HL Deb 23 February 1989 vol 504 cc815-29

7.34 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee rose to move, That the code laid before the House on 23rd January be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I will speak to all three codes together; that is, two entirely new codes, one for goats and one for farmed deer, and the proposed alterations to the existing code for sheep. The complete texts of the three codes are now in the Library. Their purpose is to provide farmers and stockkeepers with the best available guidance on the way in which the welfare of farmed animals can be protected. Regarding legal status, breach of a code is not in itself an offence but may however be quoted in any prosecution as helping to establish the guilt of the accused. Welfare codes for the main species of farm livestock have existed since 1971 and have been used in cases brought under the 1968 Act in this way. On the system for monitoring, officers of the State Veterinary Service are able to assess compliance with the codes when visiting farms to check on the welfare of the stock.

First, the three codes are based largely on recommendations from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the Government's independent advisory body. However, consistent with the 1968. Act, next they took account of comments from interested parties and this led to the Ministry making a few changes. The code before us on deer relates only to deer on agricultural land, but of course deer often have to be moved from one site to another. Equally, they may not always be slaughtered on site but are slaughtered instead in abattoirs. Therefore, we have also issued two separate voluntary codes, one for welfare practice on abattoir slaughter and another on the transport of farmed deer.

The main code regarding deer on agricultural land emphasises the nervous nature of these animals and how this aspect of them should be taken into account in their proper handling. Specific recommendations are made on taking deer from the wild, on the use of dart guns and on field slaughter. The reason why we now have a new code for deer and a new one for goats is because of the expansion of both of these farming industries in recent years.

One practice addressed in the code for goats is that of tethering and advice is given on the best way of carrying this out, consistent with the comfort of the animal. The code also acknowledges the gregarious nature of the animal which clearly gives rise to a different kind of welfare management.

The sheep code was first issued in 1977 and its revision here simply takes account of new technology and changes in sheep husbandry. Therefore this code contains new guidelines on the management of milk sheep, on pregnancy and lambing and on housing, especially where welfare is dependent on electrical or mechanical equipment. The most important common denominator of all three codes is the message that stockkeepers should be aware of the behavioural needs of their animals and that good stockmanship is essential if the welfare of the animals is to be protected.

This brings me back to my opening remarks about the purpose of the codes; that is, to provide guidance to those who need to know about the best way to safeguard the welfare of their stock. That is why, subject to Parliament's approval, all three codes will be distributed free of charge to all known farmers who keep these animals. We will also ensure that bodies such as the agricultural colleges and the Agricultural Training Board receive copies for use in their training of young or inexperienced stockkeepers. We will also seek publicity for the codes, so that any people whom we may miss in our distribution will be aware of them and know how to get copies.

Finally, may I say that the documents before us reflect the valuable work undertaken by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in preparing the basis for the codes. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in recording thanks to members, both past and present, who have given so much of their time to this task. We will, I think, agree that these draft codes represent the best advice that can be given in the light of our current knowledge and the views presented to the Ministry. I commend them to the House and beg to move.

Moved, That the code laid before the House on 23rd January he approved.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

7.39 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for the very clear explanation that he gave of these codes. those of us who have worked with animals will regard them as codified common sense.

There are a few points that arise. The codes of course are underpinned by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, and as such are more flexible than the statutory regulations which I believe were favoured by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Perhaps the Minister could tell us why the Government rejected the suggestion by the Farm Animal Welfare Council to put the codes into a statutory form. As the Minister said, there is a welcome development in that the Agricultural Training Board is now making courses available to farmers and employers to train people in implementing the codes.

