HL Deb 31 January 1984 vol 447 cc570-98

4.7 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 5 [Licences]:

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 3: Page 4, line 6, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: I shall confine myself for the moment to Amendment No. 3. There is nothing new about a debate on whether the word shall be "may" or "shall", but I submit to the Committee that in this particular regard the word "shall" is more suitable than the word "may". Those of us who have been in Government know about all the devices of Ministers, and of the Civil Service behind them, to provide the utmost safeguard against a commitment that they do not want to make, or against tying them down to something that they do not want to do, or even against compelling them to think about something that they do not want to think about. It is an astonishing network of protection for the human spirit of Ministers of the Crown.

There is not the slightest doubt that not only on this but on the previous amendment, which I made such a fuss about, the advisers of the Minister said, "Look, Minister, if you do this some people will say that if you mention them you will have to mention these". This tiresome discouragement of ministerial adventure is the most frustrating part of public administration. The Minister, to start off with, says, "What is wrong with this?" The reply comes back, "Ah, Minister, but you have got to think of the repercussions. If you give way on this, look at this amendment later on; you will have to give way on that. If you mention Sloggins in one clause you will have to mention Boggins in another. Your life will be made hell. You will be asked why you have mentioned one while you have omitted to mention the other". The whole thing is absolute rubbish from beginning to end; but you cannot escape from it.

When I was in the House of Commons, I used to be in possession (by means I will not disclose) of the brief by the Board of Inland Revenue to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Finance Bill. It was wonderful—it really was wonderful! At the end of a long and tortuous argument, the brief, which frightened the Minister out of his wits in case he gave way when he should not do so, concluded with the simple formula, "Presumably the amendment will be resisted". They were content that the Minister should take that instruction in, whatever he thought of what went before.

When we come to the granting of licences and the conditions of granting licences to slaughter poultry and allied birds, it is not a question of "may"; it is a question of "shall". In the red meat industry all slaughtermongers have to be licensed. They have to be given proper training. Even then, although every precaution is taken, accidents can occur and dreadful things can happen. One is dealing with live animals and situations in which apparatus may fail or lights may go out, or where other untoward factors may not prevent some very distressing incidents arising.

Clause 5(1B) states: Accordingly, the regulations may include such provision as appears to the Ministers to be expedient for maintaining a licensing system"— et cetera, et cetera. It then goes on to enlarge, although not as extensively as I believe it should do, on the conditions which may be made precedent to the granting of a licence. Can there be any question or doubt as to what should be done and what must be done? This is another example of how matters begin in a small way. Industries grow and capital equipment is installed, and then enormous commercial interests are built up right across the country. Public appetite for a particular form of food is advertised and promoted all over the place. When that stage is reached, and when scandals and discontents surrounding what is happening are pressed upon the Government, you find that you have no safeguards against amateurish work being undertaken in the poultry slaughterhouses of this country. Red meat has one safeguard; they are animals. Poultry does not; they are birds.

I said on Second Reading that due to some curious twist of human temperament or psychology, animals arouse much greater sympathy than birds—probably because animals are nearer to the human species than are birds. I do not believe that one can minimise suffering among birds on the ground that they are small or that they are stupid. After all, stupidity has nothing to do with cruelty. We are not all blessed with the equipment we ought to have, but that does not mean that we can be ill-treated, because we are stupid; otherwise, many human beings would undergo some most distressing experiences. So let us be generous about the chicks. As I said before, there is no more ill-treated species in the country than the domestic fowl. It really is dreadful what we do to it, and poultry is more a stable food now than it has been ever before.

After all that, can the noble Lord the Minister bring himself to say that it shall be "shall", or do we have to endure another of those experiences which are so frustrating in your Lordships' House? It is rare to get a Minister on the Government Front Bench who can say, "Having listened to the debate, I agree". Apparently he does not have the authority to do that. He has a brief stuck in front of him to which he must adhere with no bending, no concession and no responsibility. The brief has come from the department and there it is.

We all know what miserable lives junior Ministers lead. They get all the brickbats. They get all the criticisms. The senior Minister remains in his office while the Minister of State or the Parliamentary Under-Secretary takes all the dirt on the Floor of the House and he hides behind the instruction. "You are not to give way. You've got your brief—stick to it. If there is any giving way to be done, I will give way in the House of Commons later, when I shall get the credit for it". We know all about that, so how is it that we can be deceived by the clever and kindly front which the Minister puts up?

Are we to have licences for people to slaughter poultry or are we not? If we are, then there "shall" be licences. If we are to have licences, then people must be properly trained and properly equipped. That is the whole purpose of the licences, that there shall be conditions. The word is "shall" and not "may".

We may get a long, tortuous explanation as to why "may" is preferable to "shall". But there should be no doubt about it. In fact, there should be a specific commitment in the Bill for the institution of a licensing system. I know that, unfortunately, relations between local authorities and the Government are at a low ebb at the present time. This system is a new responsibility to be put on local authorities, and I have not the slightest doubt that many local authorities will say, "If you are going to push all these extra duties on to us, then what about the money? What about the staff? Are we going to be chivvied on our expenditure by one Minister and then have new duties imposed on us by another? Let us know where we stand. If we are to assume new responsibilities, we want to be properly equipped for them".

That is not the only regard in which local authorities have their difficulties. There are already some duties imposed upon local authorities which they have not taken up, and nobody has insisted that they shall. But if cruelty is to be regarded as a public matter, then it cannot be left to local authorities to decide whether they will put up with that responsibility or not. Cruelty to children is not a matter left to local authorities in the direction and policy they have to follow. It has not been possible in the past for local authorities to dodge their statutory responsibilities under the Children Act 1975 and other Acts of Parliament which require them to have particular officers and to discharge certain duties.

Here, we cannot make it optional on local authorities, and we cannot make it optional on the Government either; they must do this thing. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord the Minister will accept this amendment. It is the substitution of the imperative for the discretionary. In my view, there can be no discretion about this matter, and I hope he will agree to the amendment. I beg to move.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Belstead

With respect to the noble Lord, one would not have guessed from most of his speech on this amendment that the clause is extending the powers in the Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967 in order for regulations to be made to require the licensing of people engaged in the commercial slaughter of poultry. Indeed, this clause causes those who are selling birds live to the intending consumer and then slaughtering them to be subject to the provisions of the clause.

I thought that the noble Lord would have found it in him—for he is always generous, even though it sometimes takes a little time to get to the generosity—to have recognised that this is a good clause and one that is making an advance so far as welfare is concerned. If the noble Lord could have brought himself to recognise that, then perhaps he could have taken another step and recognised also that it is not either senior or junior Ministers who are insisting on putting up an absolutely unshaken front which is the matter at issue here; it is all a question of consultation.

The noble Lord, with his great experience of these matters, will know that Section 3 of the 1967 Slaughter of Poultry Act provides that there shall be consultation with representative interests in extending this clause. If the regulations were obliged to include all the provisions listed in Clause 5, instead of enabling the Government to have discretion in the light of consultations to decide what should be done, it really would mean that the consultations would have no effect at all, or very little.

