Mr. Secretary Rifkind, supported by Mr. Secretary Fowler, Mr. Secretary Patten, Mr. Ian Lang, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Mr. Michael Forsyth and Mr. Peter Lilley, presented a Bill to establish public bodies to be known as Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise and to make provision as to their functions ; to dissolve the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board ; to make further provision as regards new towns in Scotland ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 8 January and to be printed. [Bill 36.]
Statutory Instruments, &c
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Electricity Supply Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved. That the draft British Waterways Board (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved. That the draft Railways (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.
That the draft Water Undertakers (Rateble Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.
That the draft Docks and Harbours (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved. That the draft Electricity Generators (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved. That the draft Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved. That the draft British Gas plc (Rateable Values) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.
That the draft Non-Domestic Rating (Transitional Period) (Appropriate Fraction) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Traditionally, the House provides opportunities to draw attention to the need to redress grievances, to right wrongs and to expose administrative blunders. Today, I wish to raise a matter of the utmost importance to the safety of my constituents. I refer to the recent proposal of Essex county council's fire and public protection committee to reduce to one the number of whole-time fire engines in Hadleigh in my constituency of Castle Point, and to relocate the hose- laying lorry to Billericay, more than 10 miles away.
There was no consultation with the district council or with me before this ill-considered proposal was made. Its significance can be grasped at once if I tell the House that in 1933 the Hadleigh fire station had two fire engines to cover 13,000 people. It now has the same number to protect 51,000 people and provides support for surrounding areas with 90,000 people. It is against that background that we must consider the proposal to reduce fire cover for my constituents.
In a report on the subject presented to the county fire and public protection committee in November, it was stated that the average annual number of calls received at Hadleigh in the years 1984 to 1988 was 337. In 1988 the station in fact responded to 796 calls, of which 367 were for the Hadleigh area itself and the rest for surrounding areas. I want to consider that figure of 796 calls last year. Significantly, the total number of calls received up to 17 December this year was 913, and we are not yet at the end of the year. That means that in the last year alone there has been an increase in calls of about 15 per cent. It is not, therefore, as though the number of calls, and, therefore, the scale of the risk, is declining. Nor are we concerned with risks solely to residential and business property. Hadleigh fire station covers what is described as a "C" risk area, which is mainly residential with some shops. In addition, however, it is responsible for the "C" risk area of Canvey Island, which includes a major liquefied gas installation and other industrial plant classified as major industrial hazards. I should add that Hadleigh is central to an area from Leigh-on-Sea in the east, Benfleet, Thundersley and Basildon in the west, Rayleigh in the north and Canvey Island in the south. It is therefore very well placed to give support to surrounding districts.
You will know, Mr. Speaker how necessary it has become over the past 20 years for me to raise not once, but many times, the serious threat that is posed to my constituents by an excessive concentration on Canvey and in neighbouring Thurrock of stores of liquefied gas, oil and chemicals. That has led to warning after warning of the risks involved to human life and property, and to the holding of numerous and lengthy public inquiries.
One example of the problem is the huge methane gas storage plant holding tens of thousands of tonnes of liquefied gas which, if released by accident, could produce a lethal gas cloud. As the prevailing winds are south-westerly, one can see from the map that such a cloud would blow over a densely populated area where there are tens of thousands of adventitious sources of ignition. Every house has a gas pilot light, people light cigarettes
Column 604and there are little fires all over the place. One can imagine what would happen if a gas cloud blew across a residential area. Some hon. Members may recall--and my constituents certainly recall--that the matter became so serious that it drew repeated attention and comment not only in this country, but overseas. It even led to the publication of books by scientists in France and the United States. Some may even recall that in July 1974 I was obliged to raise the matter here in a speech which, I was told later, was the longest made from the Back Benches in this place for almost 150 years. So it was that at last the Government of the day took the matter seriously. Thanks to the vigilance of the newly established Health and Safety Executive and as a result of the recommendations of several lengthy public inquiries, there has been a marked improvement in safety standards and some reduction in the totality of risk. However, risk remains, and the district council and I are determined that our defences should not be reduced. Against that background, I want to make it plain that any reduction in the fire and rescue cover for Canvey, let alone the rest of the area served by the Hadleigh fire station, is wholly unacceptable to me and to my constituents.
