Before I call the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) to move his motion, I wish to remind the House that this subject has aroused considerable interest and that at least 20 Members wish to speak. Yesterday the House co-operated very well indeed by short speeches, which enabled everybody who wished to participate to be called. I hope that the same will happen today.
I beg to move,
That an independent advisory body be established in the form of a Standing Royal Commission on Animal Protection.
This is the first time in five years as a Member of the House that I have ever won anything in the ballot. I have promised those of my constituents who have lobbied me on this issue in past years that if ever I had an opportunity to do something useful and effective with parliamentary time on the subject of animal welfare, I would put it at the top of the list. Therefore, a fortnight ago, when I was successful in the ballot, I had little problem in choosing this subject for debate.
I shall not take all day to move the motion. Indeed, I shall be reasonably brief in dealing with the several issues I wish to mention. However, I am sure that issues I do not deal with will be covered in the contributions of other hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate.
The days when animal welfare could be left to the somewhat middle-class comfortable and reasonably well-off voluntary bodies, accompanied occasionally by the private Member successful in the ballot, have gone. Even in those days if any such Bill was brought in by a private Member such legislation, by its nature, had to be non-controversial, otherwise it had no chance of succeeding in this place, let alone the other place. Therefore, by and large, the record on animal welfare has not been too good in the last few years.
The animal welfare societies as a whole have realised in the last 18 months or so that they must begin to use the political process as ruthlessly as does any other lobby operating in a democracy—whether that lobby relates to poverty, housing or environmental matters. The animal welfare societies have decided that they must combine their efforts. In the last year, particularly following animal welfare year, when many such societies combined effectively for the first time, their efforts have been quite successful.
If action does not take place on a matter that is of deep concern to the public, I say frankly that there will be direct action in the form seen by the growth of the Green Ban action committees, which exist to protect the environment and which are sprouting all over the world, following the operations of Greenpeace off the coast of Scotland last year which put the Government, particularly the Scottish Office, on the spot.
I know that there are some people outside the House, a minority, and indeed a few hon. Members, who believe that the subject of the environment, ecology and even Britain's heritage does not warrant sufficient priority to be brought into the area of Government policy. I take the opposite view. If society waits until it has settled to its satisfaction its social and economic problems, it will find that there is no environment and no ecology left and this subject will never get on to the political agenda or get priority on the agenda.
I say this with a straight face: I am not seeking to put politics into animal welfare but I am seeking to put animal welfare directly into the centre of politics. Some of my remarks, and some of those of my hon. Friends, will seek to put the issue into party politics. That is not the prime issue. The prime issue is to bring animal welfare into the political arena for the first time.
Over the past few years the matter has been left to private Members. It is ironic that we are using private Members' time to pass the buck to the Government, but it is a buck that they are glad to seize. We were delighted with the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday. I know that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is keen to grab hold of the buck and that he will not pass it on to anyone else.
I have received a bigger postbag on the subject of animal welfare than I have on any other subject over the past five years. Occasionally social issues are debated in the House, particularly on Fridays in private Members' time, and they arouse strong feelings among our constituents. But I have received a bigger postbag on this subject than I have on some of the social issues which have caused great controversy in the House. Over the past five years there has been an increase in the interest in it of the press, particularly the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror. Recently I visited the library of the Sunday Mirror and found a volume of the exposés that it has brought to public attention over the years. Many of those matters have not been dealt with. The problems have been raised, highlighted and brought to the attention of the Government and the public and relevant authorities but, by and large, there has not been much action.
Unless animal welfare is put into the political arena, we shall have to make abundantly clear to those outside that there will be no effective action. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that the Labour Party has only a document on the subject which was published in about July of last year—" Living Without Cruelty: A Charter for Animal Protection ". The animal welfare societies are coming together under the umbrella of the General Election Co-ordinating Committee for Animal Protection. Last year, it took the issue to all three major party political conferences. A tremendous response was received. Hon. Members will have noticed that and the effective advertising produced by the animal welfare societies both in the popular press and recently in the specialist political press. It is a new look at animal welfare which has been motivated by the previous inaction and an influx of younger people who do not have the patience of the older generation. If they see no action forthcoming they will be forced, and happy, to take direct action.
The issue should not be treated as being one of sentimentality. It is clear from Members' postbags that there is a great deal of sentimentality felt in Britain on the subject. However, if the issue is to be put high on the political agenda there has to be a different emphasis—that of human respect for other living creatures. That does not knock out the sentimentality, but it means that there will be less of a problem for legislation and debates in this place and the other place.
I wish to refer to four areas only of the subject: first, experiments on living animals; secondly, the aspect of dogs in the community; thirdly, blood sports; and, fourthly, as set out on the Order Paper, the export of live farm animals for slaughter. I shall also make the case, which is now self-evident, for the new quango. I am not worried about its name. Quangos have become a dirty word because of the scurrilous campaign against them in the last 18 months in this place and the other place. Nevertheless, most of them do an extremely useful job, and no quango will do a more useful job of work than the one announced yesterday, the council for animal welfare.
I turn to the subject of experiments on living animals. It is a distressing subject and I shall not go into all the statistics, but I shall draw the attention of the House and those who take account of our debates to some of the raw statistics of the experiments. The figures are published late each year by the Home Office. In 1977, there were 5,385,575 experiments on living animals. In more than 4,300,000 of them—80 per cent.—no anaesthetics were used in any part of the experiment. In 800,000–15 per cent.—anaesthetic was used for only part of the experiment. In 95 per cent. of the total number of experiments, little or no anaesthetic was used.
The Home Office lists in its report the techniques that are used. I shall not refer to them all. Some of them are: application of substance to the eye; other interferences with any of the special senses or brain centres controlling them; use of aversive stimuli, electrical or other; induction by any other means of a state of psychological stress integral to the experiment; exposure to ionising radiation, burning or scalding by any means and infliction of physical trauma to stimulate human injury other than by burning or scalding.
The numbers of experiments carried out under those techniques is given as 568,000. The report lists glibly other techniques, amounting to 4,700,000. Therefore, we do not know, in 90 per cent. of the experiments that take place on living animals, the techniques that are used. The figures are not published. The matter should be examined as one of priority by the new council for animal welfare. What are the other techniques? If they are straightforward techniques of a non-disturbing nature, the list should be published. If there is nothing to hide, there is no problem.
I shall refer briefly to the technique of"aversive stimuli, electrical or other "."Aversive"implies dislike or unwillingness. Clearly something is being done to the animal that it does not like or is unwilling to undergo on a voluntary basis. The number of experiments listed under that category for behavioural training reasons is 25,888. In 25,393 cases no anaesthetic was used—98 per cent. Under the technique called inducing a state of psychological stress, 28,475 experiments took place. In 28,470–99·98 per cent.—of those, no anaesthetic was used. There fore, in only five of the experiments was anaesthetic partially used.
The techniques could involve electric shocks and freezing of the animal parts of the animal. Given the nature of the scale of the experiments, do we not yet know, after all the years that these experiments have been going on, the coefficients of conductivity of various types of animal skin or organs? What is the reason for the large scale of the experimentation on living creatures?
No one suggests that there should be a complete ban on research and experiments. That would be stupid. It is the scale of what is happening which we are contesting. Some areas need severe restriction. Some animals are used in weapons testing. I hope that we shall have a categoric assurance from the Government that no animals are used in that way when the animal forms part of the weapon. We read last year that in the United States they were thinking of using the porpoise, with instruments, homing devices and weapons strapped to it, to search out submarines, with the effects that one could anticipate. I hope that no such experiments are taking place here under the auspices of the Government.
Many animals are used in experiments for the purpose of producing cosmetic preparations and toiletries. Earlier this week a petition was presented to the House which had been signed by 60,000 members of the public opposed to the use of animals for that purpose. However, 51 per cent. of the experiments take place in commercial undertakings. A large percentage of the rest clearly take place in the public sector, where the Government could do more to ensure that the numbers are not unnecessarily high.
Of course, many of the experiments on animals do not come within the terms of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 and are therefore not recorded in the returns. Transplants, for example, are not covered and not counted. The figure that I quoted for the total number of experiments has to be qualified because in the foreword to the return submitted to the House the Home Office states that some figures are not included because they were not returned in time. None of the figures that I have quoted is a total figure. The total number of experiments will be more than 5,383,000.
The 1876 Act, which is now 103 years old, has been stretched well beyond the limits that Parliament intended more than a century ago. One can imagine the reaction of hon. Members of those days to the current number of experiments on live animals. There were 481 experiments in the year that the Act was passed. The graph over the century has risen inexorably for many reasons that were never contemplated in 1876.
The Act states that animals should be under the protection of an anaesthetic unless a Home Office certificate is obtained. But those certificates are easily obtained because they are granted in 95 per cent. of cases. No Minister proposing the original Act would have dared to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he would grant certificates in 95 per cent. of cases. If that had been foreseen, the House would not have passed the Act.
I pay tribute to the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) has followed up this matter. An answer to one of his recent questions showed that the Home Office's advisory committee that oversees the working of the Act did not meet last year. The committee of the great and the good which is supposed to advise the Home Office never even met last year. I grant that there were a few sub-committee meetings, but there was no meeting of the committee. All the members should be removed from that committee. They are not doing the job that the House intends that they should do. None of them should be involved in the new council that is to be set up following the Prime Minister's statement yesterday. They have let down the House, the public and the animals. They did not even take the time to have one meeting last year.
I wish to mention only briefly some of the aspects of blood sports. We are here on ground where there will be arguments across parties and between this House and another place. Following a promise made during the election campaign in October 1974, the Government took over the Hare Coursing Bill. Nine or 10 attempts have been made, exclusively, I believe, by Labour Members, over the past decade to try to ban this horrible and debasing sport. When the Government took over the Bill, it was passed by this House and sent to another place. It was sunk without trace there by the ruse of setting up a Select Committee.
I hope that the House of Lords will come to rue the day that it ditched that Bill. It is not generally appreciated that the Bill disappeared in another place. I still get letters asking what happened to the Bill. I reply that the Government fulfilled their commitment and that the House of Commons passed it, but the House of Lords decided to do nothing and effectively stopped the legislative process.
The banning of blood sports must be a firm Labour Party manifesto commitment. We are always told by their Lordships that if a Bill is in a Labour Party manifesto they must let it through, even though the Tories control another place. That has always been the so-called constitutional argument, whether in relation to nationalisation or any other contentious political issue. We must have a firm commitment in our manifesto, and I understand from members of the Labour Party NEC that such a commitment will appear.
In that way, I hope that we shall be able to override another place. If it attempted to stop a Bill that was in our manifesto, there would be an overwhelming call for the abolition of the House of Lords—which will probably also be in our manifesto. The problem is what to do first—abolish the House of Lords, or push through the Bill on wildlife protection. It is an issue which will be raised soon, perhaps in the very near future.
Blood sports are basically entertainment. I accept no qualification of that fact. I do not believe that the public wish members of the country set to obtain their sexual titillation from the screams of wild animals being torn apart and blood spurting all over the place in a muddy field. My constituents will not tolerate it, and the overwhelming majority of the public has shown in poll after poll that it will not tolerate it.
Last year's NOP poll showed that there was an overwhelming call for these heinous sports to be banned. Those favouring a ban totalled 75 per cent. on hare coursing, 60 per cent. on fox hunting and 74 per cent. on deer hunting. What Government, responsive to the concerns of our constituents, can ignore such opinion? There are other methods of controlling the animal population. No one denies that that must be done, but other methods are humane, do not set animal against animal, and do not involve cruelty to animals.
I hope that when the Government bring forward measures they will not do so with a Bill at a time. Piecemeal legislation is not the answer. We have to bring in an enabling Act or a measure encompassing all wildlife and push it through, granting the odd exceptions that will have to be allowed. We must do it as a package and not have to fight the battle every year.
Some of my hon. Friends will raise these issues in greater detail because they have more information about some of the scurrilous activities of the field sports societies and the tricks that they have got up to in relation to Labour Members. I suppose that after today I shall be next on their list—and I will welcome it with open arms.
I turn to the problem of dogs in the community. I have a tiny urban constituency of only nine square miles. Like many other constituencies, it suffers from the problem of packs of wild dogs roaming the streets, causing distress and annoyance to the local community and to the welfare societies which have to try to get the police to take some responsibility. In the end it is the welfare societies which have to put the dogs down.
It is estimated that there are 6 million dogs in this country but only 3 million dog licences. Figures that I saw recently show that the cost of administering the dog licence system is about 95 per cent. of the revenue from the licences. That is crazy. It is an argument for reforming the system.
The other fact that must be taken into account is that 2,000 dogs are put down each day. That is tragic. The Department of the Environment has sat on the working party report on dogs since 1976. That is a sorry state of affairs, to put it no higher. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State at that Department has a reputation as a bit of a whizz-kid, but when one looks at the track record behind the headlines one sees that it is not so good as the headlines try to suggest. On the issue of dogs, my right hon. Friend has let down the House and the country.
The action that is required is to be found in that report and in the report of the animal welfare societies. The first priority is to remove the responsibility for stray dogs from the police. We must have an effective dog warden scheme, which must not cost the taxpayer or the ratepayer anything but must be self-financing. There will not be dog catchers; that is too crude a system. It must be an effective system.
We must also take action with regard to establishments which breed dogs for commercial reasons.
The last issue to which I wish to refer is the one that is raised in my motion—the export of live farm animals. I expect and sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will have a great deal to say about this subject. To read the case put forward by big business, in the shape of the National Farmers' Union, and in the civil servants' report to the Minister published last March, one would think that the refrigerated container and lorry had never been invented. But they have been, and we must live with that fact and take cognisance of it. The NFU and the civil servants who prepared the report, to which I shall refer in detail, clearly have totally ignored the introduction of refrigerated containers and lorries.
The NFU sent all hon. Members, at about the middle of last year, a copy of its booklet"No Case to Answer"on the subject of the export of live animals. The booklet stated:
Most of our export is in the form of carcase meat, but the strong preference in sections of the Continental meat trade for home-killed and home-butchered meat…".
It was stated elsewhere in the same document:
By 1977 the value of live exports had reached £33 million out of a total of nearly £200 million for all meat exports…".
Therefore, 83 per cent. of the trade is in a form that the Continentals do not prefer, according to the NFU, either in meat products or carcase meat.
In any case, I am not sure that our total policy on the issue should be dictated by the Frenchies—far from it. The NFU will be down on me like a ton of bricks for saying that. It would describe what I have said showing as
strong overtones of anti-EEC feeling ".
to quote the same document. Anyone who raises the subject is said by the NFU to show strong anti-EEC feeling. That is the sort of comment we read of behind the Iron Curtain when the dissidents speak out. The crime is said to be speaking against the State. Given its way, with the Europhilia of the Euro-fanatics who abound in this country, the NFU will have many of us charged with anti-EEC feeling if we are not careful on this subject. We must take the NFU's case bit by bit. Then we can see how biased and politically motivated it has been in its submissions to hon. Members.
The butchers do not want the live export trade to continue. The Birmingham and District Butchers Association campaigned on the subject throughout most of last year to hon. Members representing Birmingham constituencies. It pointed out that the abattoirs were working under capacity. Many of the by-products must be reimported after the export to the Continent. Yet we are allowing hundreds of thousands of calves—to take one example of basic raw material—to be exported. It is crazy in economic terms, but when we look at the welfare side, which is very important, we see that there is an overwhelming case for a total ban on the export of live farm animals for slaughter.
The RSPCA inspectors have gone on the vehicle trails. I pay tribute to them, because it must be a hell of a job to try to follow some of the vehicles, sometimes throughout two or three days on the Continent. The inspectors do not get proper sleep and they cannot eat properly. It is an extremely difficult job, and I pay tribute to all those who have done it.
Here I want to draw attention to annex D of the report which the civil servants presented to the Minister last year. It purports on pages 40 and 41 to give a summary of the vehicle trails. I shall refer to only four of the trails, because the point is self-evident. There are three columns in the annex, giving the date of the observation, the animals and their destination and the estimated total journey time in hours.
Many of the journey times are far in excess of what they should be under the rules laid down by the Minister. What the last column does not reveal is the time that the animals were without feed or water. It does not point out that in the first example—20–26 April 1977, cattle from Dover to Italy—the journey time was 48 hours. The report itself shows that the cattle concerned were without feed and water for 48 hours. That information should have been in the summary to the Minister and should have been published as well, because it is important.
There is another matter that shows how misleading the report is. On 3 May 1977, 116 calves were sent from Southampton to France. The journey time is shown as 25·36 hours, but the report from the inspector shows that the calves went without feed for a total of 32·36 hours. That figure should have been put in the report as well as the journey time, because for many people it is the crucial figure.
Some people may think that the problem is now settled, with new rules, and that all the exporters are playing the game and will co-operate in future. I draw the attention of such people to a report that could not be mentioned in the other report, because it concerns a vehicle trail on 6 to 7 June—vehicle trail 45. The trailer was number AJY436 and the registration number of the vehicle was TWT330M. It was a Ken Lane articulated lorry.
