It is my privilege to open the debate this morning on the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture into animal welfare in poultry, pig and veal calf production. The Committee was anxious to look into areas controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food through regulations and law where there is distinct evidence of cruelty to animals.
We are more than aware that the marketing, transport and slaughter of livestock may well be worthy of our attention. On this occasion we decided to look into that area, commonly called factory farming, where public anxiety has been considerable. Public anxiety about intensive methods of keeping livestock has increased steadily for 30 years. We feel that economic pressure has led to the intensive keeping of livestock and the public are increasingly worried that the welfare of animals is being sacrificed in the cause of cheap food.
The Committee set forth on its task well and truly aware of the vast efforts that have been made to meet that anxiety. I commend some of them. The book "Animal Machines" written by Mrs. Ruth Harrison in 1964, the work and subsequent report of a commission under the chairmanship of the late Professor Brambell, conferences organised by the British Association and by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and a working party convened by the Dean of Westminster all played their part.
In 1979 the Government set up the Animal Welfare Council. However, anxiety was not allayed. Since we began the inquiry there has been a steady stream of correspondence from all over the country to those of us serving on the Committee. That stream of correspondence continues. We thought it timely therefore to undertake a full and thorough investigation into the three main areas of production which were and still are much criticised.
Before I outline our main findings and recommendations, I wish as Chairman of the Committee to thank the many individuals and organisations who gave evidence. We were grateful to all of them. I thank our excellent advisers, and I wish to pay particular tribute to the distinguished Clerk to the Committee, Mr. John Marnham, who has now retired from the service of the House. He added to his already considerable public service by guiding us ably through our deliberations. I pay tribute also to the members of the Committee.
A Committee of that kind sees Parliament in some ways at its best. Party politics are transcended and we look at the job in hand. It would be no understatement to suggest that my general political views and those of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) are far apart, but during the Committee party politics went into the background and the hon. Member for Brightside, with others, gave the Committee the benefit of her considerable knowledge and deep feeling, for which I am grateful.
During the course of the inquiry three members of the Committee had to depart as they were promoted to the Front Bench—the hon. Members for Durham (Mr. Hughes) and for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) and my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad0. They were replaced by the hon. Members for Harlow (Mr. Newens) and for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles). I am grateful to those who departed and those who replaced them for serving on the Committee.
The Committee tried to be realistic. Although it may not be possible scientifically to prove that animals suffer, certain conditions are excessively unnatural and should be avoided. We tried squarely to face the economic difficulties for producers if changes were made in the law, and suggested that change should be gradual. We also saw the need to make it clear to an anxious public that not all modern methods of husbandry are necessarily cruel. Finally, we bore very much in mind the fact that we could not recommend that home producers should be unilaterally curtailed by regulations that would put them at a trading disadvantage. The problem must be faced in a European Community and even wider context.
When we initially took evidence from representatives of the Department, the Government's policy of control of intensive methods through non-mandatory codes of recommendation was reaffirmed. I understand that new codes on cattle and pigs will soon be before us. We hope that our recommendations have been taken fully into account in their drafting. I appreciate that the poultry code will be delayed because of the European situation. We are grateful to the Government for their reaction to the report in the White Paper and for accepting some of our recommendations.
No doubt others will comment on the detail of our recommendations. I shall deal broadly with the three areas that we considered. Like the vast majority of people who gave evidence to us on veal calves, we very much disliked crate production. I say without hesitation that I hope that it will soon disappear. We urge my right hon. Friend the Minister, during his chairmanship of the Community Council of Agriculture Ministers, to press for Community agreement to end the system.
The Committee was aware that home production of veal is not extensive. We are not a nation of veal eaters. But a large number of calves are exported each and every week to the Continent and end up in crates. We were greatly encouraged by a visit to Volac Limited and were grateful to Mr. Paxman, the managing director, for the evidence that he gave in Committee. Our interest in the firm led us to realise that it is possible for veal to be produced economically in a humane loose-house system. I emphasise that I deplore crate production and I hope that it will soon cease to be practised.
