Recognised Beef Breeds for the Purpose of Section 54

Orders of the Day — Wildlife and Countryside Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 11:30 pm on 30th July 1981.

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Mr. Bennett:

There are many parts of the Bill that disappoint my right hon. and hon. Friends. Walkers and ramblers are left feeling especially disappointed. The provisions about bulls and footpaths are considered by many to be particularly disappointing. In England and Wales, almost three-quarters of the country, it is an offence to have a bull in a field through which there runs a footpath. Farmers suffer no hardship as a result. No one has been able to present evidence that farmers find that restriction unsatisfactory. In the remaining quarter of the country there are byelaws that vary from area to area. Some byelaws contain no restrictions and others make it possible to have a bull in a field through which there runs a footpath as long as there are heifers or other cattle in the field. There were strong arguments that there should be a national provision rather than local provisions.

When the previous Labour Government were in office, a compromise was found which would have been reasonably effective. Unfortunately the change of Government caused the compromise to fall through.

We have clear evidence from the Health and Safety Executive that bulls are dangerous animals. Many farm workers are insured by bulls each year and occasionally there are fatalities. There is clear acceptance that bulls are dangerous. They are dangerous when they are being handled by experienced farm workers. They are extremely dangerous for the general public. Footpaths are rights of way for not only the able-bodied but for young people, for the elderly and for the handicapped. If bulls are dangerous for farm workers, clearly they are dangerous for those who find it difficult to walk or for young people. We should accept that there is a major problem with bulls if footpaths run through the fields which they occupy.

It is argued by those who want to make it possible for the bull to be in fields in which there are footpaths that otherwise farmers would be caused hardship. No one has so far been able to present evidence of any farm where more than about one-third of the fields have a footpath running through them. Therefore, usually the farmer has two-thirds—in many farms there is more—of his fields where it is easy for him to put a bull as there is no public footpath. However there, there is still that one-third. If one takes into account the stock which is normally carried on a farm, one sees that there is no need for the farmer ever to put his bull into one of those fields.

Many proposals were rehearsed in Committee. Some of those, and some of those on the Amendment Paper which have not been selected, are far more satisfactory solutions to the problem than the ones which have been selected. The ones which have been selected come down to the question of which bulls should be permitted. It has been argued by Opposition Members that there should be no bulls. If they are to be allowed, they should be only from recognised beef herds.

The Government have approached that by putting down a list of dairy herds which will be prohibited, but it does not deal with the matter in the way we proposed. I realise that the amendment is unsatisfactory and that most of my hon. Friends would have wanted to support a total ban on bulls in fields with footpaths. As we cannot have that, at least the amendments in our name are something towards a compromise.

I am certain that most ramblers in future will take the advice of the Minister, which is that on every occasion when they have any doubt about the safety of a bull in a field, they should report that bull to the Health and Safety Executive. The Minister made it clear that if a farmer persisted in having a bull in a field where there was a footpath, having had a complaint made against it, he was clearly liable to be in breach of the legislation.

In Committee the Minister's defence for not going further was that there was already health and safety legislation which made it an offence for a farmer to have in a field with a footpath any bull which he had any reason to believe was not safe. It is often said that the Health and Safety Executive suggests that no bull is safe, and if people make complaints it is clear that the bull is deemed to be dangerous and the farmer should have no right to put it in the field. It would have been better for us to legislate in the House and to make it clear that a farmer should not have a bull in a field with a footpath. If we do not do that, we shall have to take the Minister's advice, which is to use the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that bulls are not on footpaths.

I ask Conservative Members the following. If their child goes to a local village school, which involves his going over a footpath, would they want there to be a bull in the field through which the child has to walk to school? I suggest that they would not want that. The truth is that most farmers would not place their bulls on a footpath that leads to a village school. However, sadly, there are some who do not have regard for kindness to their neighbours, and particularly those who want to use their footpaths.