Let me mention briefly the code dealing with goats. I wonder whether paragraph 3 should be brought to the attention of the Chief Whips of all parties in both Houses: Goats, being gregarious animals, prefer to live in social groups and appear to enjoy human contact. If kept singly, they require more frequent contact with, and supervision by, the stockman. They should always be treated as individuals, even when kept in large herds … Goats prefer to be led but can be driven if care is taken". In the codes there is no reference to embryo transplants. I should declare an interest here. I have an interest in a New Zealand company. We have been importing angora embryos for implantation into surrogate mothers. This is a rapid way of importing and increasing the number of high quality animals. There are no recommendations in the codes regarding this, and I wonder whether the transplantation of embryos is covered by some other code or regulation involving, as it does, a form of major surgery.

As regards deer, I was puzzled by paragraph 47, which refers to the continuous housing of deer. Is the continuous housing of deer considered to be a real possibility by the Government? Some form of venison veal, or something similar? I was in New Zealand in January. There is a lucrative trade there in the removal of antlers for the sale of velvet to the Far East. This is not in fact as an aphrodisiac, as is commonly thought. It appears that the velvet is an essential part of medicinal formulations which go back 1,000 years or more

. Something that is not mentioned in the code, and it is not surprising, is the possibility of the poaching of deer by dropping nets from helicopters and hauling them away, which has been a problem in New Zealand. Of course the fully grown animal is valuable. I am also puzzled by paragraphs 56 and 57. It is only a small point. Paragraph 56 refers to "see reference 7" and in paragraph 57 it says "see reference 8". I am not clear to what the references refer. Perhaps the Minister can tell us.

In the code dealing with sheep there is a surprising omission. There is no mention of the fostering of lambs. When I was a shepherd many years ago I often skinned a dead lamb and had to foster the orphaned lamb on to the new mother. I should like to know whether this is a practice which will be encouraged or frowned upon by the code.

New paragraph 29 refers to feeding and the problem of "unsuitable additives" in the compound feed for sheep. I should like to know how the farmer is supposed to know what the additives are and whether in fact they are unsuitable., when we remember all the recent fuss about the additives in poultry feed. In New Zealand there is a practice of removing skin from the sheep's rump to prevent fly strike, which seems an awful thing to do. I presume that that would be frowned upon by the code, although of course it is not mentioned.

I conclude with some general points. The Minister mentioned enforcement. What are the penalties for breaching the code? Also the code emphasises the importance of the veterinary surgeon but, as we know, the UGC has recommended the closure of excellent schools in veterinary science, including those at Cambridge and in Scotland. I am not sure whether the Minister would care to comment on that proposal, but it is something that we should have in mind when we read the codes, which place great importance on the role of the veterinary surgeon. I finish as I started by thanking the Minister for explaining the codes so clearly, and perhaps also congratulating the people who drafted the codes for setting them out so clearly.

7.45 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for explaining these three codes of recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the welfare of goats, farmed deer and livestock sheep. I wish to speak particularly about goats. Here I must declare an interest. My elder daughter breeds goats in our stables and supports us with butter, milk and cream (which, I may say, are delicious). It is not a commercial enterprise. She is a member of the British Goat Society, and during the last season won numerous rosettes and a silver cup with her goats, so she knows how goats should be looked after, and she is very concerned about the conditions of some goats.

I wish to invite the Minister's attention to the Year Book 1988, which has been recently published by the British Goat Society. The society was founded in 1897 and has Her Majesty the Queen as patron. Pages 28, 29 and 31, of which I have given the noble Earl photocopies, tell the appalling story, as a result of neglect, of a herd of 40 goats.

The ministry animal health officer, following the application of the Durham and Cleveland Goat Welfare Committee, visited the herd. The report of the British Goat Society says that he did not go into the buildings, but having seen some goats grazing simply went away without further investigation. This was two days before the Durham and Cleveland Goat Welfare Committee found that 37 goats of the 38 that it was buying as the owner was going on holiday were too weak to stand and the 38th was found in a shed all skin and bones, with a bad case of foot rot which prevented her from walking or grazing. She had very little hair, was covered in lice and had an abscess on her head the size of a grapefruit. She was in a shed, and one of the herd that the officer from the Ministry has been asked to check. If he had looked in the shed he would have realised why he had been asked to come.