The report says that clearly in the early hours of 7 June the container was changed or the animals were moved from one container to another, because when the trailer left the vehicle park where it had been overnight—it should not have been there in the first place:
the trailer not the same as that trailed to block premises the previous night. New trailer still carrying same registration number as towing rigid bodied vehicles, but different colour and Customs sealed on the right side instead of the left. Lorry as original and this plus trailer containing black-faced lambs.
In other words, it was the same cargo.
In fact, these people cannot be trusted, because it has been shown that they get up to quite devious practices. I have quoted only one case; there are others. But I am not saying that all cases are like this; they are not. But, in my opinion, just one case such as this, along with the other abuses, reveals the attitude of mind of these exporters. It does not matter what the farmers of this country say. It does not matter whether they themselves look after their animals and are not cruel. When they sell animals for export abroad, they know that these abuses take place. They cannot hide behind the cloak of respectability by saying"Oh, well, we are doing the best we can, and it is unfair to accuse farmers of being unkind and cruel to animals ".
I want to point out briefly what the Labour Party policy document"Living Without Cruelty"said about the export of live animals. It recommended as follows:
As we proposed above, the law "—
that is, the law relating to export—
should be changed to ensure that all animals are slaughtered as near as possible to the point of production, be they for home consumption or for export.
This is equally important in this country because of the long distances that animals travel. It is close on 1,000 miles from top to bottom of the United Kingdom, and the same arguments apply. All animals should be
slaughtered as near as possible to the point of production.
The second recommendation was:
That the export of live animals for further fattening or slaughter should be banned and that the trade be replaced by a carcase trade.
In the last sentence of its document, the NFU had the brass face to say:
Neither economic nor political reasons have any place in a debate about animal welfare and on animal welfare grounds we believe there is no case to answer.
In fact, the NFU is saying"Keep politics out of it. It is not a fit and proper subject for Members of Parliament or the House of Commons to get involved in ". With millions of others, I claim that there is no answer to the case from the NFU, let alone no case to answer. The NFU has made no answer to the case for a total ban. I hope that a phased stage towards that ban will be announced today by my right hon. Friend.
I want to refer briefly to the quango to be set up. I do not deny that it is a quango; and I admit that quangos have done, and do, many good jobs. We need a sufficiently high-powered quango so that notice will be taken of it by this House and by the Government.
I shall not quibble about words. I have used the phrase"a Standing Royal Commission"in the motion, but any body that is announced by the Prime Minister should have sufficient weight behind it. I was absolutely delighted by the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday. However, I do not want the animal welfare council to be used as an excuse for no action. We have all the reports we need about many aspects of animal welfare, be it intensive farming, the zoos or whatever. The council should be an umbrella body to keep a watch and to advise this House and the Government. The animal welfare organisations should be represented on it in the majority. I want no nonsense about a"balance of interests ". This body will be concerned with animal welfare, not animal use. I shall be most upset and annoyed if the animal welfare organisations are not in the majority on the council. They must be, in order to make it effective.
I do not want the council's title to mislead people. I do not want people outside to be told"We now have a council on animal welfare—problem solved ". It must be effective. If it is not, it will be seen as a con. It is not a con, because the Labour Party is the only party that has a policy on this subject. We must make clear to people that, whatever happens next week, there is no guarantee that this council will be set up and will be functioning if the Leader of the Opposition gets into No. 10. In fact, I believe that this subject will go off the political agenda, or will at least go to the bottom of it, because, as we shall see today, the Conservative Party is split from top to bottom on various aspects of this subject.
Many Opposition Members have a terrific record on animal welfare, particularly in regard to the campaign on animal experiments. Many others have a less than honourable record. We shall hear from them today. That is why the Conservative Party cannot have a total policy on animal welfare, and that is why the public must be warned that there will not be a council on animal welfare under a Tory Government. That message ought to go out loud and clear.
It must be the aim of the council, along with the Government, to develop a comprehensive series of measures to protect the conditions of animals, both captive and in the wild, in order to ensure that they do not suffer unnecessarily. It must be made abundantly clear that the aim is not to deprive people of either healthy activity through the pursuit of sport or a varied diet through the availability of cheap food. But no one should be prepared to see this take place at the cruel expense of other living creatures.
I conclude with words that are not mine. They are the words of my noble Friend Lord Houghton. In the latest issue of"Contemporary Review ", my noble Friend wrote an article about the campaign of which he is chairman. He ended:
Ideally, the abolition of cruelty whether to animals or humans should be a prime objective of Government. Obviously it is not possible to legislate for compassion, but it is possible to legislate strongly and properly against cruelty and to ensure that the legislation passed can be competently enforced…
that is, the General Election Co-ordinating Committee for Animal Protection, of which my noble Friend is chairman—
the societies "—
of which there are more than 50—
they represent and a rapidly growing number of people want to see animals given a greater share of Government and parliamentary attention. Putting animals into politics should
hopefully see an end to the shameful and halfhearted way in which Governments have handled animal matters in the past.
I sincerely hope that we can take a big step today towards achieving that objective.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for delaying the debate, and I am not saying this in criticism of anything said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), but I suggest that the House ought to be clear about what it is being asked to do. Surely the hon. Gentleman has been pre-empted by the Government statement yesterday that a council on animal welfare will be set up. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should have in addition a"Standing Royal Commission on Animal Protection "?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This motion stands on the Order Paper. I have moved it in order to give the House the opportunity of debating—all day, if necessary—the subject of animal welfare. Whether at four o'clock I choose to call a Division on the motion is neither here nor there, especially at this time, at 10 minutes to 12. This is the subject for debate.
We on this side are grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for initiating this debate and giving us an opportunity to renew and intensify the concern for animals that has been shown by members of all parties for many years. By the time I sit down I shall feel like a dying swan more than anything else. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, I shall do my best to respond to your request for short speeches and not prolong my contribution, but there is quite a lot of ground to cover.
The hon. Member for Perry Barr said various things with which I strongly agree, especially about experiments on animals; also his reference to the environment and ecology, which would take a long time to explore in this debate, but they are relevant. The hon. Gentleman made abundantly plain that he was trying to bring animals not merely into politics but into party politics. He should be careful about that, for his own party will not emerge as well as he hopes. It was clear from his speech that he was critical of his own Government, because much might have been done in the last five years. It is easy to produce a policy document. We produce policy documents on all kinds of things between elections. I suggest that we wait and see what happens when the general election comes along. I would have thought it much better, whatever our party political feelings, to find allies on both sides of the House when we press the Government rather than try to claim a monopoly of care.
I remind the House and the hon. Member for Perry Barr of the reality of the legislative position. If we turn to Halsbury's Statutes, we find no fewer than 270 pages of Acts of Parliament dealing with animals, most of which are to protect them from cruelty or ill treatment and to advance their welfare. The first major statute was the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, dealing with experiments on animals for scientific research. It is still the law. It was inspired by Lord Shaftesbury and introduced by a Government of which Disraeli was the head—needless to say, a Conservative Government. It has stood the test of time reasonably well but it needs to be brought up to date.
For several years, when I was a Home Office Minister about 20 years ago, I was responsible, under the Home Secretary, for administering that legislation. At that time I was not fully convinced that all the experiments being carried out were necessary. There was a tremendous amount of propaganda about the most gruesome operations and vivisections being carried out. I ordered inquiries to be made and found that many of those alleged experiments had taken place many years before, but I persuaded our inspectors to be ever-vigilant.
My own feeling is that it is extremely difficult to enforce the law in ways to ensure that it is being obeyed all the time, but I felt that such experiments had become very rare. In those days, when I had that responsibility, fewer than 4 million experiments a year were included in the Home Office returns, but the number of experiments has since increased enormously. They now number 5½ million a year. Not only has the number of experiments increased, but so have the scope and purpose of them.
In May 1963 the Littlewood committee was appointed by the then Tory Government to consider what changes were needed in the law and administration. In 1965, when the Labour Government were in power, that committee made various proposals to tighten the licensing system, to intensify control and to prevent the unnecessary repetition of experiments. After 14 years, not all of the Littlewood committee's recommendations have been implemented. There was a Conservative Government for four of those years and a Labour Government for about 10. That shows the danger of introducing party politics. It gets us nowhere. The Opposition would gladly have joined the Government in dealing further with this matter. I hope that we shall hear in the Government's reply to the debate that when they are in Opposition they will be glad to join the Conservative Government in doing so.
The next major legislation—I am only mentioning a few of about 50 statutes on the statute book—was the important Protection of Animals Act 1911, which deals generally with cruelty and ill treatment of animals. It is in wide terms which have enabled thousands of people to be convicted and sentenced for cruelty and ill treatment. That was passed when the late Winston Churchill was Home Secretary in a Liberal Government. A wide range of statutory provisions dealing with diseases of animals is to be found in the Diseases of Animals Act 1950, passed by a Labour Government, and in various Agriculture Acts of Conservative Governments.
If the various statutory provisions are examined, it will be readily understood that animals have been in politics"for donkey's years ". The hon. Member for Perry Barr, although he is to be congratulated on his initiative, should not claim to be a pioneer. Modestly, he did not make that claim. My dear old friend Lord Houghton, for whom I have a great personal regard, is not a pioneer, either, nor is the co-ordinating committee, of which he is chairman, which coined the phrase"Putting animals into politics ". Although not all of us are by nature " political animals ", I assure the House, having been here for more than a third of a century, that animals have been consistently political throughout that time, and rightly so. In spite of impressive legislation already on the statute book, there is still cause for much concern.
I have enjoyed riding ponies and horses since I was a child, sometimes when chasing foxes, but more often not. I still ride an old home-bred mare regularly, but I am appalled at some of the things that one hears about the treatment of ponies and horses at so-called riding schools. There are some statutory provisions—I would have thought ample—for dealing with this matter, but the administration needs to be tightened up.
I, too, want to refer to the live export for human consumption of older horses which have seen better days and have finished their working lives and to press reports about what happens to New Forest ponies. I was told in a recent parliamentary answer that 712 ponies and horses were exported live last year for human consumption. I understand that some of them may have been exported illegally. There are certain controls under the diseases of animals legislation and also some EEC regulations which limit the circumstances in which exports may take place. The trouble is that it is fairly easy to slip a few animals across the Channel in a small ship, and I do not know whether these figures are complete. At any rate, 712 is a fair figure to go on.
My right hon. and learned Friend will remember that I was instrumental in getting the Ponies Bill through this House when it came here from another place. Its objective was to stop the sale of live ponies and horses for consumption abroad, for meat. It set prices which were intended to make it uneconomic for those animals to be exported for slaughter. That legislation has since been reinforced, and it looks as though it needs looking at again to be yet further strengthened.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with great knowledge through his connection with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Perry Barr was entirely generous to the voluntary bodies. They have done excellent work and been the spearhead of concern. But it is clear from what my hon. Friend has said that there is no absolute prohibition on the export of horses and ponies for meat. It is a conditional prohibition, and the control needs to be intensified.
More generally, however much one deplores the occasional bad practice, our standards are very high compared with what one has seen in other parts of the world, especially in the treatment of horses and mules. I have seen them flogged up hill pulling heavy loads, especially in Mediterranean countries. Let us therefore try to set the highest possible standards as an example to other countries—not the first example that Britain has set the world. There is an International League for the Protection of Horses. It sometimes has an uphill task, but it looks to us for maximum support. I am sure that the hon. Member for Perry Barr agrees that we should give it that support. I therefore hope that the Government will concern themselves more closely with the horse slaughter traffic. More legislation, an amendment or two and further inspection may be needed.
On the export of live cattle and sheep, I shall say only a brief word because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), who is one of the greatest authorities on this topic, will be speaking from the Front Bench. As the Minister of Agriculture will know, some cattle and sheep must continue to be exported—not only for breeding and fattening—but I should like to see a reduction in the traffic in exports for human consumption as and when that can happen. There are, however, genuine problems.
Meanwhile, vigilance is needed to prevent suffering in those cases—probably a minority, but we shall hear more from my hon. Friend—in which it occurs. That vigilance is needed not only when cattle and sheep are taken across the Channel in ships or aircraft—especially ships—but when they are transported long distances by road or rail within Britain.
The subject of animal welfare is a vast scenario of conflicting interests, strong human emotions, elaborate but sometimes inadequate administration and potentially stringent but partly unenforceable legislation. Having represented a large farming constituency for as long as I have, and living in my constituency as well as representing it, I have scarcely ever found ill treatment of, or callousness towards, animals on our farms or in our two livestock markets, which I have often visited.
Concern does not arise, generally, when animals are on the farm—although there has been some concern for those which are intensively fattened, and so on. However, the codes of practice which were laid down by the Bramwell committee are now being fairly well observed. Concern arises when animals have to travel long distances at home and abroad, as they must do and must continue to do. Those who pretend that that traffic can be quickly or entirely abolished are deceiving themselves and those whose emotions are aroused. Something must be done, but there are practical problems.
The Government yesterday announced a new quango, which must have cut the ground from under the feet of the hon. Member for Perry Barr to some extent. I would not have supported his sugested Royal Commission if it were still an issue—and that is not merely because I had the immense privilege of serving on a Royal Commission with Lord Houghton, when we spent some of the best years of our lives interminably discussing other matters. No, the trouble about bodies such as a Royal Commission or the kind of quango announced yesterday is that, to be representative, it must include spokesmen of conflicting interests producing unsatisfactory compromises.
In any event, such a quango is not necessary to advise the Government what to do next. They have masses of advice. I have pages of stuff here—technical, highbrow, professional, scientific, experienced advice—on which the Government can act without setting up another quango. What is needed instead is action by the Government, with or without new legislative powers. I hope that the next Conservative Government will get on with this problem.
I should now like to deal with what the hon. Member for Perry Barr calls blood sports and what others, including myself, call field or country sports. The hon. Member did himself an injustice and did not improve his case by the exaggerated sentiments that he expressed. They will get him nowhere; they will annoy country people of all classes.
The traditional view in the House is that this is a matter best left to the judgment and conscience of individual Members, but if we are to abolish—if that is the right word—first hunting and then shooting, what do we do about fishing, which is, I believe, the biggest participation sport in the country? We should have to turn into criminals, ripe for conviction, large numbers of law-abiding country people.
I dislike seeing birds kept in small cages, and am sometimes shocked by what I see of large animals in slightly larger cages in zoos, but nothing would induce me to vote for a Bill to turn into criminals the dear old ladies who enjoy keeping those birds in cages. This is a matter for individual judgment and conscience. We have to be careful not to add to our already over-elaborate criminal law, some of which is difficult to enforce.
God gave us dominion over animals. One of the tests of a civilised society is undoubtedly the way in which it treats them. Today we are dealing not with the behaviour of the generality of people in our society but with the behaviour of different types of unthinking minorities.
I am sure that these difficult, emotive problems are best solved in the way in which I hope we shall debate this matter today rather than by bringing them into party politics, which would be wrong.
I am glad to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) because his speech illustrated a number of points of difficulty in approaching this subject.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on achieving this debate. He said that it was the first time that he had ever won anything in this House. I have been here for nearly 10 years, and I am still waiting. I am enjoying sharing the fruits of his success this morning in having the opportunity to say something on this subject.
We should place on record our appreciation of the announcement made by the Prime Minister yesterday. I am delighted that there was a Government response to the representations that were made. I am sure that that response is linked to this debate.
I have been a vegetarian for more than 25 years. I do not advocate that everyone should go that far. I say that merely to establish my credentials. It is said that some hon. Members take an interest in this issue as it is popular with the public and that they are thereby electioneering. Most Government supporters here today—I do not know many Conservative Members—have supported animal welfare issues over the years. If anyone were to electioneer on this issue, what would be wrong with that if Members were ready to respond to public opinion? Certainly those in marginal seats—this applies to many Members of Parliament today—are electioneering all the year round. It is not a novel experience for them to take account of what the general public say.
Some people care nothing about animals and regard them as objects, things that are expendable and there to eat, skin, hunt, experiment with, vivisect and be available for human exploitation and enjoyment regardless of suffering. They think that animals have no rights.
I acknowledge that some people care about animals but do not like people very much. Indeed, some in the animal welfare movement hate people and concentrate their capacity for love and affection upon animals rather than upon their fellow beings. However, it would be wrong to regard the animal welfare movement in that way or to dismiss it as a sentimental joy-ride. The view of those interested in this issue is that care and compassion should be extended to all living creatures.
Apart from the merits of the case for animal welfare, this matter is also about people because it is people who perpetrate acts which offend against the animal kingdom. However, there is danger to humans as a result of some of the practices that are followed. Humans are not always consistent in their behaviour, but there may be a link between regarding animals as expendable and people as expendable. When some of our fellow creatures may be regarded as subhuman, there is a tendency to regard them as more readily expendable. Sadly, we see that illustrated in the white supremacist attitudes to black people, when it is thought that black people may be shot or hanged, but not whites.