Unless Conservative Members can honestly say that they believe it to be safe for a bull to be in a field with a footpath, through which one of their children was to pass, they should be pressing firmly for stronger legislation than we have in the Bill at the moment.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). I recognise the origin of the Government's approach as I was urged by my officials in 1978 to take action when we were preparing a Bill.

I did a little research and discovered that for many years every Government who had attempted to legislate on bulls had come to grief. Therefore, I took the view, which I think was pragmatic and which, I hope, would have commended itself to the present Government, that I would not put such a clause into the 1978 Bill, for which I was responsible, unless at least the National Farmers' Union and the Ramblers Association could be brought together to produce and agree on a satisfactory scheme which, whilst looking after the farming interest, would protect the public.

To everybody's astonishment, the two bodies reached agreement. I said that if they reached agreement I would incorporate it in the 1978 Bill. It was, therefore, our intention to legislate. The Bill fell because of the general election of 1979, and I do not understand why the Government have not re-enacted the agreement between the Ramblers' Association and the NFU in this legislation. We were told in Committee that the reason was that, now that there has been a change of Government, the local authorities have withdrawn their support. I understand that both the NFU and the Ramblers' Association would have been happy to proceed with the agreement.

12.30 am

Members of the public are unable to distinguish between one bull and another. When they come across a. bull in a field they may be concerned or may panic. A Member of the Upper House told me the other day that he had come across a teacher with a party of handicapped children, and a bull came from under the bridge and tremendous panic ensued. He and others had great difficulty in protecting the children. The bull showed every sign of being aggressive.

The public who have access to the countryside are entitled to protection. We should have sensible arrangements to protect the public, to give them information and to ensure that on public rights of way the agreement between the NFU and the Ramblers' Association to provide alternative routes when bulls have to be in fields is put into effect.

I am disappointed that the sensible agreement has not been re-enacted. The problem will not go away. The Ramblers' Association and others interested in public access will return to it through petitions and Adjournment debates. This is not a satisfactory solution. I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will agree in another place that if the NFU and the Ramblers' Assocation maintain the agreement it would be sensible to deal with the matter and to maintain public confidence on this important question.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

It would be valuable for the Minister to reflect, even at this late hour, not only on the correspondence that many of us have had on the subject but on the feeling of those of us who live in the country and who know the difference between the conventional wisdom in the countryside about the danger potentially posed by bulls grazing near footpaths and what has finally appeared in the Bill.

Many of us feel that the Minister could have gone much further. He may insist on having a clause in the Bill, such as clause 54, which includes certain breeds of bull that can be grazed, but the exclusion should go far wider than merely a certain number of dairy breeds. Anyone in the country knows that a Jersey bull in a field is a very mean animal which should be steered well clear of. People in the country also know that a Hereford running with cows is passive and that it can be walked by without much danger. They probably know, too, however, that there can be considerable danger from other breeds which are not specified in the Bill. As one who was put in danger of his life on one occasion by a Red Poll bull—I was rescued by the farmer, whom I then left cornered while I made off—I know that there are breeds of that kind, dual purpose breeds, which should have been included.

Amendment No. 103 is not what most of us, particularly those who have had connections with the Ramblers' Association, wanted. At least it will widen the exclusivity of the clause, however. Will the Minister say why that cannot be done with breeds such as the Red Poll and the Dexter, and why the Continental breeds, which are now being used more intensively for cross-breeding and so on, are excluded when so little is known about their behaviour in many cases—[Interruption.]

I heard several Conservative Members below the Gangway, who are now interrupting again as they wait to vote, saying earlier that public footpaths are not provided for the disabled. They are not specifically provided for the disabled. They are provided for the community as a whole. That includes young children, the disabled and people who are not fleet of foot. They have every right to use these footpaths. A panic among a number of schoolchildren, for example, as they cross a field containing a bull of suspicious nature may aggravate the bull, making him excited and causing him to get among the children so that some danger could ensue.