Both the Ministry and the RSPCA were consulted but neither did anything whatsoever about it. Actually the RSPCA did go back but the dead goats had been removed and the owner was not there, so it decided not to proceed further. There has also been a case of neglect in our village, here a goat was left in all weathers without shelter or water. The RSPCA was asked to look at it. It said that it was not in a bad enough condition for it to do anything

Surely an officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or any animal welfare organisation such as the RSPCA should be trained to know what to look for in the animal that he is visiting. I hope that in the two years since these cases have occurred the situation has improved. If this is the first time that there have been such recommendations, I hope the Minister will draw the attention of the ministry to possible abuses of them. I should have thought that Nos. 6, 7 and 11 of the recommendations were common sense proposals if one wished to keep a goat, but I am glad that they are in the recommendations.

Could the Minister consider having a notice displayed, perhaps in post offices, to the effect that Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food advisory leaflets are available free from local offices of the ministry, or post free? Many people keep perhaps two goats and do not realise that pamphlets of advice can be obtained free. This might encourage the proper welfare of goats, which the Minister so clearly has in mind.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, perhaps I may speak for a moment as I have long experience of deer forests and since as a boy I have studied these animals and stalked them hundreds and thousands of times. I have also shot them stone dead at the right age, and I have stalked for other people. I have written on the subject, and with due respect I know a lot about it.

I do not have great faith in the Farm Welfare Council regarding the farming of deer. It is made up chiefly of farmers and you cannot compare the wild red deer in the Highlands of Scotland, 99 per cent.of the red deer in this country, with sheep or cattle. Sheep have been domesticated in this country, or certainly in the world. for at least 3,000 years, and cattle for far longer if you take the ancient Egyptians and other parts of the world.

The Farming Welfare Council, if that is its name, does not understand that the wild red deer of Britain have been here since the ice age. I have studied these animals carefully, as I said. Their sight is very acute: they see anything that moves a mile away. Provided there is good camouflage, their sight is not so acute in relation to still objects. They will see up to a quarter of a mile or even half a mile. Their sense of smell is tremendous. These animals hate human smell, which they can detect over a mile away. They are highly nervous and highly strung.

The farm deer were originally taken from the wild stock. In the deer parks many have come from Germany and are a slightly different type. The West Highlands and Islands Board has given up its deer farm, which it found highly unsatisfactory. It was a very large deer farm on hill ground, which is the right ground, but the veterinary bills were enormous. That was the main reason for giving up the deer farm, so I understand.

These wild animals do not like being enclosed even in a large area. It is different with park deer in an English park because they do not come from the vast wastes in the Highlands; many came from abroad originally.

In the code the hind's calving is mentioned. In parks the deer intrinsically are still wild in their reaction. If a human being handles a calf, the hind, certainly the wild hind, will desert it. The hind has the calf and feeds it twice to three times in the 24 hours. If any human being touches the calf, the hind will desert it. That shows how in deer farms one must have highly trained people who understand the nervous reaction of these deer.

I am appalled at the transport of deer to abattoirs. I have always fought against this. I understand that it is now covered by law. I think that it is extremely cruel. Dart guns are used. That in itself will anaesthetise the deerstag or hind—going to the abattoir. I have never been to an abattoir where deer are slaughtered, but I imagine that the deer cannot stay anaesthetised the whole time until it is slaughtered. However, I do not know about that.

Then there is the question of the housing of red deer. This is very unnatural for such a wild animal. Even if it has been domesticated for two or three generations, it has the same wild instincts. Genetically it does not thrive in captivity. Tuberculosis has started in deer farms, which of course does not exist in the wild. There are other similar problems.

There is an organisation near Shrewsbury where experiments are taking place with the factory farming of deer. This is like hen batteries. The amount of space allowed for every deer is similar in comparison to that allowed to a hen in a battery. I am not sure of the area, but it is about three by five yards. I hope to heavens that the Government prevent this and that the Farming Welfare Council will see reason.