We also took considerable evidence about pig production and made numerous visits here and on the Continent. At the beginning we reluctantly came to the conclusion that there was a stronge case for pigs to be housed inside. Many people have a glorious picture of farm animals outside on a lovely May morning. It is different in February. Pigs kept inside know a benefit. But in many cases pigs are kept inside in close confinement. We were distressed to see sows in close confinement, unable to turn round, staring at the short space of the trough in front of them and the iron bar that from time to time they gnawed from frustration. I hope that we shall see a strong recommendation that every encouragement will be given to the sensible small group system.
Keeping pigs is not easy. The task is fraught with difficulties. Sows can be savage, as we were frequently told. Loose housing for sows has enormous disadvantages, but both here and in Denmark we saw small groups that had been carefully managed and brought together in groups—stockmanship is important in keeping pigs. The group method is much more humane than the single stall system. It is not unduly uneconomic and I strongly recommend it.
Government research into pig keeping should be encouraged. I repeat that stockmanship is most important. One afternoon in Denmark we visited two large farms where the same method of keeping pigs was employed; they were tethered and single-stalled. But the management in the second was much better than in the first and the benefit was apparent. The introduction of straw also leads to contentment and a happier pig.
The section of the report on battery hens has attracted the largest amount of correspondence, which still continues to stream towards us. The Committee looks forward to the time when the EC sets a definite time for phasing out battery cages. We saw many battery units and we did not like what we saw.
Public education may be necessary in this matter. I am sure that someone will say in the debate, understandably, that the battery system produces a stream of clean eggs in an economic manner. We do not dispute that. Both we and the general public must realise that it is impossible to go back to the old open-range system. The battery system now accounts for 95 per cent. of our egg production. I repeat, however, that we do not like that system.
We were well aware that any change in the system must take place in a European context. There would be no hope of our own producers competing if purely United Kingdom regulations were used to curtail the battery system. Nevertheless, curtailed it must be. The report therefore urges the Government to press for a Community decision on the phasing out of battery cages and the use of alternative systems. Cages of some kind may have to continue to be used, but I could never be happy with the present system in which five laying hens are jammed into one cage in which they cannot move. Although they lay well, they cannot be happy in such unnatural conditions.
A number of experiments have been conducted into alternative methods of caging, especially the "getaway" cage which we saw in Germany, and I hope that there will be more extensive and urgent research into that system. In this context, I commend the Ministry's Gleadthorpe establishment for its experiments with the aviary system, which on the face of it seems a far more humane method of egg production. We were told at Gleadthorpe that temperature was extremely important in egg production and that the magic temperature at which food consumption is kept at the correct level is 20 degrees centigrade. As one of the strongest arguments for the retention of the battery system is that filling the cages to such a high density means that the temperature can be kept at a level at which food consumption is not excessive, it was pleasing to learn that the same temperature could be achieved with the aviary system. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister how that experiment is proceeding.
No doubt other members of the Select Committee will wish to deal with other important aspects of the report. Throughout it we emphasise the need for more research on animal suffering. The Minister will no doubt have noted paragraph 62, which stresses the need for ministerial and official thinking to give more weight to animal welfare than hitherto.
My experience in life thus far suggests that in these matters public opinion falls into three categories. First, there are the people who feel deeply about the suffering of animals and to some extent suffer with them. I confess that I have the misfortune to be one of those. We cannot help it; we are made that way. At the other extreme, there are those to whom that does not apply. I make no criticism of them. That is the way they are made. They have told me, not just during this inquiry but at other times, that the suffering of animals simply does not register with them. Often, however, they are greatly concerned about other important aspects of life. The third category, I suggest, is the largest. I believe that most people would like to believe that the laws and regulations applying to the production of everyday food will prevent undue suffering to animals.
I suggest that society has a duty towards its animals, and I hope that the report now before the House will contribute to the fulfilment of that duty.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) paid tribute to various members and officials of the Select Committee. My first duty, therefore, is to express a sincere tribute to the hon. Gentleman. I served under his chairmanship from the time the Committee was formed, and I have served on various Select Committees throughout almost all my time in the House. The beauty of the system is that what one says and does in a Select Committee often cuts completely across party politics. This was aptly illustrated by the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North today. The concern for animals that he expressed was strongly felt on both sides of the Committee and I entirely share his concern. We would be strange animals ourselves if, on some of the matters that he described, all of us always agreed. No Committee ever does. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman always had the happy knack of soothing disagreements and it was a pleasure to work with him in the Committee.