There are several crucial factors that the Essex fire and public protection committee appears to have ignored. Since the second world war, south-east Essex has grown faster than almost any other region. The population of Castle Point alone has leapt from 30,520 in 1950, to 79,300 in 1974, to 85,900 by 1987 and to about 87,000 now. The most vulnerable area in the district is Canvey which had a population of 10,800 in 1950, when I was first elected for the constituency, and now has a population of 36,000. The figures themselves tell the story. One reason for this growth has been the expansion of home ownership in the area. Castle Point can proudly claim to have more home owners as a proportion of its total population than any other district in Britain. Rochford, our next door district which used to be part of my constituency, comes a close second. Such phenomenal growth does not argue for a reduction in fire cover, but rather the reverse.
Any reduction in the number of fire engines at Hadleigh must inevitably mean running the risk of not being able to respond to calls as quickly as is necessary. I understand that the fire research establishment at Boreham Wood has test chambers which demonstrate how fires develop. As we know, there are many ways in which a fire can be started, can develop, and can then engulf and destroy a building if unchecked. In some cases, fumes alone can kill or disable people within a few minutes. In others the fire can be brought quickly under control provided--and only provided--that firemen receive adequate warning. What firemen can never know is just how serious a fire is until they reach it. The earliest possible warning must be given, therefore, combined with the earliest possible response. That means having available the right number of men with the right equipment. Flexibility is the key to effective action. To play around with a cost-cutting exercise against that background is irresponsible and that exercise must not be allowed to prevail.
The last word in the matter rests not with the county fire and public protection committee but with the Home Office. In this connection I draw my hon. Friend's attention to two special considerations which underline the short-sightedness of the proposal to reduce fire cover for my constituency. First, the fire service consists not only of full-time professional officers of high calibre, who are
Column 605available for emergencies at all times of the day or night, but of dedicated retained personnel who are, in essence, part-time volunteers. I am told that it is increasingly difficult to secure the services of such people.
I hope that my hon. Friend has read the report of the chief fire officer, who makes the point clearly in the conclusion to his recent review of the standards of fire cover. The chief fire officer says : "Essex is one of the largest and fastest growing counties in the country and any reduction in fire cover should be considered with extreme caution. Regrettably the reliability of Retained personnel has become increasingly unpredictable due to the dormitory nature of the County and a greater reluctance on the part of employers to release their workers for retained duties. This latter situation is due in no small part to the on-going emphasis in the industrial and commercial sectors on productivity and value for money."
No one can read that passage without realising that the chief fire officer is giving a clear warning to the fire authority.
Elsewhere in the report, the chief fire officer says :
"Financially it may seem attractive to reduce the number of appliances to the absolute minimum recommended standards, but there are occasions where peaks of operational workload occur, such as flooding, prolonged dry periods, gales, etc. which are additional to normal fire calls. At these times, the Service's resources are obviously overstretched to an extent that normal response times cannot be met. If pumps are reduced, this will decrease the resources available to deal with the extremely high demands placed on the service at these times."
Those two statements in the chief fire officer's report were ignored by the fire and public protection committee. I must ask whether the Home Office is aware of the situation regarding retained personnel. If that is the position in Essex, surely it is likely to obtain elsewhere in the country. It is a factor that surely must be taken into account before any approval is given to reducing fire cover, in the words of the chief fire officer,
"to the absolute minimum standards",
which would be involved if the proposed reduction in my constituency were ever to be implemented. I seek a firm assurance from my hon. Friend--if not today, later, and certainly before any decision is taken--that such idiocy will not be tolerated in Castle Point or elsewhere.
