, experiments are done to put rats, which are normally used, into a state of shock. At this point, the idea of inflicting multiple injuries on a rat might appear to your Lordships to be a very objectionable procedure and it could be reported in such terms that your Lordships would revolt against the idea. But you would not be told that, of course, the rat is aneasthetised first, and that it recovers into a state of shock in which, by comparison with human subjects who have recovered, we know that it knew nothing about what was going on. It eventually dies in a state of shock never having recovered consciousness in the normal sense of the word.

These experiments put that way sound very much more permissible than if they are reported the other way. I have taken a lot of trouble always to satisfy myself that I have personally seen anything that I was going to defend in your Lordships' House. The problems of the farms, the problems of the slaughter-houses and transport are not of concern to me. I believe that they entail quite a different philosophy to experimenting with animals. Something like five million animals are used in experiments every year and die in due course. We eat some thirty million animals, a very much larger number, and I imagine that however humanely you slaughter an animal there is some element of pain for it. You will never get a uniform philosophy about man's relationship to animals. It is emotionally charged; different people have different views.

I am not going to make a Second Reading speech on my Private Bill, which has not yet had a First Reading— Let not him that putteth his armour on boasteth himself as he that taketh if off". If there is a printing strike between now and the holiday I shall not be able to present it to your Lordships for First Reading, but I shall try very hard in order that those who are interested can take it away for the holidays, before the next term begins, and, as it were, get it under their belts before we, I hope, give it a Second Reading in the autumn. I think that that concludes what I wanted to say this evening, somewhat spontaneously, as I have been attending an Opposed Private Bill Committee all day. However, I should once more like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for the personal qualities which have put him in the position of leadership that he now occupies.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has performed a most valuable service this evening in raising this question. He has an extensive knowledge of animal welfare matters and a distinguished record on these matters both inside your Lordships' House and in the role that he fulfils outside. He has again shown his persistence and determination tonight in seeking reforms.

I had intended to be brief, but so comprehensively has my noble friend dealt with this subject that I am able to be even more brief. But, first, lest it should be misunderstood, I should perhaps declare what might be regarded by some as an interest, but is not in fact. I happen to live on the Isle of Dogs. However, I can assure your Lordships that so far as I know that does not affect one's judgment on this question one way or another; nor does it indicate a predisposition towards one type of animal—indeed, we happen to have two cats. My only concern is that we shall not be adjudged guilty of cruelty for keeping cats on the Isle of Dogs.

The subject which my noble friend Lord Houghton has raised is of great importance. Indeed, I believe that it is of growing importance. There is, I think, increasing interest and concern among people about animal welfare and protection and the treatment of animals. That could be bad as well as good: bad if it reflects increasing cause for concern, but good because I believe that a society which can show a growing concern for the well-being of animals is in fact for that an increasingly more civilised society.

The last Government shared the growing concern about the treatment of animals, which is one reason why my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister, Mr. Callaghan, announced on 22nd March this year the setting up of a council for animal welfare. In the last debate that my noble friend Lord Houghton initiated in your Lordships' House on the subject of animals on 7th December last year, his final question, at column 379 of the Official Report, was whether my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, who was replying for the Government, had anything more to say about the consideration being given by the then Government: to the setting up of a standing commission or committee to inquire into a wide range of matters concerning animal protection and welfare? I know that my noble friend Lord Houghton had occasion to assert, more than once, that the last Government did not do as much as he would have wished on animal welfare matters. But he also has occasion to praise them from time to time. It was within four months of that debate that the announcement for the council was made: and it was a measure of the importance with which that Government regarded the subject that it was, in fact, the then Prime Minister who announced that decision. The decision followed and no doubt stemmed partly from the pressure from my noble friend and others, and from suggestions from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the Farm Animal Welfare Co-ordinating Executive, for some permanent independent advisory body which could advise the Government on animal welfare matters.

It is true that, as was made clear when the announcement was made—and as I think my noble friend has mentioned tonight—the terms of reference of the council had not yet been finally decided. But the preliminary guidelines and reasons for setting up the council were plain enough and my noble friend has already referred to some of the indications which were given when that announcement was made—albeit perhaps somewhat in parenthesis—and the kind of things it was envisaged by the then Government that that council would do, and indeed would wish to do. Among other things he referred to looking at the existing machinery for animal welfare matters. One part of that machinery is the Advisory Committee on the Administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. Here I should like to interpose a question to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who is to reply for the Government tonight, and ask him what is the present position concerning that advisory committee on the 1876 Act. It was—at the time the announcement was made—soon to be reconstituted with new terms of reference. However I hasten to add that I do not necessarily need an answer tonight and would be quite happy with a written reply later.