As I have said, the West Highlands and Islands Board has stopped deer farming, which it found unsatisfactory. Tuberculosis is going through the deer farms. I do not see a great future for deer farms. A stag in the night can travel 30 to 40 miles. When I think of him being in an enclosed space, I still say that it is very cruel.

The taking of the velvet is very painful to deer. Sawing off the antlers is also painful. It has been banned for bullocks but not for stags, which, as I have said, are more sensitive.

I do not wish to detain the House longer. I hope that the Farming Welfare Council will become more educated about the red deer.

7.57 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I read the draft codes with great pleasure, first, for the content, which I find very interesting, particularly as I have been a town dweller for some years now; and second—I hope that this is an encouraging trend—because they are written in very good English. Paragraph 7 of the revised sheep code substitutes "Sheep with poor teeth" for "Sheep with inadequate dentification" in the existing code. That is an improvement by anyone's standards. I suppose that for sheep farmers the code is much the same as those old driving manuals that told one to be sure to turn on the ignition before trying to move the car. Nevertheless, the content is valuable and interesting. It is probably a combination of my deteriorating sight and my long period as a town dweller that, in the section giving guidance to stockmen to ensure that sheep are in good condition, I read "absence of cudding" as "absence of cuddling". I came back to this after a short time and thought that it was high time that I visited the country again.

We should all welcome the codes. The sheep code is an improvement on that which existed previously. It is interesting for anyone to read. I am sure that it will be valuable to students in agricultural colleges and to everyone who takes an interest in farming.

The other codes are interesting but more alarming and my questions will be directed towards those. It appears that the change in human eating habits—the health fads—have been partly responsible for the increased farming of goats and deer. I have some knowledge of goats. They are extremely affectionate animals if treated correctly. They need careful handling. They are gregarious and need to be watched carefully for certain illnesses. If not checked, their horns can become a danger not only to themselves but to other animals.

I assume that the increase in goat farming is connected with the demand for milk. I see goats' milk and cheese widely advertised as being beneficial for health, particularly for those who find cows' milk unsuitable. I do not know whether there has been an increased use for their meat and whether the immigrant communities have a taste for it.

Lord Carter

My Lords, if the noble Viscount will give way, I can inform him that goats' meat is the most widely eaten meat in the world.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I did not know that. I am grateful to the noble Lord and I thank him for his interjection. However, I wonder whether the meat is widely eaten in this country. 1 can understand that it is in third world countries and that demand is growing in this country. If it is an increasing business one can expect more people to engage in the farming of those animals. They will probably be novices in the main, so the codes will be extremely valuable. However, I understand that the code has much the same effect as does the Highway Code on road users. It lays down the framework and is helpful in the event of court cases being brought against people who treat animals cruelly.

In speaking of deer, I follow an expert in the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I know that he has wide experience of deer. Many of us are worried about the fact that there is an increase in the farming of deer. It is an extremely beautiful and sensitive animal, in the imagination of the public it is not suited to factory farming. Can the noble Earl exlain paragraphs 47 and 48 of the deer code, which lay down guidance for the housing of deer? I am concerned about the phrase "continuously housed". What are the circumstances in which a deer would be continuously housed? Clearly it is envisaged because stipulations are made with regard to floor space, trough space and feeding.

1 know that noble Lords and the public at large will be concerned about the killing of deer. The noble Viscount mentioned abattoirs, experience in which can cause distress to any animal. I believe that to be so particularly in the case of deer which have a history in the wild. Is it intended to encourage those who slaughter deer to do so in a way which causes the least suffering?

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for giving way. The real way to kill deer on a deer farm is to shoot them in the neck with a high-velocity bullet. They drop stone dead and can know nothing about it, though it is extraordinary that the other deer which are not shot and are standing around do not seem to worry much. That is the only humane way of killing them.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that interesting interjection. I am sure that if deer farming becomes profitable inexperienced people will enter the trade. Again, the code will be extremely useful. I hope it will be widely read so that those who do not understand the animals but intend to farm and slaughter them will understand the problems.

