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Calves (Transport Conditions)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Snow.]

11.43 p.m.

I am dealing tonight, although it is very late, with the condition in which young calves are transported by rail in this country and the treatment which they receive. I must admit that when putting down this subject, I found it difficult to know to which Minister to address it. It concerns the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Food, the Minister of Transport, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am very glad to see that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is the one chosen to represent all those Ministries. I am sorry to hear that the representative who might have been here from the Ministry of Food is sick.

This is a matter which must appeal to everybody, particularly animal lovers, which we all are; but it is also a subject on which one can wax sentimental and refuse to face facts, and I hope to avoid both those pitfalls. In the course of my Parliamentary duties I travel to and from Scotland twice a week, once each way, and I have frequent opportunities of seeing these calves and the conditions under which they are sent. Frequently one is awakened at Crewe by the cries of these animals, and at each stop through the night one hears the same cries as these terrified, hungry little creatures, most of them only a day or two in the world, are driven through the night.

The usual practice is for them to be tied or sewn up in sacking in which, in the first place, they are able to lie down comfortably, but in some cases they are put in the luggage van where there is no litter on the floor, and no foothold. While waiting on the platforms of different stations each passing engine and train reduces these creatures to a state of helpless terror which is pitiful in the extreme. Their struggles result in the sack getting twisted round their necks, or their legs getting crossed, so that they cannot lie down. In some cases broken legs also result. When I tell the House that journeys are sometimes from as far-distant places as Somersetshire in England to Aberdeen in Scotland—

I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse an ignorant Scot using the expression "Somerset-shire," which I find in all the atlases of Great Britain.

I feel sure that Ministers and indeed the House will agree that there is something very far wrong in a country which prides itself on a love of animals, looks after the conditions in which they are kept, and claims a high standard of civilization, when newly-born calves make these journeys. In the very recent hot spell, the condition of these animals was truly dreadful.

I have taken this matter up with the Railway Executive and I reported one particular case where the most terrible cruelty was employed in handling these calves at changing stations. They took up the matter very courteously, as indeed they have treated all my correspondence on the subject; but we have to realise that there is much which requires looking into in the way these creatures are being handled. Rough handling in loading and unloading is very very common. In addition, there is teasing by small boys on the station platforms, and the barking of dogs. In fairness, I have knowledge also of a considerable number of cases of the most careful handling of these calves by porters.

But I think there is something very far wrong in a system which allows these creatures to be carried about the country in this way. The inspectors of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have drawn this matter to the attention of myself and other people. This journey from England takes 30 hours, and no milk is provided for the calves. The Railway Executive have given me their rules and regulations on the subject, and these make it perfectly clear that, as far as the rules are concerned, everything seems all right. They say, for instance, that in the absence of any specific instructions from the sender, any calf unaccompanied by the mother should be given milk warmed to blood heat to a quantity not exceeding one quart per calf. That is excellent on paper, but it is not in many cases carried out; in many instances it is impracticable.

I cannot think that there is any justification whatsoever for sending these creatures on such long journeys. There are presumably, two categories; the calves may be for slaughter, in which case the Ministry of Food are responsible, or, if for rearing, the Ministry of Agriculture at the sending end, are responsible. In either case, I cannot really believe that it is necessary to send them such long distances as from Somerset or even the Midlands of England to Perth or Aberdeen, and that they could be sent on shorter journeys with a minimum of suffering and hardship to some market, or whatever it may be, nearer to the place from which they come. I doubt very much whether we can justify these long journeys, and I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us on that point.

But if they have to be sent on journeys at all, long or short, it is a moral duty on every one of us to see that every possible care is taken of them from start to finish of the journey, and that proper arrangements for food and water, where suitable—though, of course, they are not suitable for very young calves—are not only laid on but are carried out when the animals are on their journey. The Railway Executive have assured me that their rules are strict, and that stationmasters, yardmasters and everybody on the way has a duty laid upon him to see that these orders are carried out and that the vehicles, or the labels on the animals, state clearly when they should be fed, and when they have been fed. As I have said before, I think that on paper everything has been provided for, but I do not think in actual fact that it is being carried out.

It is quite enough to have gone into a luggage van and found these creatures tugging at one's coat or trouser leg in the effort, as they think, to get milk or some form of nourishment, and also to have seen the leather strap on the window of the guard's van sucked to a soft spongy substance by the little animals still striving their best to get some form of milk, as they think. One does not need to see that more than once to realise that these creatures do suffer a tremendous lot, as I think quite unnecessarily. Apart from feeding, there should be far better provision for the actual protection of these creatures on the way. It does not require more than one sight of a struggling wild-eyed calf tied up in a sack to convince one that there is something very far wrong and of the need for action.