My noble friend Lord Houghton has also indicated that it was clear at the time that the announcement was made what could be the areas for consideration by the Council when it came to undertake its work. Here again I do not need to go into the details which my noble friend set out. One specific matter has been referred to tonight under the heading of "Field Sports" which was among those matters referred to by my noble friend Lord Houghton. My noble friend Lord Collison raised the question of hare coursing which is, indeed, one of the matters which could be considered by the council. He will no doubt be interested to know that, in fact, this very day my noble friend Lord Blease has drawn my attention to the fact that there is widespread concern, not only in Great Britain, but also in Northern Ireland, for action, particularly so far as that matter is concerned.

My noble friend Lord Houghton also mentioned that although it was not intended by the last Government that the new council would investigate individual complaints, it was envisaged —and this is no doubt a matter which the council itself would wish to encourage—that the public would be free to write to the council on any policy matter affecting the welfare of animals; and that the council would follow up matters raised by the public with the appropriate existing representative bodies.

So, it is true to say that even in the absence of precise terms of reference actually being announced, a great deal of background work had been done by the last Government before the announcement was made to set up a council. It was certainly not some hasty and ill-considered idea. Indeed, some people might say that its gestation period was perhaps too long. So it was a well thought out concept and the aim was to provide a completely new and independent approach to animal welfare in this country.

There is, as we know, a vast amount of somewhat fragmented legislation on this whole subject with, as some of the principal measures, the 1876 Act, the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the Slaughterhouse Act, and so on. It may well be that we are reaching the stage where consolidating legislation is called for; I do not know, but that is one major task that the council would no doubt wish to consider.

We must also bear in mind, when considering the revision of our law on this matter, the need for reforms in a European context as well. Here I would interpose my only other question to the Minister, and again I do not press for an answer tonight. However, further Eurpean moves are in train and I believe that meetings to consider reforms were planned for around the middle of this year. Any agreement reached as a result would be expected to give rise to new national legislation. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could give some indication of any progress being made or the stage now reached on the European Front. As I have said, later will do for an answer to that question as well.

We in Britain—despite the need that many people see for further reform here—have established something of a reputation for leadership in this whole sphere, including internationally. The 1876 Act itself is perhaps one early indication of this, albeit that it needs review and revision and we have heard of one plan for that from the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in the speech which he has made to the House tonight. It is vitally important, in my submission, that we may maintain and develop this leadership. Like my noble friend Lord Houghton and other noble Lords, I believe that the way a society treats its animals is an indication of the nature of the society itself. To tolerate the infliction of unnecessary suffering can coarsen the whole attitude to living things and diminish respect for life itself. I believe that the proposed setting up of the new council is one step towards creating a still more civilised society. Not to take that step would mean that a real opportunity would be lost. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government will seize this opportunity and go ahead with this proposal, or something equally suitable. I join my noble friend in pressing for that.

7.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am in no way surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has raised this Question today, for no sooner had the new Parliament met than the noble Lord spoke in the debate on the gracious Speech on this subject. But animal welfare is an issue which concerns us all, as I know the noble Lord appreciates. Therefore, the Government are reviewing the proposal made by the previous Administration to set up a council for animal welfare and we shall announce our plans as soon as we are in a position to do so. As we made clear in our election Manifesto, the welfare of animals is a concern of the Government. In his opening words the noble Lord said that he wanted to see some action in this area. My answer to that is that there are problems to be faced—many of them have been referred to this evening—and we shall act where we find it to be necessary.

Before I go any further I should also like to answer the final question which I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, put to me—namely, the question of consultation with Government. The door to the department of my right honourable friend is most certainly open to the noble Lord. Indeed, I understand that arrangements are at this moment being made for the noble Lord to meet my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Home Office within the next few weeks.

As a Government, we are pledged to update the legislation on experiments with live animals. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, asked me to refer specifically to the European context. At the present time the United Kingdom is making a substantial contribution to the current discussions on the draft of a European convention for the protection of laboratory animals. I suppose that the biggest change likely to come out of that is the introduction of a statute-based system of control over the breeding of and dealing in laboratory animals. I should like to record that earlier this year the Home Office had full consultations with the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—the Campaign for the Reform of Animal Experimentation—and with the research interests in this country in order to discuss the form and the content of a preliminary draft of this European convention. The interested organisations have been sent details of the latest Strasbourg negotiations, and I give an assurance that we shall maintain these consultations, which are obviously of great help to the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, also asked me about the updating of the 1876 Act. Here again I can give an assurance that, as these negotiations on the European convention develop, we shall undertake preparatory work on the revision of the 1876 Act; so that when the details of the convention have been finalised, the Government will be in a position to introduce legislation. In doing that, not only, of course, will the Government listen to views expressed both inside and outside Parliament, but we shall also listen care- fully to the views of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who is preparing his own legislation.

