HC Deb 05 August 1966 vol 733 cc200-3W
Mr. Kenyon

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the Brambell Report.

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend and I have completed our study of the Report of this Technical Committee and have taken into account representations received from a wide variety of interests, and all the scientific advice available to us. I would like once again to express our thanks to Professor Brambell and his colleagues for the way in which they dealt with this very difficult subject.

2. In their Report, the Committee recommended several general measures and we are, for the most part, in agreement with these. The Committee devoted a whole chapter of their Report to the importance of the qualities and skills of those responsible for animals. We agree entirely with the approach they have taken and intend to take all practicable steps towards improving the welfare of animals by this means.

3. We also agree with the Committee's conclusion that a Standing Advisory Committee should be set up to advise us on matters relating to farm animal welfare. There are several important tasks which ought to be referred to such a Committee immediately and we propose to set it up as soon as possible. In addition to the appropriate scientists and veterinarians, the Committee will include members with knowledge of farming and of animal welfare matters.

4. We accept that the existing legislation does not safeguard the welfare of farm animals as well as it should and intend to hold discussions with interested bodies with a view to preparing proposals for new legislation. These proposals will include powers enabling Ministers to make regulations prescribing standards, and will provide for official veterinary staff to enter farms to make inspections for animal welfare purposes.

5. In considering many of the recommendations made by the Committee concerning detailed standards for housing of animals, there is one general consideration which has been of great importance. The Committee frequently stressed the lack of scientific knowledge relating to animal welfare, and especially animal behaviour; and they considered that opportunities should be sought to encourage the development of research in this sphere. They made it quite clear that the standards they were recommending were based on their judgments (which in the circumstances could not be backed by scientific findings) of where the animals' interests lay; they believed that these judgments might soon require revision, as knowledge of the subject improved. This raises the obvious difficulty of enforcing standards in husbandry conditions, and so involving large capital expenditure, when these standards might themselves require revision in the near future; we do not believe that we could justifiably do this in many cases. In general, research must be prerequisite to any comprehensive development of statutory standards. The question of research is one which the Standing Advisory Committee will be asked to consider at an early date. We ourselves shall wish to discuss this subject with the interests concerned on the understanding that the Government could not undertake to finance it. Nevertheless, we believe that the Committee have justified their case for mandatory controls in some cases, and our plans for legislation will include provision to specify minimum iron content in manufactured calf feeds; provision of lighting for routine inspection purposes in pig and poultry houses; control on the docking of pigs' tails; and other matters.

6. For the remainder of the Committee's recommendations concerning housing and husbandry, we have concluded that we could not impose detailed statutory standards at the present time. We propose instead a more flexible approach. Detailed codes of practice will be drawn up to safeguard the welfare of animals. Veterinary staff inspecting farms under the proposed legislation will give free advice to producers, based on these codes, and will advise prosecution in any case when, in the course of inspection, they believe that unnecessary suffering has occurred. Non-compliance with the codes will not of itself be an offence, but failure to observe any provision of a code will tend to establish culpability in any prosecution for causing unnecessary suffering.

7. The codes will be based on the best judgements we can make at this stage of what is desirable practice. In the case of poultry they will include reference to floor areas per bird, the provision of watering and feeding facilities, and other aspects of management. On debeaking we shall encourage producers to avoid the practice and, where it cannot be avoided, to do it in the most skilful and humane way. This will be kept under review by the Advisory Committee and we shall consider a ban when circumstances allow it. We shall ask the Advisory Committee to review the use of spectacles and blinkers.

8. We accept that housing conditions play an important part in the welfare of pigs, and the advice given in the code of practice will include guidance on minimum floor space standards. But we do not believe there is sufficient information available about the welfare of sows kept tethered or in cubicles to enable us immediately to deal with this system in a code of practice.

9. We must reject, as being impossible to enforce, the Committee's recommendation about the inclusion of roughage in calf diets, but the code of practice will include advice on feeding regimes.

10. On the housing of calves and cattle, we accept the need for adequate floor space and intend to include advice on this in the code of practice. For beef cattle and calves kept yoked or tethered, or housed in stalls, we intend to advise that the animal should normally be able to groom its flanks. The code of practice will also give advice on the provision of bedding and use of slatted floors for calves and cattle.

11. We are referring the Committee's recommendation on the use of mineral additives and arsenical compounds in feedingstuffs to the Advisory Committees on feedingstuffs and toxic chemicals.

12. In accordance with the Committee's recommendation, we shall ask the Advisory Committee to review husbandry practice for sheep and rabbits.

13. The Committee recommended that steps should be taken to see that action on their Report was not prejudiced by imports of food produced under unacceptable conditions. The general effect of our proposals is not in our view likely to be such as to call for measures of this kind at the present time. White veal is a special case and we propose to discuss it with the Governments concerned.