That attitude had a lot to do with the use of atomic weapons against yellow people, who were regarded as less than the whites, when those weapons would never be used against white people. Torture may be regarded as justified in some circumstances against men or women who are regarded as"only terrorists"and, sadly, is practised on a wide scale throughout the world. If a man is down and out, his suffering may be disregarded. I do not intend to go further along that road. Although these are matters of degree, I believe that there is a connection between our attitudes towards animals and towards our fellow human beings.
I do not propose to go into detail about the obscenities of fox and stag hunting and hare coursing. I have little doubt that the majority of the public want these practices ended. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about priorities, he did not get the first priority right.
First, before we can abolish such practices, we must abolish the House of Lords. When matters of this kind are discussed, four-fifths of the Members of the House of Lords, who normally never attend there, suddenly discover the whereabouts of the Palace of Westminster and arrive to vote down measures which concern them because their sport, enjoyment and entertainment are at stake. However, they never come there to discuss issues relating to humanity or national security. Hunting is the one issue that brings four-fifths of the Members of the House of Lords to Westminster. The chances of getting legislation through Parliament are remote while the House of Lords continues as it is.
The attitude to blood sports is exemplified by public concern about the seal cull in the Orkneys and Newfoundland. The Government of Canada and the Newfoundland authorities seem unable to understand the reason for public concern. They say that the seal population in Newfoundland is not in danger of extinction. They say that what they do in Newfoundland is done not for fun but for good commercial reasons. They wax lyrical, as do the defenders of fox hunting, and almost reach the point of saying that the seals enjoy being clubbed. They indicate that, of all the methods of slaughter, if the seals could make a choice, that is the one for which they would opt. That is hard to believe. I am glad that our legislation ensures that if seals are to be killed their heads are not smashed in with clubs, as is the practice on the other side of the Atlantic.
There have been motions suggesting that the British Government might respond by banning the import of seal products, which is a matter of concern to the British public. Recently I received a letter from the Department of Trade, from which I gather that the Department is sympathetic to the idea of a ban on seal products in order to give expression to British public opinion on this matter. The obstacle is that it is felt that this might be an infringement of Common Market rules and might have to go to the European Court. As I understand the Government's position, they would like to go further along this route but have found that membership of the Common Market is an impediment.
In the same way as the Canadians feel that there is an economic justification for what they are doing, which makes the practice acceptable, so there are a considerable number of people in this country who believe that the economic justification provides an ethical and moral justification not only for the slaughter of animals but for such practices as factory farming.
I do not represent a rural constituency, nor do I live in a rural area. However, I know many people who live in the countryside. I find that many of them, although they are not vegetarians, as I am, and although they produce livestock for food purposes, do not applaud the factory farming methods practised by people from urban areas who are there commercially to exploit the countryside and its animals. We ought to express a view about battery hens, caged pigs and shackled bullocks.
It is sometimes argued that if certain animals were not produced for food purposes the species might become extinct. From the abuses that are seen in factory farming, it seems that for many creatures death is a mercy. If they were given the choice, I am certain that many of them would choose never to have lived. I hope that we can extend our feelings of compassion to what I regard as some of the unacceptable methods of food production.
In the same way, the new animal welfare council ought to be looking at some of the methods and conditions of slaughter. Hon. Members may, during this debate, wish to refer to some of the unspeakable vivisection experiments. It can be argued that without some vivisection medical research and development could not be carried out. Whether we ought to permit such activities without an anaesthetic is another ethical question. We may leave medical experimentation to one side for the moment, except to say that it cannot be justified simply by saying that the ends are so commendable that they justify the means.
The bulk of vivisection experiments are not concerned with medical research. Not only are there now alternatives, but many such alternatives are better from the point of view of the experimenters. There seems to be a good deal of apathy. People have become accustomed to treating animals as totally expendable. They do not look with energy for alternative available methods. There is now in existence the organisation FRAME—Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments. I hope that one of the Government's responses will be to provide more finance for this body to enable it to continue its research into the selection of alternative methods which will save it the moral dilemma whereby we seek to justify cruelty to animals when medical research is involved.
The bulk of experimentation is not concerned with medical research. In some instances it is connected with educational institutions and with experiments involving the cutting up of live animals. Such experiments are not essential and could be replaced by theoretical instruction or by means of films showing one experiment being carried out. There is an enormous area of commercial experimentation. The most flippant use of animals in experiments is carried out by the cosmetics industry. I do not want to go into the gory details, but it is a fact that a large number of experiments connected with cosmetics require the squirting of liquid into the eyes of living rabbits and, in the process, blinding them. This type of experiment provides information which the cosmetics manufacturers claim to need. Such experiments ought to be outlawed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr has referred to the use of animals in weapons testing. That must rank among the vilest conduct by man, although there are many competing activities to head that roll of dishonour. I do not expect instant solutions to these problems. I do not believe that progress will be as rapid as I wish. However, an advance is due. People do draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not. We may need to discuss in some detail where the line should be drawn, but I am convinced that public opinion believes that that line is currently drawn in the wrong place.
We have heard about the campaign to put animals into politics. Two weeks ago I addressed a meeting in Trafalgar Square connected with the Newfoundland seal cull. In passing, I mentioned that the national executive of the Labour Party had adopted the policy document"Living Without Cruelty ". I also mentioned that the Greater London Labour Party, of which I am chairman, had overwhelmingly endorsed that policy document. Afterwards, a lady spoke to me and indignantly claimed that in the course of my speech I had mentioned the Labour Party several times but had scarcely referred to seals. The facts show that I referred to the Labour Party twice and to seals about 52 times. To that lady, what had stood out was the fact that the Labour Party had been mentioned. That was something that she found unacceptable. It became clear that that was not the general reaction, because of the nature of the mail which I later received.
It has to be recognised, however, that if we campaign to put animals into politics, politics will come into animal welfare organisations. This should not happen in a narrow and restrictive party sense. Many people who have written to me about the seal cull have said that they will change the way they vote because of the stand taken by one party on animal welfare. I do not say that to advocate that the way to win the next general election is to develop an intense interest in animal welfare when such an interest did not previously exist.
What I do argue, in reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire is that we must accept that change is most likely to come if a party and Government accept a commitment to act. Simply to leave this issue to good will across the Floor of the House and to luck in the draw for Private Members' Bills will not bring about the necessary advance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that animals had been in politics for donkey's years. My retort is that if we leave matters as they stand we shall wait for donkey's years before obtaining the necessary legislative change.
We must make this a live political issue, with party commitment. Yesterday's announcement about the animal welfare council and my hon. Friend's success in securing this debate are important steps in that direction. I am convinced that, as in other spheres—although there may be people sympathetic to our cause on both sides of the House—radical advance will be achieved only if the political activists take up the issue and follow it through.
All the policies, all the do-gooding and all the readable pamphlets in the world are fine, but if good intentions are to be translated into political action they must become a living political issue. I wish the campaign success and hope that animal welfare will become a real issue to be discussed at the hustings at the general election. People should recognise that the way to get legislation through this place is by getting Government backing. I welcome the step that this Government have taken with the Prime Minister's announcement.
I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. The preamble to his motion calls
attention to the importance of action to improve animal welfare and particularly to stress the need to move towards a ban on the export of live farm animals ",
That an independent advisory body be established in the form of a Standing Royal Commission on Animal Protection.
To some extent, the last element has been pre-empted by the Prime Minister's promise.
However, there is one point in the motion to which I think the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would object and that is the proposal to ban the export of live farm animals. Such a ban would include animals for breeding and other purposes, and I do not think that that would be acceptable to the Minister. The hon. Member should have concentrated on the export of live animals for slaughter. The slogan"Putting animals into politics"has recently been coined and publicised by a body calling itself the General Election Co-ordinating Committee for Animal Protection. That slogan implies that animal welfare has never been in party politics before. That is untrue.
My record shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that since I came into this House in 1950 animal welfare has been an important issue to me. It was also of tremendous importance to a number of hon. Members who are no longer with us, for one reason or another, and I pay tribute to them for their work in this cause over the years. It should also be put on record that a considerable number of Members on both sides of the House have voted on many occasions against the strict party line when animal welfare has been in issue.
In the last decade, Governments have not been unmindful of the strength of political feeling in the House and in the country about animal welfare. We would do well to remind ourselves and the public—because the hon. Member for Perry Barr has perhaps, without thought, brought the issue into the arena of party politics—of certain facts.
It was the Conservative Government which set up the Littlewood committee in May 1963 to investigate experiments on live animals and to make recommendations. It reported to the then Labour Government in April 1965 and, I regret to say, its report was shelved. Despite considerable pressure, it was several years before this House was given any opportunity to consider that report, though some minor but helpful recommendations have since been implemented.
Not very long ago, I was a member of a deputation which went to see the present Home Secretary about imposing greater control over and cutting down the number of live animal experiments. He said that it was a subject on which we could only"nudge forward ". In other words, progress would be tedious. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman was sympathetic, but since then many new considerations on animal experimentation now need our attention. No doubt the anti-vivisection societies have tried to keep their records up to date and could provide information on what has happened in the years between publication of the Littlewood report and now.
There is a rising tide of opinion which holds that many of the experiments, particularly those dealing with cosmetics, should be abolished. On 26 July 1973 the Conservative Government set up the O'Brien committee, which reported in March 1974 to the Labour Government. It was set up following the proven cruelty to sheep exported live for slaughter from this country. Its report resulted in the Conservative Minister of the day, my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr Godber), announcing, in a written answer on 1 February 1973, that because of infringements of the Bal-four regulations no new licences for the export of live sheep for slaughter, to any destination, would be allowed. This meant an immediate ban on the export trade in sheep because there were no outstanding licences.
On 12 July 1973 there was a debate in the House on the subject. After a Division, with 285 votes in favour and 264 against, the ban was extended to include all live animals for slaughter. I emphasise that hon Members on both sides of the House voted for or against the resolution. It was a free vote on a non-party basis. On 26 July 1973 the Conservative Government set up the O'Brien committee to report on the export of live animals for slaughter. Regrettably, in my view, its main recommendation was this:
We do not consider that a permanent ban on the export of live animals for slaughter is justified on either welfare or economic grounds.
That was a regrettable decision, but it was a decision. The Conservative Government set up that committee.
On 16 January 1975 the Labour Minister of Agriculture moved a motion in the House that resulted in the export trade in live animals for slaughter being resumed. The votes were 232 in favour and 191 against. The Minister gave an undertaking that more strict control would be exercised over transport and slaughter—
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has given the total voting figures. Will he acknowledge that had that vote been composed only of Labour Members the motion to resume the trade would have been defeated? The voting would have been 44 in favour and 149 against. Those voting against resumption included my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Agriculture.
Yes, but the motion was proposed and pushed through by a Labour Minister. If the hon. Lady wants to talk about party political votes, she ought to bear in mind that if the other parties in the House had not up to now voted with the Government her Administration would have fallen several months ago. The hon. Lady has not been a Member for as long as I have, and I can tell her that over the years animal welfare has generally been dealt with on an all-party basis. I am pleased that it has been.
Since the trade was resumed there have been strongly backed representations by the RSPCA and others. There have been strong allegations that many of the abuses that led to the ban on the trade still exist, in spite of the undertakings by the Labour Minister of the time. Pressure to get the ban reimposed has continued in the House and outside it, particularly through the campaign of the RSPCA. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have unsuccessfully put pressure on the Government to give time for a debate.
The Minister has given the impression of sympathy on this issue. I remind him how pleased I was to put through the House the Ponies Bill that his father introduced in the House of Lords. As recently as 15 February, as chairman of the parliamentary animal welfare group, I sent a letter that was signed by Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), asking for a debate on the question of the export of live animals for slaughter. The Minister's reply was:
Dear Freddy, Many thanks for your letter of 15 February about a debate on the export
of live animals for slaughter or further fattening. I fully realise, of course, that many Members are anxious that the House should have the opportunity to discuss this subject again and I know that the Lord President has their views, and the views of the parliamentary animal welfare group, very much in mind ".
But no time has been arranged or opportunity given. The pressure has continued. I appreciate that perhaps the Minister is in some difficulty. If that difficulty is causing the delay in having a debate in which hon. Members, I hope on a free vote, would be able to express their views, I refer the right hon. Gentleman to what he said about this question in the House last November:
I take the view that the basic question still to be resolved is what is to happen as regards the EEC. I have made that point in the Hosue. One cannot consider the question of the transport of live animals in the United Kingdom alone. We have to do it in an EEC context. But that does not mean that my resolve on that matter is any the less, and it does not mean that I intend to delay much longer over it."—[Official Report, 16 November 1978; Vol. 958, c. 579.]
Perhaps the Minister will tell us today whether the delay has ended and what he intends to do. I am convinced that without any very great difficulty the export of live animals for slaughter could now be replaced with a carcase trade, and I know that there is a move towards that. Much pressure could be brought to bear, however, to ensure that such replacement takes place.
For many years cattle and sheep have been exported on the hoof for slaughter because our slaughterhouses have not conformed to the standards required on the Continent. That created a problem. I think that the Minister will confirm that today there are adequate abattoir facilities here that conform entirely to foreign requirements, and that we have moved into an era in which refrigerated lorries would ensure that carcases arrived at their foreign destination in prime condition.
The Brambell committee—again, a committee set up by the Conservative Government—was asked to examine the conditions in which livestock was kept in systems of intensive husbandry. It was asked to advise whether standards ought to be set in the interest of the welfare of the livestock, and, if so, what the standards should be. The committee reported in December 1975—again, to the Labour
Government. It made a number of recommendations of which I believe the most important was this:
The existing animal welfare legislation does not adequately safeguard farm animals and a new Act is needed incorporating a fuller definition of suffering and enabling Ministers to make regulations requiring conditions for particular animals.
No such legislation has appeared in Labour's programme. I hope, however, in view of the undertakings which are now being given, that the Government will show their intention to do something about this matter, particularly bearing in mind the Brambell recommendation, which was the most important recommendation of all.
Comments by Labour Members today have given the impression that only now is animal welfare becoming a political issue. But the reports of the three committees, which resulted from action by Conservative Governments, were widely studied. That created much of the public concern and motivated animal welfare societies to pursue these topics to the extent that they have.
Animal welfare is in the forefront of politics. That is further emphasised by the fact that since 12 December 1974—and it is unnecessary to go back further—no fewer than 27 early-day motions on animal welfare have appeared on the Order Paper. The majority have been supported and sponsored by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Also, a considerable number of questions on animal welfare are tabled, almost always without regard to party politics. There have been a number of Private Members' Bills, some of which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) mentioned, to improve animal welfare. A number have originated from another place, one of which I particularly referred to as it was dear to the heart of the Minister's father.
It is fictitious and misleading to imply that animal welfare is only now being put into party politics as a result of the activities and slogan of the General Election Co-ordinating Committee for Animal Protection. I hope that animal welfare will basically remain a non-party issue. That is where its strength in this House has been. I have particular knowledge of the RSPCA, and the strength of animal welfare organisations is that they have always endeavoured to keep out of party politics. Were they to ally themselves with a particular party, they would do themselves irreparable damage. Members of these societies belong to all parties and to no party, and they should so remain.
My somewhat prolonged experience of animal welfare organisations has shown me that they have different objectives in regard to animal welfare. The general animal welfare society is the RSPCA, which has its specialist committees. They go into matters in great depth, which is demonstrated by the investigations carried out into the transport of live animals abroad for slaughter. The RSPCA introduces expertise and provides much of the information that could enable Governments to proceed without setting up the sort of body that the Prime Minister mentioned, which could have a delaying action rather than improving and quickening procedures. I view with some disquiet the setting up of such a body unless its terms are such that it cannot delay. It should call in experts from the various fields of animal welfare, many of which are controversial, in order to achieve a proper balance. There are differences amongst these bodies not only of inflection but on more positive matters. The council on animal welfare must be representative, factual and, above all, must not hold up action.
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has misunderstood some of the objectives of putting animals into politics. No one is arguing that the RSPCA should recommend voting Labour or Tory. If the Conservative and Labour Parties were to write in their manifestos that the live export of animals for slaughter should be banned, that would be worth while. If both parties said in their manifestos that they also wanted to ban fox hunting, bully for them. If only one party writes animal welfare into its manifesto, many people may pay attention. When electors weigh up whom to vote for and consider a wide variety of circumstances, should they also not take account of animal welfare issues? They should ask questions at public meetings and get individual commitments from candidates. That has not happened on the scale that it should, and putting animals into politics is as much about that as anything.
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I do not know the reason, but apparently the Prime Minister is trying to pre-empt what the election manifestos will say about animal welfare. I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the public should wait and see what is in the manifestos if they are so dedicated to animal welfare and all other considerations are swept aside in their voting. In that case, I agree that they should wait until the party manifestos are out and question their candidates on the subject. I am sure that my party will make its views clear at the next election. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), who has just entered the Chamber, is already starting to mutter from a recumbent position.
