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Slaughter Of Deer Bill

Volume 124: debated on Friday 11 December 1987

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Order for Second Reading read.

1.57 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is only the welfare of deer; it is neither to encourage or discourage deer farming nor to authorise or forbid the lawful killing of deer in slaughter houses.

Our standpoint is taken from the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council on deer, which is that deer have different characteristics and a heightened sensitivity to humans and to other animals that is not generally shared by the more commonly farmed animals.

The number of deer farms has risen rapidly. In the early 1970s there were only a few, but in 1980 the Farm Animal Welfare Council found 14 deer farms and in 1984 more than 100, with 5,000 deer, excluding park deer. In October 1987—the latest statistics to hand—Scotland alone had 56 deer farms with 12,250 farmed deer, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom there were upwards of 80 farms, with the largest cluster outside Scotland being in Devon; hence my interest.

It is interesting to note that in Scotland the land used is 80 per cent. rough grazing or scrub woodland and that the distribution is mainly in the less favoured areas. It is amusing to note that Brian Aldridge of "The Archers" is now farming deer. It is a sensible move as the gross margin for red deer is £1,000 per hectare compared with lowland sheep or 24-month-old beef at £520 per hectare and suckler beef at £300 per hectare. Although the best margin may be on the sale of breeding stock, venison gets a good price. Indeed, it accounts for 0·5 per cent. of Europe's red meat consumption. Prime quality farmed venison commands a substantial premium over game venison and other meats. The retailer pays the farmer 50 per cent. more than for beef. Deer farming is thus a profitable, new small industry.

The United Kingdom now produces 2,300 1b of venison, both feral and farmed, annually, of which two thirds is exported. The Chernobyl factor fractionally dented our exports to West Germany, which consumes 43,500 1b a year, but it has now been overcome and the figures are increasing again. Current world venison consumption figures are of the order of 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes.

Is there a preference in the German market for wild rather than farmed venison?

At the moment the preference is for game venison.

With Christmas coming, the Scandinavians cull and eat their own reindeer, so there is no export market there. The export market is in Europe, north America, Japan and Australia, and these markets have been opened up by New Zealand.

I remind hon. Members that we seek alternative farming and that many products are in surplus but they exclude venison. In New Zealand one in 10 farmers now farm venison compared with one in 100,000 here. The product attracts no subsidies. It is governed by no European Community legislation. We have no quotas and no meat mountains, but the production of excellent lean meat economically from grass. Venison is healthy eating for the consumer. Stag has a low fat content of 5 to 10 per cent. while the fat content in rams is 22 to 27 per cent. and in bull beef it is 18 to 22 per cent. Venison has high protein, no hormones and no additives or colouring. It is a highly wholesome diet and is again fast becoming a food available to all.

To market venison the deer farmer has to consider the supermarket requirement as farm-gate sales will not fulfil the growing demand. They need a consistent product. Farmed deer are killed at the same age and the meat is undamaged. The quality of game is variable and the age of the meat may differ; it may have been badly shot or handled roughly. Farmers need health-marked meat which has been inspected at all stages and this can only apply if the meat has gone to the slaughterhouse.

It is difficult to define farm deer. We have taken the definition in the Bill from the Farm Animal Welfare Council report. The provisions should perhaps be restricted mainly to red deer—I hope that we shall be able to discuss that in Committee—and not fallow, roes sika or wapiti, although some farmers tell me that the characteristics of red deer are less skittish than limousins or charollais which may be more difficult to handle.

More deer will be going to slaughterhouses, probably in percentage terms and most certainly in actual numbers. That may be why one —possibly two — of the four dissenting signatories to the Farm Animal Welfare Council report on farmed deer have withdrawn their objections. Deer farming has increased rapidly.

The hon. Lady said that of the four who signed the dissenting report, two had changed their minds. Could she tell the House which two she thinks have changed their minds?

I am glad to say that Mr. Ewbank himself told me that he has changed his mind, and I understand at second-hand that Mrs. Harrison has changed her mind, although she did not say that to me.

I categorically assure the hon. Lady that the views of Mrs. Ruth Harrison expressed in the dissenting report are, if anything, stronger than when the report was written. She is in no way in favour of the abattoir slaughter of deer.

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

The present laws allow the slaughter of deer in abbatoirs in England and Wales. It is not going to stop. Indeed, the Government have said that it will continue. There is a provision coming in in Scotland.

In one moment.

There are no welfare provisions at all and the Bill will allow licensing which will enable a batch of welfare controls to be imposed on the slaughter of deer in slaughterhouses. In today's Britain it is improper that one animal species should be allowed to be slaughtered in slaughterhouses without welfare controls when others are not.