Although I do not necessarily disagree with the Chairman of the Select Committee, I am perhaps in a position to be rather more forthright on the subject of the Government's response to our report. I stress at the outset that we are now engaged in the second inquiry to be undertaken since the completion of the report now before the House. Well over a year has elapsed since the completion of the inquiry that we are debating today. Therefore, 1 begin with a protest on behalf, not just of our Select Committee, but of all Select Committees. I believe that all Select Committee findings should be debated by the House more promptly than on this occasion.
I hope that we shall not have to wait nearly 18 months to debate last year's report, and another 18 months or two years to debate the present inquiry. If Governments want to obtain the best from their inquiries, they should hear what the Committee has to say and give all hon. Members the opportunity to comment.
I have studied the Government's response to the report fairly carefully. It is concerned with animal welfare, and mainly with poultry, pig and veal calf intensive production. It is no response at all. It pays tremendous lip service to the report, but we need action. The report was written because many aspects of animal welfare, especially those that the Committee investigated, were not right and needed to be altered and improved. It is not good enough for the Government simply to agree with the report and think what nice fellows we are for having produced it. We need positive action. Otherwise, we might as well go home, because we are wasting our time and the country's money.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an important factor, mentioned in paragraph 45, is inspection? Does he further agree that it is no good, whatever the regulations, having inspections unless they are held at random, and not one a year with people knowing about them in advance?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and will have something to say about inspection later. The Government agree that there is no justification for farming practice that gives rise to unnecessary pain or distress to animals. They even go so far as to say that the cheapest methods of production may not always be appropriate. They also refer to prices having to be taken into account, and I understand that. But what steps do the Government intend to take to ensure that no unnecessary pain and distress is caused to animals? What will they do to educate the consumer to understand that animal welfare must be paid for in the price of the end product?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that there would be more general understanding if the Government defined what was necessary suffering. "Unnecessary suffering" is almost meaningless.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The most important aspect of animal welfare is research. The Select Committee report paid special attention to that. The Government's response in paragraphs 5, 8, 9 and 10 is wholly inadequate. It states a great deal, but does nothing. While paying lip service to the need for research, the Government—anxious to cut public expenditure regardless—cut the money available to the research council for such vital work. If that money is cut, how can we hope to extend the research? The Government are saying one thing and doing another. It is a two-faced attitude.
In their response, the Government say that they
will do their best to ensure that all available resources are applied".
What is the meaning of "all available"? Will spending be contained within the present financial limits or will the Government extend resources so that we can carry out the recommendations?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that the Minister will answer it when she replies to the debate. About 68 per cent. of agricultural output comes from animals and their products, yet there is greater research expenditure on plants. I hope that the Minister pays particular attention to that point. I have not noticed that plants have a welfare problem. More research should be given to the problems of animal welfare than to plants.
The report recommended that battery cages should be phased out within five years. Almost 18 months have already passed. What have the Government to show for that time? Practically nothing. There have been only halfhearted attempts to seek support from the EC. Many people say that there is no alternative to the battery system. Perhaps the alternative is difficult to find, and I understand that. I have visited farms with battery units and understand the difficulties. But can we not at least get on with the task of giving hens more space to flap their wings, turn around and lie down, which must be their natural habitat? We must decrease the density of the cages while we are searching for a workable and economic alternative. Surely we can have either larger cages or fewer birds per cage. That is a perfectly reasonable request upon which the Government should act. It could be done without too great an additional cost to the consumer.
I appreciate that we cannot return to the backyard system of keeping hens. Its cost and the danger to our producers from imports would be phenomenal. But while we are looking for a better system, we must make the present system more tolerable for the unfortunate birds.
The Select Committee made great play of the suffering of pigs, and laid down many factors that should be taken into account. It referred to sows tethered in stalls, and recommended that close confinement of pregnant sows should be phased out, that there should be, for example, indoor housing, access to bedded areas, early weaning of piglets, that they should not be kept in total darkness and that tail docking should be avoided.
In their response, the Government mention only castration. That is all they seem to be concerned about. Are we to assume that the Government agree with all the other recommendations? If the Government agree with all the other recommendations that we have made concerning pigs, let them do something about it. They are not tremendously difficult things to do and they will not wreck production in the industry. The veterinary profession gives a great deal of support to that part of our report, so why cannot the Government support it? As I have said, the Government talk only about castration, and even there they do not appear to agree with what we have said.