My party's record throughout the years is clear. It is greatly concerned about animal welfare. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight has also throughout the years shown great concern. I am convinced that my party will produce in its manifesto measures to improve animal welfare that are reasonable, practicable and acceptable to all who believe that, just as we get a great boon from animals, so we have a responsibility to ensure that they are treated with the utmost consideration.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for putting down the motion. He has explained to me that he is unable to be present for this part of the debate, but I hope that he will read the speeches—including mine—that have been made while he has been away.
I have enormous affection for the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), going back to the time when the Ponies Bill was first introduced into another place by my father and continued in this House by the hon. Member, but I think that he has missed the point of this debate. I am extremely proud that the Labour Party has made its voice extremely clear as a party. This has nothing to do with the debate being held at this time—that is just fortuitous. Animal welfare has been part of Labour Party policy since last July. The booklet"Living Without Cruelty"is a valuable addition to thought on animal welfare in this country.
The hon. Member for Gillingham should not make little party political points, although I know the difficulties involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was simply making the valid point that—
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is not present but he said that no other political party had produced any document on animal welfare. That is untrue. The Liberal Party passed a council resolution last November and produced a document, and there have been documents from Conservatives as well. Let us have some truth in this House. Other parties have produced documents on animal welfare.
I only said—and I wish that the hon. Member for Gillingham would listen—that animal welfare has been part of Labour Party policy and doctrine since last July. It is wrong for the hon. Member to try to pretend that it is related to the present situation.
The hon. Member's views are also misconceived on the question of the council for animal welfare. I make it clear that I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gillingham for his stand on animal welfare, which I have always admired, but I think that he has totally misunderstood the purpose of the council. He is trying to say that it has pre-empted the manifesto, but this question has been under consideration for some months. The council is not a quango—not that I think that quangos are necessarily bad; in fact, some are very good. There is no question of payment for members, any more than there is payment for members of the existing committees such as the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. FAWAC—
I might have saved the House two minutes had I not given way to the hon. Member. Had I been allowed to continue, I was proposing to mention that matter.
It seemed to the Prime Minister and to all of us that it was necessary to have an overriding council dealing with all questions of animal welfare and making its reports public. That is an important difference. It is not that FAWAC has done nothing. We know that some of its codes of practice are now observed—this is very important—and that it has distinguished members serving on it who are unpaid
Listening to right hon. and hon. Members today, and remembering my own history—I voted against the resumption of the export of live animals—I realise that most of the animal welfare legislation in this country has come about piecemeal and by individual action. It has come from private Members' time and from the odd report requested by one Government or another. Listening to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton)—I am sorry that this is his swansong, because he sings very sweetly—it is obvious that the reports that have come out take years to be implemented. They go from one Government to another, because all Governments have their own priorities and their own manifestos.
When one has an overriding body, that body can see what legislation should result from a report and decide whether it should be brought in immediately. Obviously, such a body should be autonomous. It should have authority and independence, and its members should be such that that authority and independence are assured. It does not matter what Governments, Ministers of Agriculture or Home Secretaries say, because they come and go. The council could continue to make a contribution to the legislation of our country irrespective of whichever Government are in power. It should not have to be left to the hon. Member for Gillingham to come to the House of Commons when he can and talk about animal welfare in private Members' time. He would be much better employed in putting pressure on the council for animal welfare.
The council will have three standing committees and the power to promote other standing committees as and when a topic makes this necessary. The whole sphere of animal welfare is wide. I have listened to hon. Members today mentioning various interests—horses, ponies, zoos, farm animals and so on. The subject is so wide that we need something to embrace all aspects of it, but we do not need something as cumbersome as a Royal Commission, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr. That is why the Prime Minister decided on the council for animal welfare. The three standing committees will be FAWAC, the Home Office committee on the 1876 Act and a committee on the transport of farm animals, whether it is for slaughter, breeding or fattening. The third committee is now in the process of being appointed.
I should like to say a few words about the new standing committee. It will review developments in the transport of animals, including transport overseas. It will be able to make recommendations on changes in the law and other matters. It will report to the council for animal welfare. Membership will include animal welfare interests, and should include farmers and others involved in production and sale as well as the veterinary profession and local authority associations. I believe that it will be a useful and valuable committee, but a standing committee of the council for animal welfare. I hope to inform the House at an early date of the detailed composition and terms of reference. The guiding principle must be clear. The committee must be completely independent and command support and confidence of welfare interests as well as of those involved in the production and sale of livestock.
My hon. Friend mentioned experiments on live animals. I was very much taken with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham), who made a valid point in instancing alternative methods of experimentation. One does not have to experiment on animals. There are many occasions on which one can experiment in the laboratory by using other techniques. As recently as last December my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sent a strongly worded exhortation to all licensees under the 1876 Act to use those methods in preference to experiments on animals. That is the Government's view. Let us see whether we can reduce as much as possible the use of live animals in experiments.
It is too early to say, but I shall return to some of the points that arise, in which the right hon. and learned Member, with his experience, will be interested.
The administration of the law in this area is somewhat antique. It goes back to the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. What Charles Darwin said before the Act was introduced remains true today:
Physiological experiments on animals is justifiable for real investigations "—
that is, subject to the qualification made by my right hon. Friend governing an alternative—
but not out of a mere damnable and detestable curiosity
That was the point behind the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington. I am glad that he did not elaborate too much on some of his examples. I found those that he gave horrifying enough.
It remains our policy not to use animals unnecessarily in experiments. I appreciate that the word"unnecessary"requires qualification and understanding, and I hope that the council for animal welfare will go deeply into the matter.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she has the opportunity to do so, will try to intervene in the debate later to answer any Home Office matters. I wish to deal with the worrying questions of the treatment to animals' eyes and the LD50 test. My right hon. Friend is awaiting a report from his advisory committee which should reach him fairly soon. When that report is available it will be made public and there will be an opportunity for interested parties to comment. My right hon. Friend has told me that he intends to reconstitute the advisory committee and will consider giving it formal terms of reference. That will be done immediately after he has completed investigation of the LD50 test. Therefore, this is very much in line with Government policy.
Another subject mentioned by a number of Members is the export trade in live food animals. I have given a great deal of thought to this matter in regard to the question of slaughter, further fattening, and so on. The House will know that I was in favour of seeing that the ban on the export of live animals for slaughter was maintained. I do not go back on that view one iota. I once told the House that I had to examine the matter as Minister of Agriculture and not as somebody with a free vote in the House of Commons. That does not mean that I have altered my mind. It means that I now have to examine the subject not just in a purely national context but in the wider context of Europe. I believe that a carcase trade is right, and I believe that that is what will happen. I repeat that my concern should be not just with national boundaries but with what happens in other countries over which I may have some influence in the future.
The hon. Member for Gillingham asked what I was doing to alleviate the problem. Let me tell him what action I am taking. The forum for these matters is much more in Brussels than in Westminster. If it were Westminster alone, I have no doubt that I would be advising my colleagues, even at the present moment. However, I have to consider the problem in the context of Brussels. In Brussels I have been pressing for the rule to be observed that no animal shall proceed to slaughter by a journey taking longer than 12 hours. This is a tremendous cut-down on the present number of hours for the transport of animals. Some of the examples given are much more horrific perhaps than any of us cares to be aware of.
What gives my right hon. Friend any confidence that those concerned will respect what he is attempting to do about the 12-hour transport period when there are consistent breaches of the present longer travel periods?
Such breaches very much exercise my mind, and I shall shortly deal with that subject in a little more detail. The growth of the desire for animal welfare—I appreciate that trades and interests of one sort or another may not particularly like it—is spreading throughout Europe. We were the pioneers in animal welfare, and it is right that we should say so. Almost every international convention on animal welfare had its origin in the United Kingdom. Ordinary people are becoming more concerned about this subject.
The subject of enforcement is important, and I propose to deal with it as strongly as possible. If I take a basis of 12 hours, I cannot take a purely national view. One might have animals being produced in, say, Luxembourg en route to a slaughterhouse in Belgium, for example, if an animal is reared in one country and the slaughterhouse is across the border. I do not want to propose anything nonsensical. Therefore, the right way to deal with the subject, as we move towards a carcase trade, as I believe we must, is on a time basis. I may have difficulty in convincing my colleagues in the Council of Agriculture Ministers. Such conversations as I had with some of them show that there is room for the approach and I shall deal with it.
I have not experienced much difficulty in these matters with the European Commission, except for its inevitable slowness. The Commission has tabled some proposals which I regard as being beneficial for the transport of live animals. We are now concerned with how the detailed rules of that may be applied. That is dealt with in directive 77/489.
The Commission's proposals should be dealt with as a matter of urgency. They provide that animals exported from one member State to another must be accompanied by a travel document which will log the times at which journeys start and when particular checkpoints are passed. That should be a great help in enforcement. We shoud see, above all, that the intervals between feeding and watering are adequately monitored and the appropriate action is taken. I regret that the Commission's proposals do not make special provisions for animals intended for immediate slaughter. As we have talked about party politics and politics generally, it should be said that the Labour Party is not alone in its belief that animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the point of production.
I am sure that all hon. Members are grateful to the Minister for the measures that he is implementing. Does he agree that there is one major difference between Britain and at least the Republic of Ireland and the other countries of the Community? Ours is a sea frontier and not a land one like the one between Luxembourg and Belgium. The discomfort to animals transported within 12 hours will be proportionately greater. Does not that indicate that there should be some form of unilateral action?
Unfortunately, the same argument is also true of the transport of animals between the Shetlands and the Orkneys and Great Britain and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. I accept that this is a difficult problem, but the live animal trade for slaughter has grown up only in the past 20 years and I believe that it is diminishing. We wish to encourage the diminution, indeed demolition—of the trade as speedily as possible. One point about the sea journeys from Northern Ireland or the Orkneys—
That is perhaps the worst journey of all, judging from my recent experience in a hovercraft.
However, these journeys are under our control. While I should not dream of pretending that British citizens are immune from maltreating animals—although, on the whole, we have a very good record—at least we control the journeys and the Minister can be answerable for any problems.
It has often been said to me that animals for fattening should be treated on the same basis. I thought hard about the matter but I recognise that the movement of store stock from rearing to fattening areas is basic to European agriculture. It must take place across the frontiers. If we are to ensure viable agriculture in the future that movement must continue. Provided that the transport of the animals is properly seen to and enforced, there should be much less difficulty and danger. It is not unlike the transport of animals for breeding—although there is much less criticism of those provisions. It was once said to me that animals which are used for breeding travel VIP or first class and the other animals tend to travel economy or tourist class. Steerage might be a better way of putting it.
We recognise that the movement should continue. That does not mean that it should continue without safeguards, and we intend that there should be further safeguards in the United Kingdom and throughout the EEC. The basic legislation in the United Kingdom—as the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire mentioned—is the curiously named, in this instance, Diseases of Animals Act 1950. In the United Kingdom, we intend to make powers to require food animals for export to be accompanied by a travel document on the lines already described. That would enable feeding and watering intervals to be fully monitored. We shall also improve the arrangements at lairages as I am not satisfied with the present arrangements. That will include a requirement for a statutory 10-hour rest period, not to be interrupted by checks connected with health certification. The provision of suitable liquid food for calves at lairages will also be required. These and other detailed proposals will be circulated shortly for comments.
We propose to supplement the present inspection arrangements for two-tier vehicles used on the roll-on/roll-off ferries by requiring regular inspection. We are considering making it an offence to use such vehicles without a valid certificate of suitability.
I have referred to directive 77/489 with regard to EEC legislation. That came into force on 1 August 1978, and we shall continue to play an active part in the development of the detailed rules.
I have sympathy with the belief that there is a world of difference between EEC legislation and its enforcement. We should take account of a growing demand for welfare throughout the Community and the world. By working with animal welfare organisations in other countries and informing other Governments of any malpractices—and vice versa—we hope that the legislation will be moved more quickly than it has been in the past.
The Government welcome the spirit of the motion.
Will my right hon. Friend let us know the Government's attitude towards seals, particularly in Europe? In my speech I mentioned a letter that I received on 19 March from the Under-Secretary of State for Trade. I now have that to hand and it states:
I have, for some time now, been considering whether an import ban should be imposed, but the fact is that I am still not in a position to take a decision…In June last year the Italian authorities imposed a ban on imports of all seal skins from all sources and, following a complaint from the Canadian authorities, the EEC Commission is examining the terms of the Italian measures against the background of Community law. A formal legal opinion is now awaited and this will clearly be of relevance to our own decision, although at this stage it is not possible to estimate when the Commission's legal services will deliver their opinion.
As our man in Europe, will my right hon. Friend speed up that decision? Will he consider whether there might not meanwhile be a ban, so that Britain would be in the same position as the Italians? Will he also bear in mind that the Americans have an existing ban?
When I listed my catalogue I forgot to mention seals. That illustrates the wide scope of animal welfare and the need for the council. However, the matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend. I have no doubt that he has taken it on board—if only to judge by the letter that my hon. Friend has quoted. The Government welcome the spirit of the motion. My advice to my hon. Friends—whether or not its wording is 100 per cent. what I or they wish—is that I do not believe they should oppose the motion. On the contrary, I hope that the House will accept it.
I thought that I had dealt with the matter. That is one of the reasons why I said that the wording of the motion might not be fully acceptable, but the spirit is acceptable. Subject to that, and without making manuscript amendments—which is probably not in order anyway—I feel that we would be foolish to reject a motion which, on balance, represents the spirit of what many hon. Members wish to see.
I should like to conclude—since it is his swansong—by referring to something that the right hon and learned Member for Huntingdonshire mentioned in his speech. He said that a civilised society looked after its animals. I go further and say that a civilised Government look after the helpless in the community and those who cannot help themselves, whether they are old, sick, disabled or children—or animals which are not able, except through the friends that they have among mankind, to make their own responses to their needs.
I start by declaring an interest as I am a farmer, a rural man and very much concerned with a farmers' co-operative meat plant.
The Opposition welcome the debate. It is certainly time that these matters were fully discussed, and we congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on bringing forward the motion. We may disagree with its terms, but it refers to important matters and it is good that the House should be debating the problem. It is easy to be dogmatic and emotional in these matters. I hope that all hon. Members will listen carefully to what is said in the debate, because the improvement of animal welfare is the objective of us all.
Turning to the motion, we all agree on the need to improve animal welfare. We probably disagree over the methods. The motion refers to the export of live animals, and I shall deal with that later. The reference to a Royal Commission has been overtaken by events.
The Opposition understand the feelings of those who favour the setting up of the new council announced by the Prime Minister, but we must question whether it is the right way to deal with these problems. We shall seek to strengthen and improve the existing bodies that handle these matters. I have been helped somewhat by the Minister's remarks, but we have a great concern about quangos. We feel that it would be better to strengthen the existing bodies. We want to act quickly where there are problems. The council is bound to take time and it will probably be difficult to reach agreement.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems about even the present advisory bodies, which do not meet very often, is that they lack the element of independence? They are in the governor's pocket.
I shall be coming to that point later. I have great faith in my old Ministry—the Ministry of Agriculture—and the Home Office to deal with these matters through the existing bodies.
We shall study what the Minister said about the new committee. We do not want to condemn it out of hand, but I hope that the House realises that there is such a committee already in existence. The NFU formed an informal export welfare group with the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA. Its terms of reference include the import and export of live animals and the enforcement of United Kingdom legislation. Surely that is the way forward. The group is an independent body which should be encouraged. I recommend that the Ministry of Agriculture officials should be appointed to it. The group could form the basis of the proposed advisory committee if that were thought the right way to proceed.
We ought to welcome the conference taking place in Amsterdam. People of different views are discussing these problems and nothing but good can come from that. I am convinced that our concern must be for animals not only in this country but in the EEC and all over the world.
I should like to say something about the Conservative Party's attitude to animal welfare. It is wrong to suggest, as some do, that only others care and are concerned. We are equally concerned and we care. We have demonstrated that in the past and we shall continue to care. If we have, as I believe we shall, the opportunity of being the Government soon, we shall not only care but act—and act quickly.
Our track record shows that we set up the Brambell committee, introduced the revised codes of conduct, set up the Littlewood committee and accepted the will of the House when the ban on the export of live animals was approved by hon. Members. In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and others of my hon. Friends have done a tremendous amount of work on these matters. We have a reasonable track record, and we shall always be sensitive in this area. As we have acted in the past, we shall act in the future.
The problem is that farmers feel aggrieved at the accusations made against them, but a large body of public opinion is deeply disturbed at these activities—hence the motion before the House. However, I wonder whether the differences are so great or cannot be reconciled, leaving out the extremes of view which exist on both sides of the argument. One hon. Member has already mentioned that some people prefer animals to human beings. At the other extreme, there are those who could not care less about animals and ill treatment.
However, there is much that is shared and the conflict stems from looking at the same problem of concern for animals from different viewpoints and different experiences. I do not like all this business of party politics and some of the remarks made in the debate. With good will, we can solve many of the problems that remain.
I believe that I am able to say something about the export of live animals from personal experience of investigation. I have done four traps. I did them openly and I do not regret it, even though I may be ridiculed for having carried out my investigations in that way. I asked permission from the Ministry of Agriculture and did not go as a spy. It is right that an hon. Member should carry out his investigations in that way. It is perhaps all right for other bodies to carry out their investigations as a sort of secret exercise, but I do not believe that an hon. Member should spy.