In addition to legislative changes in this area of animal welfare, proposals for the reconstitution of the Advisory Committee on the Cruelty to Animals Act's functions and membership have been on the stocks for a number of years. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and his colleagues have given consideration to the matter and formulated proposals. This evening I can simply say that the Home Secretary has this whole question under consideration. Meanwhile I must make it clear that we very much appreciate the work which the advisory committee has done in the past.

The last major work of that committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cross of Chelsea, was examination of the experimental procedure known as the LD50 test to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred in his speech on the debate on the gracious Speech. I thought that noble Lords might like to know this evening that the committee's report on this difficult subject, although received only last month, none the less leaves me in a position where I can say that the recommendations of that report are acceptable in principle. We are now considering how they may best be implemented within the resources available.


My Lords, does that mean that we shall have a sight of this report soon? For example, will it be published?


My Lords, I am not in a position this evening to be able to say that it will be published. This is a matter which the noble Lord may care to discuss with my right honourable friend when he speaks to him at the Home Office.

As regards the future of the export trade in live food animals, about which many of your Lordships have spoken this evening, and the welfare of animals on farms, many of the problems are both domestic and international. In the domestic context we must bear in mind the veterinary and other staff resources which we currently command, and will be able to pay for, at a time when public expenditure has to be kept under very strict limits. We must weigh that use of resources against the benefit to be gained where the protection of farm animals is concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked me to go to the European context. In the international context we have already said that the Government will support the EEC proposals for the new Directive designed to implement in detail the current Directive on the protection of animals during international transport. The noble Earl, Lord Grey, expressed his concern about the whole idea of the export of live food animals. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collison, who spoke from his immense experience, for pointing out—and it may not dispel the noble Earl's concern, but coming from the noble Lord, Lord Collison, it should allay it—that one of the effects of the proposed Directive to implement Directive 77/489 is the introduction of what will be called the "travel document" which will log the times at which journeys start and when those journeys pass through particular checkpoints, so that intervals between feeding and watering can be adequately monitored and appropriate action taken.

In the European context we shall also continue to play a constructive part in the work of the Council of Europe's Standing Committee, which is preparing recommendations for the detailed implementation of the European convention on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. The way in which this work is carried on will, of course, be dictated by the policy decisions now in the process of being reached. Therefore, although there are—as it is clear from this evening's debate—a number of farm animal welfare issues currently of great importance (and I have not referred to them all) we should not lose sight of the degree to which the welfare of these animals is already being looked after.

When all is said and done, in the United Kingdom there is a considerable body of legislation providing for the welfare of farm animals, and although some of it needs no alteration, some may well need to be changed. But it is built into the fabric of our society as a practical witness to public concern. This country has a long and honourable tradition of caring about the welfare of animals, and as our scientists and vets become more knowledgeable about the needs of animals, legislation and advice can be developed closely to meet them.

I was particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Collison, made the point that in this country the majority of livestock farmers and people working with animals on farms will never willingly harm their own animals. The two things, I hope, do not go together, but, in addition, they are also well aware that they will not maximise their profits if they do not care for their animals humanely. That, in itself, should be a safeguard.

As the House knows, agriculture Ministers have advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee; an independent body which they appoint. The State Veterinary Service carries out specific welfare visits to farms and other commercial livestock premises, and this in its turn provides a valuable safeguard. Moreover, our welfare organisations—which, as a matter of fact, rather uncharacteristically we have not mentioned this evening—are absolutely second to none in this country in the unremitting watch which they keep over the welfare of farm as well as other animals. In addition to all that, we have the general oversight of the Cruelty to Animals Inspectorate and the benefit of the Advisory Committee on the 1876 Act.

In drawing attention to this list of facts, with which I have deliberately ended up, I must stress that the Government are not in the same breath going to say that they are complacent about animal welfare. But, at the same time, we are not prepared to adopt proposals made at the tail end of the last Parliament without very careful consideration of the full implications. One of the implications, which was revealed so clearly in the shrewd speech made by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, was that it would be a matter of extreme controversy as to who should be sitting upon, and represented at, a new council. We are therefore studying the proposal for a council for animal welfare in the context of our undertakings, and in the light of our expressed views about the best way to make improvements.

As to the latter, I have in mind the views expressed by my honourable friend Mr. Peter Mills in the debate on 23rd March in another place when he left no one in any doubt that we want to act quickly where there are problems, but that we question whether the setting up of such a council, in addition to the two advisory committees and a third advisory committee on animal transport, which I understand the previous Government were considering, would really be the right way to deal with these problems. That is why we are taking a little time to go into these problems, their implications and the possible solutions. That is why I am asking you, my Lords, to be patient for a little longer until the Government can give a fuller declaration of their plans for the future.