HL Deb 01 March 1984 vol 448 cc1367-71

3.25 p.m.

Read a third time.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I beg to move the privilege amendment.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords—

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that if we are to have a debate it should be on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass. Will that be suitable to the noble Lord?

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My, Lords, the Motion that I heard was that the privilege amendment be agreed to. Does the noble Lord rise to speak on that?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I wish to speak on the Bill.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I think there will be an opportunity. I have only the privilege amendment in front of me at the moment.

On Question, an amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, this is a very useful Bill, and it brings up to date the legislation necessary to keep up with the present situation in agriculture, where we have developments in animal breeding, in the keeping of animals and, of course, in the rights of veterinary people to collect material that may be required in the control of diseases. I know that my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby may have liked to go a little further than the Bill has gone, but, so far as we are concerned, it fills a useful gap because of the developments that have taken place in the keeping of animals, in the slaughtering of animals and in the control of diseases, and we give it our blessing. I am glad that the Minister was able to say that he would make exceptions in the slaughtering provisions so as to allow housewives to kill their Christmas turkeys without a licence.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, having taken rather longer on the Committee and Report stages of this Bill than is customary for a Bill of this kind, I ask leave to make a few comments before the Bill finally passes through your Lordships' House. This is a useful Bill, and we have improved it slightly in the course of its passing through the House. It is not a criticism, but it is a disappointment that I have that the Bill does not contain a great deal more along the line of reform of the conditions under which animals go to slaughter. Clauses 4 to 7 are a distinct advance on present conditions, and we look forward to the regulations and the codes of practice which will be issued under the provisions of those clauses.

But the main problem here is that we are never going to catch up. At the present rate of progress, old problems will take too long to remedy and new ones will be looming up while we are still dealing with past practices. The Government should make up their minds to make speedier progress with the changes which they must know are overdue, and which I thought were implicit in the undertakings given by the Conservative Party as long ago as the election of 1979. I fear that Ministers express hopes about doing things during coming Sessions and during the lifetime of a Parliament, but find that the processes of administration, consideration and consultation all drag down the hopes of the Government, month after month and year after year. Even though we are dealing with a Bill which relates principally to poultry going to slaughter, there is still the problem of the battery hen in the background to be dealt with, a problem of probably 25 years' standing which is giving rise to increasing concern among members of the public about the conditions under which poultry are kept.

I have stressed more than once that new problems need to be identified very early before they rapidly change into considerable enterprises and industries, with very large amounts of capital invested in them. In this connection it is very important that when the Farm Animal Welfare Council undertakes an investigation and a report there should be the least possible delay in implementing the recommendations which the Government feel able to adopt, otherwise the Farm Animal Welfare Council goes through the whole process of consultation and the department then goes over it all again and gives more time to express views to people whose views have been expressed much earlier to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. This happened in relation to the recommendations which are embodied in Clauses 4 to 7 of the Bill.

One problem which is looming ahead and which I hope will be dealt with speedily is that of the slaughter of deer. A new farm animal, the red deer, is now the subject of intensive husbandry and a new element in the meat market. There is no doubt that there is considerable concern about it. I noticed that on our menu the other evening there was venison. Where did it come from? How was it slaughtered? Was it shot in the open by high velocity bullets, or was it slaughtered in an abattoir with a captive bullet? The deer is not yet a farm animal which is protected under the slaughterhouses Acts. It is very desirable that we should deal with a problem which is far different from that of the domesticated cow, bullock, sheep or pig. These are wild animals—much nearer the wild than the domesticated farm animal. It is important that we should look at this problem before it becomes a matter of serious public concern.

There are other aspects of the problem which it would not be suitable for me to go into at length on the Third Reading of the Bill. In the case of a Bill of this kind one must stay within reasonable boundaries of discussion. However, I should like to make one point before I sit down. It relates to the role of the consumer. Throughout the different stages of the Bill we have been dealing with the slaughter of millions and millions of birds for the table: poultry, geese, ducks, turkeys. And at the end of the Report stage we added quails.