If the noble Lord is going to say to me that this is an obscure argument and that I am merely trying to get round the truth, may I take the matter head on and say to him that we would not have put Clause 5 in the Bill at all if we had not intended to use the provisions in the clause. So I do seriously beg the noble Lord to be a little more generous to the Government in bringing this Bill forward. It is a Bill which, as its name denotes, is supposed to improve, and we believe will, the welfare of animals, which we all know the noble Lord has at heart. We shall be able to go on to debate some important amendments which the noble Lord has down to try to improve the Bill. In these debates I do ask the noble Lord to recognise that this is a Bill which is trying to take a step forward, not a step back.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I wonder what the Government have been doing all this time since this matter was first brought within the terms of reference of the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1980. The first thing that the Farm Animal Welfare Council did when it was reconstituted was to go to the Minister and ask for an extension of its terms of reference to bring slaughter into it, and he granted that. They said, "The first thing we want to deal with is slaughter, the care of birds before slaughter, the methods of slaughter, and slaughter generally". That is what they have been doing. The Farm Animal Welfare Council took this on board in July 1980 and reported in January 1982, and it is their report of January 1982 that we are referring to constantly in relation to this Bill. It is now January 1984.

While the Farm Animal Welfare Council were doing their self-imposed task the Agriculture Committee of the House of Commons began work on animal welfare in poultry, pig and veal calf production. So the House of Commons committee was at work while the Farm Animal Welfare Council were at work. On 2nd July 1981 the House of Commons Agriculture Committee produced its report, which cost £55,000 to print, quite apart from all the expenditure on clerks and officials and witnesses. Look at it—evidence from everybody, consultations galore; it could not have done more. It is all here.

What happened after that? What happened after that was that the department sent out a circular to all the people they have to consult, all the people the noble Lord the Minister says would have to be mentioned in the Bill if the Farm Animal Welfare Council were referred to in the Bill. The names of all the people they sent this circular to at the beginning of 1983 covers a page of foolscap, both sides. The extraordinary thing about this circular is that it refers to what the agriculture Ministers will do and what the agriculture Ministers think, and so on. It says that certain matters will be deferred, certain matters will be included in the Bill. All this is put out for further consultation, and it is the end of 1983 when we get this Bill.

Now the Minister says this matter is for consultation. What further consultation, one might ask, is going to be material to the Government's intention? What about the consultations they might well have had with the staff of the Cheltenham headquarters—none whatever? They have made up their mind. They can make up their mind when they want to. As I said, they can take silly decisions on big questions and they cannot take wise decisions on small questions. Here we are arguing about whether it is to be "shall" or "may". The Minister says it need not be "shall" because what "may" means is that those concerned will. The Minister says, "Do you think we would have said 'may' if we did not intend to do it? Should we have put it in the Bill if we had had no intention of carrying it out?" This is just playing with words, but they are important words. An Act of Parliament is read and people rely on it.

I think, quite honestly, this is pretty shocking. I do not know why we should be spending time on it. Talk about costs. Think of the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent already on consulting everybody who could be brought in for c onsultation. The Government say that they have made up their mind to do something, but "It must be 'may' in case we have a change of mind, or something stops us". I do not know; I give it up. I can only say that one can criticise a Labour Government for many things but one cannot criticise them for nonsense like this. If we were going to do something, we said we were going to do it, and we did it. On various matters all Governments have difficulty in deciding what to do and when to do it. But there cannot be any doubt at all that we must have a licensing system.

I do not want to bore the Committee by going into the different aspects of the process of slaughter by mechanical means which require training. The people involved have to understand the effect of electricity; they have to understand about the electric shock system of stunning; they have to understand about the automatic throat cutter; they have to understand whether birds are really paralysed or whether they have just had a shock and will suffer pain before they have got down to the end of the shackle line. Do we really appreciate what kind of process we are talking about? It is slaughter by machinery, slaughter by moving belts and wheels and the imposition of electric current. It is a terrible business, and people must be properly trained. They not only must be properly trained but must understand something of the animals they are dealing with.

There is a silly story told of a boy who wanted to be a slaughterman and was asked, "Why do you want to be a slaughterman?" He said, "Because I am fond of animals". We must surely get some understanding of people who engage in this task. It is not a particularly edifying vocation; I do not know whether it comes under the vocational training scheme we have just heard about.

If the Minister is going to be adamant about this, I think it is about time I felt I must divide the Committee and try to get a decision that way. I do not believe that the Committee can vote down the word "shall" when the Minister says, "It is going to mean 'shall' and the provision would not be in the Bill at all if it was not going to be 'shall'". But the Government do not want the word "shall" in the Bill; they want the word "may". Is that what the Committee is being asked to vote for? I cannot believe it. Anyway, I have had my say.

Lord Belstead

I ought just to say in reply that, as the noble Lord knows very much better than I do, licensing is highly technical and detailed. Consultation is necessary, but the consultation is not about whether—that is in the Bill—but about how we should introduce licensing. If we put in the word "shall", those who are consulted will say, "You do not mean to consult us. You have made up your minds already". If I may say so to the noble Lord, I do not think that that would be a very good point on which to divide the Committee.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Jacques)

The Question is that Amendment No. 3 be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"? To the contrary, "Not-Content"? I think that the "Not-Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Tellers for the "Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Not-Contents" have it.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 4, line 16, after ("satisfied") insert ("particularly in respect of training and proficiency").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is merely to indicate the importance of training and proficiency as conditions for the granting of a licence. The Minister will say, "Of course they are. You do not need to say so in the Bill". One can anticipate the arguments that he will use, as they are so stereotyped. But I think that there is value occasionally in using an Act of Parliament to indicate the essentials of what it is proposed to do. That really is all that there is in this amendment. I shall not ask the Committee to spend a lot of time on it, nor shall I weary myself by spending a lot of time on it.

There are some things for which it is hardly worth coming to your Lordships' House. Noble Lords who have just arrived will realise that in due course. I see one or two new noble Lords around. I do not want to discourage them, but this is a very frustrating place. No wonder noble Lords come here either because they are fed up with the House of Commons or because they have ambitions to be something in the House of Lords. Quite frankly, there is not much else to bring one here. It is certainly not for what one can achieve.

I remember introducing in three Sessions in succession a Bill to outlaw the sale of live pet animals in open markets. Your Lordships were wise and good enough to pass that Bill three times. But it was not until a general election was pending and the Government realised that they had little to chalk up in the manifesto about what they had done on animal welfare that they grabbed at my little Bill, made special room for it in the other place on the last day of the Parliament and got it through. Upon my word, this little Bill of mine was passed almost at the last minute in the House of Commons, almost like being born in the vestry, and in their manifesto the Government claimed it as their own. I am not one who wants to take credit for what little bit of good one can do in this place. Let the Government have it. I do not mind. They can take credit for anything that they do in this Bill which arises from any overture that I have made for change.

Need I go on? I do not think I need. It is the old story: you either take it or leave it. There are plenty of arguments why this should not be done. I wish that the Minister could get as worked up about turning down amendments as I do in proposing them. It might then be worth listening to him. I beg to move.

Lord John-Mackie

As an erstwhile junior Minister, I am still smarting from the castigation that we had from my noble friend a few minutes ago. I hope that he will be pleased to know that I support this amendment. As I said about his first amendment, I do not see that the words do any harm. It would be pleasant if the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could satisfy my noble friend for once. We might then get on a bit more quickly. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord.

Lord Belstead

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, does not feel that he is making much progress this afternoon. I am even more sorry that he feels that more generally he does not make very much progress in your Lordships' House. I cannot believe that it is anything that I have done. I remember very well the three successive Sessions in which the noble Lord put forward his Bill to regulate the sale of live pet animals in markets. If my memory serves me right, on each occasion through long hours we dealt with that important concept—and it was an important concept. As the noble Lord rightly said, it ended up on the statute book.