In paragraph 24 of the White Paper the Government, in dealing with pig castration, refer to "consumer resistance"—apparently referring to the taint that they allege would be given to the meat. That is rubbish. I doubt very much whether the consumer would even know that an animal had not been castrated. That is not only my view; it is the view of the vets. If the Government will not take advice from the Agriculture Committee, perhaps they will take it from the veterinary profession. I entirely agree that inspection is a vital part of animal welfare. There should be more inspections and more regular inspections. The Select Committee report said that inspections should be increased and that there should be at least one annual visit to all intensive units. Probably that is not enough. The Government are making excuses because they say that they are not convinced that increasing inspection is the best way to make use of our scarce resources. Once more we have lip service from the Government but no action.
We have an extremely honourable, well-organised and efficient veterinary profession. It is second to none in the world. It has the very highest standards in dealing with animal welfare. The State veterinary service has about 600 vets working for it. There are about 3,000 vets in private practice who undertake some inspections. The cost to the Ministry of utilising the services of those 3,000 well-trained and well-organised professional men would not be very great. They could be used to supervise farm animal welfare and to help educate stockmen and improve their work. I ask the Government to take urgent action in that respect. I am sure that the British Veterinary Association would be ready and willing to offer its good services to the Government. Why not avail ourselves of those services?
When the Prime Minister set up the new Select Committees it was my understanding that they were intended to watch the work of Government Departments and to advise them. That was the understanding of most hon. Members when, with a blast of publicity, the Prime Minister set up the Select Committees.
I agreed with and supported what the Prime Minister did at the time, but when we see such a poor response by the Government to the report of the Agriculture Committee, we must wonder whether the Select Committees were meant to be a means of softening public outcry, of shelving issues, of covering matters up, of keeping a tight Civil Service control of Departments, and of enabling the status quo to be maintained.
If the Select Committees are to be seen as making a real contribution to effective Government and to greater democratic controls, we must no longer be fobbed off with syrupy excuses and lip service. The Ministry must be prepared to take action now. If the Select Committee reports are not to be implemented, we may as well stop wasting our time and public money in continuing with them. We do not want to be a party to covering up problems. My remarks apply not only to the Agriculture Committee but to all the Select Committees.
I know that I have been a little tough and ruthless but it may help to bring the Government and the Prime Minister back to earth to know that there is a feeling that the Select Committees, because of the Government's failure to implement their reports, are not being allowed to do the job that they were created to do.
I am very grateful that I have been called, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I was brought up in East Anglia and have been associated with livestock all my life, although I have never farmed. I want to concentrate on only one area—pig production.
In recent years some of the greatest concentrations of pig units have been created in East Anglia. My constituency has many large units. Only two months ago I visited a unit of approximately 8,000 pigs housed on about four acres of concrete. When I went to it I was totally prejudiced against the keeping of such large numbers of pigs in complete confinement, under cover, although it is probably far better for livestock to be under cover. One used to see all stock outside, on wet, frozen land. Livestock cannot be fattened in those conditions. Cattle can be run on grass in the summer time and fattened well, but for pigs warmth and comfortable conditions are necessary if they are to do well. Indeed, that applies to any livestock.
I left the pig unit totally convinced that it was extremely well run and that the pigs were comfortable and happy. The conditions were far preferable to those on the open yard system, with 50 or 60 sows in one yard. In such conditions, it is common for sows to fight. Some sows are driven into a corner and killed. Sows can be very vicious, and so can fattening pigs. In East Anglia it used to be common to run 200 or 300 pigs in a straw yard, and every week two or three pigs had to be removed. Either because they were the weakest or because for some reason they were not liked, they were mutilated and torn to pieces. The best conditions are those where everything is under cover and also under the stockman's eye. The unit that I visited is run by a large firm of millers. Sainsbury's is also connected with it. Even though the sows are closely confined, the unit is an example to the rest of the pig industry.
More important than housing, light, and warmth is the stockman's eye. I have been closely connected with the Royal Norfolk agricultural show at which stockmen's prizes and a stockman's club have been introduced. The result is that standards throughout the county have improved. There is, however, a need for more training.