If the recommendations in the codes are adopted veterinary surgeons will have a great deal of work to carry out. I do not know whether the number of veterinary students is increasing. However, I know that the University Grants Committee, over which the Government have supervision, will be involved in the amount of resources available for the training of vets. I should welcome the noble Earl's guidance on that matter. Will there be fewer facilities for the training of vets; will they remain the same; or will they increase?

I reiterate that the codes are most welcome. They are pleasing documents and I hope that they are widely read.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, is present. I hold with affection our exchanges during the three attempts to have passed my reform of the Deer Act. The process took some years. I hope that he will share my pleasure that the work carried out at the beginning of the decade has not proved to be deficient. The reform of the Deer Act is working well and it is controlling cruelty in England on a considerable scale. The Bill relating to Scotland was passed later.

The farming of deer raises a great deal of controversy and I shall not stoke up that controversy tonight. However, many people believe that the attraction of the undoubtedly beautiful animals is their wildness and that they should not be brought into agricultural units. On the other hand, some people are beginning to regard them merely as agricultural products and we must restrain that instinct. Whatever one's point of view, we must do our best to safeguard their welfare to the greatest extent possible.

The deer farming industry is in its infancy and a great deal of trial and error is involved, despite what is said by some farmers. For that reason the code is timely and I cannot object to it in principle. Deer are highly strung, nervous animals and they can easily be excited or frightened. That view is clearly set out in the third paragraph. It ought to be the main impression given by the code and should be repeated on more than one page.

I should like to turn to a few points in the draft code to which I take exception. Paragraph 2 on page 2 recommends: All stockmen should be familiar with the behaviour of deer and must be competent in their handling and management". I remind noble Lords that farm stock—cattle, sheep and pigs—have been domesticated over several thousand years. However, deer have been farmed as they are today for only a few years. There is no tradition or background to the farming of deer.

How can it be that all stockmen must be familiar with the behaviour of deer? There is no pool of stockmen from which they can be obtained. There are no stockmen practised in looking after deer. They do not feature in Yellow Pages. One cannot place an advertisement in Farmers Weekly asking for applications from those stockmen familiar with farm deer. In this respect the code is not good enough because there should be an indication of the way in which stockmen can learn and training can be provided. Why was the Deer Society not consulted? Why did the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture not find a way of suggesting how stockmen can become familiar instead of that silly pious hope on the first page?

Page 5 paragraph 19 highlights the gulf between free living deer and those confined in the unnatural environment of a deer farm. It is advised that newly captured deer should be allowed to find cover while becoming familiar with human presence. However, very few deer farms have any cover. They mainly consist of open fields so that wild deer are bound to suffer trauma on being brought into the confines of a deer farm. How did that paragraph pass scrutiny?

Similarly, prior to calving in the wild, hinds seek cover and solitude but those conditions simply do not exist on many deer farms so that the advice in paragraph 30 will frequently be wishful thinking. As deer farming develops—and there is far from universal agreement that it will—thought will have to be given as to how those gulfs may best be bridged in the interests of the deer which I hope will always be primary in our minds.

Paragraphs 60 and 61 also call for comment. While the intention of paragraph 61 is clear, the good regular stockman may never have handled a firearm in his life. That concerns the killing of deer. First and foremost, he must be a stockman and not a rifleshot to obtain the job. For that reason the paragraph could have been drawn in much more pragmatic terms; and again there should have been a clear link with the British Deer Society in seeking their help in training stockmen in the use of a rifle for slaughter.

