Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may make a point and then the noble Earl, Lord Russell, can respond further. The difference in the precedent he quoted—and that precedent does not necessarily indicate that we should accept the situation put forward by the Government—is that the wording was not wrong but it was illegible because of a bad Xeroxing machine. We are faced with incorrect legislation. That is a material difference.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps the House and the noble Baroness will permit me to intervene. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who was the successful advocate in that case, I wonder whether it might be thought that the question, "What is the correct interpretation of the words?" might fall under the same principle as the question, "What are the correct words?". I should have thought that the answer to that question might be yes.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I first deal with the procedural issue. Strictly speaking at this point we are debating the statutory instrument—the order. There is nothing wrong with the text of that order—or nothing has been pointed out to me as being wrong with it. So far as the Government are concerned, there are no mistakes in the text of that order. That will be put to the House first.

The issue of the wrong wording relates to the code of practice to which we shall turn next. Therefore, it would be sensible if I dealt with the order first. For the convenience of the House, I shall deal with the other matter separately at the end of my remarks.

6 Feb 2003 : Column 397

A number of questions were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and subsequently by others. I shall try to deal with them in terms of fact. The new proposals from Europe are binding on all countries in Europe. There is no gold-plating in this statutory instrument. We are simply transposing what is required by European standards. The confusion, perhaps, is that much of the directive deals with matters that we had previously gold-plated, the cost of which British industry has already incurred. There are arguments on whether we should have done that, but we have. Therefore, the impact on the costs of the industry and its method of operating is now less for us than for other countries. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, there is no gold-plating in that. One could argue that, given our position, we are at an advantage compared to the rest of Europe as regards costs.

The objective of the directive is to improve animal welfare. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, we should be proud of our welfare provision rather than defensive about tightening measures. It is often queried whether the directives are being transposed and enforced as effectively in other European countries as they are here. In most cases where we examine those measures, enforcement in other countries is just as tight. The Food and Veterinary Office of the European Union can carry out spot-checks.

I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, back to our proceedings. She has enlivened them no end and prolonged the debate beyond what I had expected. I am glad to see her back.

There is no causal relationship between the economic status of the pig industry, which, I accept, is not good, and the regulations. The pig sector in the UK has had bad economic times. We have seen an increase in imports; a decline in production; and a decline in pig numbers. But imports have come almost entirely from the rest of the European Union. One could argue that that partly reflects the differential regulatory situation on sow slaughters, but that is not the case with this directive. The European Food and Veterinary Office has the right to insist that standards should be the same for imported meat into Europe as they are within Europe. Europeans in the current WTO round are arguing strongly that they should retain that right. But, hitherto, the imports have been from within Europe, where everyone is bound by the same regulations.

The impact assessment projects costs of up to 14.5 million, based on the worst case assumption that every pig farm would have to implement all the measures. In reality, probably less than 10 per cent of the pig industry would have to implement all the measures. Most are already in place in large parts of the sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about the status of the codes of practice. They are governed by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. She rightly described their status as statutory codes of practice, which can, therefore, be cited in court. But they are not directly enforceable as statutory instruments are. That is a common situation. The noble Baroness also asked

6 Feb 2003 : Column 398

whether the code covers fallen stock. It does not. It is dealt with through other activities, but not in this statutory instrument.

In response to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, the regulations deal with avoidable sudden noise. Farmers can take some steps, such as dampeners on gates, doors, and so on. Noises from the Armed Forces and elsewhere are not covered. The regulations refer to the farmer's responsibility only.

Large amounts of written material are referred to in the code, but it is intended to give clear guidance rather than go through all the literature. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said she thought it was a clearer effort to describe the situation.

The department is engaged in activity relating to heating and lighting to improve the energy efficiency of farming. The issue of toys, as described in much of the national press, has received the most public comment. The situation is much more straightforward than it seems. In good pig husbandry, animals must be diverted from tail-biting. Although tail-docking can be carried out effectively, the European Commission recommends that it should not be the routine reaction to tail-biting. It is far better to provide them with an alternative; namely, malleable straw or other materials, to divert them from attacking each other. The regulations do not include the word "toys". Although, there is a reference to "football" in the welfare code, it states that a football might be used but is unlikely to be a permanent feature. Therefore, if anything, the code discourages the use of footballs. Many pig farmers already observe the requirement to provide material to ensure that pigs do not engage in excessive tail-biting.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, mentioned castration and farrowing, the consideration of which has been deferred by Europe. Europe will return to the issue of castration in 2005, and farrowing in 2008. In the mean time, more research is being done in those areas.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, I am not aware of any medical evidence that answers his questions on different methods of slaughter. Although different methods are carried out by different people, it can be done on licensed premises only; therefore, equivalent conditions operate. I would be surprised if a difference existed, but I am not aware of any literature that proves the point one way or another.

I have answered most of the questions on the statutory instrument and the pig code of welfare. There has been more procedural controversy about the cattle code of welfare. The only substantive question was whether Paragraph 137 applies to calves. It is contained in the section on dairy cows, so it refers only to adult dairy cows.

In only two places in the code, the word "pigs" has been inserted instead of the word "cattle". It is an obvious error, which does not require several pages of annotated description as given in the precedent referred to by the noble Earl. It is therefore clear which amendment is needed. We laid the draft codes on 9th January. There is no procedure for altering the code before we debate it. In

6 Feb 2003 : Column 399

the Commons, such matters are dealt with in Standing Committees. It is not unusual for the Standing Committee minutes not to be available by the time the Lords discuss the matter. That happened in this case. A point of order was raised in the Commons Standing Committee. The Speaker and the Committee decided to proceed on the basis that the Minister—my colleague, Elliot Morley—indicated that in both Houses we would need to replace the word "pigs" with "cattle". In both cases, the Commons accepted that and proceeded accordingly.

The situation is therefore clear, and I am not sure that any of the precedents to which reference has been made apply in this case. First, it is a code of practice, rather than a statutory instrument; secondly, there is no question of it being illegible or unclear in its meaning; and, thirdly, the matter has been pointed out at the earliest possible parliamentary opportunity.

When I move the welfare of cattle code, I will do so subject to the two amendments. No one who has sat through this discussion will be in any doubt about what the amendments would mean.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is not just a convention but part of the rules of the House that one cannot amend a code of practice. On these Benches, we have tried many times to amend codes of practice. In fact, I believe that there is a debate about whether this House should be free to amend secondary legislation and codes of practice that come before us under the affirmative resolution procedure. At present, they cannot be amended. The House is being invited to approve something that, by all the rules, cannot be amended, even though the Minister says that it will be amended at some time in the future.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the rules are strictly enforced with regard to statutory instruments. In this case, we are dealing with a fairly clear change that everybody in the House understands and which, in a sense, derives from the title of the code of practice. It would not amend any of the other aspects of the code, and the code is not directly enforceable in law.

It would therefore be a commonsense approach for the House to accept the explanation offered, as the Standing Committee in another place was prepared to the other night. Were we not to do so, there would be a conflict between the two Houses. It would be desirable to avoid that.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page