HL Deb 23 June 1989 vol 509 cc416-8

11.18 a.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on deer and factory farming.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the Government believe that, whatever the husbandry system employed, the welfare of the animals must be safeguarded. Following advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, we have recently made a welfare code for deer. This will give practical guidance to those keeping deer on how to ensure that they are properly looked after.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her helpful and constructive reply. Is she aware that it is now proposed to factory farm red deer in order to provide venison for supermarkets? Is it not an outrage to confine such sensitive and essentially wild creatures in conditions similar to those for pigs? Will the Government intervene to put a stop to it?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, it is always a pleasure for me to reply to supplementary questions asked by my noble friend the Monarch of the Glen. The Ministry's veterinary staff have already been asked to check on welfare should any system of continuous deer housing be employed. There are two farms where deer are known to be loose housed or have been loose housed during winter months. The state veterinary service knows of these premises and is monitoring them. No welfare problem has been found. I do not consider that this amounts to factory farming.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Monarch of the Glen knows as much about agriculture as the Queen of Sheba knows about the arts? Will she have a look at the Walford College of Agriculture in Shropshire where experiments are being carried out in this vein?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, speaking from a queenly position, the Government believe that all husbandry systems have advantages and disadvantages. It is not sensible to abolish the intensive system until better alternatives have been developed. We have set up the Farm Animal Welfare Council to provide independent advice on these matters. In any event, it is never in the farmer's interest to mistreat his animals. However, I shall certainly pass on the remarks of my noble friend.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I hate to break in to these exchanges between the Monarch of the Glen and the Queen of Sheba; but is this not a wholly abhorrent proposal? I must say that I have not heard of it before, but whatever precautions are taken about the welfare of deer in factory farming, the very idea of factory farming deer must be wholly abhorrent and should in my view be forbidden.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe that I have answered to the best of my ability the Government's position on factory farming. It is perfectly true to say that farmed deer can become very tame. However I shall pass on the noble Lord's remarks.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, why are the noble Baroness and the Ministry so relaxed, as it seems from recent parliamentary Answers, to the whole issue of the abattoir slaughter of deer? That is a procedure which most of us find absolutely abhorrent. Has she not in recent parliamentary Answers to me indicated, first, that there may be breaches in this voluntary code, and that it should be made statutory? Has she not revealed also that there are possible other infringements which have been noted, and that there are not enough veterinary inspectors in her Ministry to make sure that the code is enforced? Does not the Ministry need to be shaken up on this issue? As a first step, should it not make this voluntary code into a statutory code?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Government agreed with the Farm Animal Welfare Council's view that providing certain statutory safeguards are introduced, the welfare of deer can be satisfactorily protected. Until specific welfare legislation can be introduced, the Government have asked abattoir owners and deer farmers to observe a voluntary code of practice on abattoir slaughter. The state veterinary service monitors deer slaughter operations.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, in view of the consultations that are about to begin concerning the welfare of livestock in general at slaughter, can the noble Baroness give the House an assurance that the welfare of deer at slaughter will be given special attention, and if necessary priority? As an interim measure, will the Government consider making it necessary for the slaughter of deer to take place at EC approved abattoirs, thus ensuring the presence of a qualified veterinarian?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we shall certainly be looking after the welfare of deer, as indeed we look after the welfare of all animals. I repeat that it is not in owners' interests to ill-treat deer.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness ask her right honourable friend to seek the guidance and help of the British Veterinary Association in this matter?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the British Veterinary Association is already fully involved in this matter.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, are deer farms licensed, and do they have a licence to sell venison? Is it not a fact that if these animals are living in an unnatural environment, such as a factory farm, they develop more diseases than they would if they were in wild habitation?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, any system of farming can increase the risks of Infectious or contagious diseases spreading among animals. However, these can be offset by adopting sound farming practices.