Regarding the actual shooting, in my opinion shooting at over 40 metres on a deer farm is not acceptable and there should have been no exceptional circumstances as suggested in the code. That really is not acceptable and should not be in the code. "A frontal headshot" at up to 20 metres is advocated in paragraph 60. Perhaps some of your Lordships read the article in last week's Shooting Times by Lea MacNally who is in an acknowledged expert on deer with a lifetime's experience of deer stalking. He points out that if one takes a red deer, only the rear three inches or so of the skull between the ear and the eye is a sure killing shot. I am sure that the noble Viscount agrees with that. The other long 10 inches of the head forward of that is made up of nasal passages and upper and lower jaw. He goes on to say: 'A hit there results in the most distressing wound. Have you ever seen a deer standing alone, bloody and shattered fragments of jaw dangling obscenely where its lower jaw had been? Believe me, it is absolutely unforgettable". Therefore, I do not agree that that paragraph in the code is properly drawn. There should have been greater warning about the dangers of farming and the alternative, as advocated by the noble Viscount, of shooting in the back of the neck is what should have been mentioned.

Needless to say, wild deer in Scotland are shot at ranges well in excess of 20 metres. Nevertheless, Lea MacNally's warning should be heeded and I should have preferred a more cautious and reasoned approach to the advice given in paragraph 60.

There is one serious gap in the code. There is no mention, let along advice, on deer leaps and special systems for catching up deer up from the wild; for example, automatically operating gates. Those pose difficult questions—questions of ethics. I believe that they should have been touched on in the code.

So many matters considered in the code about deer and certainly the problems of disease and tuberculosis in particular which I have featured in Parliamentary Questions, could have been dealt with far more easily and effectively if the Government had not rejected out of hand the licensing of deer farms. It would have been much better to license deer farms instead of hoping that a statutory instrument of this sort will make it acceptable. However, as I understand it, it seems that some form of registration of deer farms may be the result of proposed legislation on tuberculosis of farm deer and the movement of deer from one place to another. I await the Government's proposals on tuberculosis of farm deer, and we shall see whether it leads to registration of deer farms, as I hope it will.

None of those criticisms lessens my welcome for the code, but I have two final questions to put to the noble Earl. He said that this code will be enforced. However, how many veterinary inspectors are there in MAFF who will be enforcing this sort of code? Will it be pie in the sky? Will it be a pious hope that everybody will obey a code of this sort? I also ask not only how many such inspectors are there, but are they up to complement? So many of MAFF's advisory and similar staff have been slaughtered—a good word to use in this context—in the past few years by the Government and reduced to such small numbers that one wonders whether this code will be adequately enforced.

Finally, I come back to a point which I have made on previous occasions. This is an unsatisfactory way in which to deal with a matter of this sort. Very soon we shall have a directive from the European Community on game meat. It may well be in similar terms to this in some respects. What will happen to that? It will go to a Committee upstairs. The Committee will consider it, will hear evidence on it and will look for loopholes of the sort which I have highlighted this evening. It will make recommendations to improve it. However, when it comes to purely domestic legislation we are faced with codes like this which Parliament cannot amend.

I have made distinct charges this evening about weak points in this code, but it will pass. However, this Chamber and the other place has no opportunity to amend and to put right these loopholes. That is a ridiculous way for Parliament to proceed. We should be sending matters like this to a Committee in the same way as we send similar legislation from Europe so that the deficiencies can be highlighted and put right. I have made this point before and have almost given up making it because the House does not like to listen to reforms of procedure of that sort. However, I am bound to say that the matter ends, as it does tonight, with codes of this sort being deficient when they are issued, which is not good for Parliament.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I cannot be left out of a debate on animal welfare. However, I promise my noble friend Lord McCarthy that 1 shall occupy the least possible time. I know that he is waiting to deal with an Unstarred Question.

I deplore the reference to deer in this code for the welfare of animals. I think quite candidly that all this stuff about the welfare of deer farming is a lot of rubbish. I believe that the deer species is quite different from the normal conventional food animal such as sheep, cattle and, of course, goats. There are probably more deer running free than there are in deer farms. A large section of public opinion is not yet reconciled to bringing deer within the ambit of farm animals. I believe that we have to be careful that we shall not be taken along the road of the creeping entrenchment of deer farming in the ethos of agricultural animal husbandry. Before we know where we are, deer will be lined with sheep, pigs, cattle and the rest behind which species there are generations of culture, breeding, practice and experience.

