HL Deb 21 December 1983 vol 446 cc802-10

4.12 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, in introducing this Bill the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, did a good job. He said it covered a wide field. He can say that again: it covers a very wide field indeed. He went over it carefully, and I was intrigued that he started at the end and worked backwards—a novel way of introducing a Bill. I hope he will not mind if am a little more conservative and start at the beginning.

We in this country are very jealous of our animal health and welfare. It is a record that we have in this field that we want to protect as well as we possibly can. I remember—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, will remember, too—the outbreak in 1967–68 of foot and mouth disease which devastated a whole area in the north-west and, particularly, Cheshire. I think I would give Ministers almost any power that might prevent that happening again. That is why I am pleased with Clauses 1, 2, and 3.

I should particularly like to mention the clause in which there is power to control on the sea and in the air above it. It must be very difficult to control small private planes bringing in seamen or, for that matter, dogs, and small boats and things like that. People are so stupid. The other day there was the case of a woman who smuggled in a dog. They do not realise what an appalling disease is rabies. I hope that the power this clause gives to control the sea and air can be used (although I can see the difficulties) to prevent the actions of stupid people.

The following clauses, Clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7, deal with poultry, and particularly with their welfare and slaughter. This is quite a problem, as we all appreciate. I would just point out that you have to slaughter something like 300 or 350 head of poultry individually to get the same weight of meat as you do from an 1 11-cwt. bullock, so one might say that the problem is almost 350 times as big in slaughtering poultry. There is no doubt that the extra control given in this Bill regarding inspections, and so on, is a very good thing. Quite a lot of poultry has to be slaughtered because of disease; people are inclined to think that they are going to die anyway and must be got rid of; and sometimes the slaughtering leaves much to be desired.

There is one small point. There is quite a lot of small-time slaughtering on farms where people are rearing perhaps a few hundred turkeys, or even fewer. They might find a little difficulty as to the licensing, and I hope that care will be taken about the size of the unit that has to be licensed under the new regulations.

The British Veterinary Association welcome the whole Bill and all its regulations; but they wonder, because the farm welfare councils have had points put to them and have taken up almost all of them except one. That is that an official veterinary surgeon, as the enforcing officer on the spot, should be made formally responsible for the supervision and welfare of the birds, and should be required to report to a local authority any breaches of welfare regulations and to spend sufficient time each day at the plant to carry out these duties. That has not been included, and I can quite see why: because it would need a very big plant to require somebody to spend a considerable time each day on the spot. I visited the United States with the Plant Committee on Animal Diseases and Fowl Pest, and I saw that most of the big plants in the United States had a veterinary person present there all the time, with quite a few inspectors under him. Would the Minister care to comment as to whether or not that regulation which they want to put in is too onerous?

On Clauses 8, 9 and 10, which concern the control of new techniques of animal breeding, this is very necessary. Ovary transplants are getting quite common, and there are various other new techniques. The NFU are a little worried about what it might cost to control all this, with the licensing and so on. From the figures that have been given, it might seem rather high, and I wonder whether the Minister could comment on that.

The question of giving up bull licensing along with the licensing for stallions, we agree with. There is no question but that the improvement of livestock has been tremendous in this country because of bull licensing, and I can hardly imagine that any farmer would now go back to using a scrub bull in this year and age.

There is one point about medicinal feeds, if that is the right expression. If there is to be the question of licensing and a lot of regulation and control of this, one would hope that it is not going to put up the price of feed. It is dear enough as it is; and some people are quite worried that the licensing might tend to create a hit of a monopoly in the production of these foods, although there are plenty of such firms. I think we have to take care and watch to see that too much regulation does not put up the price of feed, which is dear enough already.

We know that today quite a lot of people are involved in "do-it-yourself" artificial insemination. I do not know whether it would be feasible to allow "do-it-yourself" implantations. That might be a little difficult, but the point has been raised with me.

I do not want to say anything else, except that we give the Bill our blessing and we think it is very necessary. I notice that the Bill suggests that the Government do not know what it will cost; they are being a little coy about the cost. But if it costs a little more, the fact that it might save any animal disease will make it worthwhile.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I welcome this Bill and so do many organisations concerned with the welfare of animals. Because of its numerous provisions over a fairly wide area, the Bill may need rather more attention in Committee than it is possible to give it on Second Reading. This is probably the one week in the year when one might concentrate on slaughter and I shall have a word or two to say about that in a moment.

The time factor here is rather important. We are now seeing from the Farm Animal Welfare Council the first products of their long consideration and investigation into matters of concern which led the Government to strengthen the council and to give them more positive and wider terms of reference in 1979. I would refer to the fact that the General Election in 1979 was the first time ever that all political parties had something in their respective manifestos promising attention to matters of animal welfare, and this was one of those items in the manifesto of the Conservative party.