Secondly, Essex county council should be aware--certainly we in Castle Point are aware--of the growing congestion of our roads. With the best will in the world, that problem is unlikely to improve for some time to come. For the present and for the next two years, major roadworks at the Rayleigh Weir and on the heavily congested A127 will create acute difficulties, especially in regard to the cover that Hadleigh is required to give to neighbouring Rayleigh, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), which I once had the honour to represent. The repercussions for Rayleigh of any decision to halve the fire and rescue cover at present provided by Hadleigh are serious. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford told me yesterday that he shares my anxiety and that he will seek to reinforce my plea early in the new year, if common sense does not prevail. The matter is serious for Rayleigh because, among the proposals, is one to close the Rochford fire station--in my hon. Friend's constituency--which also provides cover for Rayleigh. Rayleigh, however, is covered by the Hadleigh station at all times but has only one retained fire engine. Reduce the cover, and Rayleigh is left exposed. In any emergency, it would have to await the arrival of a fire engine from
Column 606Hawkwell, Leigh, Southend or Basildon but Rayleigh too, like Castle Point, has a fast-growing population. It is madness to contemplate reducing the cover that Hadleigh currently provides. I repeat, and I am measuring my words carefully, that an unnecessary delay of minutes in the arrival of a fire engine can mean the difference between getting a fire under control and a complete disaster, including loss of lives.
As for the road situation, which is crucial to effective and rapid deployment of fire fighters, I readily admit that plans are afoot for road improvement, but until they are implemented it would be foolhardy in the extreme to reduce existing fire cover and the flexibility that it provides. Canvey Island is particularly vulnerable, not only because of the hazardous installations but because it has only limited road access to the mainland. For years, the islanders have clamoured for an additional access, but we do not yet have it. As the chief fire officer has said, the fire service exists not merely to protect property from fire and to save lives but to help with other emergencies, such as serious accidents on roads, flooding and other sudden and unpredictable disasters.
My constituents remember the 1953 flood disaster, when Canvey Island was inundated and we lost more lives than any other district down the east coast and into the Thames estuary. They remember, too, the repeated warnings at public inquiries of the dangers of fire and explosion posed by the industrial hazards with which they have to live. Essex county council may think again, but in the meantime I wish to serve warning that any reduction in the fire cover for Canvey and for Castle Point as a whole is unacceptable. Therefore, I hope that when my hon. Friend replies he will say that he and his Department are sensitive to the situation and he will be able to give me an assurance that no such reduction in cover will be approved. It is possible that Essex county council will change its mind. I hope that it will, but the ultimate responsibility rests squarely on my hon. Friend's Department. One final point : I hope that he will concede that, if the population growth in Castle Point and in Essex as a whole has warranted the recent and welcome increase in police strength, the same sensible approach should be taken towards the provision of our fire and rescue services.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) both on securing the debate and on raising an important issue of crucial concern to him and his constituents--the provision of an effective fire service. I assure him that I do not underestimate the seriousness with which he speaks. I noted what he said and I am sure that his local fire authority will as well.
It may be helpful if I begin by describing where responsibilities lie in this matter. Under the relevant legislation--the Fire Services Acts 1947 and 1959--it is the duty of the fire authority for the area to secure the services of such a fire bridgade and such equipment as may be necessary to meet efficiently all normal requirements. In this case, the fire authority is the Essex county council. Therefore, it is the responsibility of Essex county council to determine the appropriate number of fire stations, fire appliances and fire fighters for its area, all of which go to make up the fire cover.
Column 607Under the legislation, the fire authority is required to make an establishment scheme, which sets out its arrangements to provide fire cover. It has to send the establishment scheme to the Home Office, but the Home Secretary's approval to the scheme is not required. The fire authority is free to increase the fire cover in its area--it does not need the Secretary of State's approval to do that--but it must seek the Secretary of State's approval if it wishes to reduce fire cover in its area. That includes varying the establishment scheme by closing a fire station or reducing the number of appliances, or full or part-time fire fighters.
In determining the fire cover for its area, the county council will, like other fire authorities, have regard to the nationally recommended standards of fire cover which have been in existence since 1936. They contain recommendations about the number of fire appliances that should be sent to fires in particular kinds of areas, and how quickly those appliances should arrive.
