Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I would like very much to—

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords—

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I am so sorry; do forgive me.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, from these Benches, I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. However, I believe that it is my turn now.

6 Feb 2003 : Column 389

I want to make some brief points—if I do not make them briefly, I expect that the Conservative Front Bench will concede that there will be no time for the Minister to reply to the noble Baroness or myself.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, will the Minister clarify that this is not a time-limited debate?

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I apologise to the Front Bench; I understood that it was.

Baroness Byford: No.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness.

I, too, was surprised that no Official Report of the Commons debate on Tuesday was available to help me. I am afraid that not having Hansard means that we may duplicate some of the points that were made from our Benches in that debate. Those points may have received a reply but we have no official record of that, which is very unhelpful.

I turn to the substantive points of the new code. It is pleasant that we in this country are ahead of the game for once. We can rightly be proud of our standards of animal welfare. If as a society we have decided to eat meat, we have as a society a moral obligation to ensure that animal welfare standards are an important consideration.

The current supermarket consolidation issues mean that we have been bombarded by supermarkets telling us what a good job they are doing sourcing their fresh meat from British producers. That is increasingly the case with fresh meat but I fear that it is far from being the case with processed meat and ready meals. Considerably more can be done on that issue in terms of customer awareness, not least by the Government, to encourage further moves in terms of labelling. We have had several assurances that that will happen but the evidence in the freezers is still not there.

I agree with the Minister that the welfare codes are plainer, which I welcome. There is a list of publications at the back of the codes with which farmers must comply; it contains a frightening list of reading material that must be completed. Some of it relates to the new regulations and farmers' duties to themselves and their employees—they must ensure that employees are trained and knowledgeable about all the relevant issues. Those requirements are very complicated. What progress have the Government made in terms of DEFRA advisers helping farmers to work their way through that?

Has DEFRA made any forecasts about the effect of the cost of implementing the codes on a diminishing industry? I understood that the costs were just over 14 million. Does DEFRA intend to help in any way? The new regulations refer in a couple of places to energy issues, such as heating for piglets and lighting requirements. Is DEFRA doing any work on energy-saving plans for farmers and more innovative ways in which energy issues can be approached, such as heat exchanges and so on?

6 Feb 2003 : Column 390

I regret the fact that animal regulations were the subject of rather cheap jokes about pigs and football when serious matters were being raised. The debate should have offered a good opportunity to examine the issue of animals living as naturally as possible while under severe confinement.

I ask that the UK Government address the issue of electric goads, which, I understand, will continue to be permitted. However, we feel that if the training were sufficient, the use of such goads should diminish over time. Technology has enabled us to use them, but they are not used by the many very competent stock handlers with whom I am personally acquainted, who do not regard them as necessary.

I turn to two final small points. In reconsidering the code, I wonder whether the Government will concede that the section on injurious weeds needs to be reconsidered in view of the fact that many public agencies—for example, Network Rail, the Highways Agency and, indeed, local authorities—have a long way to go, particularly with regard to ragwort.

Finally, I turn to the new agri-environment schemes on which the Government are currently consulting. Paragraphs 79 and onwards of the cattle code set out a requirement for outdoor shelters, such as hedges and trees. Will that be read over into the type of agri-environment scheme help that farmers are considering grant-aiding?

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, first, I declare an interest in that I have a family farm in the hills and uplands of Dumfriesshire. I wonder whether, for a good farmer, the regulations are necessary at all. Any good farmer carries out most of these tasks as a matter of course. Obviously, they are, and must be, approved to ensure that there is a general standard of good welfare in relation to contained animals.

I want to ask a simple question concerning the end of the chain of husbandry—that is, the slaughterhouse. Like other noble Lords who have complained, I asked at the end of last week for the two pamphlets from the noble Lord's department, but I received them only an hour or so before today's debate. I wonder whether any work is being carried out on the way that we slaughter animals as against the methods employed by other religions. Do we do so in a centralised slaughterhouse on the basis of hygiene? More and more animals are being sent to a central point and are having to wait for the end, so to speak. I believe that that period creates, or could create, a chemical change inside the body of the animal, similar to that which takes place in a fox when it is chased, as referred to in the Burns report.