For all these reasons, the Minister should think again about the clause and widen the list of exclusions of breed in the way suggested by amendment No. 103.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

When the Bill was first published I think that most hon. Members were overwhelmed with correspondence from the ramblers and footpaths associations expressing great apprehension at the right of farmers to put bulls into fields with footpaths running through them. The reason is that ramblers and others who appreciate the countryside and make great use of it by walking in it have long and bitter experience of the behaviour of some, though not all, farmers. Many farmers are concerned that there should be sensible joint appreciation of the countryside. Some farmers, however, have displayed a bitterness and hostility towards ramblers. That has caused the ramblers to become deeply suspicious of any rights being opened to abuse by certain farmers.

When they first saw the Bill and read the proposals, therefore, this subject caused ramblers the greatest degree of apprehension. I supported another amendment tabled by my hon. Friend—a much stronger amendment which has not been selected for debate. I regard the amendments now before us as the least that we can accept. I should prefer complete exclusion of bulls from these fields. We are attempting to gain greater safety, to limit the categories of bull allowed into these fields to those that the Minister can confidently recommend as safe.

On my way to the House this morning I saw in my constituency a group of elderly ramblers who were getting together before starting out to enjoy the countryside. They were sober, sensible people who were deeply appreciative of the facilities that are available. They are the people who have the right to walk on footpaths. They, as well as the able-bodied and the fleet-footed, have to be borne in mind when legislation is framed. There is no distinction between categories of people. We must legislate for the lame, the young and the crippled, who may want to go across fields as of right—the disabled as well as those who can spot danger at a distance and make off.

Therefore, the Bill should provide safeguards. Organisations such as the Ramblers' Association have a long history of concern for preserving our countryside heritage and have behaved with great probity in seeking to ensure that there is sensible access and responsible behaviour by the users. It behoves the Government to listen to their representations and take action on them.

The countryside is available for the use of us all. It is not the prerogative of any one section of the community. The matter has given rise to the greatest apprehension among those who seek nothing more than good access and facilities for their taking of pleasure in our universally available countryside.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has done a signal service tonight in putting forward a number of amendments. His pains have not been met with many thanks, at least from the Deputy Chief Whip, but he has done a signal service in tabling the amendments so that we can debate the matter, which is a cause of great concern to many thousands of people.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) misses one of the points, which is that the reason for the debate is that the Government have tabled an amendment to meet an Opposition request in Committee. I refer to amendment No. 97, naming the dairy breeds.

In lengthy debate in another place, and without question the longest debate in Committee, we dealt in the greatest detail with all the reasons for the requirement of the clause. 13o not propose to rehearse the agricultural reasons why bulls must meet cows and heifers from time to time. There is a lack of uniformity in regulations about bulls on footpaths. I presume that the hon. Gentleman realises that there are some areas where there are no regulations whatsoever about bulls.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

So we are making a substantial step forward in any event. For the average rambler moving about the country, there is no knowing what the regulations are, because they vary from region to region and county to county. It is not possible to know what the local regulation is if one is walking from, say, Kent into East Sussex and then into West Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The position is different all the way, and one does not know. Therefore, it is important that we have uniformity.

I wish that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) had read the Hansard report of our debate in Committee when he was away on important business elsewhere. It was clear in 1979 when we were drafting the Bill that there was no hope of the committee concerned coming to an agreement, and I gave the reasons in Committee. We had to come to a decision for uniformity.

The position in Scotland has been adequate since 1967, as far as I am aware. I accept that the footpath situation there might not be quite the same as it is in England, but it is not so dramatically different that there is not a definite relationship. Tate Government feel that the regulation brought in by the Labour Government in 1967, allowing beef bulls running with cows and heifers in fields where there are footpaths, is the right way forward.

12.45 am

In Committee we went into the greatest detail about the possibility of accidents and the great care that everyone must take. It has to be remembered that the accidents that have taken place have, by and large, involved farm workers in steadings where the chief danger is with dairy bulls serving cows. I have had hundreds of letters on the subject. Another incident took place in the North-East where there was a herd of Friesian bulls that unfortunately savaged someone who was in a field that had no footpath. That had nothing to do with what the Government are putting forward.