So far as this Bill is concerned, although the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has supported his noble friend, for myself I find it difficult to support the amendment, though on Second Reading I ventured to make it absolutely crystal clear that we place great importance on provision for training being made in the regulations. However, if we were to accept the amendment, I think that a whole string of amendments of a similar nature, though dealing with other matters, would immediately be tabled in order to have specific conditions, and I believe that the time to consider specific conditions is when the regulations are made. But before they are made there will of course be the consultation process, which must be undertaken statutorily under Section 3 of the Slaughter of Poultry Act 1976. To include specific points in the Bill could prejudice the generality of the powers and make it more difficult for other matters to be included when we come to consult and to make the regulations.

So I would repeat the assurance, which I originally gave on Second Reading, that it is our firm intention to include in the regulations provision for training; let there be no doubt about that. I hope that in the light of that assurance the noble Lord will feel that it would not be right to include training as one specific item in the regulations, because if we were to do that we would in some way be belittling other points which should be in the regulations, and that I believe would be a pity.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I shall not take up the time of the Committee in replying to the noble Lord in the vein to which I am accustomed. I shall leave him alone for a minute or two because I want to be left alone myself for a minute or two and make way for my noble friend Lord John-Mackie. I think that it is about time he had a go. I am becoming a little weary, and there will be quite a lot else that will engage the attention of the noble Lord the Minister when I come to a subsequent amendment. So I shall put greater reliance on the understandings—I do not say undertakings—that we have gained from the debate on this particular matter, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.43 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 4, line 25, at end insert— (" (1D) The Minister shall have the power to waive the need for a licence on certain small amounts of on the farm slaughter.").

The noble Lord said: I rise with some trepidation to move this amendment because earlier, without hearing my arguments, my noble friend Lord Houghton remarked that he did not like the look of it. As we all know, a tremendous amount of poultry is slaughtered on farms. I think back to my mother's day when she reared a score of turkeys for Christmas. She killed them all herself. One went to the parson, one to the schoolmaster, another to the doctor, and perhaps a couple were kept for Christmas and the new year, and the rest were sold. The very thought of that kind of activity needing a licence is quite ridiculous. But now larger amounts of poultry are kept on farms, and there could be problems. If during the rush to get poultry ready for Christmas something went wrong with a licensed slaughterer who had been employed, there could be quite a lot of difficulty in getting another slaughterer in time.

My amendment refers to "small amounts", and I know that in a legal sense in some instances "small amounts" can cover a large scale. So in some ways the amendment may not be well worded. But I think that there is much to be said for the fact that when poultry are slaughtered at the point of production their welfare is looked after much more than if they are carted about in crates, kept in slaughterhouses—perhaps not too well—and then slaughtered there.

I think that it is reasonable to ask the Minister to look at the point to make sure that great difficulties would not be created on farms where the amounts are on the whole negligible, but important to the farmers concerned. The difficulties may be avoided if in such cases the necessity of a licence was waived. I beg to move.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I have some sympathy with the amendment because it is practical for small farmers. As everyone knows, small farmers have always wrung the necks of their poultry. But members of the public would be extremely mystified if what is proposed in the amendment were to be inserted into the Bill because the Bill's main object is to improve the means of slaughtering poultry, so that it is done by the most humane method. Therefore the public may think it very illogical that whereas large amounts—thousands—of poultry have to be slaughtered in the most humane way, or at any rate in what the Government and the so-called experts think is the most humane way, the slaughtering of small amounts of poultry is not covered in the Bill. That would be very illogical.

I very well understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. Poultry on all small farms is free range, and there it would be very difficult to slaughter the poultry in the same way as it is done on very large poultry farms. Perhaps I have got it wrong, but it seems to me that if the proposal were included in the Bill it would be very illogical, though on the other hand it would be practical for small farmers. However, I am rather mystified.

Lord John-Mackie

Before the noble Viscount sits down, I should like to point out that I was not suggesting that there should be an alteration in the method of slaughter. One can get a small hand stunner and the same method of stunning the animal and then bleeding it would be carried out in the cases that I have mentioned. I am not asking to go back to the old method of putting the head below a stick between the legs and pulling up.

Lord Gisborough

I should like very briefly to support the amendment. There are many farmers who breed poultry for the Christmas trade and then have to slaughter it themselves. While there is every support for ensuring that the method of slaughter is controlled and that the right method is used, the Bill allows for extra people to go in to do the job at such times as Christmas.

Lord Somers

Would it be possible to limit the number by inserting the words, small amounts of individual animals"? That might possibly imply a smaller number.

Lord Belstead

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, raised this matter in his speech on Second Reading. In the amendment he is asking for a power to exempt the smaller producer who is slaughtering on the farm, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough, and I think by implication the noble Lord, Lord Somers, would support the noble Lord in the amendment. I believe that the power that is sought is already available. By that I mean that I think that in the clause there is wording which means that when the regulations are made it will be perfectly possible for the smaller farmer to be exempted. Of course it would be necessary to face the problem of how exactly to define the smaller producer; and the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has made a suggestion in that regard that we should like to look at.

I am not absolutely certain that I can tell the noble Lord that his point is met. I shall look carefully at the Bill to make absolutely certain that it is met. If I am not correct in the belief that it is, I shall get in touch with the noble Lord and we can return to the matter at a later stage. I believe that this power should be in the Bill. It is right that there should be a power, and I believe that the power is already there. Having said that, I cannot say precisely what activities might be prescribed for any exemption or what qualifications we might wish to attach. We shall be undertaking full consultation before the regulations are made. We have to do so under the 1967 Act. We shall give very careful consideration to all representations made to us by small farmers, by the farming unions and by other interests concerned.

I come finally to the point made by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. My noble friend stated in essence that there is surely a difficulty here, that if we are concerned about the welfare of large numbers of birds. then we must not run the risk of being accused in either House of Parliament of not being concerned with the welfare of smaller numbers of birds. Our priority, first and foremost, must be the welfare of the birds concerned.

I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said. The noble Lord would immediately say to me that he is concerned, and I would agree with him, about small numbers of birds. As he explained, there is reason to believe that where you have smaller numbers of birds it is easier to deal with the welfare of those birds than it is in the case of large numbers of them. These are all matters which need to be considered in the consultation process before the regulations are made.

At this stage I think that all I can say is that we agree that the power to be able to do this should be contained in the Bill. I believe that it is in the Bill, but I am not absolutely certain. If by any chance I find it is not, I shall immediately get in touch with the noble Lord and we can return to the point at a later stage. With the assurance that I have given, I hope that he might feel that for the moment the point is covered.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

Before my noble friend Lord John-Mackie responds, may I underline one point. The amendment speaks of, "on the farm slaughter" and farmers have been referred to through-out the discussions so far. I hope that we can distinguish between "on the farm slaughter"—that is, the farmer slaughterer—and the small poultry slaughterer. There is a distinction. One can concede something to the farmer given an order for a dozen hens or cockerels for Christmas who says, "I will slaughter them and dress them". I am anxious, however, that we should not be led into thinking that cover can be given to someone who sets up as a small slaughterer. He is not a farmer. He is just pulling in birds and slaughtering on a small scale. Then he becomes a slaughterer on a big scale, or a bigger scale. So the thing grows. We want to be clear that we are talking about "on the farm slaughter". The noble Lord the Minister in considering the matter further will have to bear that distinction in mind.