This code of welfare for farm deer is a sort of code for bringing wild animals within the stockyard. My noble friend Lord Northfield was right to be scathing. However, he is too kind a man to deal with this subject. He ought to be condemning this action in the strongest possible terms. He has probably done more for deer than has any other Member of your Lordships' House.

Animals which are held in very high affection by members of the public are being absorbed into animal husbandry. I read in the magazine of the RSPCA only this month that an experiment is being started in an agricultural college in Shropshire on the intensive keeping of deer. We are soon to have deer in the same vile conditions as the veal calf; in pens, fed on liquids, stuffed with vitamins, hormones and the rest of it, just as they do for calves and other food animals. One must become indignant about it. The farming community must be warned that deer are still held in special regard and that we are not prepared to see them bracketed with other farm animals; at least not yet.

Another point must be raised. Why is it that in this memorandum on deer welfare reference is made to field slaughter of deer and to no other form of slaughter? Why is that? It is because deer are still roaming free and although they may be farm deer the shooting method of slaughter for them is still not only permissible but, in the opinion of many people, desirable. It is an indication of the distinction between deer and other farm animals that slaughter is dealt with in the welfare code for deer but is not dealt with in connection with sheep, pigs or any other food animals species. It is yet another indication that deer are in a special class.

I am not aware—I may not be up to date that conditions for the slaughter of sheep and cattle apply to deer. There are grounds for concern as to whether deer slaughtered other than by field slaughter are being killed in tolerable conditions. We have dithered about the method of deer slaughter. We have had reports on the need to have deer slaughtered in abattoirs, or by some other means. I understand that from a statutory point of view that subject is still open. Another point is that the Farm Animal Welfare Council is itself presently engaged in a study of the slaughter of deer.

I conclude by saying that the dish of venison is on the menu of the restaurant in your Lordships' House. My friends, with whom I have been spending the whole day on animal welfare, asked, "Will you find out how your venison is slaughtered?" I give fair warning that I want to know where our venison comes from. If it is shot in the field according to the guidance given, we will take it; but if it is slaughtered in any other way we must put a petition round the House to get venison taken off the menu in the dining room.

The venison could not only come from ill-slaughtered deer but could be polluted meat. We are all conscious of having our food clean, hygenically handled and produced, but our record in this House on freedom from food poisoning is not all that good. We must make sure that after a period of being poisoned (by whatever it was) we are not poisoned by venison.

This a serious matter and I sincerely hope that it will be taken to heart. I heard that our venison came from the Royal Park, but then I heard that it came from a farm. It is obvious that the authorities of the House do not know where it comes from. We want to know.

I regard all this on the welfare of deer as being irreconcilable with the present attitude of the public towards this animal. Why do we need to be slaughtering deer for food when there is an excess production of meat all over Europe? We have had meat mountains, we have had difficulty in disposing of our surplus calves, and so on.

I end on this note. Surely we are not going to see deer put in the same vile conditions as the veal calf for the sake of keeping the meat looking and tasting good. All through the Education Bill we referred to this as a Christian country. For heaven's sake let us behave like one in respects other than the behaviour of the young. That will do for the time being.

8.25 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, the subject of animal welfare always inspires a good debate and today has certainly been no exception. There is often no right or wrong answer to the questions asked, particularly when we move into the realm of ethical matters, and that has been particularly brought out by the noble Lords, Lord Northfield and Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Even the advice of experts will often differ.