We say that the only bulls that should be permitted in fields where there is a footpath are beef bulls over 10 months, running with cows or heifers. I said in Committee that I would put dairy bulls into the Bill. That is why amendment No. 97 spells out the well-known dairy bulls in this country. If I were to be critical of the Opposition amendment I could say that there are a large number of bulls other than the seven breeds mentioned. Because we want continuity in this matter, we have followed the Scottish pattern.

There is also guidance from the Health and Safety Executive and the helpful statement from the National Farmers' Union. We believe that our way is the right method and we say that there is relatively little danger from a beef bull running with cows and heifers. In time I believe that the Government's view will be proved to be right and to be to the benefit of all.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

In view of the increase in the number of exotic bulls now being imported, can my hon. Friend say whether, if the female of the species gives much more milk than other animals, there is any likelihood that the bull of that species will be wilder than the bull of a species of which the female does not give so much milk? I have had it put to me that Libertine bulls that have come into this country recently and that are supposed to be beef bulls are as frisky as many dairy bulls. Is my hon. Friend saying that in future exotic breeds imported because they are beef bulls in the country of origin will not be as frisky when they come here?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

It is clear that in terms of the clause we must stick to the recognised dairy breeds that are to be kept in fields where there are footpaths. My hon. Friend mentions exotic breeds. That is why the Opposition amendment bringing in seven beef bulls but leaving out the Continental beef bulls that are so prevalent now—Limousin, Charollais and the rest—would present so many problems for the agriculture industry.

I think that my hon. Friend is wrong to imagine that some Continental beef bulls might be as temperamental as dairy bulls. That is certainly not the experience conveyed to me by the National Farmers' Union, the Health and Safety Executive or the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I therefore believe that the plans that we have put forward are as satisfactory as we can achieve.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 9, Noes 95.

Division No. 300][12.50 am
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)Spearing, Nigel
Cryer, BobWinnick, David
Dalyell, Tarn
Hardy, PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMr. Philip Whitehead and
McCartney, HughMr. Andrew F. Bennett.
Murphy, Christopher
Alexander, RichardHampson, Dr Keith
Ancram, MichaelHastings, Stephen
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Hawkins, Paul
Berry, Hon AnthonyHawksley, Warren
Blackburn, JohnHeddle, John
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHill, James
Boscawen, Hon RobertHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bright, GrahamHooson, Tom
Brinton, TimHurd, Hon Douglas
Brooke, Hon PeterJopllng, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Micbael(Brigg & Sc'n)Ksrshaw, Anthony
Buck, AntonyKing, Rt Hon Tom
Cadbury, JocelynLe Merchant, Spencer
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lyell, Nicholas
Colvin, MichaelMacGregor, John
Dorrell, StephenMajor, John
Dover, DenshoreMarland, Paul
Farr, JohnMather, Carol
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Goodlad, AlastairMellor, David
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Mayer, Sir Anthony
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)Mills, lain (Meriden)
Gummer, John SelwynMoate, Roger
Monro, HectorStainton, Keith
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Stevens, Martin
Neale, GerrardStradling Thomas, J.
Needham, RichardTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Neubert, MichaelTebbit, Norman
Newton, TonyThompson, Donald
Normanton, Tomvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Onslow, CranleyWaddington, David
Osborn, JohnWakeham, John
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)Waller, Gary
Page, Richard (SW Herts)Watson, John
Patten, Christopher (Bath)Wells, Bowen
Prior, Rt Hon JamesWheeler, John
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonWhitney, Raymond
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)Wickenden, Keith
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Wilkinson, John
Rossi, HughWilliams, D.(Montgomery)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Winterton, Nicholas
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wolfson, Mark
Silvester, FredYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Sims, Roger
Speed, KeithTellers for the Noes:
Speller, TonyLord James Douglas-Hamilton
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)and Mr. John Cope
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 97, in page 51, line 6, at end insert— '(4) In this section "recognised dairy breed" means one of the following breeds, namely, Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry.(5) The Secretary of State may by order add any breed to, or remove any breed from, subsection (4); and an order under this subsection shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.— [Mr. Monro.]