Lord Belstead

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, says this because it is important to take that point on board. In saying that one of the things to be taken into account in making the regulations was the number of birds being dealt with, I was in no way seeking to cast any reflection upon the standards of the very large-scale slaughterers. I was addressing myself entirely to the point that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, made, to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has also drawn attention. It was that which, I was saying on behalf of the Government, would need to be considered along with a whole lot of other matters when the regulations are made. I believe that there is power in the clause to be able to do so. I feel rather shamefaced in having to put it like that and not being absolutely certain. But, shortly before the Bill came on to the Floor of the House, I and those advising me felt that we were not absolutely certain in giving a complete undertaking to the noble Lord. That is why I have spoken in this way.

Lord John-Mackie

I should like to thank those noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I am not a lawyer or a draftsman. I recognise that the amendment is not well drafted and that it leaves out the point mentioned by my noble friend. It uses the expression "on the farm". I meant the farmer and I meant small-scale. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for the point that he made in order to try and get over the difficulty of the size. I do not wish in any way to make slaughtering any different. I would like to think that slaughterers are liable to be inspected to see that they have a proper stunner and carry out the job as it is done where regulated by licence. In saying that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Codes of Practice]:

Lord Houghton of Sowerby had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 6:

Page 4, line 28, after ("with") insert ("the Farm Animal Welfare Council and").

The noble Lord said: I leave the Farm Animal Welfare Council to their obscurity for the time being and do not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

4.57 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 4, line 34, after ("it") insert ("and in particular on matters contained in Schedule (Codes of Practice) to this Act").

The noble Lord said: This is really a paving amendment to the new schedule. I presume that it would be convenient to deal with the schedule at the same time as the amendment that makes room for it. I do not want to stand in the way of other noble Lords who have amendments on the Order Paper, but I have to dwell for a few moments on the schedule and why I propose it should be there. Here again, I am trying to put some pep into the Bill. One of the problems of amending legislation is the tortuous nature of the wording and construction of the amending Bill.

A great deal in the Bill amends or inserts new forms of words and new provisions in the 1967 Act. There are references all the time to "this Act", the Act being the 1967 Act. It is not easy all the time to follow what exactly is being done. I do not want to attribute any unworthy motives to the Minister, the parliamentary draftsman or anyone else, but these Bills become so dull and so difficult to follow that unless you sit down and really do your homework you do not know what they are about. That is why it is so difficult for noble Lords who wish to gain some enlightenment from the debate on a Bill of this kind to know what it is about.

I refer again to the report of the Farm Animal Research Council. I am not intending again to deal with the timetable but the fact is that everything is taking too long. Some reforms take an inordinate length of time to achieve. While the consideration is going on and civil servants are pondering over things, referring them to their veterinary experts and going out to all the people who matter and quite a lot of people who do not, the world is changing. The public, or some sections of it, are getting more and more impatient. The epithet which my young friends throw at me about this place is, "It's irrelevant. It doesn't do things. It doesn't get them done". If the process of parliamentary democracy is going to be so slothful as not to satisfy the demands for change, then we shall get a good deal of discontent and annoyance, and that can take very undesirable and objectionable forms.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council produced its report in 1982. There were altogether some 37 recommendations on poultry and similar birds, which shows that they found a good deal wrong from their own inspection—probably a closer inspection undertaken by a body of experts and responsible people than has been undertaken by any other body or any other person in this country. They make these journeys; they have to look at these things and then get to sleep at night and go to see another lot the next day. As I said earlier, they do that in the public interest, in order that we can eliminate species other than our own with at least some modicum of humanity. It is the duty of the legislature not only to pay respect but to bow very definitely to the view of those who have studied the matter at first hand and who can recommend to Parliament what they think should be done.

One can scarcely believe it, but this Bill contains, in terms, only two of the 37 recommendations made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. It is not quite as black a record as it might seem from the statistics, because the Farm Animal Welfare Council made a number of recommendations for further research, which shows how reasonable they were in not reaching conclusions on some matters until various ideas, alternatives or reforms had been tested. Paragraphs 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 21 24, 28 and 31 contain nine recommendations for further research. They are obviously not in the Bill and I am not complaining about that. What I ask for in passing is some firm assurances as to what is happening to the research which the council recommended. I raised this matter on Second Reading and the noble Lord the Minister gave the assurance that not all that is in the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report needs to be included in this or in any other legislation because it will be possible by regulation for it to be included in the code of practice. I believe that some of the recommendations could be implemented by legislation or regulations already in existence and therefore there would be no need to include them in the Bill. Moreover, if they are included in regulations, they can be made under the parent authority which includes the 1971 regulations which could be extended, as I understand it, under the provisions of the 1967 Act.

However, Recommendation 37 was especially important and the Minister spent some time on it because my noble friend raised it. It is the recommendation for the continuance of the official veterinary surgeon as the enforcing authority's representative on the spot who should be made responsible for the supervision of the welfare of the birds and should be required to report to the local authority any breaches of welfare regulations and to spend sufficient time at the plant each day to carry out these duties. The British Veterinary Association naturally attaches great importance to this provision. My noble friend Lord John-Mackie will be able to speak for himself on the matter, but certainly I regard this as a very important measure of expert cover and of oversight. What is lacking in many cases is oversight when things may go wrong or when practices may grow up which are undesirable. There are other recommendations which seem so obvious and yet standards were obviously so deficient during the inspections made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council as to lead them to make recommendations for their special attention.

I have left a lot out of the schedule, which for formal purposes I shall move. Indeed, I have included in the schedule mainly the recommendations under paragraph 64. If noble Lords care to cast their eyes over this schedule they will see that it deals with matters that obviously should be done. But I am not going to pretend that it is a very satisfactory way of dealing with the matter to pick out some recommendations and to put them in a schedule and say that they should be referred to especially. Yet what is one to do?

The sad aspect of the whole operation in which we are engaged this afternoon is that we have the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report to which lots of people who are interested in this matter are giving attention all the time. But what is happening? The Bill says that something "shall be done" and that other things "may be done", and that "consultations must take place" and so on. Those who have been waiting since 1982 to see the implementation of the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council look at this Bill and say, "Where is it? Are you telling us that this is the implementation of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report? Is this all that is happening after all this time?" Even now the Minister tells us that there will have to be further consultations all round the clock before we can go on. How much longer? How many people do we have to consult before we say, "Cruelty must stop"?

Are we going to subordinate the moral issue of cruelty to animals and birds to the caprice of the market or the indifference of individuals or the doctrine of me first and all the time? I thought we had a Government that had something to say about moral issues, Victorian and otherwise. Where are they in this particular context? I am trying to push things on. I cannot say that my proposed schedule is a recipe for speed; it does not start the engine going. All it says is "may" and "inter alia". It is merely mentioning various matters; it is something to show for the work that has been done by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I believe I am right in saying that my schedule—this truncated selection from the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council—contains nothing to which the industry can object. What is there is in the best run slaughterhouses already, but not in all of them. There are no conditions which at the moment impose these standards. That is what the schedule is all about.

I am simply trying to put some spunk into the Minister and to get some determination behind it. If there is anything more feeble than my schedule, it will be the reply which the Minister will give to it. That is what it all amounts to. Dwelling on the political scenery of Britain at the present time, I sometimes wonder whether the two major parties have been under the influence of unions—the Labour Party under the influence of the Transport and General Workers' Union and the Tory Party under the influence of the National Farmers' Union. I sometimes wonder whether we ought not to recall Mr. Tebbit to release the political shackles which I think bind the Tory Party when it looks at these commercial interests. That is all.