There are four main categories of risk. At one end of the scale, for the kind of risk to be found in many of our major city centres, known as A' risk, the standards recommend that two appliances should arrive within five minutes and a third within eight minutes. At the other end of the scale, known as D' risk and covering much of our rural areas, the standards recommend that one appliance should arrive in no more than 20 minutes.
These standards have been reviewed comparatively recently. They were reviewed by a joint committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland, called the joint committee on standards of fire cover. This joint committee included representatives from the Home Departments, the local authority associations, the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers and the Fire Brigades Union, as well as other interested parties. In its report to the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, the joint committee on standards of fire cover recommended that fire authorities should review fire risk categorisation in their area, having regard to nationally recommended standards of fire cover. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary accepted the committee's recommendation and its proposals on appropriate standards of fire cover. In a circular to fire authorities issued in May 1985, the Home Office asked fire authorities to put in hand reviews of fire risk categorisation in their areas.
I understand that the chief fire officer of Essex county fire and rescue service presented his review of standards of fire cover to the fire and public protection committee of his county council in November of this year. I also understand that the report contains some 15 recommendations. The great majority of these recommendations relate to the need to keep under review the status of existing fire stations, particularly where population growth is taking place in the area, or for the relocation of existing stations. One recommendation is to the effect that the possibility of a change in manning the system should be investigated at the station concerned. Further recommendations are that a site in the Stansted area should be purchased for a fire station and that the number of pumps at the station at Dunmow should be increased from one to two. In only two cases is there a recommendation that fire cover should be
Column 608reduced, but I immediately appreciate that both the stations concerned are in my right hon. Friend's constituency.
Four of the recommendations relate to stations in my right hon. Friend's constituency, at Corringham, Hadleigh, Rochford and Canvey Island--all of which he mentioned. I understand that the chief fire officer has recommended that there should not be any change in standards of fire cover at Corringham, but that its status should be reviewed regularly.
I understand that the chief fire officer has recommended closure of the part-time station at Rochford, whose area can be covered within nationally recommended standards by Southend's whole-time station or by the part-time station at Hawkwell. As to Hadleigh, I believe that the report recommends the removal of one fire appliance and the relocation of a hose-laying lorry to Billericay.
The chief fire officer's report does not propose any change in relation to fire cover in Canvey Island. It does, however, draw attention to the fact that if special risks and other industries on Canvey Island continue to decline, a move from full shift manning to day manning by one of the appliances should be considered. The second appliance is part time and no change is envisaged in the report. I understand that the fire and public protection committee of Essex county council considered the chief fire officer's report on 16 November, when it accepted all his recommendations subject to local consultations, and he wrote to Her Majesty's inspector of fire services to advise him of that on 20 November.
It will then be a matter for the county council, as the fire authority, to consider the views of its fire and public protection committee and to decide whether to proceed with proposals to close fire stations or to reduce the number of firefighters or fire appliances.
Should the county council decide to propose the closure of fire stations, reductions in operational firefighters, or removal of fire appliances, it must first obtain the approval of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Such approval would be given only where my right hon. and learned Friend was satisfied, on the professional advice of Her Majesty's inspectorate of fire services, that the county council would continue to discharge its statutory obligations to provide an effective fire service and to meet nationally recommended standards of fire cover.
For the moment, this remains a matter for the county council. It is responsible for providing fire cover in the county and it is considering the result of the recent review of fire cover. It must, for the moment, be for the county council to consider its chief fire officer's report, and it would be undesirable for me to comment more fully now on what might come before my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary as an application for his determination. But I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that should the county council seek my right hon. and learned Friend's approval to reduce fire cover in the area he will take careful note of my right hon. Friend's comments this morning.
The Government are committed to maintaining the nationally recommended standards of fire cover and to the maintenance of an effective fire service in all parts of the United Kingdom. The fire service is an organisation of which all who serve in it, at whatever level, can be justifiably proud and my right hon. and learned Friend the
Column 609Home Secretary is determined to keep it so. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity of saying that this morning.
