HL Deb 17 May 1991 vol 528 cc1894-8

1.27 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington rose to move that the draft order laid before the House on 7th May be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the draft order seeks to amend Schedule 3 to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and will have the effect of, first, prohibiting unqualified persons docking the tails of dogs with effect from July 1993, and, secondly, enabling veterinary nurses to administer any medical treatment or any minor surgery which does not involve entry into a body cavity, to companion (pet) animals, excluding horses, at the direction of a registered veterinary surgeon.

As I see the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in his place, perhaps the House will forgive me if I say that part of the order equals sugar and spice and all things nice and that is what little girls are made of while the other part equals frogs and snails and puppy dogs' tails and that is what little boys are made of. I should like your Lordships to deal with the two issues separately. At present the docking of a dog's tail can be carried out by anyone aged 18 or over provided that it is done before the dog's eyes are open. The order before the House removes that entitlement. When the provision comes into force in two years' time only registered veterinary surgeons may operate to remove dogs' tails. The Government have taken this step after a great deal of thought and for a number of reasons which together have convinced us that the routine docking of dogs' tails has become an anachronism. The breeders of certain breeds of dogs have, for many years, routinely removed the tails of puppies before their eyes are open (at about four days).

We have considered carefully whether it is necessary for any dogs to have their tails removed routinely and have had no persuasive arguments that it is. For instance, it is sometimes claimed that certain breeds of shooting dog need to be docked, on the argument that it can be kinder to the dog to remove its tail soon after birth as this would protect it from damage.

However, we have been given evidence that, even of the breeds which work in close cover, there are some which are not docked and which do not suffer tail damage; and that, in many cases, difficulties with the tail can often be overcome merely by clipping the hair.

There is the further dimension of the Council of Europe Convention on Pet Animals. Article 10 of this convention includes a proposal that member states should prohibit the routine docking of dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons. Although a reservation on tail docking may be entered, only four of the 11 countries which have signed the convention have chosen to do so.

It was as part of the consultation process in connection with this convention that Home Office Ministers with responsibility for animals held a number of meetings with interested bodies, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Kennel Club and the Council for Docked Breeds. It was following those meetings and a further consultation by my department that Ministers came to the view that steps should now be taken to phase out tail docking.

The routine docking of dogs' tails has been opposed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association consistently and with patience for many, many years. The profession has been supported in this by animal welfare bodies, like the RSPCA.

The veterinary profession is unanimous that tail docking is a mutilation which is cosmetic and serves no useful purpose. The profession is completely of the view that there is no clinical justification for the pain which is invariably caused by docking. Having held puppies in the past who have had their tails docked by cutting with a pair of scissors, I certainly know the operation causes pain.

The Government agree that it is no longer justified to cut off a dog's tail solely to obtain a dog with a stump tail. That is why the order which we are considering today will remove the current exemption in the Veterinary Surgeons Act. It will prevent the removal of a dog's tail except where this is necessary in a veterinary surgeon's opinion.

It would come into effect in two years' time. This should give breeders a breathing space to phase out tail docking. It should allow undocked dogs to be displayed alongside docked dogs at dog shows for a time and give time for attitudes towards them to change. We have not rushed at this: the original discussions were over two years ago and we are giving a further two years' notice.

The Government are confident that this apparently small change is necessary and will receive widespread public support. The other subject covered by this draft order is the role of the veterinary nurse.

The Page Committee in its Review of Veterinary Manpower and Education, published last year, recommended a number of measures to alleviate the shortage of veterinary manpower. Among these was the possibility of extending the role of veterinary nurses to include tasks currently confined to qualified veterinary surgeons. The Government have accordingly consulted interested parties on the scope of reducing the legal restrictions on the procedures which veterinary nurses can carry out on animals.

All interests, including the RCVS, the British Veterinary Nurses Association and the British Veterinary Association, have agreed that veterinary nurses should be permitted to carry out a wider range of tasks than hitherto, provided they are under the direction of the employing veterinary surgeon, although not necessarily in his or her presence. Those organisations have agreed that it would be best not to attempt to prescribe a full list of such tasks. Instead, a more flexible approach is proposed to allow veterinary nurses to administer to companion (pet) animals any medical treatment or minor surgery which does not involve entry into a body cavity, provided that the task is performed under the direction of a registered veterinary surgeon who is responsible for the nurse. The definition of companion animal excludes farm animals and equines as it is considered that most veterinary nurses are not adequately trained to treat such animals.

To sum up, these amendments, first, represent a significant move towards the phasing out of dogs' tail docking; and, secondly, will extend the role of the veterinary nurse and help to alleviate the shortage of veterinary surgeons. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th May be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Trumpington.)

1.30 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, again I thank the noble Baroness for her full exposition of the two main purposes of this order and also for confirming the fact that full consultation with the organisations directly interested has taken place and that they are in support of the order's proposals.

On this side of the House, we welcome the enhanced role for the veterinary nurse with regard to companion animals and totally support what the order proposes regarding the docking of dogs' tails.

As a matter of interest, perhaps I may say also that the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, a past president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, was kind enough to write to me expressing his own views which coincide with those of the Royal College. Unfortunately he cannot be here today but his concurrence is welcome to us as I am sure it is to the noble Baroness. We support the order.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to have a short debate on animals which is not taken in the supper break. Therefore, we are not constrained in expressing our pleasure and affection for the Minister who introduces this order which, I believe, is a happy end to a long controversy.

I am old enough to remember all the arguments which took place about the docking of horses' tails. As a relative of a farmer, we often discussed that when driving to market and looking at the rump of a horse which had a docked tail. It did not seem right.

As regards this order, it is great to be able to establish the right of every dog to have its tail. That can be added to the animals' rights about which we need no longer fight. It is now only a matter of time.

That brings me to a point of view about changes of this kind and how inevitable it is that when we are bringing about change there is always a future date on which it will begin. That is due to the fact that everyone seems to require time to adjust to change. In some sectors of the agricultural and farming industry, some changes must take longer than others because there is expensive capital investment in equipment and it takes time to replace the old with the new. I believe that two years is long enough to become used to the idea that dogs who have not been seen to wag their tails for many years may at last begin to do so. I am sure that that will be a pleasant sight.

Late last night, after a dreary and frustrating day on a wretched Bill, I said to noble Lords who remained for the concluding speeches that they should cheer up because should they attend tomorrow morning they would see a minor success which would lift their spirits and make attendance at the House of Lords this week rather more rewarding. None of them has turned up. I believe that they are too tired! However, those occasions are so rare that one must make the most of them. I am sure that the noble Baroness feels that herself and that makes the occasion all the more enjoyable.

Seriously, this provision is long overdue. One noble Lord who left after what I said last night said, "Oh dear! Some dogs will look silly with tails". I said, "Well, some dogs will cease to look silly and other dogs will cease to look ridiculous". It is a matter of taste in the end. The breeding industry, show business and all the rest must adjust to the fact that mutilation of animals has gone on in all directions for show purposes, for the purposes of hygiene and so forth for too long; now the more basic rights of the dogs will be satisfied.

I fully expected the whole of the camp of the RSPCA to be here this morning, but they take their little victories very calmly. It is only when there are heaps of dead dogs lying around that they seem to get excited. This is an occasion that I welcome. Like many things it will be a change that must be enforced.

In conclusion, I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, who summoned me to be on duty for the order today, is unable to be present due to a prior engagement in Cambridge. Had he been here he would certainly have wanted to add his word of appreciation for the tabling of the order. I am glad I came.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. I am sure that all my dogs will be wagging their tails in heaven tonight.

On Question, Motion agreed to.