The reconstituted Farm Animal Welfare Council asked for its terms of reference to cover conditions of animals and birds at the time of slaughter. When that was granted, they began their investigation into the first stage of this matter relating to poultry in July 1980. But we are now on the threshold of 1984 and we are only just dealing with the recommendations of the first phase of their investigation. They made a report on this matter in January, 1982, and then began on the second part of their reference, on conditions of animals at the time of slaughter, by embarking on the red meat side of this matter. We have not yet received a report on that from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, but that is pending and it will be every bit as important as the one relating to poultry.

I know that time is bound to be taken up on consultation with a large number of organisations that claim to have a voice in the ear of the Government when they are contemplating legislation, but it seems to take rather too long. I have looked at the list of all the organisations and enterprises who were consulted and they are numerous—commercial, animal welfare, local authorities, the lot. All, of course, have a stake in what is recommended in this Bill. However, I hope that no time will be lost by the Government in implementing the recommendations that are designed to stop cruelty. This is a very big matter of public importance and cruelty should be stopped as quickly as possible, where it is known to exist.

This is the season of the year when we probably all think of slaughter. We seem to celebrate the great secular feast of Christendom by killing all creatures, great and small, so long as they are fit to eat, and we generally indulge appetites for enjoyment and good living. This means that an enormous amount of slaughter has been taking place in the last few weeks. One shudders to think of the conditions which many of these unfortunate species have to endure. The domestic fowl is probably the biggest sufferer.

The noble Lord the Minister referred to the fact that some of the recommendations, especially regarding the licensing of slaughterers of poultry, have applied to cattle and other animals for a very long time. Why is that, one wonders? The answer lies in the fact that cruelty to animals arouses a great deal more emotion and distress than cruelty to birds. As a matter of fact, the domestic fowl is probably one of the most bountiful discoveries of man in the feathered world, but it is probably the most ill-treated. If one considers the life of a domestic fowl from incubation to slaughter, it is a pretty miserable existence. We treat them, under modern conditions, as nearly as we can get to making them the raw material for the manufacturing food industry. From the beginning to the end they do not live in any conditions or in any circumstances which can be called natural.

In those circumstances, we have to be as well disposed to living things as we can be. We produce eggs like shelling peas, and we kill day-old chicks like mashing potatoes. The survivors are put into cages. They may be de-beaked, de-feathered, generally mutilated, over-fed and doped with chemicals, and they may end their days on the shackle line in the slaughter house. That is the history of the domestic fowl in what we call a civilised society. We are all comforted by the fact that the British people are fond of their animals and treat kindly everything in the feathered world and in the world of animals. The truth is that the new cruelty lies in the commercial exploitation of animals and birds in order to satisfy the demands of the consumer society. Cheap food has become almost a political commandment, though I am glad to see that the report of the select committee in another place came down very firmly against regarding cheap food as taking precedence over the welfare of animals.

The noble Lord the Minister referred to the work of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which I am sure we all fully appreciate. We probably do not always realise what an unpleasant task a committee of this kind has to undertake. Fancy going round slaughter houses for 18 months looking at the conditions under which things are dispatched and having to take note of them and try to formulate recommendations for improvement! When people have done that for two or three years, I should imagine that it is very difficult to get a good night's sleep. They naturally look to the Government to take very close notice indeed of the recommendations which they have made.

One would not have gathered from the speech of the noble Lord the Minister that the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, from which Clauses 4 to 7 in the Bill are derived, contains 37 recommendations,10 of which are recommendations for further research. I will not enumerate them; they cover a fairly wide field. They relate in some respects to detailed methods of slaughter such as the length of time which animals may be left on the shackle line and other distasteful facts about the scalding pans and all the rest of it. I should like to know from the Minister how the research is going. There commendations to embark on research were made in the report of the committee in January 1982. I hope that by now matters of research are under way.

There were five recommendations for a change in the law not involving any further research. They cover two of the clauses in this Bill, and they are both of great importance—there is no doubt about that, as the Minister explained. There are, however, some recommendations that do not involve research which are not included in the Bill, and I believe that in the subsequent stages of the Bill we may ask the Minister why that is so. I suggest that we shall need to look at the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council numbered 5, 6, 19, 21, 29 and 37. In fact, you really need to have the report in front of you to serve as a guidebook to take you through the Bill and what it does and does not do. The two important recommendations in the report that do require legislation are included in the Bill, and for that we are grateful.