When I read the evidence that was given some years ago to the Select Committee in another place, consideration of which was the forerunner of certain parts of the Bill, I kept on reading about "consumer demand", as though consumers were making imperative demands upon producers which somehow had to be met, on pain of public anger. The consumer may have preferences and choices but I do not believe that it can be called "consumer demand". There is a tendency to regard the consumer as a kind of automatic shopping basket. But the consumer is a human being and a whole person, with feelings and intelligence about the factors and conditions which lie behind what is being bought in the shops. When, therefore, we consider animal welfare, since we are told that birds and animals must come first, I hope that we shall not raise the status of consumer demand to a kind of religious text. It is nothing of the kind. I hope that the divide between producers and consumers in this context can be narrowed.

It is distressing to read of the venom expressed by some spokesmen in the context of the production of food animals and livestock in relation to those who are agitating on behalf of welfare societies. But so-called "welfarists" are just members of the consuming public, like everybody else. I wonder whether or not some of the animal welfare societies would do well to convert themselves into a kind of consumer association in order to express their views as consumers rather than as those who care for animals, without full regard to their own involvement in the treatment of animals about which we now complain. There is need for a closer relationship between consumers and producers so that the interests of both can be looked at with a greater degree of harmony and understanding than is the case at present.

Another aspect of this matter is the use of the boycott. I hope noble Lords have not overlooked the fact that Tesco have said that the protests they have received from their own customers about the culling of seals in Canada have been so strong that they have decided, as a matter of company policy, to ban the future purchase of fish products from Canada, so long as the culling of seals continues. That is a very courageous and very unusual decision. We might devise something of that kind as between consumers and producers in other branches of production if the gap of misunderstanding and hostility which exists between them is widened still further. That is why it is very important that we should not regard the producer as our enemy. Nor should the producer regard the consumer as his enemy. The consumer is acknowledged by the producer to be in command in the shops. Therefore producers should try to come to terms with the consumers, who have views about the way in which animals and birds are produced and slaughtered.

I shall not detain the House any longer. However, this is an opportunity which rarely occurs. I am glad to see that animal welfare, which is usually the last business of the day, today happens to be the first. I am grateful for that.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have responded to the Motion, That this Bill do now pass and who have contributed to the debates we have had on the Bill. When the Bill was introduced it was a good Bill, but due to the very hard work which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and other noble Lords have done on it, we have made it even better. I am always full of admiration for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is able to talk about enormously interesting subjects which do not necessarily always fall within the scope of the legislation which is being discussed.

It has been a great delight in the last few minutes that on a Bill which deals with farm animal disease, poultry slaughter, veterinary drugs and the artificial breeding of livestock, the noble Lord has taken us to Canada to have a look at seals and has referred to the very acrimonious debates which took place in this House a few years ago on the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, which is a matter for the Home Office and a different kind of legislation. However, the noble Lord made various points to me. I am not saying that the points to which I have referred are not serious—of course they are—but the noble Lord made other points to me about the Bill.

Briefly, on the subject of deer, we in the Ministry of Agriculture are awaiting a report from the Farm Animal Welfare Council about the slaughter of deer. So far as getting on with things is concerned, we are aiming to introduce very soon proposals for regulations under Clause 6, which is the clause dealing with codes of practice, with a view to making regulations as soon as possible after the Bill enters upon the statute book.

The question of battery cages, as the noble Lord will know, is currently under very active discussion in Brussels and here in Britain. This Bill covers a wide range of measures in the veterinary field, and our debates have concentrated on those clauses dealing with the welfare of poultry and slaughter, and with other important and useful provisions, too. Perhaps I may add to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. With great respect to the noble Lord, perhaps he went a little further than I did on Report. We are certainly going to provide for exceptions in relation to the licensing of commercial slaughterers, but I did not actually say what those exceptions were going to be. With that small word of difference between myself and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, may I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this Bill, and particularly the two noble Lords who have spoken on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

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