This is an attempt to get something that will put heart into those who want to see more humane action taken in the slaughter of birds and animals for human consumption. I wish that the consumer would stand up for this more than he and she does. They are the people who dictate what shall be done. If they would only turn their attention to how things get on the dining table, in the kitchen, in the shops or wherever, I think they would find that there is something in which they could take a hand.

Certainly women have more responsibility for some aspects of animal cruelty than any other section of the community. To breed mink and foxes for their furs for adornment purposes is mostly for women, yet the fur coat is a sort of social status. When I was a member of the Royal Commission on Corruption in Public Life it was astonishing how cheaply people sold their honour, and it was often for a fur coat for the wife. I thought what a contemptible state of affairs that was. I think it is a contemptible occupation to be engaged in, whether at Cocksparrow Farm or wherever. Yet this is all part of the general scenery of the way in which we treat our animals.

Food is essential but other things are not; but cruelty takes place all over the commercial market dealing with animals. I have digressed, but this is the climax of what I was putting to the Committee this afternoon. I beg to move that this schedule be added to the Bill.

Lord John-Mackie

I think that the word one should use about my noble friend's remarks in moving his amendment is "wide-ranging". This is a paving amendment to his schedule at the end of the Marshalled List. My noble friend hs put forward a very strong case for his code. He admits that it is not complete and that it could be improved. Before we reach any decision on it I await the Minister's reply as to whether or not he thinks it should be included in the Bill in due course.

Lord Somers

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether there are not two misprints here. One is in Amendment No. 8, which says: …during which vehicles containing live birds may remain unloaded on reaching their destination". Does not the noble Lord mean "loaded on reaching their destination"?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

Is that in the schedule?

Lord Somers

No, this is in Amendment No. 8.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

At the moment I have only moved Amendment No. 7.

Lord Somers

Yes, I know, but we are coming to Amendment No. 8. Am I in order to speak to the schedule?

Lord Belstead

With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was moving Amendment No. 7, but the noble Lord was also speaking to Amendment No. 14.

The Earl of Shannon

I fully appreciate that the whole matter of this Bill is a most emotive subject. We all have our store of horror stories based on varying degrees of factuality, and it always tends to lead us to believe that someone else is scurrilously opposed to our own particular hobby-horse. Therefore, it is with particular regret that I rise to oppose this amendment as a paving amendment for the inclusion of the new schedule to the Bill. I do not have anything at all against the schedule itself; I think that its conditions are admirable. I just oppose the fact that they come as an amendment in primary legislation because, as such, it becomes more or less inscribed in tablets of stone, for ever immutable, or only alterable with immense administrative effort.

I think that noble Lords would be generally agreed that, owing to the extreme sensitivity of this subject, the trade federations concerned have been very worried over their image and they have themselves been to great lengths to assist in establishing codes of practice, often based on extensive and most expensive research which they have carried out. In this case I suppose that we are referring mainly to the British Poultry Federation, but I think that the Minister would probably agree that all those organisations have been very responsible, and have been very responsive in providing on-going advice as to what is the up-to-date state of the art.

Once we include codes of practice in primary legislation, we are fixing ourselves at a point in time, with the attendant difficulties regarding change. It is for this reason, and its lack of flexibility in change, and not the provisions of the schedule to come under the later amendment, that I must oppose this amendment.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Belstead

The effect of Amendment No. 14, to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, was speaking as well as moving Amendment No. 7, is to put into this Bill different items which would form part of the code of practice for which the Bill is providing in general terms—a code of practice for the practical application of the legislative provisions for the welfare of poultry, both before and up to the moment of slaughter. I think I can allay Lord Houghton's apprehensions when I say straight away that all the points the noble Lord has listed in his schedule in Amendment No. 14 are, so we intend, to be covered in a code of practice. All of those points in Amendment No. 14 are listed in the Government's response to the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report as being suitable for inclusion in the code.

I would go further and say that we shall shortly introduce the proposals for regulations to cover many of those points, and the ones which do not go into the regulations will anyway be going into the code. The noble Lord made the point in moving the amendment that in addition to the points in Amendment No. 14 there are other things which the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended. It is here that we come into a practical difficulty, because it would certainly disturb the Government if we felt that we had put into primary legislation certain points which were said to be necessary for a code and then had left other points out. This would start us off on the wrong foot.

In addition to that there is the general point of principle which the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, put to the Committee, and I am bound to say that I agree with the noble Earl. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will accept my assurance that the points—important points in many cases—are going to be covered in the code of practice for which Clause 6 makes provision, and some of the points will be in regulations also.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his reply. We are almost getting on friendly terms, and I am grateful for that. I appreciate, too, the intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Shannon. This gives me the opportunity of paying great tribute indeed to the work being done by enlightened leaders of some of the trade associations. A good deal of expense is being incurred by the British Poultry Federation, for one, in trying to seek answers to deficiencies of which they are as fully aware as anybody who goes to look at them, and probably more so.

They are conscious of their image and the unfavourable publicity given to particular cases which are reported, or may be the subject of prosecutions. One must not overlook the fact that the RSPCA are as vigilant as they can be on matters of this kind. I sometimes wonder why it is left to the RSPCA to engage in prosecutions when it is the duty of somebody else. When you find that a person who is prosecuted and convicted for neglect and then not long afterwards is prosecuted and convicted a second time, you wonder what sort of person he is to be doing this job at all. Yet it is the RSPCA, a voluntary organisation, which embarks on this task.

Prosecutions cost the RSPCA over £100,000 a year, and yet, in a sense, this is not their duty. They have no right of entry. Unlike the inspectors of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, they have no power to go into premises and take anything away. Indeed, I think the National Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is the only voluntary body which has a statutory right of entry. This is all a part of the general scenery in which this work is undertaken, and everybody is playing a part. Those who are doing it voluntarily and on subscriptions from the public, and so forth, want to be encouraged in the work they are doing.

The Minister has naturally pointed out that this is not a very tidy or efficient way of adding a schedule to a Bill. It was highly selective, and I am glad to have included in it matters which the Minister says are to be covered by the code of practice, and some of them by regulations when the time comes. Yet again, I must be content with very small mercies—very small indeed—and accept the Minister's assurances, and offer some hope to those who clamour outside, and who write to me, and say, "Why isn't something being done?" It is not an exciting role for anybody who takes up a cause in Parliament. You get letters from hundreds of people asking you why you are not doing more, and why animals everywhere at all times are not being protected by some legislation worldwide. It is moving to get letters and representations of this kind. and also other activities provide one with serious anxieties from time to time.

I accept what the Minister has said, and I am grateful for the opportunity of making a few comments in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment No. 7, and with it Amendment No. 14.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 4, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) The Ministers shall however prepare and make within six calendar months of the passing of this Act regulations limiting the period of time during which vehicles containing live birds may remain unloaded on reaching their destination.").

The noble Lord said: This is another difficult one. In Amendment No. 8 I have dwelt on one aspect of this industry which is open to the observation of many people who are concerned. It deals with the length of time that vehicles containing live birds may, on reaching their destinations, be left with the birds in the crates into which, in lots of cases, they were put many hours before. At the present time occurrences of this kind can be dealt with only under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. I mention one case which the RSPCA dealt with. They prosecuted in a case where 600 out of 3,000 birds died for lack of ventilation when left outside the slaughter premises for six hours. This must have occurred under very unfavourable climatic conditions. This can happen; there is no proscription about it at the present time. To get a conviction one has to prove to the satisfaction of a court that some person was guilty of unnecessary cruelty.