I represent a local authority that has a large deer farm of its own. I find myself in great difficulty with regard to the Bill. So far, the hon. Lady's speech seems to be perfectly apposite to the provisions for England and Wales where abattoir slaughter is permitted and where her Bill will provide proper standards of welfare. However, her Bill will make it legal for the first time to slaughter red deer in abattoirs in Scotland. She herself has said—

The hon. Lady can make her statement after I have finished.

At present, most red deer farms are in Scotland. I have grave difficulty in considering the substantial widening of the law in Scotland, particularly in view of the remarks in the dissenting minority report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which, I am bound to say, weigh heavily with me.

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the Bill. It does not authorise the slaughter of deer in slaughterhouses in Scotland. That is the subject of a separate amendment which has already been put before the House. If that amendment is carried, the appropriate welfare provisions will be brought in through the primary legislation in my Bill. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the Bill is not designed to oppose or encourage the slaughter of deer in slaughterhouses. The hon. Gentleman misunderstood that point.

The points in the Bill that are of particular value have led to support in principle from many excellent and reputable organisations. They are the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers Union and, of course, the Veterinary Deer Society. These are major markers in the Bill whereby there will always be a veterinary presence in slaughterhouses when deer are stunned and slaughtered. That vet will be responsible for overseeing all welfare provisions. Ministerial approval — 12 or 13 months in Scotland—has to be gained for a licence to be granted to slaughterhouses. The ritual slaughter of deer will be excluded, and there will be prohibition of electrical stimulation of deer carcases prior to stunning and sticking—in other words, before an animal's throat is cut.

I suggest that the Bill embraces within its concept the welfare of all animals, not just deer. None the less, it is improper, as I have already stated, that in today's United Kingdom animals should be killed in slaughterhouses with no welfare provisions at all. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.6 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Donald Thompson)

I seek to intervene early in the debate because the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) has courageously introduced has engendered a great deal of misunderstanding. As she said, it is a welfare measure. Perhaps the title is wrong. Perhaps it should have been called the extra welfare of deer Bill. Perhaps people would then have read it more carefully before they opposed it. You will gather from that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government welcome and fully support the Bill and its aims. I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words about it. It will be a few words because I realise that other hon. Members wish to speak.

During the previous debate, in which many hon. Members participated, a great deal was said about consultation. I have consulted widely on the Bill. For instance, I consulted the RSPCA only this week. The new senior officers of the RSPCA were seriously distressed when I told them that the Bill might not be given a Second Reading today and, therefore, would not reach the statute book.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because it is as well to have the matter clear. Will he acknowledge that, in principle, the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association are opposed to the abattoir slaughter of deer? The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) won the ballot, and they feel that if deer are to be slaughtered in abattoirs welfare regulations should be in place. That is their stand. In principle, they do not like the idea of the abattoir slaughter of deer.

Vegetarians do not like eating meat, but are anxious that if meat is to be eaten there should be proper welfare regulations. I do not know why the RSPCA or the other groups would say that they did or did not support the Bill. However, the fact is that this week members of the RSPCA sat in my office and discussed a whole range of subjects. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has availed himself of the chairs in my office and brought along his hon. Friends to discuss a range of subjects. When the Bill was mentioned, the representatives of the RSPCA said that they were surprised to hear that it might not receive its Second Reading today.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West suggested, the purpose of her Bill has been misrepresented by some animal welfare organisations. It is not to authorise the slaughter of deer in abattoirs. That is already permitted and is taking place on a small scale, but at present the deer are slaughtered without the protection of the statutory welfare controls that apply to other livestock in slaughterhouses. The Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that the slaughter of farmed deer in abattoirs in Great Britain should be allowed to continue, subject to the introduction of certain welfare safeguards. The Government accepted that recommendation and, as my hon. Friend stated, her Bill aims to allow the introduction of all the council's safeguards, including extending to deer the existing welfare provisions in the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 and the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1980. Together with my ministerial colleagues, I am satisfied that, once these provisions have been extended to deer, and the extra safeguards are in place, the welfare of deer in abattoirs will be satisfactorily protected.

I assure the Minister that not only do I eat meat but I regularly eat venison, which is probably my preferred form of meat. I have no complaints about the venison that I have obtained, which has been shot rather than slaughtered in an abattoir. Will the Minister clarify a point that was made by the promoter of the Bill, who claimed that there was an amendment before the House to permit the slaughter of deer in abattoirs in Scotland which, as the Farm Animal Welfare Council explained, is currently prevented? To what was his hon. Friend referring? Was it to this legislation, and if so would it not be anomalous for the House to approve legislation providing standards of welfare before the House had condescended on whether slaughter in abattoirs should be permitted in Scotland?

