Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 260-277)
9 SEPTEMBER 2004
Q260 Mr Mitchell: But still, a mutilation
is a mutilation?
Mr Bennett: What is the definition
of mutilation? In terms of taking the horns off cattle, under
welfare codes and farm assurance, I have to do that as part of
my good farming practice to be a farm-assured farmer. Do you define
taking the horns off cattle as mutilation? Surely, what you have
to do is make sure that you look at what is necessary for the
welfare of the animal and what is there for the welfare of the
animal and then look at the science that has taken place and at
the advisory and welfare codes that have been developed over many
Q261 Mr Mitchell: You are in danger of
saying that what is appropriate to the commercial interests of
farmers is good science and what is not is sentiment. For instance,
on the question raised earlier about overcrowding of chickens
or hens and the treatment of geese for paté de fois
gras, the reaction against, it could be argued, is a matter
of sentiment but sentiment is valid in those kinds of areas.
Mr Bennett: We have legislation
on stocking rates for broiler chickens which is constantly updated.
We, as British farmers, follow that. I cannot comment on French
law and fois gras because we do not practice it here.
Q262 Mr Wiggin: One of the things that
you are obviously here to talk about is farm animals but I cannot
think of a group of people such as your members who are more like
to have pet animals as well. Do you feel that the Bill protects
your members as well as their animals in all aspects? For example,
if someone's daughter's goldfish dies, most people can bury it
in the garden but farmers cannot. There are many more examples
that I could quote. How do you feel about that?
Mr Bennett: As farmers, I think
we would want to respect the law that society feels is appropriate
to animals. As a farmer, I would like to think I looked after
my farm animals as I would look after my sheepdog. That is why
I do take exception to the fact that we are looking for two separate
laws. Surely, what we are looking at here is proper welfare of
animals and, as farmers, we would support that.
Q263 Mr Wiggin: The trouble is that the
way you treat your sheepdog is not the same as the way you would
treat a guide dog,
Mr Bennett: Certainly not, and
my sheepdog would take exception to being locked in the house,
for example, and would probably take great exception if I did
not allow him to run behind my tractor when I went out into the
field. In fact, if you tied him up, that would be cruelty.
Q264 Ms Atherton: But farmers do that
and sheepdogs often are tied up.
Mr Bennett: Sometimes they are,
Q265 Joan Ruddock: On this aspect of
cruelty, you will have heard the discussion we have just had about
breeding and breeding for production in such ways that the animals
that result do then suffer. That is very clear in the case of
chickens that cannot stand and things like that. I wondered whether
you had any views on where intervention might be appropriately
made in the breeding of animals to ensure that any resulting breed
would not produce an animal that could not meet the standards
that are in this draft Bill.
Mr Bennett: It is very difficult
to frame law to intervene at a stage before an animal, in a sense,
becomes an animal.
Q266 Joan Ruddock: No, this is before
it goes into production. Clearly animals are bred but they need
not be further bred.
Mr Bennett: There are very good
economic drivers not to produce animals that result in bad welfare.
May I use the example of high yields in dairy cows? You can breed
a high yield in dairy cows. If those cows are professionally managed
with good nutrition, there is no problem whatsoever. If those
cows go to someone whose ability to cope with the demands of high-yielding
dairy cows in nutritional terms is weak, then the cows' welfare
is not looked after. Very often the genetic potential arrived
at through breeding is about professional management afterwards.
If you have high-yielding animals or better genetics, the emphasis
should be on making sure that the training and understanding of
that enhanced genetic potential ensures that there is no cruelty
to that animal and that the farmer has understood it. I am saying
that we have to make sure that the industry is trained to take
on board the benefits of that genetic extension.
Q267 Joan Ruddock: If a chicken cannot
stand on its own two feet, then there is a welfare issue, and
no amount of good housing will prevent that being a welfare issue,
in my view. What we are talking about, and accepting entirely
what you have said, is that there would be a point at which the
welfare parameters of this draft Bill could not be met for an
animal that was bred for a production that meant it could not
stand on its own two feet. Could the NFU support a body that had
the right to make those decisions?
Mr Bennett: We could certainly
support the science in the sense of making sure that chickens
are bred that do not suffer those effects. It would have to be
a very well-informed body because one never quite knows the effect
of selection until the benefits of that selection are seen. It
is not straightforward in that we do not know exactly what is
going to happen. That is why it takes some time to establish better
genetic potential in some areas. We would not support creating
animals that would suffer bad welfare. I am partly agreeing with
you on that issue.
Q268 Alan Simpson: Can I ask you to explain
a bit more to the Committee your comments on abandonment. You
said in particular that it must be clear when the seller's obligation
ends in respect of an animal. Yet when I read clause 3(3) I did
not see what was confusing about that. The clause reads: "Any
person who immediately before that time was a keeper of the animal
shall continue to be the keeper of the animal until another person
becomes a keeper of it." What is that you are trying to say
to us that is not clear about that?