I know there is another part of this story which I have not included in this amendment, and that is the length of time to be occupied by the journey itself. I am told of poultry which come in crates from Northern Ireland down to the South of England, having been in these crates for many, many hours. As noble Lords who have ever seen this know, they are pretty crowded in the crates. That is not necessarily an act of cruelty because to bunch them up is often kinder to them than to leave them to be knocked about all over the place. One supports another as they jolt along. Conditions of oppressive heat can of course prove a very trying time for them, but I have not dealt with that.

Again, I am highlighting things: I am trying to get debate; I am trying to get a response from the Minister; I am trying to keep the thing active so that 'we do not just disappear in the public mind as a Parliament of complacent and indifferent people. What I say here is that the Minister should: prepare and make within six calendar months of the passing of this Act regulations limiting the period of time during which vehicles containing live birds may remain unloaded on reaching their destination".

As the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said, it really means "shall remain loaded" but it also means "remain unloaded". Either way they are within the crates waiting outside the slaughter place for an unlimited number of hours, until you can say: "What happened was so bad that they could be prosecuted for causing unnecessary suffering." In these circumstances, you usually have to show that so many hundreds of the birds died through lack of ventilation, that so many were injured, and anyway there was a lot of mess which should never have occurred.

The Minister is probably going to say, "Here we are, this is another example of putting in the legislation something which will appear somewhere else in due course." That may be true. It only deals with one half of the story, but, short of drafting a new Act altogether and taking some of these problems or decisions as already solved, and including them in the Bill, it is difficult to know what else to do.

I offer this one for the Minister's consideration, and ask him what he has to say about something which is probably the main distress caused to the observer, at any rate; people who live near these places are greatly distressed by what goes on, and one can understand how upset they get.

It may be that some premises have not enough accommodation for bringing the crates in, unloading them and giving these unfortunate birds a little respite from their travels and from the congested conditions under which they have arrived.

I beg to move, hopefully but ready as ever for disappointment in my efforts for the afternoon.

Lord John-Mackie

Arranging lorries to arrive at a particular time so that they can be unloaded is a very difficult problem, and it is one which applies to all haulage situations. It does not matter whether it is wheat, potatoes or anything else: there are always hold-ups; lorries break down and the timing is very bad.

When it comes to the transport of livestock, of course, the birds, or the beasts for that matter, suffer. I think my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby is quite right to raise this as a real point. He mentioned that birds were standing for 5 or even 6 hours on one occasion before there was a prosecution. But whether this should go in as part of the Bill, I do not know. I will leave that with the Minister, who I am sure must take the point that this is a very real problem and it is one we should try to solve one way or the other.

I think good management at a poultry slaughter-house would alleviate the situation considerably. I think of trying to make people come at the time the birds are required. I see no reason why that should not be done. But whether it should be in the Bill is a different story. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say.

Lord Somers

I still think that "loaded" would be less misleading than "unloaded". But if the noble Lord wishes to include "unloaded while still in their crates," why not limit the time that birds shall remain in their crates on arrival?

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I should like to support this amendment. As Lord John-Mackie pointed out, the troublesome question arises when lorries arrive at the slaughterhouse. If there is not good management, they may arrive at the wrong time. Then the lorry might breakdown. This could prove extremely inhumane and cruel, especially when the lorry is parked in the sun, and the birds become dehydrated. If they are extremely firmly packed they will be extremely uncomfortable and may well die.

I should like to recount something that happened in that regard. I had a big dog show in my grounds this summer, and it was a hot day. There were a lot of cars parked in the sun and some people were so ignorant that they left their dogs in the cars and did not open the windows. We had to go around smashing windows with hammers in order that the dogs should survive. We thought three were dead, but the vet was able to revive them. We broadcast over the Tannoy system, but if the people concerned do not turn up you cannot let the dogs die; so we just smashed the windows.

This is rather outside the scope of this amendment, but great distress can be caused if birds going to the slaughterhouse are not unloaded promptly. Whether it is practical to put it into the Bill I must leave to my noble friend the Minister.

5.36 p.m.

Lord Belstead

I fully appreciate why the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, wishes to make this amendment. I think all of us in the Committee this evening feel that he is rightly concerned about the condition of birds which may spend long periods in a lorry outside the slaughterhouse before they are unloaded for slaughter.

Incidentally, in passing, I should just say that the suffering of birds in a vehicle through lack of ventilation would, of course, be an offence now against the Conveyance of Live Poultry Order 1919 or the Slaughter of Poultry (Humane Conditions) Regulations 1971.

Having said that, the noble Lord has a very important point here, and the Government share his concern. We are determined to do what we can to improve the welfare of these birds. I was very grateful to the noble Lord for the generous words he spoke about the British Poultry Federation on the last amendment. I was very glad the noble Lord saw fit to do that, and I feel sure that what he said will be appreciated by the federation, which indeed is doing good work in respect of poultry welfare.

There is, I think, a real difficulty about this amendment, and not perhaps quite the kind of difficulty which noble Lords may expect me to put forward; it is a practical difficulty. I think it may be that this amendment could lead to a deterioration in the welfare of some consignments of birds, and I will explain why I say that. If, for instance, a consignment arrives at a slaughterhouse at a time when the operator knows that he will not be able to process the poultry within the time laid down, he might, in order to avoid breaking the law, refuse the lorry admission so that the birds might end up in an unprotected lay-by or a car park somewhere else. This is, I think, a very real possibility.

To take another example, the birds may be kept on the lorry for the period laid down in circumstances in which welfare considerations would have required immediate unloading. In other words, those concerned may simply say, "The law allows us to continue to have the lorry loaded for a period of time." And they just go off and leave the load instead of unloading immediately, as perhaps they otherwise would have done. For these reasons I think we need to think very carefully about the way in which we make regulations, if we are to tie it to the formula in the noble Lord's amendment.

There are two further points which I must make. The first is that we already have powers to make regulations governing the welfare of poultry on lorries, both on the road and at the slaughterhouse. The second point is that this matter is under review at the present time, and I should just say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that if he puts a pistol to the head of the Government so far as timing is concerned, I think we might well find we have not got quite enough time to continue the necessary consultations on this matter. The Farm Animal Welfare Council has already been consulted on the Ministry's proposals for a new order on the transport of live poultry. I understand that the council has recently suggested some modifications to try to cover the problem with which the noble Lord is concerned, and, indeed, to try to cover the sort of problems that I have outlined in my remarks. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that the suggestions of the Farm Animal Welfare Council are under consideration now.

So without in any way wanting to appear that we are dragging our feet—I assure the noble Lord that we are not—I give an assurance that we are fully seized of the concern on this matter and that we most certainly intend to take action. But for the reasons I have given, I think that the amendment might be counter-productive as it is drafted. I will not conceal from the noble Lord that I am a little worried about having a pistol put to our heads concerning the timing, although we intend to try to get this difficult problem put right.

Lord Somers

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether it would be possible to achieve the same end by, starting from the beginning, limiting the time in which the birds are allowed to remain in a crate?