There is, and always will be, some element of suffering in the slaughter and conveyance of animals for slaughter for human food, but, accepting that there may be some element of that, it is the duty of everybody and of this House in particular, to see that suffering is reduced to an absolute minimum. I ask the Minister concerned, whether in Scotland or England, whether of Transport, of Agriculture, or of Food, to take action early in this matter, in order to put right what I think is a shameful blot on the good name of this country, which is famous all over the world for its devotion to animals and the high principles of civilisation.

11.54 p.m.

None of us would complain that the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) has raised this matter tonight, even at such a late hour. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who is perhaps the Minister most responsible in these matters, unfortunately was unable to be present himself to listen to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman had to say. It was his intention that the Parliamentary Secretary would, however, be here to listen to him and perhaps offer a word or two in reply, but unfortunately my hon. Friend is prevented from being here tonight through indisposition, and he has asked me if I would say a word or two on his behalf. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will know that under the provisions of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, which applies to England and Wales—and there is a similar Act of 1912 applying to Scotland—there are provisions prohibiting the conveyance or carriage of any animal in such a manner or position as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering, and that the Minister of Agriculture has, under powers given by the Diseases of Animals Acts, made certain orders containing additional provisions governing the carriage of calves, both by railway and road vehicles.

The fact that orders have been made and Acts of Parliament passed is perhaps not enough, and it would be wrong of any of us to insist that no unnecessary suffering or hardship was caused to young animals. Most of us will have seen these calves in the sacks in the railway stations from time to time, and will have wondered whether these young animals could only be transported in that way, or indeed whether they have to be transported at all. I have made inquiries from time to time, and have been told that most farmers, and most people knowledgeable in the treatment and care of calves, take the view that very young calves are better transported in sacks than otherwise, that thereby they are protected from chills, and so on, that they might contract on the journey.

A good deal of care is taken to ensure that no unnecessary suffering is caused in the railway trucks. I do not doubt there are cases of rough handling in transit. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said he was aware of some cases of that sort, although he was also aware that there were porters who took the greatest care to see that there was no unnecessary suffering. He spoke about calves lying at Crewe, as well as other stations. Facilities for feeding are not available at all stations, but Crewe is one of the places, I believe, where such facilities do exist. Many of the animals about which the hon. and gallant Member spoke are too young to eat any solid food; the only thing they can have is milk, and many are too young to take milk out of a bucket and have to be hand-fed, and I believe that a little of that is done at Crewe. But whether a feed of that kind at Crewe to a young animal travelling all the way from Somerset to Aberdeen is enough, I do not know.

I should like to report to my right hon. Friend what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, to see whether there are any further steps we might take, in co-operation with the Railway Executive, to ensure that the least possible suffering is inflicted—or indeed no suffering at all, if it can be avoided—to these young animals while they are being transported. Most of the animals the hon. and gallant Member will have seen recently were being transported to be fed for beef in other parts of the country, rather than for slaughter under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Food.

There was a time not long ago when large numbers of young calves were transported long distances to slaughter houses, but the Minister of Food sent out what I might call an injunction in January this year calculated to prevent the transporting of these very young animals long distances for slaughter. That injunction, together with the operation of the calf subsidy scheme, has reduced to the minimum, if it has not stopped altogether, the transport of very young calves long distances for slaughter. So I think we are concerned only with calves transported from the areas in which they are born and not being reared for beef, to beef-rearing parts of the country to be fed for slaughter some time later.

We have certain powers at the present moment. We appreciate that there may still be some unnecessary suffering caused to these animals. I should like to be allowed to report to my right hon. Friend what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. I assure the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend is not unsympathetic to taking all practical steps in the circumstances to deal with any unnecessary suffering. With reference to the present facilities at Crewe, my right hon. Friend will check up these and assure himself that they are being properly administered and that the necessary facilities are provided elsewhere where numbers of animals are passing through or being shifted from one truck to another for long journeys. I hope that with that assurance, the hon. and gallant Gentleman may care to leave the matter with my right hon. Friend.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. Would he particularly emphasise to his right hon. Friend the need to go into the question of reducing the actual length of journies, to see if the journey from A to B can be made shorter.

I agree. One point I should perhaps have made is that my right hon. Friend would be disinclined to make any order under the Diseases of Animals Act providing that feeding facilities should be provided when animals are transported over a certain distance, because distance is not a very good criterion. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman will know, having in mind our Scottish conditions, sometimes the distance between two points may be only 50 miles or less, but the animals may be a longer period in transit than it takes to travel between Somerset and Aberdeenshire. I will report this point to my right hon. Friend.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes past Twelve o'Clock midnight.