There is one aspect that we always leave aside when dealing with matters of slaughter; that which is commonly known as ritual slaughter. Paragraph 56 of the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council states: At businesses we visited where slaughter was carried out by the Moslem method for the food of Moslems, the birds were kept on the premises and slaughtered in the most squalid conditions. Nothing can apparently be done about it by the authorities as the birds are sold to the customer live and slaughtered for him immediately afterwards. We understand that this type of trade is outside the scope of the Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967, which relates only to poultry slaughtered before being sold for human consumption. I ask why it is that in every respect other than the treatment of animals, we insist on religious minorities living in this country observing the law of the land. We are legislating against female circumcision. We do not permit breaches of our marriage and divorce laws. Those who come here or those who are born here who are of different religions can be expected to observe the laws which have been laid down by Parliament for the better conduct of our affairs.

I look back to the fact that this concession to those of the Moslem religion were first made to the Lascars on the ships in the ports of Scotland 60 or 70 years ago. Now, the Moslem slaughter industry has become a major factor in the treatment of our animals. I see that among the list of those consulted by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and by the department are the Imam of Woking and the Islamic Cultural Centre. I wonder what they had to say. I wonder what they were asked to comment upon. I wonder whether it was upon their continued exclusion from provisions which were going to apply to Christians and all other members of the community—separately, of course, from the Jewish people, who have their own method of slaughter also. It is the Moslem method of slaughter which is rapidly growing, and it is not only for the food of Moslems either, because restaurants, eating houses and shops are open to all and often it is very difficult indeed to know whether you are in a Moslem restaurant or not.

I know these things are kept behind a kind of shield from public discussion and so forth. But what will be the position inyears to come when we have two sets of laws to deal with the slaughter of animals, one applicable to the British people, the Christian people, and an entirely different one applicable to another religion—a method adopted under the cover of religious immunity which otherwise could be prosecuted under the Protection of Animals Act 1911?

Well, I have said it again. I tried to get a Bill through your Lordships' House earlier on to put certain restrictions on the immunity which had been granted so many years ago under very different conditions and which is now becoming, in my opinion, a matter of considerable concern. Anyway, we shall have to deal with the matter again at some future time.

I come to my final comment on the Bill and what is not in it. There is plenty that could be in it, but one must not lumber up a Bill with too many things; it takes so long to get through and I know the problems of the value of parliamentary time. I refer to fire. Really, some of the tires that take place in intensive poultry units are devastating and disastrous from the point of view of the welfare of the birds inside. To read of 20,000 birds going up in flames is pretty horrible. There are regulations which require daily inspection of appliances and of equipment and so forth, but they are difficult to enforce, and it is even more difficult to get prosecutions when there are allegations that there has been neglect.

The regulations against fire in regard to all intensive agricultural units should be much strengthened. I think that is the least we owe to helpless species, locked up, unable to escape, if fire breaks out. Probably some units rely on defective equipment for their compliance with fire precautions, and that is all that stands between them and the whole thing going up in flames.

Having said all that, I add that the Bill is welcome. As my noble friend said, the British Veterinary Association welcome it. I suppose I ought to declare a new interest because recently I was elected an honorary associate member of the BVA—which does not give me any more authority or any more knowledge, but at least it is an acknowledgment of the work that I am trying to do here and elsewhere for the furtherance of the welfare of animals.

4.39 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I intervene at this moment not merely to say that I welcome this Bill and the way it has been introduced to us; nor merely to say, although it is true, that I go along with a very great deal—almost entirely—of what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has said; but because it is conventional at this stage, even if one cannot make a Second Reading speech (and there is not very much about this Bill which calls for a Second Reading speech), to put down a marker about various amendments that may be necessary.

It is a Bill that has to be looked at closely. It is a Bill that we shall have to examine over the next few weeks. There are one or two things that need amending. To take one minor instance, I dislike what is contained in Clause 4(2), at line 28,when the Bill talks about the slaughter of chicks and includes the word "unnecessary" before "suffering". It does not seem to me that any suffering of this kind should be necessary. This is a perennial let-out, the kind of word that is included in order to make everyone rather more happy. I think that it can come out. There are a number of similar points.

Where possible, we should see that in any regulations that are introduced, there is as much scope given to the veterinary profession as possible. I regard the whole area of factory farming as not part of a civilised attitude of people towards the animals with which they deal and off which they live. Our civilisation will have to change the way that it deals with animals. The increasing trend towards factory farming is revolting, denaturing and dehumanising. Having said that, we have to deal with the regulations for what actually exists at the moment. When dealing with embryo transplants, where you are getting to the more extreme edges of the factory process, that is an area where veterinary surgeons should undoubtedly be brought in and where any attempt to make this whole process more of a routine matter, which just happens under regulations without any particular responsible professional oversight, should be resisted.