Lord Belstead

This may be one of the options which is being considered at present. The difficulty one has to contend with is in trying to make absolutely certain that what is not done is to find that when a lorry arrives at its destination the time limit has run out and the operator may say to the driver: "I am going to break the law if you are allowed to be unloaded," and therefore turn the vehicle away. That is one of the greatest difficulties. But I repeat my assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. We have received some alternative, revised suggestions from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and I assure the Committee that those and other considerations are under active deliberation at present.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I am very grateful to the noble Lord. The last thing in the world I would do is to put a pistol at the Government's head, in case it was loaded and accidentally went off. The Minister has given a full explanation of the difficulties. I am bound to confess that in my own amateur way I have tried to pick out suitable subjects for debate on the Bill in Committee. I realise that in this matter I have only half the problem, and it is a difficult half as well—but all in all it is the transportation and waiting time problem not only at the destination but at intermediate stages.

There is a good deal to consider in this regard and I am glad to receive the assurances of the noble Lord. This is the final word I shall be putting on the Committee stage, and I should like to thank the Minister very much for his patience and endurance to thank also the noble Lords who have stayed to listen to my afternoon of harangue on cruelty to poultry and kindred matters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 5, line 22, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall")

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment to subsection (5), which begins, The Ministers shall cause any code issued or revised under this section to be printed, and"— not "shall" but only— may make such arrangements as they think fit for its distribution".

I cannot think of any circumstances in which Ministers "think fit" to do something, have power to do it, but are not required to do it and can please themselves whether they do it or not. If this subsection had been expressed, "Ministers may, but need not, make such arrangements as they think fit", that would not have altered the sense of the subsection, but noble Lords would have been rather surprised to read it.

Particularly is this an important matter in a field in which people are liable to be made guilty of a criminal offence. We are dealing with such a situation here because that appears in subsection (7). If I may for a moment look forward to subsection (7) and summarise it without altering any of the words of the subsection, it reads: If…any person…failed to follow…a code issued under this section…that failure may be relied on by the prosecution as tending to establish his guilt".

I know that there is a presumption that everyone is supposed to know the law. I suppose the administration of the criminal law would be impossible without such a presumption; but surely that does not mean that Parliament, the law-maker, shall not make quite certain that proper steps are being taken to make the new law known to those people to whom it is of concern and who may be guilty of a criminal offence if they fail to observe the new law. I should have thought that there was no question that, in this matter of seeing that the codes of practice, which people may offend against, are made known to the people who want to know about them, it should be imperative that the Ministers who see fit to make the arrangements "shall" make those arrangements to see that copies of the code are properly distributed. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

First, I should like to make it perfectly clear to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that the Government most certainly will make arrangements for the distribution of codes of practice issued under this clause. However, the noble Lord's amendment would appear also to oblige the Government to put copies on sale, and we would not wish to be contrained to do so, since, in the interests of promoting the welfare of poultry in slaughterhouses—and precisely because, as the noble Lord has pointed out in his speech, at the end of the day there is a sanction in the criminal law—it is our intention to distribute copies free of charge to, for instance, the slaughtering industry and others with an interest in the humane slaughter of poultry. The Government are anxious to avoid the problem that the amendment would cause in the way I have just explained. With assurance that we shall most certainly be distributing copies, I hope that the noble Lord may think it is right to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Airedale

I am grateful for that reply, but I am sorry to say that I do not find it satisfactory. What we need to do, surely, if the Government are with me as far as the first part of the subsection goes, is to redraft it so that there are separate obligations. One is that Ministers "shall" make proper arrangements for distribution and need not put them on sale, but may distribute copies freely, which I am delighted to hear may happen. It is simply a matter, is it not, of separating two things and applying my amendment to one and not to the other?

Lord Belstead

I admit that what the noble Lord has said is not particularly complicated and I do not know that I need to go away to think about it for too long. But it is the noble Lord's amendment and not the Government's and if I think about it a little perhaps the noble Lord would think about it a little, too, and perhaps we shall come to an arrangement at the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Airedale

I think that is a very happy and satisfactory arrangement and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 5, line 25, after ("such") insert ("reasonable").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is very much in the same field. It seeks to alter the last but one line of the subsection so that instead of saying that the document should be put on sale to the public— at such price as the Ministers may determine", it will say, at such reasonable price as the Ministers may determine". I was very glad to hear that there may be free issues of the code, but nevertheless the Government are reserving to themselves the right to put them on sale to the public at a price.

My concern about this arises from my experience of serving on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, because I have come to learn that it is Government policy in many fields that the cost of providing services by Government departments shall so far as possible be met financially, and in an instance like this that would mean that the price put on documents would meet the economic cost of printing them. I am no expert on printing but I think that I know this much: if you are printing a very large number of a document the price per copy may be quite reasonable, but if it is what the printers call a "short print", the economic cost per copy may be extraordinarily high. This code, which is really addressed only to a very small number of people compared with the whole population, will have a very limited circulation indeed and I can envisage that under this Government policy the price per copy to the public might be extraordinarily high.

There is the further point that unless you put in the word "reasonable" you are virtually ousting the jurisdiction of the court because if anybody tried to take a case before the court, unless the Minister had gone quite mad and put a completely ridiculous price on the document, the court would say: "This matter is entirely within the Minister's own discretion and although we, the court, may think that this document is priced extremely high it is not for us to interfere with the Minister's discretion." But the moment you introduce the word "reasonable" that introduces the jurisdiction of the court because it enables the court to inquire into the reasonableness of the Minister's decision to set that price upon the document.

Therefore I trust that this amendment will be acceptable because I think it is extremely important, when you are dealing with documents which may have a bearing upon whether or not somebody commits a criminal offence, that the cost of the document should be reasonable from the point of view of the purchaser. Incidentally, I think that the court would interpret "reasonable" as meaning reasonable from the point of view of the person who wants to purchase the document. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to provide that the price which would be charged when a price is to be charged for the distribution of codes of practice must be reasonable. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in the final words he addressed to the Committee a little earlier this afternoon—they were characteristically generous and I was most grateful to him—came close to saying I think that Ministers—at any rate sometimes—are not unreasonable. I would say that those of us who serve in governments are always reasonable—not because I have an inflated idea of what those of us who work in governments are like but because the advice I have received is that it is the case that all Ministers' decisions are subject to judicial review and a test of reasonableness.

The noble Lord has endeavoured to persuade us that whether or not that is so, if the court came to look at the price which was being paid it would be important to have the word "reasonable" in. The noble Lord felt the court would take the view that "reasonable" would mean "reasonable from the point of view of the person who is paying the price". I do not know whether that is the construction which the court would put on the word "reasonable", and the noble Lord may be right or he may not. At any rate, I shall not attempt to contradict him. I am not entirely sure, for the reasons that I have given about ministerial decisions being subject to the test of reasonableness, that it is completely necessary to have the word "reasonable" in. However, the noble Lord has made a good case and I have great pleasure in accepting his amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Artificial breeding of livestock]:

Lord John-Mackie moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 7, line 28, at end insert— ("( ) In all cases an estimated cost of fees for carrying out the regulations in this section including issue of licences etc. will be intimated to the applicant.")