Several points were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, wondered whether the codes should not be made statutory. He referred to the attitude to this of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I can tell the noble Lord that the FAWC did not recommend making these codes statutory. It made separate recommendations for legislation which we are implementing.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, also made certain interesting analogies with goats which he asked me to pass on to my noble friend Lord Denham, which I will do. However, he did not see eye-to-eye with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on the edibility of goats. Perhaps it would be better if I did not pass on the comments of the two noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill; though perhaps I should pass on to the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, had to say about the edibility—or the non-edibility, in his view—of deer.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred to the increase in goat production. This has been due to the interest in milk and the interest in diversification, including fibre; but it is not necessarily due to the eating of goat meat.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked what was the attitude inferred from the codes on embryo transplant. There are no current codes on this, but our officials are looking at the whole picture of embryo transplant in agricultural terms. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to continuous housing. The code does not recommend it but we think that the practice is not likely to increase.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to references and to paragraph 56 which he found confusing. The text before us is just the code which Parliament has to approve and references are separate. As I mentioned earlier, they are in the Library. The noble Lord also referred to the removal of antlers, as did my noble friend Lord Massereene. I can assure my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that the removal of antlers in velvet is prohibited by law. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, also referred to veterinary schools. There is only a recommendation to the University Grants Committee which is in the process of consultation. No decision has yet been made.

The noble Lord also referred to such penalties as there may be for a breach of the codes. I believe I referred to that in my opening remarks. But the codes are not statutory and therefore there is no penalty for breach. I said that misconduct can be quoted in any prosecution under welfare legislation.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, made the point that MAFF inspectors should be trained and I concur wholeheartedly with that. I can assure her that all inspectors are fully trained vets.

I was interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I know how much experience he has with wildlife in Scotland. He referred to the experiences of the Highlands and Islands Development Board with red deer farming. He said that it might appear on the surface that the FAWC do not understand deer, who are highly nervous creatures. I assure him that the FAWC took account of the nervous temperament of deer. He will find this strongly emphasised in the code on deer, as I said earlier. Under farm conditions deer become very tame. The FAWC saw no reason not to farm them.

My noble friend also mentioned the worry of TB and wondered how the Government will prevent the spread of that disease to cattle and wild deer. Movement restrictions are imposed under existing legislation as regards infected or suspected animals and their contacts. New legislation will relate specifically to deer. He also referred to the arrangements for the transport of deer to the abattoir. There is no obligation to slaughter deer at an abattoir but we have published transport and slaughter guidelines. Deer are covered by transport legislation. There is no evidence that transport harms deer.

My noble friend referred in general to the intensive farming of deer. His remarks were taken up later on by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. This is an agricultural college trial with deer housed at present. The decision is still to be made whether they stay indoors or go to graze in the summer.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, wondered whether deer would be housed continuously. Calves are housed mainly during the winter to reduce losses, but there is no intention to encourage continuous housing.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred to the number of veterinary students. The number is reviewed periodically. The Riley Committee has recently reported to the University Grants Committee and its recommendations are the subject of consultation.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, referred correctly to the need to have experienced deer stockmen. The Agricultural Training Board and the agricultural colleges are running courses on deer farming. He also referred to cover on deer farms. Farms have cover for recently captured deer.

The noble Lord also mentioned the need to have proper training to shoot deer. Training is available from the British Deer Society. I hope that those people in need of it will take advantage of that. He also referred to poor shooting standards, which worried him. I can refer him to the code that recommends close shooting, but any deer not killed outright will be immediately shot again and killed.

The noble Lord also referred to licensed deer farms. That is not necessary for welfare purposes. I believe that licensing would become rather bureaucratic. He also took up the point of the Game Meat Directive. That will require domestic legislation but all interests will be consulted.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, made the general point that in his view deer farming is wrong. That is a very personal point of view and we all respect his attitude. Experience shows that deer farming can be done without causing any welfare problem at all. When government inspectors visit deer farms they find that welfare standards are good on the whole. The noble Lord said that the code refers only to field slaughter; separate guidelines are produced for deer in abattoirs. That is because the present slaughter legislation does not cover them.

I shall make sure that the Government carefully note the views that have been expressed this evening. I believe that the codes before us provide the best advice that is currently available. They all make a positive contribution to the welfare of these animals, and that is why I recommend them to your Lordships now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.