I was greatly impressed by the work of the staff at the unit I visited. At least 50 per cent. were young girls in their mid-twenties who were carrying out a great deal of the work, especially the farrowing and the care of piglets. They have an aptitude for the work and do a first-class job. I hope that the Minister will agree that more money needs to be spent on the training of stockmen. They should be given opportunities for practical work on well-run and efficient farms.
The Select Committee criticised castration and the docking of tails. I was surprised on my visit to find that at certain times tails were docked throughout the unit. I was convinced from what I saw that this reduced the damage caused by pigs attacking other pigs. When that happens, the pigs usually go for tails. Once the blood flows, the ferocity of the attacks increases. There is clearly need for more careful examination of the matter.
I believe that castration must continue until the public has had greater experience of eating non-castrated pigmeat. I do not like such meat. I have seen bulls kept in large numbers in Germany and in this country. When they are brought up together and are not castrated, they seem to do extremely well. The difference in price in the market is not so great that it deters people. However, when I ate some non-castrated pigmeat, I was able to tell immediately what it was. I do not believe that people generally like it. I do not think that it can suddenly be introduced within the European Community.
I congratulate the Select Committee on the thoroughness of its report. There is mention in the report, and in the Government's response to it, of the European connection. I recognise that the report is confined to pigs, veal and poultry.
Although horses are not mentioned, I hope that I shall be allowed to say a few words about them. I serve on the agriculture committee of the Council of Europe. If the House authorities will pay my fare, I hope to attend an animal welfare conference soon in Strasbourg.
We have studied a report on the transport of horses from Eastern Europe to slaughterhouses in Belgium, France and Italy. I have never read or seen a more horrifying report, together with photographs. It makes one's blood run cold to see the horrors inflicted upon some of the best friends of man—the workhorses that are transported from Poland at the end of their lives and the horses from Russia that are bred entirely for meat.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter. As he knows, the intention of legislation introduced in Britain was to make the export of horses uneconomic. I was successful in getting the Ponies Act 1969 through the House with the object of stopping the export of live horses to the Continent for slaughter. I hope that this economic aspect will be kept continually under review.
More than 1 million horses every year are transported. When they travelled by rail, there were stopping places where they could be taken off the train, watered and fed and any horses that had damaged themselves could be taken off and cared for. Now two thirds of the horses are transported by lorry, some of them making journeys of up to 1,000 kilometres. In view of the number of deaths that occur during transportation or transshipment, especially from Greece to Italy, it is sickening to think that human beings can treat animals in such a fashion. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, when Britain becomes President of the Council of Agriculture Ministers of the European Communities, will see that this report is discussed and so enable a start to be made on bringing this system of trade to an end. The only solution is for compensation to be paid to slaughterhouses at the receiving end.
I am pleased that the House is debating animal welfare, especially that of poultry, pigs and veal calves. Factory farming has brought animal welfare to the forefront of politics. I hope that our report will assist in the welfare of animals. I should have liked to see it go further but I hope that, even as it is, it will make a contribution.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) has already referred to the export of live animals. I should like to draw attention especially to the export of veal calves. About 350,000 calves are exported to Europe at four to six weeks of age. I have the strongest objection to such exports as, indeed, I have to the export of all live animals. Such exports are wrong and obviously very cruel.
I am very disappointed by the Government's response to our report, though I cannot say that I am altogether surprised by it because I see the farming industry as one which is synonymous with the Ministry, and it seems almost inevitable for the Department to take the views of the industry rather than those of the Select Committee. We live in a violent society. Every day we see examples of man's inhumanity to man, so perhaps we ought not to be surprised by the treatment which is meted out to animals. Anyone who cares for people must also care for animals and their protection.
I am suggesting that the views of the Ministry and the farming industry, farmers especially, are synonymous and that the views of the industry are embedded very deeply in the Ministry. For that reason, I am not all that surprised by the Government's response to the Select Committee's report.
I am sorry if that is the inference drawn by the hon. Gentleman. I am saying that we live in a violent society and that almost every day we see examples of man's inhumanity to man. If people cart be cruel in their actions to other people, it is not surprising if they take a similar attitude towards animals.
The Labour Party was the first political party to publish a policy statement on this important issue of farm animal welfare. In 1978, it published a document entitled
Living without cruelty: Labour's charter for animal protection.