Without boasting, I can say that I have a long knowledge of agriculture, the rearing and handling of calves and driving a cattle lorry, and it is difficult for anyone to pull the wool over my eyes. Those concerned knew that I was coming, but my experience enables me to see when things are done hastily. On the whole, I believe that tremendous improvements have been made in the welfare of animals in transportation.
I congratulate the Ministry and the welfare bodies which have prodded many hon. Members to ensure that matters are improved. I speak from some experience. I do not want to go through the whole of my report, which the Minister has received. The conclusion that I came to, with my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), was that there must be categorisation of stock. That is essential. It is not possible to give a blanket"No"or a blanket"Yes ". The trade in calves for rearing and pedigree stock should be allowed to continue, subject to strict safeguards. The present safeguards should be improved.
The Conservatives believe that the trade in sheep and old cows should be halted where the cow or ewe is freshly calved or lambed, when the udders are bursting with milk and there is still evidence of recent calving from blood from the hindquarters. That should be stopped, whatever the European Community says. The Conservatives would work towards a complete halt of that trade. Does the Minister agree?
The Irish store trade should be allowed to continue. We have looked into it very carefully. Movement by air is probably the best form of transport. It is certainly VIP treatment. It is very quick, and the animals are well looked after.
I come to the actions that we propose. First, we welcome the draft EEC directive on the international transport of animals, which shows positive interest by the Commission in harmonising animal protection measures in general within all member States. That must be right, and it is very welcome. We must be interested in the welfare of all animals, whereever they are. There is evidence in this country, certainly from the letters that I have received, that some people are concerned only with the export of animals from this country to the Community and not the movement of animals into the Community or between countries within it.
This is a golden opportunity to bring about real improvements throughout the EEC. Whatever people say, animals will be moved within the Community, as the Minister has confirmed. It is up to us to ensure that where we can obtain the highest standards they are maintained and improved. The Minister also confirmed that that applies to stock that is moved from Aberdeen to London, from Germany to France or virtually from anywhere. We must get the harmonisation of animal movement absolutely right.
I understand that the representatives of British producers of sheep, cattle and pigs have accepted an invitation to submit detailed comments direct to the Commission and have maintained that the major objective is to protect animals during transit throughout the EEC. The National Farmers' Union is clearly concerned about this and is playing its part. We welcome that and the action of other bodies.
Regulations in each member State must be harmonised, and standards must be improved. There must be no opportunity for adjustment or special derogation by some countries. That could easily happen, but it should not be allowed. We must have complete harmonisation. Let us have fair regulations, harmonised to the benefit of all concerned—none more than the animals. We on the Conservative Benches strongly support this initiative.
The Minister also confirmed that we in the United Kingdom had given the lead in our policies and action over animal welfare. Others could copy us. We have something to be proud of..
I turn to the question of export licences for livestock. I believe that the answer lies with the Department of Trade, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture. After all, the Department issues the export licences, which state the number of animals and the destination, which must be only in countries that have accepted the welfare standards required. If exporters of live animals fail to meet the correct standards, their licence should be taken away. If they cheat—that is, if calves or other animals go much further than the licence permits; there is some evidence of this, as we found—no further licences should be given to the exporters concerned.
I hope that people will mark my words very carefully. If animal welfare societies can prove to the Minister and the Department of Trade that there are failures to comply and deliberate cheating or cruelty, the people concerned should have their licence taken away. Heavy penalties should be imposed on them. That is the only way to make certain they learn a hard lesson. I believe that some exporters in this country try to get away with it. Let us have a much tougher policy to stop that. A tough line must be taken in these matters, because it is important to those who are correctly observing the welfare regulations.
We on the Conservative Benches will certainly examine once again the question of the export of live horses and raising the value before they are allowed to be exported. I hope that soon there will be no export of live horses and that all exporting will be on a deadweight basis.
I turn to the difficult subject of intensive livestock husbandry. We must try to get the balance right between some people's objections on welfare grounds and producing reasonably priced food for the consumer. It is a difficult task. Consumers must realise what is at stake. One hon. Member spoke about the business of battery hens and intensive production. We must find a balance between what it costs to run hens on a free range, the production of eggs and the welfare aspects.
In our opinion, Brambell should be revised. The report should be updated as production methods change. We are concerned about this matter, and when we are in Government we shall seek constantly to get the balance right between the commercial pressures and the welfare lobby. That is a firm commitment.
Will the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that consumers should have the right to know exactly what they are eating? Does his commitment extend to labelling not only of eggs but of pork, pork products and similar foodstuffs that are produced by intensive farming?
I think that the consumer has that right, but it is very difficult to enforce it. From my experience as a farmer, I know that many consumers are buying so-called free-range eggs which are not free-range at all. It is very difficult to check and to prove. I repeat that we must get the balance right.
I turn to the question of animal experiments, which was raised by the hon. Member for Perry Barr and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). It is right that we should take great care over this subject. When animals are used for experimental work to help mankind, their use should be kept to a minimum and alternative methods should be considered. I believe that the Minister hinted that he was doing that We hope that he will pursue alternative methods.
Quite a few of the huge number of experiments may be unnecessary. We shall carefully study the question of investment and research. We must update our knowledge of the whole subject, about which people are deeply concerned.
The Cruelty to Animals Act, which we Conservatives introduced—long before my time, in 1876—is effective, though it, too, needs to be updated. We would support additional legislation or control designed further to protect the welfare of experimental animals in any area where it can be shown not to be adequate at present. In other words, the whole Act may need a thorough overhaul. Perhaps we can have a firm assurance—this is certainly our assurance—from the Government in that regard. We would also give encouragement, although I confess that I do not know very much about it, to the Bill of Lord Halsbury. Again, we should like to hear from the Minister the Government's attitude towards it.
I turn to the subject of field sports, which I believe is the term that should be used. We believe that this is a matter for individual decision and conscience. It must be said that rural people feel very strongly about the interference of their way of life by some people. It is also worth stating that urban and city folk are not always as good as they should be in the way that they treat animals. This is constantly said to me by many rural people. What about the neglect of dogs and cats in our cities? What about the business of caged wild animals? I believe that we must be very careful before we start to condemn other people, especially rural people, in regard to field sports.
The question of the rural scene, including the preservation of wild animals, is very important. The control of wild animals is very important. The control of wildlife is aided—again, I choose my words carefully—in part, if not wholly, by those who live in the country and take part in field sports. Therefore, we must look at all aspects of the problem before any radical changes are made, and we should be careful of the mote in our own eye before asking that it be taken out of someone else's.
I want to refer briefly to several other points about the export of live animals, on which perhaps the Minister can reply, if not now, later. We believe that it is necessary that in the document which travels with the lorry a signature should be given by a responsible authority in France or wherever to make quite certain that the rearing stock is unloaded there. Animals should not be allowed to travel on and on. There is a loophole here which ought to be closed.
There should be further limits on distances. The feeding problem should be overcome. With respect, I think that the Minister should look at this again. It is no good talking about the feeding of animals in transit until one has sorted out whether it is the correct thing to do. From my experience, there is a considerable amount of argument in the veterinary profession about whether the animal should travel on an empty stomach or on a full stomach of milk, with the milk slopping about inside it, because scour can develop very quickly and that can mean the even quicker death of a calf.
My personal opinion is that it would be wise to set up a chair of stress at a university. I believe that the veterinary profession is in favour of this. That would allow us to look into the question of what stresses and strains are put on animals, not only in transit but also in cages. We could also look at the question of intensive livestock production. Perhaps we may have the Minister's views on that.
Above all, there must be a stricter control of licences to exporters. Their track record should be considered. If they have let down the farming community and those who are exporting, they should be severely fined and their licences should be taken away. I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Minister that he will take as tough a line as I am suggesting.
I have set out our views on this important subject. Conservatives believe that it is important to look quickly at each of the separate problems—that is why we do not go along with the new council—and to update legislation and codes of conduct. We give a firm promise that that is exactly what we shall do. I agree with those who have said that the hallmark of a civilised country is to care—none more so than with animals. I know that Labour Members care, and we Conservatives promise to care as well.
I should like to sum up so that no one can say that we have not stated our views clearly; I know that people tend to forget what has been said before. We shall act as quickly as possible fully to support the new measures of the Community. That must be done. We shall update Brambell and the codes of welfare for farm animals. We shall update the legislation on experiments on live animals. We shall examine the working of the export of live animals, and we shall call a halt to the export of old cows and ewes recently calved and lambed.
We Conservatives believe that these are sensible, positive steps and are the right way forward for animal welfare.
Before I call the next hon. Member, I make one further appeal before I leave the Chair. There are 16 hon. Members who feel very strongly on this question, as well I know, and who wish to speak. It will be very frustrating if hon. Members who have stayed all day cannot be called, but that will be possible only if speeches last less than 10 minutes.
It is right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for enabling us to have this debate. Having said that, it is a sad commentary on the actual need for it. It is sad because we must devote time to the subject of animal welfare only because human beings are persistently cruel to the animals with whom we share this planet. Given that that is the situation, it is only right that we spend time on this matter.
It is my strong belief, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), that compassion is indivisible. There cannot be a rounded human being who claims concern over areas involving humans and who is blind and deaf to the pleas of animals.
I want to comment briefly on four matters, but, before doing so, I assume that the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) has spoken with the authority of the Conservative Front Bench. It might have been nicer had the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) been present, but I assume that the hon. Gentleman was speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party. I am extremely disappointed at the negative attitude that has been taken in relation to the council for animal welfare which the Prime Minister announced yesterday. With the encouragement of some of his hon. Friends, I hope that the hon. Member for Devon, West will think again and consider whether a rash and hurried judgment has not been made.
The four matters on which I want to comment start with live exports. To some extent, what the Common Market proposes to do with regard to transport is encouraging, but the question still remains; can we get an absolute guarantee from the Commission and individual member States that these tighter rules will be any better respected and enforced than those currently in force? I said"guarantee ", and guarantee there must be. The onus must rest on those who are in favour of this trade to demonstrate that these guarantees can be given and are meant.
I find it quite astonishing that proponents and supporters of this trade entirely overlook the economic arguments. To a real extent we are exporting jobs. Every day of the week, 2,400 live animals—cattle, sheep and pigs—leave these shores, yet we have abattoirs working well under capacity and tanneries and the leather industry facing job problems. It is a crazy situation when people wanting skins, hides and other products have to buy them back across the exchanges. That piece of arithmetic is never taken into account by those who say that the economic arguments of this trade are finely balanced.
The export of live animals for slaughter has been going on for 20 years. So sustained has been the concern over this trade that it has led to not one inquiry, not two inquiries, but three. It started with the Balfour inquiry, which promised all sorts of assurances, rules and regulations, after which everything in the garden would be lovely. I have no doubt that the promises made from the Dispatch Boxes when that report was debated were well meant, but they were so successful that yet another committee of inquiry had to be formed.
The O'Brien committee agreed that Balfour had not gone far enough and promised to turn the screw. That, in turn, led to the interdepartmental review whose report was published almost 12 months ago to the day. Why has the concern over the export of live animals been so sustained? The hon. Member for Devon, West and his colleagues must admit that this is due not only to the fears but to the allegations of persistent and consistent carelessness and breaches of regulations which have been made and established.
One has to remember that matters of proof are left to the animal welfare societies. The record of inspection of my right hon. Friend's Ministry—I have to say this—is miserable. One can count on the fingers of one hand the number of consignments each year which are accompanied by inspectors from that Ministry. From memory, I do not think that there was one consignment last year that was followed from start to finish. The best they can manage is to hop over to the other side of the Channel, have a cup of coffee, and come back.
I welcome what the Prime Minister said yesterday about the establishment of a new advisory committee on the transport of farm animals. Why has this taken five years? It was recommended by the O'Brien committee when it reported. The then Minister of Agriculture stood at the Dispatch Box and said that if the trade was resumed it would be against the background of the recommendations in that report. My right hon. Friend's statement yesterday about this committee is the only recommendation of substance on which action has been taken in the past five years.
I should like to mention poultry. I am glad that the Ministry has arranged for its veterinary officers to carry out welfare inspections over the next six months of 350 holdings with laying flocks of over 1,000 birds and of holdings with smaller flocks. This is a good development, but is it not further evidence of a quiet acknowledgment that present welfare codes are not working?
It is difficult to find out exactly what is the position. I asked in a written parliamentary question for the number of second or subsequent visits made to poultry battery units over the last five years. The reply was that records of second or subsequent visits are not separately kept. Why are they not separately kept? I hope it is not because second or subsequent visits are not made where clear breaches of the welfare codes are established. If they are made, I should like to know what is the problem about making the figures available. What is worse is the fact that details of breaches of the codes or other welfare regulations found on these visits, infrequent as they axe, are not recorded centrally. No one keeps a list. No one can say whether the record of the industry is good, bad or indifferent. One can draw inferences, but that is not good enough. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will take this point aboard and see whether changes can be made.
I accept what my hon. Friend says. Will he acknowledge that the root cause of these problems is the search for private profit? I hope that in urging the Government to look into this matter he will keep in mind that a Government committed to social concern are more likely to run these problems to earth.
That is the case. There is an argument over the development of intensive methods of egg production. There may be consequences, as the hon. Member for Devon, West said, for the consumer. We have been hurled into this method of production by a dual bid to keep egg prices as low as possible and to maximise profits out of that activity. We have been pushed pell-mell into this situation, with totally inadequate thought. It is not as though these methods are the only way of producing a reasonably priced egg. A paper is to be published soon on research into the"straw yard"system which gives some promise of an alternative method of producing the eggs that the nation needs and wants.
In turning to the matter of horses, I must say, in passing, that this has been a good week for animal welfare. I am told that the Ministry of Agriculture, after two years of head scratching, has decided to introduce a code of practice to guide the operators of horse and pony sales. It is two years since the British Horse Society put proposals to the Minister. I know that consultations have to take place. The Ministry carried out one investigation and then decided, presumably on the basis of what was discovered, that there should be another detailed investigation. That process has taken two years. I believe that it might have been done more quickly. But the situation has now been reached where codes of practice are to be introduced. It is not before time.
The Ministry has been slow to respond to changes which have happened within that trade. There has been a vast increase in the number of live horses sent abroad for slaughter.
I also want to mention the question of performing animals. It strikes me as curious that millions of people in this country, with its proper concern for welfare, regard it as a treat to take children to circuses to see animals, which should be in the wild, trained and, I suspect, beaten to perform so-called tricks, and that this is considered to be a pleasurable and pleasant activity. This shows how schizophrenic people can be. I have been guilty of taking my small daughter to the circus, but that was the last time. The penny dropped when I saw what a lioness in that circus was expected to do.
I do not suggest that this House or any Goverment should produce instant answers. But it is one of the areas—I repeat this to the hon. Member for Devon, West—which the council for animal welfare should discuss and not simply issue recommendations about. There should be discussions in the open. There have been too many closed doors in this area for too long. Every one of those doors needs ripping from its hinges to encourage those who are concerned and have opinions on these matters to come to the new council to debate and discuss the issue in the open where statements can be challenged and evidence cross-examined. Only if the council operates in that way will it be seen as a proper response to the sustained and growing concern over animal welfare.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr referred to the Home Office advisory committee on the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act. That body has been ludicrously inattentive to its duties. For example, the Home Office finds it impossible to tell me how many of the 20,000 licensed experimenters hold which of the two kinds of licence that it issues under the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. That is a measure of the lack of proper work that the committee has done.
I could go on, but I do not want to bore the House. I do not pick only on the Home Office. The Department of Education and Science cannot tell me how many of the experiments funded by the Medical Research Council or sponsored by it involve experiments on living animals and of what species, yet it is forking out money to make those experiments possible.
This is why it is vital that the council for animal welfare is not attached, limpet-like, to any one Department. If it does its work properly it will raise issues involving five, six or perhaps seven Departments, and it needs to be totally independent. Perhaps it would be sensible if it reported to the highest political office in the land, at No. 10 Downing Street.
There has been a good deal of comment about the document"Living Without Cruelty ". I am proud that it is the Labour Party which took the historic step for any party in this country—that is not an over-statement—of setting out its attitude to animal welfare. There have been attempts to blacken this document, to mislead people into believing that we propose to ban angling. That is not the case—not for reasons that hon. Members opposite may say but because angling is engaged in for competition, when fish are thrown back, or for obtaining food. That may raise arguments about vegetarianism, but that is an argument for another day and it is not in this document.
Since this is a historic document for our party, I hope that every other party will attend to this matter and issue its own statement—not, I would say to the hon. Member for Devon, West, because of some suspicion that there might be an early general election. Those who have written to hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench inquiring about the party's attitude to animal welfare, live exports, experiments and other issues have been getting answers totally unlike those given by the hon. Member for Devon, West today. That policy has been cooked up over the last couple of weeks. I do not object to that, but let us have no pretence about the matter.
