§ 7.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington) rose to move, That the draft amendment to the code laid before the House on 21st June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee.]
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move. With your Lordships' permission, I shall speak also to the Welfare of Livestock Regulations. The regulations have two purposes: first, to lay down certain provisions which will apply to the keeping of all livestock on farms; and secondly, to make some provisions that will only apply to certain types of animals. We have carried out extensive consultations on the proposals and they have been widely welcomed. I shall take a moment to describe briefly the background to the proposals.
§ Animal welfare is traditionally protected and promoted by means of the welfare codes made under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. The codes are not obligatory but may be used in evidence against anyone charged with the general offence of causing unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress to farm livestock. A breach of a code recommendation will tend to establish guilt. All this is laid down in the 1968 Act.
§ The welfare codes provide a wealth of valuable advice to farmers on how to keep and look after their animals. In some areas, however, it is necessary for the codes to be reinforced by legislation. We already have, for example, the Welfare of Calves Regulations 1987. The regulations now before the House give the force of law to further provisions which have up to now been covered in the codes.
§ I might add that the code system is being increasingly recognised in Europe as a most sensible approach to welfare. I expect that future welfare proposals in the Community will be based on some necessary statutory provisions backed up by welfare codes, in line with the system that operates successfully in the United Kingdom.
§ We are acting here on the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council in its interim Statement. The Government responded positively to the council's recommendations and the proposed regulations are the result of the council's advice, our subsequent consultation of interested parties and further work within my department. The regulations are technical in nature and cover many aspects of welfare. I do not therefore intend to mention every part of them, 498 although I will, of course, try to deal with any specific points that may arise afterwards. The items in the welfare codes, which are now being put into legislation in these regulations, concern detailed requirements on important matters such as lighting and construction of livestock buildings and the provision of food, water and bedding for farm animals.
§ A significant section of our proposal is aimed at raising the consciousness of stockkeepers to welfare by promoting the welfare codes. It is our intention that stockkeepers must have access to any relevant codes, and they can be obtained free of charge from the agriculture departments. We intend that they should be made aware of the codes and also that they should receive instruction and guidance in them. I consider that this, perhaps more than any other part of the regulations, should have a major effect on attitudes to animal welfare.
§ Before leaving the regulations, I will mention that they also impose a ban on the use of equipment that immobilises animals by passing an electric current through them. While this procedure certainly does immobilise animals, there is no guarantee that they are rendered insensitive to pain at the same time. Of course, while immobilised in this way, they cannot express any reaction to pain. In August 1988, the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that the procedure should be banned, except when carried out as part of an experiment licensed under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and these regulations implement that ban.
The welfare code for sheep was revised only last year as a result of recommendations made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. During the consultation exercise, it was decided to go further than the council's recommendation that electric mesh fencing should not be used with horned sheep. The revised code said, in paragraph 24, that,
mesh fencing should not be used for horned sheep".
§ At the time that the revision was debated, it was not realised that this recommendation imposed an impossible burden on some sheep farmers and is also unnecessary from the point of view of the sheeps' welfare. Quite simply, there are many miles of mesh fencing used with horned sheep. Alternatives, such as tensioned wire fencing, are costly and, in some areas where the ground is hard and stony, are virtually impossible to erect. There is also now a question as to whether there is any real welfare risk from the use of such fencing. If the code paragraph remains unaltered, those farmers using it are concerned that they are technically in breach of a code provision.
§ We therefore feel that it is only right for the code to return to the original proposal from the Farm Animal Welfare Council and say that electric mesh fencing should not be used with horned sheep. The new text of paragraph 24 does, however, highlight the particular care that must be taken if any type of mesh fencing is to be used. My department will continue to monitor the use of different forms of fencing with sheep and will consider whether further action is needed if any welfare problems become apparent.499
§ The measures before us today cover a wide range of welfare issues. I am indebted to the Farm Animal Welfare Council on whose advice we are acting. The introduction of these measures in Great Britain in no way detracts from our policy of seeking the widest possible welfare improvements on a European Community basis. We have thought it right, however, not to delay the introduction of the regulations pending agreement in the Community. The regulations cover issues that are basic, good farming practice and will not impose any significant burden on farmers who already take good care of their stock. Those who are not welfare conscious will have to take steps to come up to the standards of the rest. I commend the measures to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the draft amendment to the code laid before the House on 21st June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Trumpington.)
§ Lord Gallacher
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for speaking to both measures. She dealt with them in reverse order. With the leave of the House, I shall briefly deal first with sheep and secondly with the Welfare of Livestock Regulations and the prevention of cruelty to animals in general; in other words, animals on the farm. When the Chair comes to put the measures, they will no doubt be put separately so that we can all go home contented and happy.
There is little to be said about the amendment to the code of practice for sheep. We agree with what is suggested, particularly in view of the widespread consultation that has taken place. We are particularly grateful to the noble Baroness for the assurance that, in spite of the small change being made regarding mesh fencing, which is the main and only purpose, there will be continuous monitoring of mesh fencing for sheep. That is desirable per se and in view of the continued growth—not always with the approval of the European Community—of the sheep population in this country.
The regulations for the prevention of cruelty to livestock on the farm are comprehensive in scope. Having read paragraph 3 about the requirements for the welfare of livestock, with all the little as and bs, I counted some 19 requirements. Admittedly, they refer to all categories of animals, not simply to one. The comprehensive nature of the code is quite remarkable. I am not surprised that it is looked on favourably in other countries, including Community countries, particularly in view of the fact that it has evidential status only. Nevertheless, it is an important document having regard to public concern about the care of livestock.
I am mindful of the fact that the code will apply across the board to farms large and small. While one can see the large farm coping beautifully with those aspects of the code which are of interest to it, the smaller farm may have difficulty because it may not have the foreman or working manager to point out the requirements of the code, although many of the requirements are instinctive and should come 500 naturally to any good stockman. Nevertheless, I hope that consideration will be given by the Ministry to the presentation of the code to farmers.
The Ministry of Agriculture has considerably improved its presentational qualities in recent days. I hope that that may extend to the presentation of this measure so that, instead of a list of requirements from 3(a) to 3(p), we may have some illustrations that will be of considerable assistance by way of highlighting the text. That said, we support both measures and will so signify when the Chair puts them to the House.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, we on these Benches wish to thank the noble Baroness for explaining so clearly the proposed changes. They seem to us to comply absolutely with the highest standards of stockmanship and animal welfare to which we all aspire in this country. We hope that, as a result of the changes, those who are responsible for sheep will be able further to improve the standards that prevail.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords., I am most grateful to both noble Lords for their excellent reception of the measures. I must admit to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that I wrote my speech before the Order Paper was printed and I omitted to check the order. However, I am glad that both noble Lords recognise the importance of the measures, particularly in view of the public concern mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, which I certainly share. All sensible people feel the same way about the matter.
The requirements of paragraph 3 are common sense and fit pretty well every farm, whether large or small. However, it is correct that the requirement for instruction applies only to the stockkeeper and not to the single farmer. A stockkeeper or a single farmer should not feel bereft of the need for more help in order to comply with the regulations. I commend the measures to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.