We believe that all animals must be treated with dignity and respect in accordance with their behavioural and ethological needs. I believe strongly that we are partners on this planet with animals and not their masters.
The Labour Party is pledged to extend the scope, membership and responsibilities of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. We mean to transform it into a standing Royal Commission on animal protection with a better balance of interests, especially those of welfarists, consumers and trade unions. It will have the task of reviewing all animal protection legislation, suggesting new legislation and openly consulting all those concerned.
Does not the hon. Lady agree that among animal welfarists those who feel strongest are the thousands of farmers who had livestock in the past and do not now because they do not wish to practise factory farming methods, and that they should be included in the category of animal welfarists, as well as those who gave evidence on behalf of her own union to the Select Committee?
I can see that Government supporters are very touchy about this, which is interesting. I am not suggesting that all farmers are cruel. I am simply saying that because of the society in which we live and because a great deal of money is involved, people with a pecuniary interest do not always put animal welfare first. That is why the Labour Party believes that we should take further steps. We believe that the two principles which should take priority over economic considerations are that an animal should have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty to turn round, groom itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs—in other words, the recommendation of the Brambell committee. We also believe that existing and future legislation should at least meet the requirements of the European convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, which the United Kingdom ratified in 1979.
Article 3 of the convention lays down that animals "shall"—I emphasise the word "shall" because it is the strongest word that can be used; it does not say "should" or "may"—
be housed and provided with food, water and care in a manner which is appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge.
I shall be discussing stockmanship later in my remarks.
The Select Committee stressed the importance of trying to meet the behavioural needs of animals, and so does the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the revised codes. However, in my view one of the most important steps that we could take to help animal welfare is to do away with the codes. Experience shows that guidance and codes are not enough and that we need regulations.
Sir Julian Huxley and nine other eminent scientists wrote to The Times recently about the weakness of these codes. They supported the findings of the Brambell committee and commented:
It is the frustration of activities natural to the animal which may well be the worst form of cruelty.
If the minimum requirements of the Brambell committee—the five freedoms—were met, sow stalls, veal crates and end battery cages obviously would have to go. These systems are not in line with the principles of the European convention or with the Minister's assurances to the House. Therefore we ask the Minister to give a statement of her intentions to phase out these systems in due course, thus honouring the obligation given to the House. The Labour Party is committed to phasing out extreme systems such as battery cages, veal calf crates, sow stalls, long periods of tethering and the denial of bedding and light, all of which are cruel practices.
I wish that the hon. Lady would clarify the matter. I understand her to say that the Labour Party is committed to phasing out all extreme systems. She has given examples of what the Labour Party considers to be extreme systems. She appeared to cite battery cages as an example of the extreme systems that the Labour Party was committed to phase out. Will she confirm in terms whether the Labour Party is committed to the phasing out of battery cages?
I do not know whether it is because of the hon. Member's profession, but I feel that I am being cross-examined. I am trying to be clear and straight. Labour is committed to phasing out extreme systems such as battery cages. I have said that three times. The Select Committee is in favour of phasing out battery cages.
The phased period would allow the development of alternative systems. I should like more money to be spent on looking for alternative systems. Our Select Committee report said about poultry:
priority in allocating resources to research and development should be given to … work …on the welfare as well as the technical and economic aspects of alternative systems, including not only the aviary and the getaway cage but strawyards and deep litter".
One of the main arguments against alternative systems has always been that they would make food more costly. I should like to make two points in this connection. First, when the Select Committee tried to get evidence on the matter we found little evidence to back up that statement. Second, when poultry imports were recently banned in this country, the price of poultry increased almost immediately. So, it is acceptable to allow prices to rise to protect commercial interests, but not if it is for welfare purposes.
Labour is committed to bringing in amending legislation to give effect to the Brambell committee recommendation of 1965 that
it should be an offence to cause, or permit to continue, avoidable suffering".
The definition of "suffering" will cover discomfort, stress and pain.
I accept that criticism. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) is quite right when he says that when we were in Government we did not do what we should have done in this connection. That is my view.
The aim must be to have basically sound systems of livestock production and a high standard of stockmanship. A high standard of stockmanship is not sufficient on its own. There has to be a basically sound system as well. That is the only way to ensure the welfare of stock.