Ms Jacobs: I think the issue is
that there is a difference between the companion animal market,
where you are looking for responsible selling as well as responsible
buying, and responsible care thereafter. That is, after all, an
industry where animals are sold on and, in a sense, are part of
the business assets of the business that is selling them. They
pass on and their ownership changes. It is problem I think then
to be trying to trace back the responsibility for animals that
have been commercially passed on, whatever the nature of the change
of ownership is. In the same way, it is a very simple concept
that somebody who sells a companion animal has a moral responsibility,
if you like, to make sure that person is doing something responsible
with it; the animal's future welfare, to a certain extent, is
related back to them. It is a different thing where, as apart
of a commercial operation, you are disposing and passing on ownership
Q269 Alan Simpson: I do not understand
that, Chairman. A sale is a sale. If I agree to buy goods from
you and that passes to me, at that point cash goes from me to
you and the goods come from you to me and I am responsible for
that. If you are talking about it being an animal, then I am responsible
for the animal at that point in time. It makes not a ha'p'orth
of difference whether that is a companion animal or a farm animal.
Ms Jacobs: I think you put your
finger exactly on the point here. The issue is that you trace
back to the keeper. You will be reinstated, if you like, as the
keeper, despite the fact that legally perhaps title has passed.
That is what the Bill is saying. It is looking forward and saying
that if you are going to dispose of an animal, you must make sure
that whoever is going to get it is going to look after it properly,
and if you do not, we have recourse back to you. That is not an
issue to do with legal title; it is saying that you will be deemed
to be the keeper. Suppose, for instance, somebody comes to a farm
and buys an animal off that farm, a sheep or something. If someone
has bought a nice big house in the country with a couple of acres
attached, he might think it would be nice to have sheep to save
pushing the lawnmower around. He buys three or four sheep and
takes them away. The next minute, for some reason, the sheep have
escaped and cannot be chased back to the owner. If those sheep
could be traced back to you, you would still be responsible as
keeper of those sheep. That is a concern.
Q270 Chairman: I was going to ask about
that point you have just raised, which is the escape of animals
from a farm. An interesting issue is whether in fact you are not
providing a proper setting in which to keep animals if you do
not keep your fences and hedges in good order so that your animals
can then escape.
Ms Jacobs: I am sorry if I did
not make myself clear. I was not saying they escaped from the
farm but that they escaped from the person who had taken them
over, the new owners.
Q271 Mr Mitchell: They had escaped from
the person who bought them?
Ms Jacobs: Exactly, but you would
still be deemed to be the keeper if that person cannot be identified
and you can be identified as the seller. That is my concern. I
am not suggesting animals escaping from farms at all.
Chairman: Looking at the clause in question,
it says "if an animal has been abandoned". My understanding
of "abandoned" is that you positively decide that you
as the current keeper are not going to have a continuing responsibility
for the animal. In other words, say you had a dogthe old
slogan is about a dog is not just for Christmasand you
go out and dump the dog on the streets or wherever and walk away
from it, that would be my layman's understanding of abandonment.
Therefore you are saying, "I do not want anything else to
do with that dog". I can understand in that circumstance
that you might have a continuing duty of care because it is still
your dog, but I cannot quite see how it works in the farm context.
Q272 Alan Simpson: I do not think the
wording goes with your interpretation of the responsibility residing
with the previous owner.
Ms Jacobs: As long as that is
clearly established, that is fine. We did perceive an element
of ambiguity. If that ambiguity is not meant to be there and as
long as that is ruled out in the drafting, that is absolutely
Q273 Chairman: Could I pursue the question
I raised about animals that escape from the farm? I wondered if
you had any reservations about this. When an animal escapes, that
immediately causes a potential prosecution because the animal,
by definition, is no longer under the farmer's potential control.
The farmer therefore could not deliver, for example, the five
freedoms because the animal is now wandering about on the road
or elsewhere and the animal is now out of the farmer's control
but the farmer still owns it. Do you have a concern that every
time animals escape there could be a potential welfare prosecution
Mr Bennett: In terms of the law
as it exits today, we have a legal obligation for our animals.
Even when they escape or do damage to others, we are still liable.
That does create problems for us, particularly in terms of access
legislation. Very often gates being are left open. A recent legal
judgment has held that we were still liable for animals even if
people leave gates open. We have thought about this. We have a
legal obligation to those animals and if they do escape, it is
very difficult to guarantee their welfare in terms of road traffic.
