HL Deb 09 July 1984 vol 454 cc633-6

8 After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

("Enforcement of 1967 Act.

. For section 6 of that Act (power to proceedings) there is substituted—

"Execution and enforcement. 6.—(1) Every local authority shall execute and enforce in their area the provisions of this Act and of regulations under section 3 of this Act.

(2) In particular, every local authority shall, for the purpose of securing the execution of those provisions, make arrangements for the supervision by persons having such qualifications as may be specified in the regulations of any premises in their area to which the regulations apply.

(3) Arrangements under subsection (2) of this section shall comply with such directions as the Ministers may give from time to time.

(4) This section does not authorise a local authority in Scotland to institute proceedings for any offence.".").

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 8. This new clause fulfils an earlier undertaking which I gave on behalf of the Government that we would introduce an amendment to this Bill in response to the Farm Animal Welfare Council's recommendation that the local authority official veterinary surgeon should be made responsible for welfare in slaughterhouses.

The way in which this new clause works falls into two main parts. First, it replaces the power in Section 6 of the Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967 for local authorities to institute legal proceedings for contraventions of the Act itself or of regulations made under it with a duty on local authorities to execute and enforce the legislation. Secondly, Amendment No. 8 requires local authorities to arrange for the supervision of slaughter premises by officers holding qualifications approved by Ministers and to comply with directions given to them by Ministers concerning the arrangements for supervision.

We intend to use these powers to require local authorities to make the official veterinary surgeon responsible for welfare in all licensed slaughterhouses. However there are a great many small unlicensed slaughterhouses where the law does not require official veterinary surgeon supervision: local authorities are generally responsible for public health and hygiene in these places and we intend therefore to enable them to use the appropriately qualified staff—for instance, environmental health officers and poultry meat inspectors—to supervise both health and welfare in those slaughterhouses. Indeed, these officers may be asked to cover welfare in licensed premises also, in addition to the official veterinary surgeon. We will be consulting carefully to ensure that the officers we approve are appropriately qualified to supervise welfare, and that local authorities are not faced with unreasonable new commitments.

It will not have escaped your Lordships' attention that we are taking powers to give directions to local authorities on their arrangement for supervision. I have already said that we shall be directing them to give responsibility to the official veterinary surgeon in licensed slaughterhouses; we will also he able to give directions as to the checks to be undertaken by the responsible officials and as to periodic veterinary inspection of premises not supervised by an official veterinary surgeon. Here again we shall need to ensure that the directions we give to local authorities will provide welfare benefits without making unreasonable demands on local authorities.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(Lord Belstead).

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I am sure that everyone in the House would agree with the noble Lord and thank him and the Government for giving us this amendment and tightening up and making sure that there are sufficient inspectors. Of course the veterinary inspector is the important one, as there is no doubt that inspecting is the key to animal welfare. I am sure that the interest of my noble friend Lord Houghton here should be satisfied, as should the welfare bodies which have pressed for this for a long time.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, speaking for myself I am grateful that the Government have carried out the promise that they made when the Bill was going through your Lordships' House that before the Bill became law they would introduce a plan to implement Recommendation 37 of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. This naturally pleases the British Veterinary Association, who have sent a note to some of us to express pleasure at seeing the several recommendations made in the Commons, particularly the undertaking given by the Minster that local authorities will be asked to utilise suitably qualified services to have a look at the smaller places that are not suitable for licensing but where slaughter may take place: sometimes the terrible things are done in the smaller rather than the larger establishments.

Of course, this is enforcement, and is not this really the basic problem that we have in this whole field of the application of regulations and codes of practice for the benefit of living things, birds and animals, which go through commercial and other handling for the purpose of serving mankind? This amendment imposes upon local authorities a firmer duty than they probably felt they had before to make full use of these qualified services and have regular inspections and a presence while material operations are in progress.

It is a pity that local authorities are so grumpy just now with the Government and with all forms of statutory obligation. They are probably not in the best of moods to accept new and firmer obligations to undertake tasks of this kind. I know that the expenditure does not fall wholly on the local authority. Nevertheless, there are duties to be done and administrative work in connection with their own side of the matter.