I shall not deal with that point at the moment. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have the chance to deal with that point when she sums up before the Bill gets its Second Reading.

As the Minister will appreciate, we are under some pressure of time. The consideration of whether some of us may wish to participate in the debate and place our observations on the record needs to be settled before the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) has an opportunity to reply. Therefore, those of us who are considering whether to allow the Bill to go through, containing, as it does, clauses on Scotland, will need to know what the position is and to which clause and amendment the hon. Member referred when she said that there was a second provision before the House to permit the slaughter of deer in abattoirs in Scotland.

Order. We cannot have an intervention on an intervention. Perhaps the Minister will deal with one at a time.

I shall return to the point made by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) a little later. However, I should like to push on a little or we shall get into such a muddle that it will never be sorted out.

Perhaps I should make it clear that, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the farmer will still have the option of shooting his deer in the field if that is what he prefers to do. Many people were concerned that the Bill would stop the shooting of deer for game or the shooting of deer in the field, which has been common practice.

I shall give way in a moment. Let me press on a bit.

My hon. Friend mentioned the transport of deer and the fact that the Farm Animal Welfare Council is satisfied that, provided suitable transport is used, farmed deer can and do travel well. There is already legislation to protect the welfare of deer during transport. That is another aspect of the Bill which has disturbed some people. Indeed, people have been disturbed about both the exclusion and the inclusion of that aspect.

We have acted on the council's recommendations and have published transport guidelines which supplement existing legislation and provide useful advice to deer farmers and transporters.

The amendment about which the hon. Member for Livingston asked is the Slaughterhouse Hygiene (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 1987, which were laid before the House as recently as 25 November.

Can the Minister confirm that those regulations have not been passed by the House and can he clarify whether they are subject to affirmative or negative procedure?

I shall consider that question while I am speaking.

Before I refer to the measures in the Bill I should like to say something about deer farming and why deer farmers need to have access to abattoir slaughter. Although deer farming in the United Kingdom is a relatively new development, it is an expanding industry with a considerable potential for future growth. Although much of the market here and abroad is currently supplied with wild venison, British deer farmers have been taking an increased share of that market as a result of farm gate sales and sales to hotels, the catering trade, the retail trade and as, my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West said, to supermarkets. In supplying that latter outlet, farmers must have access to abattoir slaughter. It is the only way in which the hygiene standard demanded by the retailer and the consumer can be met. Indeed, the consumer is often taking that product off the shelf for the first time—unlike the hon. Member for Livingston who has probably eaten venison all his life, in common with past generations of his family.

In keeping with the civilised nature of our exchanges throughout today's proceedings, I wish to help the Minister respond to the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). A number of Scottish farmed deer are slaughtered at the premises of the Buchan Meat Producers Association's establishment in Turriff.

Yes, indeed. It is not illegal to slaughter deer in Scotland. I can tell the hon. Member for Livingston that the regulations that I mentioned earlier are subject to negative resolution—that does not make life easier for the hon. Gentleman, but it makes it considerably easier for me.

My hon. Friend has already given details of her proposals and I need not refer to them all again. It is essential that the welfare of the animals is protected, and that is why we accept that the Bill will impose a number of requirements for deer slaughter that are not required for the slaughter of other livestock, even though some may feel that that will place the deer farmers at an unfair disadvantage compared to other parts of the meat industry. The compulsory veterinary presence is something for which someone will have to pay. I assure the House that it will not be the Government.

Perhaps I should also comment on the proposal to exempt Jewish and Moslem forms of slaughter from the legislation. The form of restraint and support required for the slaughter of deer without stunning would cause the deer unacceptable stress and therefore we have accepted the council's recommendations. I would be misleading the House if I did not say that I have had discussions with the Jewish community on this matter, but those discussions have not yet been concluded.

In conclusion, I emphasise that while the deer farming industry should continue to have access to abattoir slaughter if it is to make full use of the marketing opportunities available now and in the future, such slaughter must be made subject to the same welfare controls that already apply to other food animals and the extra measures recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Those can be introduced quickly by the passing of the Bill. If the Bill should fail, it will mean that farmed deer will continue to be slaughtered in abattoirs without the welfare controls that most of the House considers necessary. I am sure that no one wants that, and the Bill should have a welcome both from the deer-farming industry and the welfare interests.

Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on her foresight in presenting the Bill and her courage in bringing it thus far.

2.20 pm

I offer my compliments to the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). If the Bill has as its major objective the closing of a loophole in the regulations governing English abattoirs, it has something to offer. What prompted my earlier intervention was my deep curiosity about the consumer market distinction between wild and farm deer. There is a similar distinction, however wise or unwise, between wild and farm-reared salmon.