If the hon. Member says that, he should look at letters signed by the Shadow Home Secretary or statements made by the Conservative Central Office research department over the whole field. I have them, and I shall show them.
I shall not get into an argument about that. I welcome much of what the hon. Member for Devon, West said and hope that he said it on behalf not just of the Shadow Cabinet but of the high command of his party. Those of us involved in the General Election Co-ordinating Committee for Animal Protection are determined that animal welfare will be an issue at the forthcoming general election. The only way in which we shall make sensible progress in improving animal welfare will be not when parties publish documents or pass resolutions but when they give commitments in black and white in their election manifestos. The Government they form will then be able to provide the time to deal with these matters.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) spoiled his speech in the last four or five minutes. I understand his impatience, which he expressed with great force. Perhaps what is between us is whether what the Government are doing, as opposed to what is in any manifesto, is likely to make anything better.
I add my congratulations to those already offered to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on having given us this opportunity to discuss a matter of great concern and importance. I agreed with much of what he said. I only regret, like so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that he and a group of his hon. Friends have chosen to put this matter into the context of party politics just before an election. I do not think that it will do them any good, however.
We have enough to quarrel about in this House. This is an emotive subject. To whip what are basically decent emotions into a lather for the sake of party politics will cause a lot of pointless ill will—and, worst of all, will do nothing for the animals about which we, and I am sure the hon. Member, are genuinely concerned. In that context, I regret that he should have selected field sports and the pamphlet"Putting Animals into Politics"as one of the main planks in his platform.
The hon. Gentleman's main claim, that there is a need to bring animals into politics, has been more or less exploded during the debate. My own short researches show that there have been 22 Acts since 1876 on the protection of and prevention of cruelty to animals, and 19 statutory instruments since 1955, not to mention all the inquiries. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman can do to get animals further into politics, unless he wishes to bring them literally into this Chamber as a sort of Noah's Ark. The record shows that we can get things done in this place and that a great deal of attention has consistently been paid to this subject over the years.
I now turn to what the Government intend to do. Since there is no proposition before the House, that seems important. I do not care a bit whether a council for animal welfare is brought into being by a dying Government just before an election or by a vigorous Government just after if it will achieve what the Minister of Agriculture claims for it. I have nothing in principle against it, but I have doubts about its efficacy, on which I should like reassurances from the Government. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) would like such assurances also.
Bodies of that sort can sit for years producing voluminous reports or series of reports, during which time Ministers have a perfectly natural tendency to refer all our complaints and ideas to them. Either that or they do not possess the resources themselves to follow up this vast range of questions and, therefore, refer us back all the time to the Ministries concerned, thereby increasing the delay. It sounds all right, but in the light of experience and these considerations, will the council really work?
I should like to give a few examples of the sort of interest that I have in this matter. I am at present in correspondence on these questions with the Ministries and I have no reason to think that they are not taking them seriously. The conditions of horses in transit, for example, are covered by the Transit of Horses Order 1951, superseded by the Transit of Animals (Road and Rail) Order 1975. That legislation makes no provision for the separation of horses from ponies—or, if we like, the separation of horses by size—which on a long journey can cause a great deal of distress. Although there is a provision for separating stallions and mares, there is no provision for rigs. These matters could be put right by short amending legislation.
One of the gravest matters is the question of markets for horses. I am concerned here that the Export of Animals (Protection) Order 1964, amended in 1965—quite recently—for some reason does not apply to horses. The growth of these horse sales for meat, and many, I suspect,
for export, is alarming. The conditions are without any control, they can be appallingly cruel, they take place at night without any check at all. Simply to amend the legislation slightly might suffice to put an end to this vicious practice. But it is urgent. I do not know whether the creation of a body of this kind will make the task easier.
I am also concerned with certain aspects of the Act dealing with riding establishments. It could be quickly and easily amended by the Minister involved. I am principally interested in horses, but the other matters mentioned imply a body of vast size with tremendous resources to cope, for instance, with whaling, the seal cull and vivisection.
We cannot sensibly separate the protection of animals from conservation. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is a remarkably successful organisation. It is growing at the rate of 1,000 new members a week. It can tell us what species are threatened around our shores, especially in the marshlands, estuaries and wetlands. The Bewick swan has a world population of only 10,000, 18 per cent. of which winters here. Over half the world's population of pale-bellied Brent geese, only 12,000 in all, winter here in our estaries. A number of waders are threatened in the same way. The estuaries where they feed are few in number and many are threatened with reclamation or development.
That is a major advance, I agree.
It is cruel and blind to cause the extinction of a species in this way. Poaching is also within the terms of the council.
I want to illustrate the number of matters which command or require a different range of expertise if a sensible judgment is to be made. How many staff will the council have? How many vets will there be, and of what kind? Will there be people who are capable of judging this vast range of matters? What will it cost? We know from the Minister's helpful speech that the council will recommend changes in the law, but will the changes come about faster through this organisation than simply by pursuing the matter with Ministries, as we do at present?
The pamphlet"Putting Animals into Politics"was the inspiration of a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said. It places field sports as the main target. It purports to carry the support of a wide, large and varied list of organisations, some of which did not realise that their names were being used in this context.
How can it have come about that a series of umbrella organisations, such as the Humane Education Council, pledged the names of their constituent member organisations to these objectives, including field sports, without referring to them? This is an important and danger-out misrepresentation. It is a well-known technique. It is akin to the technique of the front organisation. I am sorry and surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby should have lent his name to this matter.
Some organisations have withdrawn their support. I refer to the British Horse Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I understand that the Council for Nature has withdrawn, as has the"Watch"Club, which is an important junior branch of the Promotion of Nature Conservation. I have received a letter from the British Pony Society saying that it completely disagrees with that objective.
This debate should not have been the occasion for speeches about field sports. However, the hon. Member for Perry Barr made that inevitable. There must be an answer on the subject. The main target is hunting. The matter was mentioned by other hon. Members. I respectfully offer these statistics. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will treat them seriously.
At present there are 435 packs of hounds of all kinds, and about 50,000 people ride to hounds every weekend. At a conservative estimate, that must involve a further 150,000 people. Those who follow on foot or by car every week amount to about I million people. Ridding has increased in this country at the rate of 15 per cent. over the past six years. I do not think that any hon. Member would regret that. It is interesting that the growth of subscriptions to hunting has risen correspondingly by 15 per cent. in the same time. All this would be absolutely impossible if it were not for the collaboration, co-operation and friendship of farmers and landowners. The problems of hunting are those of success, not of failure, as more and more followers and others become interested. I refer not only to people from the countryside but to those from the towns.
The Government of Germany make a determined effort to encourage riding. The authorities in North Rhine, Westphalia, subsidise the breeding of horses for riding with 1½ million deutschemarks a year and riding instruction with 3 million deutschemarks a year. In this country not a penny comes from the Government. Why? The basic reason is hunting. The Government of Germany admit that there is a major difficulty in finding ground on which people may ride. In this country there is no problem, due again to hunting.
It is a shame to insert into this debate a political attack on legitimate and legal country sports, and in that respect the hon. Gentleman has done his cause nothing but harm. Putting animals into politics is one thing; using animals for politics is another.
I welcome this debate and the opportunity given to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I welcome the Government's announcement yesterday of a new council for animal welfare and the further information given this morning, especially that the reports will be made public. I should like to press the Government to make public the reports and working papers, especially those of the three standing committees that will be responsible to the council.
If the first mark of a civilised society is the way that it treats its human beings, the second must be the way that it cares for its natural environment and all the creatures that live in it. Cruelty to man or animals diminishes us all.
It is easy to be sentimental about animals. We have all been influenced by children's stories which ascribe human characteristics to animals, such as the good mole or the bad weasel. It is easy to champion this or that rare animal or bird and care little for the rest. The clubbing of seals appals most of us. I wish that it appalled everybody. It is much harder to be concerned for the dock rat. If animals must be destroyed, they must be destroyed humanely. We must be concerned to be humane to all animals, and not selectively.
I welcome the council, as it will look at the whole problem of animal welfare and put it into perspective. It will ensure that action is taken. That is important. One of our fears is that there have been too many councils and commissions which have become talking shops. That is my warning. I expect the body to produce action. The council must be independent from those who, unfortunately, make profits out of cruelty. That fact must be stressed. It must not be a talking shop or an excuse for delaying action. I hope that the Government will make it clear that they expect the council to act quickly and, further, that they will speedily implement its recommendations. I want the council to achieve results in 12 months, not to spend five or six years talking about things.
The council must be particularly concerned about several points which have already been referred to. The first one which I select is the export of live animals which are to be slaughtered upon arrival at their destination. This practice inflicts a totally unnecessary amount of appalling suffering. We should make it clear to our Common Market partners that we are abandoning this trade now and expect them to follow suit, rather than press for alterations in journey times.
A few years ago it could, perhaps, have been said that if the trade had been abolished it would have caused farmers' incomes to fall. I do not believe that that is true today. The animals should be slaughtered in the abattoir nearest to where they are raised. We have clear evidence that almost every abattoir in the country is operating below capacity. The animals ought to be slaughtered there and the frozen carcases sent on. We should insist that our abattoirs are used. Incidentally, the standards in those abattoirs are, on the whole, much higher than those in Europe.
The second area of action concerns experimentation on live animals. This may have been justified in 1876, on the ground that such experiments would save human life and alleviate suffering, yet today we are told that two out of every three such experiments are carried out not for essential medical reasons but to test new cosmetics or tobacco substitutes. I do not believe that 5 million such experiments can possibly be justified. We need speedy action to stop them.
The truth is that most of the non-medical experiments—and, sadly, even some of the medical ones—are being carried out so that big companies can make big profits. It is clear from modern scientific advance that many of these tests can be eliminated or carried out using nonliving substances. Purely on scientific grounds we ought to be saying that the figure of 5 million experiments is no longer acceptable. If any experiments continue, we must know the reason why. There should be a genuine public debate about the essential nature of such experiments.
It is unfortunate that almost everyone who keeps a pet claims to be an animal lover. However, many people inflict a great deal of cruelty and suffering on their pets. At about this time last year I was asking questions about the number of stray dogs involved in worrying animals. In 1977 more than 4,000 sheep were worried to death by stray dogs. A further 3,000 sheep were seriously injured. From talking to farmers, I know that if their sheep survive they often do not get round to reporting incidents to the police. I also have figures showing that 21 cows were worried to death by stray dogs, and a larger number were seriously injured. Those stray dogs were almost certainly someone's pets. We often see stories in the newspapers—when one of the dogs doing the worrying has been shot by a farmer—describing how some small child is heartbroken over the death of his pet. He cannot believe that the nice little dog with which he played had done such dreadful damage.
I also asked questions about the number of road accidents caused by stray dogs. I was told that over 1,603 accidents occurred in which a dog was reported as being a significant factor. A total of 13 people were killed in 1977 as a result of road accidents involving stray dogs. Action has to be taken. What disturbs me is that in 1976 the Government established a working party to deal with the subject. A report embodying many sensible recommendations was produced. The Government ought to implement that report rather than refer pieces of it to local authorities.
I come now to the subject of blood sports. We ought not to use the word"sports"in this context. To watch an animal being torn apart does not seem to be capable of being described as a sport. What amazes me is that frequently we hear of problems arising when people seek to walk peacefully through the countryside. However, a person following the hounds is allowed to tear across almost all of the countryside unchecked. Throughout the country we have evidence that in areas where hunting does not take place the foxes, hares and other animals do not create a problem. It is time that blood sports were made illegal. I very much regret that in the past five years it has been the House of Lords which has stopped a ban on hare coursing.
I promised to be brief, and I shall fulfil that promise. It is odd that having, centuries ago, achieved a high degree of technical skill with textiles, we should still insist that people should kill animals merely to enable us to wear their skins. We ought to stop that practice now. I hope that the proposed council will take action on this front. I could go on to deal with intensive farming. I support the plea that has been made for everyone who buys food to acquaint himself with how it is produced. I no longer consider eating veal, because I know how it is produced. If people knew more about the way in which some foods were produced, they would be more prepared to carry out a boycott. I welcome the setting up of the council and the announcement earlier in the week about the protection of the Ribble estuary. I welcome, too, the answer that I received about farming in the countryside and the initiatives which the Department is taking.
I shall avoid the temptation to range over the whole field of animal welfare and concentrate on two subjects only, the proposed council for animal welfare and the export of live animals for slaughter. I give a cautious welcome to the council for animal welfare. My caution is based on experience of such bodies.
There are two key issues, and whilst I am glad to know that representatives of the veterinary profession, welfare organisations and farmers are to be included, I think that the choice of personnel of the council is crucial. I hope that people will be picked not simply because they represent an organisation but because they have expertise in their particular field and, at the same time, have a known commitment to animal welfare. Such a person would be the farmer with a wide-ranging knowledge of his subject who was also deeply interested in animal welfare.
The other key issue is whether the Government of the day act upon the advice they receive. Let us take two examples only. Judging from the record of the present Government, the omens do not look good. There was the report on dogs produced by an independent committee—the joint advisory committee on pets in society, which is known by its initials as JACOPIS. This was followed by a Department of the Environment working party report published in 1976. Despite every effort by those of us who are interested in animal welfare, the Government have done nothing. They have given every conceivable reason for not taking action.
There is also the vexed question of the export of live animals. Members on both sides of the House have pressed the Government to allow time for a debate and for the House to make another decision on the matter. The leaflet produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on animal exports was published a year ago. If it were not for the time afforded by the initiative of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Roker), we would still be waiting and bewailing the lack of such a debate. I have no great confidence that the council for animal welfare's recommendations will be taken any more seriously when actual opportunities afforded to the Government have not been taken.
I am inclined to say"Pull the other leg; it has bells on ".
In the matter of the export of live animals for slaughter, I believe that the British Veterinary Association has it right when it says that animals should be slaughtered as near the point of production as possible. I go along with that principle, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), who cannot be present today owing to long-standing constituency commitments. We share the same view entirely.
I now deal with the arguments put forward by the Minister of Agriculture for not taking action on banning animal exports. I think that his notion of trying to work with the EEC is entirely misconceived. There is a sufficiently strong case to take unilateral action and invoke article 36 of the Treaty of Rome on this question. We should seek to bring the EEC along with us. Why should we move at the pace of the slowest? We should give a lead in Europe on this matter, and I say that not as an anti-European but as one who is in favour of our membership of the Common Market.
We have a very strong case indeed. Though 83 per cent. of these exports are in carcase form, that still leaves over 1 million animals who go on the hoof. Many of these are calves. The precise numbers read as follows: cattle 503,264, sheep 581,203 and pigs 13,458. These are not insignificant numbers, and we have evidence from a number of animal welfare societies, notably the RSPCA, that there are sufficient breaches of the regulations to suggest that they are not isolated. All attempts to enforce those regulations have failed. Why, therefore, should we be asked to put faith in the tightening up of regulations when the current regulations are not working?
For the interest of the House, let me hold up the 59 vehicle trail reports produced by the RSPCA since 1977. We should remember that the RSPCA did a great deal of work before that date. I take the last example, for 5 and 6 February 1979, as the dust clearly has not had time to settle on this one.
When 800 sheep were exported, the time in transit was 27 hours and 25 minutes; the time without feeding was 27 hours and 25 minutes; and the distance travelled in Europe was 758 kilometres. We have to remember, of course that a kilometre is five-eighths of a mile.
I am suggesting that the number of breaches and the impossibility of tracking them all down is so great that it is better to have a total ban and to move towards the carcase trade, which already represents a very large percentage of total meat exports.
Attempts have been made in the past to pour cold water on the efforts of the welfare societies to provide information, but it is a most telling point that many of the inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture have not had the time—anyway, there are insufficient of them—to do this work and it has been left to voluntary effort. That is very bad.
I want to emphasise one point made by the BVA concerning stress in animals that have to travel long distances. I shall quote from a submission made by the BVA on the subject. When I spoke to one of its members yesterday, I was told that this still is very much the association's point of view. It reads:
Veterinary surgeons, by their training—and more particularly by the experience—are peculiarly qualified to assess fear and suffering in animals. We are consequently particularly conscious of the extent to which transport—in any form—causes fear and predisposes to the possibility of suffering…. With each loading and unloading there is attendant risk.
The BVA makes a further point, which is that the loss of weight in animals in transport can vary from about 3 per cent. to, in very bad conditions of transport, 7 per cent. within 24 hours. That is most telling.
I am also worried that this matter will continue to be debated in Europe for several years, when decisive action needs to be taken now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on initiating a debate on such a splendid subject. He gave so many facts that there is not much left for the rest of us to say. I particularly liked his reference to putting animals into politics. He did not say"party politics ", just into politics—in other words, making the matter an election issue. If both the major parties accept the same objectives, it will no longer be a party issue.
I welcome that animal welfare should become a party issue at election time because that is the most likely way of getting results. There is general agreement among hon. Members about the enormous cruelty being caused to animals through experiments, factory farming, live exports for slaughter and blood sports. However, little has resulted from all this feeling. That is why animal welfare societies have decided to make this an election issue. They have tried for long enough to get results by other means, and now they have rightly decided that it should become an election issue.