Sir Bernard Braine rose --
Sir Bernard Braine : With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to speak again. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his carefully considered answer. Reading between the lines, I think that I have the assurance that at the end, if all else fails, the Home Office will pay particular attention to what I have said this morning, which reflects the view of many of my constituents. My hon. Friend said that initial responsibility rests with Essex county council. I know that that is the case and it is most unfortuate that, because of the failure of the fire and public protection committee to appreciate all the factors that obtain in my part of the county, let alone the rest of the county, it has come up with preposterous proposals which cannot stand.
I ask my hon. Friend and his advisers to look again carefully at the chief fire officer's report. I have great confidence, as, I think, all in Essex have, in our chief fire officer. One can see clearly from the report that he is issuing warning after warning to the local government committee which has the responsibility to which my hon. Friend refers. For example, in his introduction he says : "Essex continues to develop"--
that is a reference to the rapid increase in population that we have sustained over many years--
"and this review aims to provide a long-term strategy designed to enable the Service to achieve and maintain maximum
With respect, the first requirement that the public expect is maximum effectiveness in fire protection. The report goes on : "The recommendations contained with this Report are subject to consultations with the Home Office and, in the case of any reductions of fire cover, to the approval of the Home Secretary."
Column 610That is where the buck stops. Ultimately, the Home Secretary must look at the matter and decide. Will my hon. Friend convey to the Home Secretary the fact that the proposals to which I have referred this morning are simply not acceptable on any criteria that anyone cares to advance?
I do not know what consultations have already taken place between Essex county council and the Home Office. I imagine that there have been none because the Home Office knows the overall picture. It has had to listen many times in the past to hon. Members talking in the House about the dangers to which we are exposed in south-east Essex. Successive Prime Ministers have taken a personal interest in the Canvey situation. There is no escape for the Home Secretary in regard to the decision. The sooner consultations take place and the ridiculous, damaging and irresponsible proposal is withdrawn, the better.
I take comfort from my hon. Friend's measured response. In passing, I congratulate him on his appointment. We have great faith and trust in him. I am sure that, as a result of today's debate, he will have managed to get a grip on the situation my constituency now faces. I beg him to let me know as soon as possible what steps are being taken in his Department to bring some sense into this situation. Mr. Peter Lloyd rose --
Mr. Lloyd : With the leave of the House, I shall respond briefly to my right hon. Friend. I understand and have noted the strength of feeling with which he speaks. My right hon. Friend mentioned the buck being passed, but it is definitely with Essex county council at the moment. Therefore, until it makes its proposals my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has no role in the matter. But when proposals are made that he has to consider, I assure my right hon. Friend that he will consider them most carefully along with any comments that have been made.
Sitting suspended at 10.7 am.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : It is difficult to convince people that something as soft-sounding as puppy farming could be a screen behind which there is so much cruelty. Most members of the public associate puppy farming with the little bundle of fluff that they see in a pet shop window. They do not realise that all too often the pet shop window is the end of a callous, cruel, greed-ridden and deliberately dishonest trail that can frequently be traced back to farms in my own part of the country, Wales. However, similar problems arise in Scotland, Cornwall and other parts of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the examples to which I shall refer are in south-west Wales.
This is an appropriate time of the year to discuss the matter, although it might have been better to discuss it a week or two earlier. However, parliamentary time did not permit such a debate to take place then. Christmas is the time of peak sales of puppies, although it is becoming increasingly an all-year-round business. Even more important, it is becoming very big business. There are many caring and well-intentioned breeders and dealers, but far too many of them are neither caring nor genuine. They are out purely for maximum financial gain.