I am afraid that this question of enforcement will come up again, probably in an even more imperative form, when we consider the latest report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council on the conditions in slaughterhouses of red meat animals. The council is making 100 recommendations, in contrast to only 37 here for poultry. First and foremost is enforcement. A good deal of the enforcement is not based upon new requirements, but on what should be being done now. It is from the failure to carry out this enforcement responsibility fully and satisfactorily that a good many of the unsatisfactory features in slaughterhouses arise. I am sure that the Government are fully conscious of this.

I turn to another side of the matter. Enforcement depends first on local authorities using powers that are given to them. The powers that are given to them under this Bill and under regulations drawn up by the Government will be subject to the annulment procedure if we do not like them. But another part of the responsibility rests upon the veterinary officers themselves.

I read with great interest in the current issue of the The Veterinary Record an article written by a man I know well, an Englishman in the United States, Dr. Michael Fox. I quote the heading of his article: Towards a philosophy of veterinary medicine". This is the part of the matter which the veterinary surgeons themselves have to develop. He said: Until very recently, virtually no emphasis has been placed in the veterinary curricula on the moral and social dimensions of veterinary medicine…The practice of veterinary medicine is taught as though it were value-neutral". This was a comment made by another writer in 1981; but we are entitled to expect now from the veterinary profession a full appreciation of the task that vets are given to do.

It is not enough, in my submission, for a veterinary surgeon just to observe objectively and to have an attitude towards his job which is devoid of the moral and emotional aspect of what he is engaged in. The public are relying, in this unpleasant field of activity and in the treatment of animals, on somebody to be the custodian to some extent of the public conscience. People want to feel satisfied, without having to go into these establishments to see for themselves—they would not be very satisfied if they did—that some responsible, qualified person is taking care, as far as is ever possible, of the welfare of the animals that are undergoing this unpleasant experience.

It is no good just having expertise; it requires more than that. It requires an understanding which medical doctors used not to have in the way that they have today. There was a time when medical practice related to human beings was value-neutral. It was almost like that when people were not getting much help from the medical profession about conditions in which ill-health and disease occurred; and the wider sense of responsibility of the medical profession is something which should be extended to the veterinary profession. That is already afoot.

I am just uttering a few encouraging words to the profession and for the awareness of your Lordships' House on this aspect of the matter. Just to provide a vet is not enough: that vet must have an awareness of the animal world in which he is operating and have an attitude towards animal welfare which reflects, in the fullest measure possible in the circumstances, the growing attitude of the public about the treatment of animals. This sense of public conscience about the treatment of animals is growing deeper and wider all the time, and this should be reflected in the attitude of those with the qualifications and responsibilities which are provided under this clause.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have followed the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, most closely and in my picking up a point or two from what the noble Lord said it is right for us to bear in mind that veterinary surgeons are obliged by the terms of their membership of the Royal College to promote and protect the welfare of the animals and birds in their care.

The noble Lord said—and I quite understand why—that just to have a skilled vet is not enough. It is right for us to bear in mind in the final stages of this Bill that the Farm Animal Welfare Council laid great stress in its poultry slaughter report on the need to ensure that people who slaughter poultry are properly trained, are competent and are fit for the job. It considered that licensing is an important aspect of providing that assurance. That, again, is another plank in the platform of trying to meet the points which the noble Lord is putting to the Government on this Bill.

Finally, I turn to the words the noble Lord spoke about local authorities. Although local authorities are responsible for enforcement, do not let us forget again that the Ministry veterinary surgeons also make regular visits to all slaughterhouses, both poultry and red meat, and advise both staff and local authority officers on welfare matters. I understand the point which the noble Lord is putting to me about avoiding placing substantial new burdens on local authorities at a time of financial stringency.

We believe that we can provide effective welfare control without making unreasonable demands on local authorities. I give an assurance that before issuing directions we will be consulting the local authority associations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.