Many other issues which do not separate the parties have become election issues. Abortion, for instance, has become an election issue in many constituencies, certainly in mine. Other such issues are indecent displays and law and order. I am trying to make retirement for men at the age of 60 an election issue. Therefore, my hon. Friend is our-suing a legitimate course of action, which is nothing to be ashamed of. I cannot understand the reluctance that surrounds animal welfare in that respect.
The animal welfare societies were getting nowhere in their campaigns, so they appealed to all the parties. The Labour Party responded, and I hope that the other parties will follow suit. If they do, I am sure that this matter will no longer be an issue between the two sides of the House.
In reply to a point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), may I say that we are not trying to abolish angling or the keeping of cage birds. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of a general absence of cruelty in farming, but the space allotted to cage birds is a paradise compared with that for battery hens or confined pigs. Cruelty of that kind brings no benefit, although mention has been made of economics. An old lady living on her own may find companionship in keeping a caged bird, and it is remarkable how close that relationship can become. Battery meat, however, does not bring benefits. It is highly inferior and more likely to be drug-injected.
It has already been shown that about 90 per cent. of tests on animals are totally unnecessary. The cruelty perpetrated in that way is far greater than that of primitive people who do not claim to have any love for wild animals.
More should have been said about the cruelty of exporting live animals for slaughter. These exports should be banned in the interests of the economy, and we are inconsistent on that matter. The Government believe that as fas as possible North Sea oil should be refined in this country to save jobs. More jobs could be saved if animals were not exported for slaughter but killed in local abattoirs. That would provide jobs not only in abattoirs but in the manufacture of by-products.
The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) said that blood sports should be a matter of conscience. On an occasion when there were not many people in the House, I went to see a television programme by Professor Hoskins on the landscapes of England. To my surprise, there was another hon. Member watching whom I did not think was interested in that sort of thing. The programme concerned the East Midlands, which is the hunting country. When the animal was chased and pulled apart, I was astonished to hear the noises of excitement coming from the hon. Member. They far outclassed any noises that would come from the torrid sexual scenes in any X-certificate film. That was not conscience but a mental imbalance or some kind of mental disease.
We should discourage that sort of thing, as we should others that have bad effects on children and people generally. It is not merely a question of personal freedom to do what one likes. The oft-repeated argument is concern for the effect on other people, old and young. Many lonely old people who are shunned by others are only able to express their innate love to animals. They are horrified and distressed when they know that animals are tortured in most unpleasant circumstances. I have always acted as parent and teacher in the belief that children should be encouraged to show kindness and love to animals. If that is so, they will easily extend that love to their families. They will grow up more happily in the community and share their love and concern.
I hope that the Government—any Government—will treat animal welfare with the attention it deserves in the interests of the community, as well as out of a sense of decency towards animals.
I hope to keep to the rules and speak for less than 10 minutes, because I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. I declare an interest. I am a member of the National Farmers' Union, a member of the world wildlife council, and for more than 25 years I was a livestock auctioneer, so I have sold thousands of cattle, sheep and pigs.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on choosing this subject for debate. I welcome the Government's rather belated decision to set up the council for animal welfare. I hope that the council will have teeth. It could play a leading role. One could liken it to the Nature Conservancy, which has been consulted over things such as endangered species. If the council can play such a role, it will be a great step forward.
The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that no other party had actually published anything on animal welfare. I assure him that the Liberal Party has done so. At a council meeting last November we passed a general resolution on the subject, and since then the committee which looks into these matters—the agriculture, food and environment committee—has set out its views on intensive animal husbandry, horses and ponies, dogs in the community, experiments on live animals and export of live animals. I have copies here if anyone wants to see them. My party will be fighting a large number of seats in the next election, and we have publicly stated our views on animal welfare very clearly.
During my time in the House I have been delighted to take part in the passing of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act. I am very pleased that during the same period the otter has been given protection in England and Wales, although I think that this protection should be extended to Scotland. Also, I have been able to support the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) on a large number of resolutions, and I have accompanied him and the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on a number of all-party delegations to see the Minister.
However, I am bitterly disappointed that we have not acted more decisively over the plight of whales. The very least that we could have done was to ban the import of whale products into this country. On a visit to Japan two years ago, I asked the Japanese Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Agriculture what they would do to set a lead to the world in banning the catching of whales. I was told, in a rather halfhearted manner, about the number of people who were employed in this industry and how any decision on banning would be difficult politically. However, if they do not stop there will not be any whales left. If the Japanese stop, I am sure that the Russians will follow them. I do, however, appreciate how difficult it is to get world agreement.
Like many other people, I am pretty disgusted with the harp seal culls in Canada. I have taken petitions to Canada House, but, frankly, we must put our own house in order first. It was not many months ago that there was to be a big cull of grey seals in Scotland, and we were importing Norwegians to come and do it for us. At the time I was in the Scilly Isles, where there are a number of grey seals, and no one seems to worry about them down there. Why is it that the grey seal population seems to increase so much around the Orkneys? Also, how many grey seals are left in the world? Before we go ahead with a cull of that sort, we should have a great deal more information.
The real problems is that all these animals—seals, and wild birds in particular—are in grave danger from oil pollution. We do not need to do much to cull them because, unfortunately, they will surely die from oil pollution. Shetland is the latest example of this. It is a magnificent wild bird area—a wonderful place to see puffins. What a tragedy to learn of the enormous number of deaths there, particularly among cormorants and other sea birds. Even sheep are now being killed by oil.
It was marvellous to realise the other day that the Government had been able to help in purchasing the Ribble estuary, but that purchase will be useless if the present rate of oil spills is allowed to continue.
I used to farm. I gave it up about four years ago, but my two sons are both farm workers. At one time I kept 60 sows which used to run around in all sorts of muddy conditions. I ran a couple of boars, and they used to litter out. Then realised that I was never going to make any money out of rearing pigs unless I put them under cover. When I went and looked at one of these big pig units, in which the sows are kept in a pen and tethered for three months of the year and then allowed to go and farrow, and the boars run round to make sure they catch them all, I said that there was no way that I could accept that method. Pigs are intelligent animals and one becomes fond of them.
I do not criticise the farmer, because the only way in which he can make a living is by employing modern methods. In the last four or five years the farmer has had a dreadful job to make a living out of pigs. There has been little profit in pork production. Therefore, the pig farmer is forced to use these methods. Pig farming can be inefficient because of the sow that eats more than all the others put together. I even had one sow that ate my chickens; it would put a hoof on a live hen when it had its head down during feeding. If the view is"We shall eat only pork that is produced outside in the open air ", the public will have to pay for it. That is the rub. The same argument applies to broilers and egg production. We must be realistic about these matters.
We also must be realistic about the export of live animals. For generations there has been the trade in cattle coming from Ireland to be fattened in Scotland, in the North of England and on the East Coast. We must allow that trade to continue. We cannot put an end to somebody's livelihood because it is felt that cattle should no longer be sent across the Irish Sea. Nearly all cattle transported off the Isle of Wight are live. There is only one slaughterhouse on the Isle of Wight, and we are in danger of losing that. No doubt there will be an increasing trade involving live animals transported by lorry and on the boats. I do not think that there is anything one can do in regard to breeeding and further fattening, except by improving conditions.
My experience as an auctioneer dealing with farmers, cattle drovers and hauliers is that such people are of the highest quality. They are able and skilled, and though perhaps there is sometimes a little negligence, they are not cruel people. Therefore, I regard any remarks to that effect as misplaced.
I believe that in regard to the O'Brien recommendations the ban should not have been lifted without greater supervision. I believe that it was wrong to allow the export of calves for immediate slaughter, and that also applies to sheep. I would support a ban on the export of calves of only three or four days old. It is cruel enough to take a calf from a cow which has just calved—farmers have to take this step because it is the only way they can achieve milk production—but it is extremely cruel if calves are sent several hundred miles, often taking in two or three markets on the way. I do not believe that we should support such a trade.
Furthermore, because so many calves are being sent from this country, we have a shortage of animals for rearing. I am now being asked by farmers what the Government intend to do to enable animals to be left in this country for sale. Therefore I believe that the ban could be reimposed, and I should like to see that happen quickly. I think that the same argument can probably be applied to sheep.
However, similar arguments do not apply to older cattle. I believe that trade should be allowed to continue in respect of animals of six, nine or 12 months. We should ban the trade in cows that have just calved or ewes that have just lambed. Such animals should not come into the market in any case, because they are in a dreadful state. This happens at times of glut when the dairy cow prices are low and the barren price is up. However, this is not a good practice, and I hate to see this happening in our markets.
In considering bans on the importation of certain animals, I wish to put in a plea for the tortoise. Large numbers of tortoises die when they are brought into this country in alien conditions. I have been told that 83 per cent. of tortoises imported into Germany die within the first 12 months. That is a dreadful situation. I am sure that there is a similar pattern in this and in many other countries. I should like to see a ban on the importation of tortoises.
I agree with a great deal of the remarks made about the experiments on live animals. Many of the present practices are horrible. Some experiments are carried out in disgusting conditions, and this subject has been dealt with recently on television.
I believe that there is a need to raise dog licence fees. I was glad that last night we refused to approve the increase in gun licence fees. The dog licence fee is still set at the equivalent of the old figure of 7s. 6d. It is amazing that we have done nothing about that. One campaign has suggested setting the fee at £5. I suggest a higher figure. I exclude pensioners, the disabled, the blind and similar categories, but those who keep large dogs in towns and let them roam at random should not be allowed to get away with it. Sensible people would not take on such burdens so quickly. We should act now to deal with this situation.
Many bodies want to go further and impose a ban on all field sports. I regard that attitude as mistaken. I do not hunt, but I have allowed hunts to go across my land. I am not one of those who get worked up about trying to ban fox hunting. I shall go on record—and I shall say this on platforms for the next general election—that I do not support the ban on fox hunting. Many inaccuracies were put around recently about hare coursing. Since then I have attended a hare coursing meeting.
In my constituency one farmer has had to trap 60 foxes in a winter. That is a pretty nasty death for a fox. Shooting a fox or a hare is also pretty nasty. Dogs will always chase hares—nature itself is cruel. Do we ban cats because they kill birds? That is what the matter comes down to.
The activities of hunt saboteurs are counter-productive and tend to alienate those who are otherwise sympathetic to our aims. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) was correct when he said that if one bans fox hunting one may as well ban birds from being kept in cages in front rooms. Britain's record in its treatment of animals is good compared with the rest of the world. However, there is much more that we can and should do if our claim to be the most animal-loving nation in the world is to be substantiated. I hope that the council which is due to be set up will take action on some of the points that have been raised today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has been congratulated on his choice of subject. If it were not for the fact that he was first on the list of hon. Members able to choose their subjects, the debate would not have taken place. I remind the House of my experience when I introduced a Bill to abolish hare coursing and stag hunting. It was blocked by a Conservative filibuster. On another occasion I was second in the list of hon. Members to introduce a Private Member's motion. It was on the abolition of cruel sports, and on that matter I was allowed only three minutes at the end of the day. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr for the opportunity to speak on the subject.
Much has been said about the various aspects of animal welfare. I go along with all that has been said, and there is a certain amount of consensus on both sides of the House. However, it has emerged from the debate that there is a great difference of opinion between the Labour and the Opposition Benches about cruel sports. I should like to make my observations on that subject.
Whatever is said about the welfare of animals, one thing is certain: no argument can justify the pursuit and killing of animals for pleasure. I remind the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that the argument, in essence, against field sports is that they are engaged in for pleasure. I believe that there is something wrong with people who engage in them. Who are they? What do they do? The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) declared that he started hunting when he was very young. That is how they are started—very young.
Recently, a 17 year-old master of the beagles, who attends that college of education and excellence—Eton—was very upset when his day's sport was interrupted by hunt saboteurs. The saboteurs laid a false trail to prevent the beagles following the hare. The young man noticed a banner reading"Sussex University"in the coach used by the saboteurs. Some of the students of that university were among those doing their best to stop the pursuit of the hares.
The young man, Timothy Vestey, immediately went to his dad—Edmund Vestey, who is well known as one of the partners in the great meat empire, which is rather significant in a way, and the master of Puckeridge and Thurlow fox hounds. Mr. Vestey is also the chairman of the Blue Star line which is part of the family empire. He found that the Blue Star line had given a scholarship to an employee to pursue a postgraduate course at Sussex university. He told the college concerned that he was stopping the scholarship until the students mended their ways.
The student enjoying the scholarship took no part in the foray against the hunt, but Mr. Vestey stopped his grant, which had run for two years, and put the student at risk. Fortunately, there was a happy ending because someone else made up the deficit. No doubt while young Master Vestey was following the beagles his father was engaging in his favourite sport of fox hunting, unless the weather was not propitious for hunting.
No doubt Mr. Vestey would echo the arguments of Conservative Members about the efficacy of hunting as a means of controlling the number of foxes, or, when challenged to the effect that foxes are bred in order to provide the necessary sport, he would talk in terms of conservation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we ought to expose the hypocrisy of those who defend fox hunting as a means of keeping down pests, and so on, by referring to the practice that hunters prefer to keep secret, namely, the blooding of hounds, when, without all the regalia and noise, they take some of the young from a family of foxes and give them to the dogs to tear up so that they are blooded and have a scent for the real hunt? Is not that a condemnation of hunters?
I am grateful for that intervention. It brings out another facet of this so-called sport.
Perhaps the most savage and cruel activity is that of deer and stag hunting. The horror of the chase has been brought out time and again. It finishes either with the beast being savaged by the hounds and probably killed or, as happens in so many instances, swimming out to sea, and probably drowning, in order to escape the relentless pursuers.
That has gone on in the name of sport for too long. Only this place can stop it. It is only by bringing animals into politics that it can be stopped. Only a Labour Government will bring an end to this sport, which has so many supporters and defenders on the Opposition Benches.
Having listened to a very inaccurate and misleading speech by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw), I find myself welcoming the idea of a council, if it will get rid of such ignorant speeches and such ignorant views as we have heard expressed on the subject of field sports. Field sports have nothing to fear from the setting up of the council. I am very glad that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Parliamentary Secretary have listened to most of the debate.
It is the view of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association that if the council proposed by the Government is to carry any authenticity and authority it must have a distinguished member of the veterinary profession on it. Members of the profession are the people who are impartial and the experts on the subject.
I hope that if we have the council it will prevent ill-considered and ignorant legislation coming before the House. The House must realise—I hope that the council will help us in this way—that animal welfare depends to a large degree on experiments on live animals. Let us take the whole problem of distemper as an eaxmple. Between 1945 and 1950 many dogs in this country, including 20 per cent. of the puppies, died from it.
In the last year in which it was possible to decide how many animal experiments were carried out in aid of veterinary practice and how many in aid of human health, which was for the Littlewood committee in 1968, there were 7,444 experiments on dogs. More than half were done in order to produce the distemper vaccine to protect other dogs. A further 1,500 experiments were carried out in connection with other contagious diseases in dogs. There must be experiments on live animals in order to give other animals a better life.
Labour Members have expressed worries about the make-up trade. They do not seem to realise that the bulk of the experiments on live animals in relation to make-up are in preparation for when a child eats a pot of make-up, when it fills its stomach with mascara and lipstick. The medical profession must know the toxicity of the substance concerned if the child is to have the right treatment. Are we to say that such experiments cannot be carried out in order to save our children?
I turn to the problem of field sports. I can say categorically that if the council is set up the British Field Sports Society and all the sports in this country will welcome it. We are used to being looked at. We had the Scott Henderson committe on cruelty to wild animals. It said that we should amend the Protection of Animals Act 1911 to bring field sports within its ambit, so that conduct of field sports that does not accord with the rules governing those sports would be subject to prosecution under the Act. We agree, and I hope that the council will recommend it. Coursing has been examined by Stable and Stuttard and by a House of Lords Select Committee.
If we are to make progress on all the other important aspects of animal welfare, hon. Members should put away their political prejudices and leave the matter of field sports to individual conscience.
In an interview with Lobby correspondents before the debate, Lord Houghton himself said that it was a mistake to involve field sports in the other range of animal welfare. We on the Opposition Benches believe that they are a matter for individual conscience, and that is where we should leave them. We should not spoil further progress on other matters, which we all desire, by complicating the issue.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) will not be surprised if I do not associate myself with all his remarks, except to say that I join with him in welcoming the creation of a council for animal welfare.
I join in the congratulations that have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on introducing this subject. In common with most Members of Parliament, it may be that there is a belated recognition on the Floor of the House that animals are part of politics, because, if my postbag over the last four and a half years is anything to go by, it is quite clear that it is a major and important issue among many of my constituents. It may be that certain of my constituents have been infected by the zeal of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office, who I see has crossed the Floor. He has been resident in my constituency and has made heroic efforts on behalf of animals over the past few years. I pay tribute to that.