I shall speak briefly, because I know that several of my hon. Friends want to contribute to the debate. I want to ask the hon. Lady a number of questions. First, I point out to her that there is a good deal of support for the views of the dissenting members of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. That situation must be faced in the debate, brief as it is. I quote from the dissenters:
"We are not alone in our anxiety. Of the nine organisations consulted by FAWC on deer slaughter only two were in favour of abattoir slaughter, four were against, and three expressed the view that more research and investigation were needed."

Of course, the Bill neither supports nor condemns abattoir slaughter; it merely brings in welfare controls. On that basis alone, support is now coming from the Humane Slaughter Association and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in addition to the other organisations that I have mentioned, which include the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers Union, the British Veterinary Association, the RSPCA and the Veterinary Deer Society. None of them likes the idea of deer being slaughtered in slaughterhouses because of their sensitivity. In that sense, they endorse the FAWC report. But the world has moved on, and more animals are being slaughtered as the numbers of farm deer grow almost daily. That is why those organisations give their support in principle to the Bill, although they want the provisions to be tightened in ways that I hope we shall discuss in Committee.

I also compliment the hon. Lady on the skill that she has so readily acquired of making lengthy interventions. It is a skill to be found on both sides of the House—

It is a skill that I hope will not be practised.

I entirely agree with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my interventions are always brief.

There are, as I said, conflicting views about the Bill, and it is right that they should be addressed. As the hon. Lady rightly said, despite the early pioneering work done in Scotland, Scottish deer farming is still on a much smaller scale than the English industry. The hon. Lady's figure of about 50 Scottish farms is correct.

I want to point out to the hon. Lady and to some of the dissenting voices of my hon. Friends that a good deal of research has been carried out by members of the Macaulay land use research institute at Laurencekirk in Kincardineshire. They say that their findings show no stress in deer going through the abattoir owned by the Buchan Meat Producers Association at Turriff. That is important.

My hon. Friend is senior to me in this matter and I would appreciate his guidance. We are both at a disadvantage because the two Scottish sponsors of the Bill have chosen not to be present. Perhaps I could refer to that part of the dissenting minority report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council which deals with this slaughterhouse. The minority report says that at that time the slaughterhouse had been operating for two years

"under extremely closely controlled conditions and cannot be compared to normal slaughter operations."
It says that the deer were,
"slaughtered after normal working hours when all the usual bustle and noise of the slaughterhouse had ceased."
I suggest that one cannot have an opinion too widely on that limited experiment.

I readily agree with my hon. Friend. I am simply trying to give a balanced view, and I shall say something about the Buchan Meat Producers Association premises. I have been told by Mr. Bill Hamilton of the reasearch unit in Laurencekirk that there is need for systematic regulation of this method of slaughter. Mr. Hamilton and his colleagues told me that they strongly recommend that those who are to be involved must be properly trained in the handling of deer. For example, animals must be treated quietly, cannily and gently. There must be no stick-waving of the sort that we sometimes see in abattoirs, and there must be a pronounced division between the animals going through.

On the basis of the limited research conducted in Scotland, there are three essential elements in the management of abattoirs in which the slaughter of deer is carried out. One is the training of the personnel, which I have just mentioned; and another important and essential element is the design of the abattoir. Many abattoirs are simply not adequate for the slaughter of deer. But of supreme importance is the design of the stunning cage because that is crucial to this form of slaughter. Those are very important considerations.

My hon. Friend's sedentary intervention is important, especially for Scotland, with its huge land mass.

I shall restate the three elements that are crucial to the regulated and humane slaughter of farm deer. I am sure that the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West will take those elements on board, because they are important. They are the training of personnel, the design of the abattoir and, of critical importance, the design of the stunning cage. If she does that, I would look upon the Bill with a little more sympathy than I had before the debate. I have been reassured to some extent, but I bear in mind the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) about the work conducted by the Macaulay institute in Scotland. The considerations that I have mentioned are important and the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West must take them on board.

2.28 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) on her good luck in coming eighth in the ballot and on choosing a controversial subject. As she will have found out, the subject has generated a good deal of interest in all parts of the House. In the remaining two minutes, I shall sum up my reactions to the Bill in a few words.

This is a lengthy and ambitious Bill. My hon. Friend's fault is that she has assumed that without any bad effects one can cart deer around the country in the way that cattle, sheep and pigs are carted to slaughterhouses. I believe, from my discussions with my hon. Friend, that she is sincere in that belief. She feels that deer, which most of us know to have the characteristic of great timidity, can lose that characteristic within a generation. There I differ from her. I have seen red, fallow and roe deer that have been farmed for three generations, and they are quite different from cattle, sheep and pigs. However, my hon. Friend seems to think that they can be carted around the country—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 15 January.