That is why we are concerned about good countryside care and people
in the countryside. This is not just about access. Unfortunately,
sometimes there is malicious behaviour when people quite deliberately
let animals out. On occasions in certain fringe areas they actually
take the gates and sell them. It is an issue and we have a legal
Q274 Chairman: I move on to another part
of your evidence where in paragraph 9 you raise an issue which
many people have commented on about the Bill, which is clause
6 and the broad powers. You say in your evidence: "We would
draw attention to the extremely broad powers which this clause
would provide to the government of the day in the name of promoting
the welfare of animals." You go on to comment on the fact
that the list shown in (a) to (q) in subsection (2) is not exhaustive.
That raises what I call the forthcoming attractions element of
this Bill, that there is an awful lot which is conferring order-making
powers on the Government, with a great long list of possible things,
some of which could take up to 2010 to enact. Are you content
with this particular section of the Bill? Do you think more information
should be provided about what the Government's intentions are
in this area or are you happy to see things evolve?
Mr Holbeche: This clause perhaps
par excellence in the Bill is where the most enabling character
of the Bill might be found because although we do have paragraphs
(a) to (q) in subsection (2), subsection (1) states that the appropriate
national authority may, by regulation, make such provisions as
the authority thinks fit for the purpose of promoting the welfare
of animals kept by man. That is extremely broad. I think there
is a dilemma here because clearly if one tried to find a way of
narrowing those powers, then you may run into the difficulty that
the legislation would become outdated which is, in a sense, where
we came from. That is why we need a law that can be kept up to
date with current research and science and so on. There is something
of a safeguard in the clause in the sense that the regulations
will be subject to affirmative procedures and so will have to
be consciously approved by both Houses of Parliament. We would
say that is absolutely appropriate, not least because the powers
do include the ability for Ministers to make regulations with
custodial sentences and fines up to level 5, which is potentially
fairly tough, given that there will not actually be any specific
debate on the details in Parliament in the way that there would
be if it was primary legislation. I do not think we have a solution
to the problem, Chairman, but we would want to encourage the public
and MPs to monitor very closely the way Ministers behave in the
operation of these powers.
Q275 Chairman: Are you quite happy that
the consultation processes gives you sufficient chance with Defra
to tease out the practical implication of what is proposed? You
are quite right in commenting on the affirmative procedure but,
as you well know, our House does not allow amendment at that point.
You can have a debate and a vote but you cannot actually change
anything, and so it adds greater emphasis to the consultation
Mr Holbeche: It does, and I would
draw attention to the remark we make in paragraph 10 that in fact
clause 6 does not at the moment provide any obligation on Ministers
to consult. We would say that it is absolutely vital that there
is a statutory obligation on Ministers to consult before introducing
any regulations of this kind.
Q276 Chairman: That is a helpful and
timely reminder. In your evidence, and indeed in the comments
that are being made by many, the whole question of enforcement
has been raised, matters relating, for example, to powers of entry,
the expertise of local authorities, and the resources that are
available to them. Would you care to comment on those aspects
as far as the Bill is concerned and whether you are satisfied
with the way it is presently drafted in that context?
Mr Holbeche: We had a discussion
a few moments ago about the powers of entry. We think that the
Bill as drafted does not quite match the standard of the 2002
Act, and we see no reason why it should not in that respect. There
is an issue potentially about enforcement in terms of the regime
of inspectors because the Bill gives local authorities, as we
understand it, new powers in relation to carrying out inspections
in addition to the powers that are already used by the State Veterinary
Service. It comes back to the point that we discussed earlier
on, that we would feel assured if we could be certain that the
inspectors who came onto the farm were appropriate for the purpose.
That does not mean two laws; it means inspectors who know about
farm animals as opposed to companion animals, for example. We
are interested in the question about the way in which inspectors
would be appointed. We would want to see the Secretary of State
consulting widely and having a proper debate about just what sort
of experience is required, background and so on, because clearly
the enforcement of these potentially very wide powers is crucial
to the success of the legislation and crucial to its enforcement
in a fair manner as far as the keepers of animals are concerned.
Chairman: I apologise to you and other
witnesses. I have to go and ask a question in Education Question
Time. I shall return. Mr Mitchell will take over the Chair.
In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Mitchell
was called to the Chair.
Q277 Mr Mitchell: You say that the procedure
is odd and unsatisfactory for parliamentary approval in clause
8 of the codes. Why do you say that?
Mr Holbeche: I must, if I may,
answer that. It is odd in the sense that it is at variance with
the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, which is
the current law that provides for the farm welfare codes which
will be repealed and superseded by this Bill when this becomes
law. In the 1968 Act the codes have to be consciously approved
by both Houses of Parliament before they can come into force.
Under this clause in the Bill as drafted, it would be possible
for the codes to come into force if neither House of Parliament
within the 40 parliamentary days actually voted them down. That
seems to be bit of a default procedure which I think we say might
suit the interests of Whitehall but might not be so appropriate
Mr Mitchell: I thank the National Farmers
Union for coming to give evidence.