I should like to concentrate today on only one specific issue as it affects Southwest England, namely, the problem of bovine tuberculosis in cattle and badgers. At the outset, I stress that this is a regional problem, because fear of bovine tuberculosis and its spread causes the onset of panic among farmers. In the remarks that I shall make, I in no way want to suggest that there is danger of this disease spreading to other parts of the country.
The hon. Gentleman was probably present in the House when the Minister stated that it is impossible to tell whether a live badger has tuberculosis. If that is so, it seems to throw into question the whole idea that there must be widespread extermination of the badger population.
Indeed, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me as I develop my argument. I wish to stress that primarily we are dealing with a regional problem, which is particularly prevalent in the counties of Cornwall, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire and my own county of Gloucestershire.
The simple fact is that if a cow is tested and found to have bovine tuberculosis it can have quite severe repercussions for the farmer. It does, and must, mean the slaughter of that cow, and it means that the farmer's herd is under severe restrictions for a period of up to four months so as to establish beyond peradventure that the herd is clear of the disease. Of course, the farmer is compensated for the slaughter of cattle, but, nevertheless, it is a legitimate source of fear among the farming community.
Since badgers are also susceptible to bovine tuberculosis, a policy has been in operation in South-West England which over the past four years has resulted in the slaughtering of approximately 9,000 badgers by gassing. More than 3,500 sets have been gassed in the South-West. The reason is that it is believed—I see the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) stressing the word"believed "—that there is a nexus, causal chain or linkage between the infected badger and the spreading of bovine tuberculosis into cattle.
If many badgers are being slaughtered in the South-West, is there any proof? It has to be said that there is strong circumstantial evidence, but no causal linkage has been established. That is the important point to grasp. There is no doubt that badgers have bovine tuberculosis. There is no doubt that cattle have bovine tuberculosis. There is no doubt that the disease or disorder is found where cattle and badgers exist together. What is not clearly established is whether the badgers are giving the bovine tuberculosis to the cattle, or vice versa. The Ministry has adopted the view that there is no practical alternative to the gassing of badgers in their sets. This policy has been pursued with vigour in the South-West. Some have suggested that the gassing in that area has been pursued indiscriminately. I would not go so far as to say that.
If tests carried out on cattle produce clear evidence that cattle have bovine tuberculosis, a search is carried out within the immediate area to establish whether a badger with bovine turberculosis can be found. This is an unpleasant process. In the area of Uley, near Stroud, over 40 badgers were trapped and killed before the one with the bovine tuberculosis was found. This is an unpleasant process. I would add, in fariness, that the Ministry tries to establish, within an area where bovine tuberculosis is found in cattle, proof that it exists among the badger population before the gassing begins.
Gassing is a particularly unpleasant way of dealing with this problem. Many sets have to be gassed and re-gassed many times to eradicate the badger population. We have fears in the South-West about the eradication of the badger population. It would appear that the Ministry's policy ultimately involves eradicating, over a long period of time, thousands upon thousands of badgers. The figure is possibly 9,000 over the last four years, and there appears to be no end of this policy in sight.
I agree that the farmer is entitled to reassurance. The farmer is entitled to say that the preservation of cattle free of bovine tuberculosis is important. But is the policy being pursued by the Ministry adequate in coming to terms with this problem in the longer term? I would argue that the policy being pursued is one of destruction and eradication. If bovine tuberculosis is established in a herd, slaughter of badgers may have to follow. I simply remind hon. Members that we are talking about animal welfare. The badger is one of the friendliest and most beloved of wild creatures. I simply ask"Are we giving a square deal to the badger? "
I suggest that the policy should change. Instead of gassing the sets indiscriminately, where bovine tuberculosis has been found and established in an area, would it not be possible to undertake a policy of trapping the badgers? In this way, it would be possible to build up some scientific knowledge about the spread of this disease. The disease itself is not mysterious, but the way in which it is spread is. If the carcases could be studied, we might be able to establish a pattern of infection and decide on means of improving the protection of farms against the spread of the disease. A badger with bovine tuberculosis, thrown out from its set, may wander towards a farm where it thinks it can easily get food and thus infect cattle. We may have to improve the protection of farms to prevent badgers from wandering in so easily. I do not suggest that as a serious way of combating this problem, but we should consider how farmers can help themselves.
The Minister should reconsider the slaughter of badgers by gassing. I urge on him the possibility of trapping badgers. Slaughter may have to follow, and at least farmers would then be reassured, but we who are supposed to be interested in the welfare of animals might then be helping to build up knowledge so as to deal effectively with this problem.
I apologise for inflicting yet another swansong on the House, but I will keep it brief. I want to concentrate on something which was well discussed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton)—the question of the police. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is present.
When discussing animal welfare, we must stop piling up crime after crime in our legislation without helping the police. This Government do not do much in that direction. Sixteen years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to put through the House the Deer Act 1963, when there were said to be 20,000 wounded deer walking about the countryside. Since then, deer poaching has become big business and a major problem for the police. Prosecutions take place, but it is appalling to think of the number of man hours which must be spent on this by the police, who are not the people best fitted to track such wrongdoers.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) suggested dog wardens instead of the police to track stray dogs. That is surely important. An appalling amount of police time is also spent tracking dogs which worry and kill sheep, identifying the guilty ones and prosecuting their owners. That is not a suitable job for the police.
I hope that part of the duty of the council for animal welfare will be to consider whether we can set up a corps of wardens independent of the police. They could look after all these different crimes and leave the police free for their proper duties of protecting from the horrors of the twentieth century those animals which, as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said, should not be forgotten, the human beings.
After all the ill-informed statements about field sports, I would add that the organised confrontations at field sports meetings—obviously organised by saboteurs, sometimes brought from a long distance—are disgraceful. They also simply divert the police from their proper duties. I hope that those who have spoken about field sports will take that to heart.
I hope that the message of this debate will be, first, that we should think about and do something for animals, and, secondly, that we should think about and do something in aid of our police.
I welcome the new initiative, as have almost all hon. Members. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on introducing it so eloquently. Regardless of our party, age and experience in the House, we can say that this is a great day for animal welfare. Nevertheless, some quibbles must be raised, even in a debate which was foreshadowed by the generous gesture made in an answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett).
I see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is present. I hope that she will intervene in the debate. My first major worry is that the policing of the 1876 cruelty to animals legislation is in the hands of the Home Office. From what the Minister said, the matter will not be within the remit of the new body. This is the problem. Some experiments are justified and some are not. A large number are almost frivolous in their wanton cruelty. The number of experiments has greatly increased, but the policing mechanism has not kept pace. That is the first problem to which we should address ourselves.
Three years ago, I brought in under the Ten Minutes Rule an amendment to the 1876 legislation, under the inspiration of Richard Ryder and others who have done so much to bring to the attention of the public what is going on. The inspectorate has hardly increased. The number of experiments on live animals has increased ten thousandfold in the 100 years that this legislation has been with us. The inspectorate stands at 15. At the time of the 1965 Littlewood report, the recommendation was that the inspectorate should be increased to 21. I cannot see that 15 Home Office inspectors can do all that is necessary.
Occasionally, we hear about lurid and unpleasant experiments that hit the headlines. One thinks of the behaviour experiments at the Scottish universities involving cats to see how cruel cats could be if allowed to torment birds and animals to death. I wonder how much Home Office control there is over such experiments, and when the last visit of a Home Office inspector took place. I wonder whether, with the best will in the world, 15 people can police the millions of experiments that go on. I ask the Minister, as the Home Office will still be responsible for these investigations, whether—and, if not, why—the Home Office inspectorate will be increased in number.
The Minister will think it strange that I should ask for more than an EEC joint initiative in the export of live food animals. We must recognise, in spite of the great difficulties that this matter raises for both Front Benches, the special conditions of Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, in this matter. The great suffering caused to animals arises in large part from the conditions in which they are transported over the water as well as from the many evasions of the regulations exposed by the press and the television when the animals reach the other side. I hope that we shall take a stronger initiative in this matter.
We have not heard much in this debate about domestic animals being reared by factory farming methods in this country. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) took part in the debate on the Brambell code of practice that was discussed in 1971. I recollect at that time thinking that the Brambell regulations did not go as far as I would have liked in terms of dealing with the suffering caused by a life led entirely in constricted and cruel conditions, such as is experienced by many animals raised for food production.
I hope that the new body to be set up will be able to look at the conditions of domestic animals which are kept for their brief lives in what I consider to be wholly unwarranted conditions. They do not receive the publicity and the sympathy which baby seals being clubbed on the head obtain, but they lead lives which are just as short and which come to an end in an equally brutal manner.
We are also in need of one other thing—and this relates to what was said by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), representing the hunting lobby, who made a brief intervention recently—namely a proper estimate, dispassionately arrived at, of the degree to which wildlife generally merits culling. If we can achieve agreement upon how much any particular species in the wild requires culling for its own sake and for the ecological balance, we may take some of the force out of the pro- and anti-hunting arguments. It may also better inform us about other affairs involving a great deal of emotion.
I hope that the council will be able to give us an assessment, species by species, of what is required in culling terms so that we may determine how best the culling should be done and ensure that it is carried out in the most humane way possible. It is in the name of our humanity and our attempt to extend that to the animal kingdom that this debate is taking place. It has been a memorable day for the animals and, although they do not have votes in the coming election, I am sure that were they able to express themselves they would be of the view that their interests were being looked after on both sides of the House.
As one who has consistently sought to advance the cause of animal welfare, I would not have wanted this debate to go by without taking the opportunity to express my strong support for the approach emerging from it. The only thing I slightly regret—although I exempt the hon. Members for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) and Derby, North (Mr. White-head) from this—is that there has been a slight tendency to seek to turn the debate from being a political issue into a party political issue. Such an attempt is counter-productive.
The truth is that what those of us who are interested in these matters have been facing is not difficulty with our own Front Benchers. The problem affects a number of other issues in British politics. It is the fact that there is virtually a permanent policy for the Government Front Bench, which tends to survive from Administration to Administration. It is not a political view but a departmental one. I hope that I shall not offend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department if I guess that some of the letters which she has sent to me on the subject of the 1876 Act over the past four or five years are virtually identical to those signed by her predecessors in three or four previous Parliaments. That is the syndrome we need to break.
There is no time to discuss all the possible issues that are involved. This is not only because of the time limit but because each of these problems involves the balancing of different factors. We have to reach our conclusion in each case according to the balance of the factors in each case. With food production there are welfare issues as against food cost issues. With imports there are welfare issues as against job considerations. On the subject of experiments, there are animal welfare considerations as against human welfare considerations. With field sports there is not only the issue of welfare and of personal conscience. There is the point about the possible cruelty of the alternatives to field sports as a method of control.
I could not attempt, in the few minutes available to me, to cover all those issues. My priorities, where I believe there is a clear-cut case, would be for much more vigorous action over the banning of the import of skins and other products from endangered species; for a determined effort, in co-operation with the NFU—I do not believe that this is impossible—to move towards the phasing out of the export of live animals for slaughter; and for a greater determination to reform the scope and working of the 1876 Act.
I very much welcome what the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said about the need for us to give a lead in Europe. I hope that will happen, whichever party is in office.
The basic point is that, on all these issues, neither Parliament nor Whitehall has yet been moving sufficiently in line with the change in public attitudes. We have not got the balance right. We need a new effort to seek an up-to-date balance and to break out of the entrenched attitudes which, on so many of these matters, too often cause both sides to overstate their case.
That is the importance of this debate. The proposed establishment of the council gives us a chance, as a Parliament, to find a new balance in the new circumstances. That is why, though I have reservations about some words in the motion, I very much welcome the approach which has emerged from this debate.
We have had a balanced and worthwhile debate. There was no more balanced speech made than that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). It was an able and pleasant swansong. Though I did not agree with everything that he said, the House is indebted to him, and I hope that perhaps it is not his swansong. The same goes for my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More), who also suggested that his speech was his swansong.
I refer to one matter which has not had much general attention in the debate, and that is the high cost of keeping an animal, whether a domestic pet, animals in public and private zoos or animals for husbandry. If, when it is set up, the council proposes new legislation on animals, I make a plea that that legislation should not involve higher costs for the domestic animal owner than are necessary. Nor should the keepers of zoos have to face increased costs under new legislation.
The high cost of keeping animals is one of the reasons why we have a dog problem. So many animals are turned out once they become too difficult to manage or the cost of maintaining them is too great. Those of us who have looked after animals for a large part of our lives know that keeping animals involves a great commitment, particularly when animals are whelping. It is almost like looking after another child. The result of this debate should, I believe, be a willingness on the part of education authorities to spend more time teaching children how to look after animals, particularly pets.
When we speak of a dog problem, the problem lies not with the animals but with their owners. The BBC does a good job in such programmes as"Blue Peter"in teaching children about animal welfare. Long may it continue to do so. I would like to see schools doing the same thing, and doing it more often. A comprehensive school in my constituency has a pig breeding unit with two sows. That has created tremendous interest among the children there and is the kind of activity which will do much, at no great cost, to improve the health and welfare of animals and pets. I urge the case for better education in tending animals. That would do far more good than any amount of new legislation concerned with licences or dog wardens.
A great amount of cruelty is inflicted on some pets. If one has been looking after a particular breed of animal for a long time, one can spot immediately whether such an animal is fit or ill, and one can often tell what is wrong with it.
I want to deal with the question of wildlife parks, bird gardens and public and private zoos. A few years ago there was a proliferation of new wildlife parks and bird gardens. Some of them, I believe, were not well run, and bad cases were reported in the press. That problem does not require a new range of legislation, however. I believe that the bad operators have been driven out by the economics of the business and that those who are left are coping with the enormous increases in the costs of keeping wild animals or birds in a state of captivity.
I am a strong supporter of the World Wildlife Fund, and as such I know how much good is done by the operators of these zoos not only for the interest of tourists and visitors but in engendering interest in what is happening abroad in terms of conservation of wildlife, which is so important for animals from the tropical regions.
I wish to make a plea to those who may be on the council and to those who wish to set it up. There is a whole plethora of legislation available for dealing with most of the cruelty that may take place in any public or private zoo or bird garden. Some of it may want looking at afresh, but do not let us try to introduce new legislation which would impose an immense cost on the private and public bodies that run the zoos just in order to curb a few"rogue elephants ". That could do a great deal of harm to the well-run concerns, perhaps even driving them out of business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has initiated a wide and extremely useful debate. Most of the matters raised have been of primary concern to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but the Home Office has a close interest in a wide range of legislation affecting captive and wild animals which are not part of the agricultural scene.
I must modestly declare a past interest in that I was for some time a vice chairman of the all-party animal welfare committee.
I welcome the general but not entire support that has been given to the council for animal welfare which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It begins with strong support from the Prime Minster, from the Government and, I think, from every Labour Member. I venture to say that it has the support of most hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.
I regret very much, however, that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), saw fit to pour a large bucket of cold water on to this initiative, which has been welcomed outside the House. He says that he favours the existing committees, but if he were to examine my right hon. Friend's announcement he would see that that is what the council will consist of. The present committees will be its standing committees, but it will have the additional valuable strength of an independent chairman and independent representatives on the council. It will have the advantages of the present committee plus additional ones. The council sets off with high hopes and expectations from this House. I sincerely hope that they will be fulfilled.
The council should be really independent, and its constitution will ensure that. It should be an active council, and the Government will act on its recommendations. I am sure that it will heed the calls of this debate when it begins its work.
We have also taken note of the views that have been expressed on the appointment of its members. It will be a difficult job, because there is no unanimity about animal welfare, as has been demonstrated today. There is no unanimity on the Government Bill on hare coursing, which floundered. There is none on whether legislation should be initiated by the Government or by individual Members, as recommended by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). As the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) pointed out, there are strong differences of opinion between animal welfare bodies on many issues. If the council can achieve some unanimity, which can be shared by this House, that will be a great step forward.
The Advisory Committee on the Administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act is to be reconstituted and is to have new terms of reference which will give it a much wider role. It has done valuable work, and I hope that it will do better work. It will make recommendations on the operation of Act, and the council will be able to make recommendations about amending the Act. It will have wide powers, because it is to recommend legislative or other action on any animal welfare matter. That is a wide sphere of activity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) mentioned inspectors. With more resources the Home Office would appoint many more inspectors. The increase in the number of experiments is not matched by an increase in the number of premises in which they are carried out. The number of places that have to be inspected are in practice not many, and that number has not increased in comparison with the number of experiments.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown considerable support for the use of alternatives to live animals in experiments. He said:
I would certainly like to see the introduction of substitutes to restrict the use of living animals in this way."—[Official Report 8 December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 1643.]
I hope that I have indicated that it would certainly be our policy and desire to move to alternatives to animal experiments as quickly as possible. We are actively doing that. I hope that the debate will give greater impetus to animal welfare in the House and in the Government.
I thank hon. Members who have today debated this important subject. There is a divide across the House on certain aspects of it, such as blood sports. We need urgent action to set up the council. The chairman and the independent members must be named as quickly as possible so that it can begin to do the job that we believe it should be doing. That being so, and in view of the Prime Minister's important announcement yesterday, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.