The popular myth is that most puppies are given to children, particularly at Christmas. Subsequently, however, many of them are abandoned as the children lose interest in them. The Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals and others have discovered, however, that a very large proportion of the puppy trade is dominated by people in their thirties and forties who buy puppies not for children but for elderly parents, in the hope that the puppies will provide them with comfort and even security. They do not seem to realise that the minimum part of the cost of a dog is its purchase price, even though that sometimes can be high. The RSPCA and others calculate that it costs about £4,000 to keep a dog over its average 11-year life. When one gives such a gift to a pensioner or a child, one is imposing on the family or pensioner an £8 a week cost for keeping the dog during the next decade. People ought, therefore, to consider that aspect when deciding whether to give puppies as presents.
That is not, however, the subject of the debate. I want to talk about a trade that is often sordid and cruel and, above all, is epitomised by sheer greed. I have already referred to the fact that most of my examples will come from south-west Wales. Most of them are to be found some distance to the west of my constituency, in a belt between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen.
I became involved in the issue two months ago--I must admit, by accident. While I was stuck in one of London's traffic jams on 12 October, I was listening to "Face the Facts" on my car radio when I heard a John Waite report that horrified me and convinced me that if the House were aware of all the circumstances action would be taken. The programme introduced what was described as a new cash crop. I should like to read some excerpts because I do not want colleagues to think that this is just one Member's view of what this trade represents. I want them to realise when they look at the Official Report that these are the views of outsiders who had no preconceptions. On the "Face the Facts" programme, the dogs were described as
Column 612"a new and lucrative cash crop for local farmers and smallholders many of whom would rather you did not know about some of the conditions in which those thousands of cuddly little Christmas presents are being bred."
That is certainly true. Those people would far prefer that no one knew about those conditions.
Mr. Alan Coxon, who with his wife and friends set up an organisation called Puppy Watch Wales to monitor what was happening and draw attention to the scandal, said :
"when you walk round the back of what could be a pleasant farm, you find a long shed with bitches three or four to a pen in darkness all the time, horrrendous noise, horrendous stench and the poor animals know no other way of life. Once they have been used for breeding for six or seven years, twice a year producing litters and making pots and pots of money for their owners, they are simply discarded because they are no use any more and they are either shot or dumped." The lucky ones are shot. I visited one animal sanctuary where the lady who had taken over the premises found dogs and pups in the septic tank that were surplus to needs. They had not been killed in any decent manner but had simply been dumped. Mr. Coxon and his friends presented me with a petition containing more than 5,000 signatures of people, most of whom came fom the Carmarthen area, who were protesting about the horrors on the puppy farming "industry", for it has indeed become an industry.
If anything, Mr. Coxon's description was a serious understatment of the magnitude of the problem. The "Face the Facts" team was soon shown the reality, when Inspector Anderson of the RSPCA took the team to several farms. Referring to one farm, a reporter said : "The smallholder led us around to the back of the building where we discovered breeding was carried out in a disused and dilapidated railway goods wagon. Inside dogs shivering with cold"--
this was during one of the mildest Octobers on record, so one can imagine the conditions during the past couple of weeks--
"were living on a sparse bed of straw heavily matted with excrement and sodden with urine and rain water. Though we saw five bitches, a Shih Tzu, a poodle, and three Yorkshire Terriers and then later a heavily pregnant King Charles spaniel, the owner insisted only two were kept for breeding."
As the team went around the farm, the situation deteriorated rapidly. The team came across a terrier, and Inspector Anderson said :
"It's got a broken jaw."
The bones were sticking out, and there are more gruesome details which I will not go into. The smallholder said :
"You might be right, but she's old, isn't she?"
Inspector Anderson prevailed on the owner to allow the team to take the poor creature to a vet. The reporter said :
"We set off for Carmarthen and the vet. The forlorn creature that shared the journey huddled whimpering in the back, her useless lower jaw hanging limp. On closer inspection we saw dried food caked around and in her eyes. Evidently the bitch's only method of feeding had been to push her face in whatever food was available in the hope that some would go down her throat."