It would be silly to go through the whole list of possible amendments but we should look at the Bill closely at Committee stage. I hope that your Lordships will do exactly that.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I thank your Lordships for the reception that you have given the Bill, on which, clearly, we shall return to some work when the Christmas recess is finished. Your Lordships have mentioned the clauses that amend the Slaughter of Poultry Act. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, expressed disappointment that some time has elapsed since the 37 recommendations were made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in its report. I think that the noble Lord may suspect that we propose to do little more about the report other than what is included in the Bill. I should like to take the opportunity to give a reassurance that these clauses, important though they are, do not constitute the sum total of the Government's action on that report.

I have already referred to the regulations that we intend to make on the licensing of slaughterhouse employees and the codes of practice that will be prepared. The Government will also be issuing proposals shortly for amendments to the Slaughter of Poultry (Humane Conditions) Regulations that will take account of several of the council's recommendations. We have already commissioned research as recommended by the Council. I regret that I am not in a position today to give the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, the details that he requested. But research is in hand, and it has been commissioned with the Agricultural and Food Research Council. All in all, a great deal of work is being done to improve the welfare of poultry in slaughterhouses.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie referred to one particular recommendation of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. That is recommendation 37, which says that local authority official veterinary surgeons should be made responsible for supervising welfare in slaughterhouses.

Your Lordships will know that enforcement of the legislation on poultry slaughterhouse welfare is a local authority function. We propose to ask local authorities to implement that recommendation. Nevertheless, the chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council has written to my right honourable friend asking him to introduce legislation on this point. This concern was reflected in the words of the noble Lord. Lord John-Mackie. In view of the concern, my right honourable friend is discussing the matter with the local authority associations as a matter of urgency in the hope that some way can be found to meet the recommendation. I can say no more than that at this stage, but I can assure your Lordships that we are fully siezed of the strength of concern in many quarters on this point and shall do our best to resolve the matter soon.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, made the general point on more than one occasion in his speech that we must be careful about putting up fees and making things too expensive, even though the objectives might be desirable. In particular, he mentioned the question of regulations putting up the cost of medicated feeding stuffs. We are conscious of the need to avoid regulations which would have that effect. That is why we envisage that an organisation representing the trading associations concerned should draft the proposed code of practice. The Pharmaceutical Society intends to keep enforcement costs to a minimum.

Rather the same matter was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, regarding the costs of operating the licensing of artificial breeding. The exact charges will be a matter for careful consideration. I am advised that a rough estimate of the cost of a bull approval at present is about £150 to £200. But the level at which charges may be fixed will depend on such matters as which service it would be appropriate to charge for. I hope that I have made the point that throughout all these matters in the Bill we intend to become involved in consultations wherever it is reasonable so to do.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, also made a point about the interests of the small-scale poultry slaughterers. I cannot at this stage say precisely which activities will be covered by any licensing requirement under Clause 5 of the Bill. The Bill contains enabling powers only. Before licences are required regulations will have to be made, but again I give an assurance that there will be full consultation before that happens. I can assure your Lordships that careful consideration will be given to all representations made to us. But we must bear in mind on this point that our priority, first and foremost, must be the welfare of the birds.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, put a point about ritual slaughter. Having heard the noble Lord's concern, it is important for me to make the point that slaughter after sale, as described by the noble Lord, and indeed in the Farm Animal Welfare Council report, will under the Bill be subject to the 1967 Act as a result of the legislation, if it goes through. In particular the conditions under which the birds are kept while awaiting slaughter will be subject to regulations. On religious slaughter generally, I can tell your Lordships that the Farm Animal Welfare Council will be reporting separately, I understand, next year. I think that we should await that report before making further proposals.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, referred to the desirability of having Clause 3 in the Bill and the difficulty of preventing people acting in a foolish way and trying to bring things into the country which could perhaps spread disease and bring tragedy upon so many. Of course I agree with that and am most grateful to the noble Lord for saying that.

I should like to refer to some concern that has been expressed that Clause 3 may affect vesselsor aircraft which are in innocent passage through our territorial zone—that is to say, craft which may pass through our waters or airspace on their way from one place to another without calling at a British sea port or airport at all. I can confirm that there is no intention of using the clarified powers in that way. Current welfare orders apply only to animals carried to or from a port or airport in Great Britain. There is no intention in the Bill to change that.

I should like again to thank your Lordships for taking part in the debate. I think that we can look forward to an interesting and a full Committee stage.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.