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment to get something out of the Minister about who is to decide how much the fees might be, because there is considerable feeling that it might cost, in the case of Al, up to £300 a bull. That is a fairly heavy charge on the industry. There is also the question of embryo implantation, and to set up an outfit to do that is very expensive. Then in addition to that very high fees are charged for all the various regulations, so that might make it uneconomic. I wonder whether the Minister would care to say a word about how these fees would be decided and how much they might be. There is also the question of an appeal which also has to be paid for, and I should like to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The noble Lord on Second Reading made the point that he was a little concerned about the level of fees, and the effect of this amendment would be to require an estimate of these fees to be provided to an applicant. I think that I can give the noble Lord the assurance which he wants, although I do not think it is necessary, if I may say so, to accept the amendment.

It is the intention to levy fees according to a standard scale, and the assurance I give to the noble Lord is that the scale will be published when regulations on charging are made. The scale of fees will be updated from time to time as necessary and all changes will also be published. Therefore those who are liable to pay fees will know in advance, and that is the effect of the amendment. An applicant therefore will know the fees to be charged under the regulations in connection with any approval, licence, test or appeal. I hope the noble Lord will feel that my assurance meets the intention of the amendment.

Lord John-Mackie

I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I think that it meets the intention of the amendment, but it is essential that any applicant should know beforehand what he has to pay. Of course, he also has the right of appeal. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Medicated animal feeding stuffs]:

6.1 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 13, line 27, at end insert— ("( ) This section shall not apply to mixing and consumption on the farm.").

The noble Lord said: This is an important amendment. At the present moment we are under pressure in the industry, particularly in the feedingstuffs line, and there is no question that if you have a good on-farm mixer et cetera you can save yourself quite a lot of money. It is essential that the clause and the regulations should not apply to the mixing and the consumption of that food on the farm. This seems to me to be a reasonable amendment which will not do any harm. The additives which a farmer may be putting into his home-mixed food will be controlled in the normal way and I do not see any danger at all, provided that it is consumed on the farm. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

Here, again, the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, raised this matter on Second Reading and if the Committee will forgive me I shall spend a moment or two in replying, because it is important and I should like to get on the record what the situation is as people are concerned. The noble Lord is quite right: people want to know exactly where they stand and the noble Lord himself will wish to hear the explanation.

With respect to the noble Lord, if this amendment were accepted there would be no control whatsoever on the incorporation by on-farm mixers of medicines in animal feed, because the amendment would remove from the scope of the new Section 40 all on-farm manufacture of medicated feedingstuffs. It would mean that the new Section 40 was more restricted in scope than the existing section which it will replace. Under the existing Section 40, an on-farm mixer may only incorporate a medicinal product into a feedingstuff in accordance with either the terms of the product licence or, in the case of a prescription-only medicine, a veterinary prescription.

I should like to emphasise, as I said on Second Reading, that these are enabling powers and there will be full consultation with all interested organisations, including, of course, the farmers' unions, before any regulations are made. The important subsections here are subsections (1) and (2) of the new Section 40. Subsection (1) gives Ministers power to prohibit the incorporation of a medicinal product in an animal feedingstuff unless conditions specified in the regulations are satisfied. The conditions are set out in subsection (2). I should like to make it clear that paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (2) will not necessarily all apply in every case. The regulations will be drafted in such a way that an on-farm mixer will not have to be registered with the Pharmaceutical Society under subsection (2)(c). He will, however, have to comply with the conditions specified in subsection (2)(a) and (b) which are already contained in the existing Section 40.

Some on-farm mixers may, of course, choose to register in order to be able to obtain and incorporate products with a high level of medication. As I explained on Second Reading, it is our intention to ensure, through our existing powers in relation to licensing, that products with a high level of medication will be available only to those manufacturers who are capable of incorporating them into feed under carefully controlled conditions; in other words, manufacturers who are registered. Similarly, registered dealers in medicated feed will be able to sell or supply products with a high concentration of medicine to registered manufacturers only. On-farm mixers who can meet the conditions for registration which will be contained in the proposed code of practice will be able to register, if they wish to do so. But on-farm mixers who are not registered will have access to products with a lower level of medication, which can safely be incorporated into feed with fewer controls on the mixing process.

I am sorry for the length of that explanation, but I hope it is enough to demonstrate that it is essential for on-farm mixers to remain within the scope of the new Section 40, and to show that we do not intend to restrict the activities of on-farm mixers unduly. However, we consider it essential that products with a high concentration of potent medicines are available only to those who are capable of ensuring that they are safely mixed into feed. I repeat the assurance that there will be full consultation before these new powers are exercised.

To go back to the beginning, if the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, the effect of the amendment is not acceptable because it would take on-farm mixers out of control, so far as mixers for animal feed are concerned, which would change even the existing law. I hope the noble Lord will feel that that would not be desirable. On the other hand, I also hope he may feel that it has been valuable that he has given an opportunity for me to put this explanation on the record.

Lord John-Mackie

I thank the noble Lord very much for that very full explanation. I can see the point that with their high potency some of these medicines may be misused. Of course, a farmer is not pevented from using lower potencies of medicines which are approved. But the point I was making was that most of these medicines are approved and the noble Lord seemed to be saying that it is not the medicine but the mixing of it that is the difficulty. Modern farm mixers will do as good a job—probably a better job—than a huge mixer in a feedmill, so the noble Lord has not made a very strong point. The incorporation of the medicine is what he was concerned with—not the medicine itself. I do not think any farmer would put in more than was necessary, because these medicines are expensive. All of the medicines that I have seen and used have had instructions on the label and the incorporation of them can be done just as well on the farm, if not better, as elsewhere. I do not want to press the point—

Lord Belstead

May I make the point that in the sort of case which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, is speaking about—and he knows about such cases from personal experience—the answer is surely for the farmer who is doing on-farm mixing to become registered. That is open to him, as I endeavoured to make clear in my remarks.

Lord John-Mackie

I do not want to press the amendment and I take the point that the farmer can register. But I just felt that the subject should be aired, because it creates a drag on farming if they have to register and operate under regulations which have to be applied on a big scale, but which do not need to be applied to farm mixing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

The Earl of Selkirk moved manuscript Amendment No. 12A:

Page 15, leave out lines 34 and 35 and insert— ("In this Act 'Ministers' means the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move this manuscript amendment which I shall read, because it appears to me that the Bill is positively wrong. I am suggesting that the words on page 15, lines 34 and 35, should be omitted. These words are: In this subsection 'the Agriculture Ministers' has the same meaning as in the Medicines Act 1968". I am proposing to put in much more straightforward words: In this Act 'Ministers' means the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food". That is a true statement of what is happening.

I object for two reasons to what appears in the Bill. I know that draftsmen have their conventions, but those conventions are not always understood by the general public and the purpose of Bills is that they should be understood by the general public. My first point is that the subsection reads: "In this subsection". But it is not in this subsection; it is in this Bill that the word "Ministers" needs to be understood. Secondly, the Medicines Act 1968 includes the Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland. But as Northern Ireland is excluded from the Bill, it seems rather absurd that the Northern Ireland Minister should be included therein. Furthermore, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services is included, but he has nothing to do with this Bill. It seems to me that the public should know who are the Ministers concerned, so that if they want to write to them they know who to write to. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

I ought to take away this point and have a look at it. My noble friend has made what seems to be a formidable case, that the drafting could be clarified, an objective which we all want to achieve. On a manuscript amendment I do not believe that I ought to say anything, from the Government's point of view, which might change the drafting. If my noble friend feels that it is reasonable for me to take the amendment away in a constructive spirit, I shall be very happy to do so.

The Earl of Selkirk

I thank my noble friend for what he has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 18, line 1, after ("paragraph") insert ("1").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.