The vet put that poor creature down, which was perhaps the kindest thing that could happen. One of the anomalies of the cases which I am describing is shown by the fact that, despite the dog's condition, Inspector Anderson could take it away only with the owner's permission. He could not have done so if the owner had objected. I know that the Minister and his officials have looked at the transcript and that some of them have listened to a tape of the programme. After hearing the programme, I immediately contacted John Waite and his producer, Guy Smith. They kindly came to the House of Commons and
Column 613gave me a lot of background information. They told me that, 10 months earlier, HTV had produced two programmes which went out late in the evening on the same subject. I visited them in Cardiff and they kindly provided videos of the programmes. They were still angry-- so angry that, a year later, they were preparing a third programme. They were so committed that HTV had gladly said that it would waive all copyright conditions on the stills from the videos because it wanted to publicise what was happening.
I have a couple of photographs with me. They are horrible and horrifying. On several farms, I saw abandoned cars and vans that were used as pens for these poor creatures. The animals were locked in and left for long periods. The vans and cars were full of weeks of excrement in which the animals were living. There is a photograph of a Doberman that had been living in its excrement for so long that its hindquarters were so ulcerated that it could neither sit nor stand properly--it had to be put down. Up until the time of its death, it had been used for breeding.
One of the most horrible photographs was of three King Charles spaniels which had virtually no fur. The other pens were occupied and they had been left without food for so long that they had lost their coats and were sleeping on concrete. They died of hypothermia. These are the sort of conditions that exist in this kind and cuddly trade. Most people would find it beyond belief that some people could be so stupid as well as so cruel. After all, as the pups sell for so much money, one would think that at least the owners would see the bitches as assets and take care of them, but it is cheaper for these people to replace the bitch than incur the costs of providing proper food and shelter and veterinary care. It is a measure of the inadequacy of our protection for these animals that the owner of the farm on which the Doberman and three dead animals were found was taken to court, fined and banned from breeding dogs for 10 years but on appeal had the ban lifted. She laughed all the way to Cumbria because she needed to sell only a couple of pups to cover the cost of the fine. She set up business again in Cumbria, where the RSPCA again traced her.
The reason why this problem is so widespread in this area is a quirk of economic history which, in fairness, is not within the control of the people who live there. They were the victims of the EEC change in the milk quota system. Many small farmers found that their incomes had gone. The Agricultural Development and Advisory Service told them that they should consider diversifying into such occupations as dog breeding. I have seen a letter from ADAS about a farm that I visited saying that the premises were suitable for adaptation. In fairness to ADAS, they may have been suitable for adaptation, but the farmer had no intention of paying for it. So it became a puppy farm. When I was there, dozens of the animals were in the house itself and some were in outhouses sleeping on the bare concrete. No attempt has been made to do anything to protect the animals.
As the problem is so widespread over that belt of Wales, why is it allowed to continue? After all, the RSPCA inspector, Mr. Peter Anderson, and the radio team from "Face the Facts" have investigated the matter. However, Mr. Anderson is hampered by the very law that the House introduced to protect animals--the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973. Under that well-intentioned Act, anyone with more
Column 614than two bitches for breeding had to register and be licensed and could be subject to inspection. The same law means that anyone not registered or licensed is free from inspection. Therefore, the environmental health departments and the RSPCA are in a Catch-22. If the farm owner says that he has only one or two dogs, they have no right of access and it is impossible to collect the information and evidence on which to prove that the farm owner is in breach of the law. Therefore, the standard reaction from the breeders is to say, "We have only one animal."
The "Face the Facts" team watched pups being loaded into the back of a van belonging to a local dealer, Mr. Yeoman. They approached eight or nine of the people producing the pups and selling them to Mr. Yeoman. Each one came up with the standard answer, "We have only one animal that we use for breeding." That ensured that they were immune from Mr. Anderson's inspection and attention.
I visited a couple of unlicensed farms in the area and saw 30, 40 or 50 bitches penned up in inadequate accommodation, sometimes even in the house. There are a range of people involved, some with just one dog and others with over 50. As one can imagine, that means that they are deriving an enormous income.