There may be a simple answer to my question but it is an issue to which I cannot find a reference. There has been a great increase in the incidence of cancer in the western world—mainly intestinal cancer and so on. Has any research been carried out on people who eat red meat and on the rate of cancer that occurs following what I call the "Christian" way of slaughtering—that is, slaughter carried out under regulations governing the welfare of red meat animals at slaughter, those concerning pre-slaughter handling, and the stunning

6 Feb 2003 : Column 391

and sticking pocket guide that we use? I wonder whether a difference exists in the various methods of slaughter and whether any work has been done on that.

The idea of a centralised slaughterhouse may be based on hygiene, with the conditions laid down by the European Union being adhered to throughout Europe. But I am concerned that, because a larger number of animals now wait to be slaughtered, that may create a chemical change inside the body of the animal. I do not know what effects are brought about—I am not a doctor; nor am I a vet—but I suspect that a change may take place which has a consequent effect when the meat is consumed.

Perhaps I may return to the subject of the point of death in an animal, whether as a result of hunting, in a slaughterhouse, or by the Islamic or Jewish method of slaughter—when a man in holy orders is present and the moment is considered to be almost sacred. When we slaughter animals in this country, there is much noise, shouting and banging of steel, and one is aware of the terrified silence of the animals as they await their turn.

Has work been carried out on this matter? We have done a tremendous amount of work on the constitution of the fox when chased by hounds, but that meat does not go into the food chain. How much work has been done on the subject of the slaughterhouse and its possible effects on the high incidence of rectinal and stomach cancer? Do we experience a higher rate of cancers in this area than in areas where meat is slaughtered in a different way?

My point is that, if there is any risk that we are slaughtering animals in the wrong way, we should reconsider the regulations. Of course, I approve of them because they appear to be eminently sensible in terms of good husbandry. But are they sensible in governing the way that red meat enters the food chain? I cannot find any papers on the subject. I regret that I have not had time to prepare fully for this debate, but I have not read anything that gives me any comfort that our method of slaughtering animals is the correct one.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I want to ask about the propriety—a point raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench—of discussing a document which is clearly wrong. I begin by declaring an interest as a farmer, although at present I do not own either cattle or sheep and I have no plans to do so.

I believe that it is totally contrary to parliamentary practice knowingly to debate a document which is faulty. I quote in support of that argument an experience that I recall from many years ago when I was a government Whip in another place. There was a great panic within the Whips' Office at that time because, in transferring a Bill from Committee to Report stage—I cannot remember what the Bill was—there had been an error in transposing a comma. After a day or more had been spent on the Report stage, I remember very well the advice of the parliamentary draftsman that the Bill should not be proceeded with

6 Feb 2003 : Column 392

and that, strictly speaking, the Bill should be withdrawn because there was a wrongly transposed comma between the two versions of the Bill.

I recall the discussion in the Whips' Office at that time concerning the disruption that that might cause to the Government's programme. I believe that it was a controversial Bill. The conversation in the Whips' Office and the business managers' discussions went something like this: "Perhaps the Opposition won't notice it. Let us see if we can get away with it". On that occasion, we did get away with it because the Opposition did not notice.

On this occasion, the Opposition have noticed. As my noble friend said, the Opposition and other groups noticed some time ago. I received the NFU's brief some days ago and noticed that it claimed that there was an error in the drafting of the document dealing with cattle. I thought that, by the time we came to debate the matter, no doubt the document would have been rewritten and we would have the correct version before us. But that has not happened. As my noble friend said earlier, that was some time ago and has been known for some time.

Remembering the experience of the early 1970s, which I recounted, if the parliamentary practice was wrong then I am perfectly sure it is wrong now. I can imagine the discussions within the department and with the business managers over this document on cattle where an error in the drafting is pointed out and the advice is, "Well, let's go ahead with it. Let's pretend it was just a typist's error. Let's just pretend it's neither here nor there".

If it was wrong to proceed over a comma, certainly it is wrong to proceed over a matter of transposing cattle and pigs. I see an old friend of mine on the Government Front Bench who was, some years ago, associated with the Opposition Whips' Office in another place. Perhaps I may say to him that our old friend Sir Walter Harrison, who if there was any justice in the world would now be a Member of this House, would have made his teeth meet over this matter. The Government would have been kept up all tonight and probably all tomorrow in forcing the withdrawal of this document and urging that the matter be dealt with in the proper way.

I believe that we are proceeding in a totally improper way. The Government should withdraw this document and let us debate one which is correct.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page