Because of my concern and because of what the programme said, I asked to see the Home Secretary. In fairness, I was seen rapidly by the previous Home Secretary--the present Foreign Secretary--and the Under-Secretary of State on 23 October. I took with me the videos and a tape. I told them on what I was basing my representations. To his credit, the Home Secretary was able to point to a transcript similar to the one that I have been using this morning. In anticipation of my visit, he had already taken the trouble to establish the nature of the case. I had a positive reception not just at that meeting but at the subsequent meeting that I had with the Under- Secretary after I had made a series of fact-finding visits to south west Wales. I want to place on record that the Secretary of State and the
Under-Secretary of State recognised the genuineness of the problem. It is clear that there is a crucial loophole in the existing law--the limitation on the right to inspect. However, one has to be realistic and recognise the problem. I am sure that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has come across similar problems and is aware or what I am describing. Even with an increase in the right to inspect, the councils would still be hamstrung by the limitations on the manpower available to cover the whole range of activities that come within the remit of the environmental health department. The problem is so widespread now that it is difficult to see how inspection alone will meet the need. In the belt of Wales to which I am referring, there are about 200 licensed breeders but there are probably at least as many--and possibly more--unlicensed. Increasingly, those who previously took the trouble to be licensed are no longer doing so, partly because they resent others getting away with being unlicensed, partly because they want to save costs but more importantly because they have discovered that it is a way to evade the rules.
I am convinced that the key to the problem is the dealer. The dealer is the only link between the local small distant farm and the real markets. Those markets are not just in the cities of Swansea and Cardiff--that is minimal- -but in London, Birmingham, Manchester and even abroad in Common Market countries. The local markets are
Column 615saturated. One cannot sell many pups there as everyone already has an ample supply and they are trying to find ways of getting rid of them. Some dealers even farm out the bitches within the area so that other people incur the cost of feeding and raising them. The dealers then collect the litters and reap the profits.
Those dealers deal not in tens or hundreds but in thousands of young pups, some of which are barely six weeks old and should not even be parted from their mother. HTV estimated that one dealer had a probable turnover of about £500,000 a year. We are talking about a substantial, highly lucrative and profitable business. How much goes through ledgers? The VAT inspectors would probably have a wonderful time in south-west Wales and they might find it a highly profitable area for investigation, as would the Revenue and the Department of Social Security.
To illustrate the international nature of the market, "Face the Facts" found that 30 crates of animals were being offloaded at Heathrow on their way to Milan. It is a big business in which the public are being ripped off by dealers who have no fear of the fines because they are derisory in relation to the profits. Their only fear would be if they were to be banned from buying from unlicensed breeders, because their livelihoods would then be at risk. They would then become self-policing and might do the things that the environmental health department is unable to do in severing the unlicensed breeders from the marketplace.
We now find that the market is becoming larger and more sophisticated. It is not just the old pet shops. Pet supermarkets are emerging and are buying thousands of pups a year. One sees advertisements, repetitive addresses and telephone numbers in magazines such as Loot --a free advertising magazine-- Exchange & Mart and in the local press. Dog agencies are now emerging also and the RSPCA told me yesterday that it was looking into a case where, in response to an advertisement, a gentleman paid £175 for a Yorkshire terrier of dubious origin and another couple paid the same person £270 for two pups of equally dubious origin. The so-called pedigree would be meaningless.
"Pebble Mill" saw the dealer in the marketplace. People were rushing from their cars with pups plucked from their car boots and handing them over to him. He was stuffing bits of paper--the so-called certificates of pedigree- -in his pocket. Heaven knows how he ever related them to the individual pups because when the people from "Pebble Mill" loked into the van, they estimated that there were between 70 and 80 pups already there. When they went back to the dealer's house as he was returning, the cars were lined up waiting to deliver more pups to him.
The pedigrees are virtually meaningless. A pedigree cannot be meaningful until it is registered for that pup with the Kennel Club. Most people do not realise that or do not register the pedigree for some other reason. Only people who intend to breed or show bother to register. Dealers rip off the public by charging top prices for "pedigree" pups which have no genuine pedigree.
The position has become so bad that there have been complaints not just in Britain but from overseas about the trade from south-west Wales. The Swiss received so many complaints about ill and deformed pups that they