Energy has often replaced labour in agriculture. Intensive systems use much energy. It may have been cheap to import energy at one time, but energy costs are now escalating, and ultimately we may well face a shortage of energy.
The hon. Lady just said that intensive systems use far more energy than the old free-range systems. Will she quantify that statement in relation to egg production?
It is not my impression that egg production from battery cages uses more energy per egg than any other system.
I am saying that moving to a more intensive system has meant that energy has replaced labour in those systems. I think that I am correct in saying that.
The farm workers' personal preference, as reported to our Select Committee, was to work out of doors. That is one of the main reasons why they choose to work in agriculture. Certainly, they do not work for the money that they receive. Reference was made a few moments ago to classes on stockmanship, and it occurred to me that we do everything to help stockmen expect pay them. People do not come into agriculture for the money. The production record of farm workers is second to none. The Prime Minister says that if one increases production one is entitled to reap the benefits. Certainly, farm workers have not reaped any benefits. The latest pay offer will give them £75·40 for a 40-hour week. That is £7 a week below the official poverty line. So it must be the fresh air that attracts them to agriculture, not the pay.
In the pig industry it is felt that most workers prefer to look after sows on the extensive so-called roadnight system, instead of keeping sows permanently in buildings. Poultry workers have also expressed dissatisfaction with the heat and dust that always appear to be present in intensive poultry houses. We find that many more farm workers today who work in those conditions suffer from respiratory diseases than in the past.
Farm workers told the Select Committee that they are opposed to cramming as much stock as possible into the smallest possible area. It is felt that considerable thought should be given to that aspect of any report on animal welfare. The farm workers felt that animals should have sufficient room to move around adequately, especially in loose-house systems, without treading over other stock that is lying down. Such disturbance causes frustration, and could lead to bullying, with resultant injury and damage to stock. They expressed concern at the smallness of individual pens to house calves and pigs, because of the restriction that it caused to normal movement. The same concern was expressed when four or five birds are confined to a cage. In other words, most farm workers appear to find battery cages objectionable. Some of our members also object to the system whereby sows are kept tethered during a large part of their pregnancy. Our members think that that is cruel.
This is such an important subject that one could go on talking about it for a long time, but I shall end with the following remarks. The more we have cut back labour in agriculture, the more the intensive systems have grown. That is significant. We are told that they have grown to meet people's needs. I believe that those needs have been stimulated. I do not believe that there has been genuine increased demand. In fact, we urgently need a fairer sharing of the earth's resources. If people in the developing countries are to have more to meet their basic needs, we must do with less. We must moderate our demands for more and more food. We also need to get rid of codes, which are only guidelines, and bring in regulations. Only in that way shall we be in a position to enforce welfare standards in intensive farming systems in this country.
I was impressed by the thorough manner in which the Select Committee carried out its work. I had cause to know that from the grilling that the RSPCA deputation received when it gave oral evidence, because I led that deputation. I was even more impressed by the report itself and its recommendations. It was a courageous report, bearing in mind the number of pressures to which the Committee must have been subjected when making its recommendations.
I wish, however, that I could be more enthusiastic about the Government's observations on the report. They seem to be a perfect example of trying to please everyone. They sought to satisfy those who believe that animal welfare considerations are important, but not to upset too much what the Government conceived to be the vested interests.
I say only that they are a disappointment to me. I would like to write at the bottom as so many schoolmasters do on reports: "Could do better". I was the more disappointed because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is more sympathetic to animal welfare than many, if not all, of his predecessors.
The Committee's report enunciated the important principle that judgments about animal welfare should be based on as much scientific knowledge as possible. I accept that, but I would add an important proviso. In any system of husbandry that severely modifies an animal's natural behaviour the onus should be on its proponents to prove that it is humane. At the moment, the reverse is the case. Those who are concerned about animal welfare are expected to adduce every scrap of scientific evidence to prove that an intensive system is cruel.
As far as possible we should consider an animal's natural behaviour. I recognise that farm animals are far removed from their original wild setting and that their behaviour has been modified by farming methods over many years. I add that before any hon. Members leaps up to tell me so.
I shall not leap up to tell my hon. Friend that because she knows it as well as I do. However, will she also make the point that to some extent, an animal's behavioural pattern is altered by breeding?
Yes, that is a possibility. However, I suspect that that argument may well be overplayed in order, for example, to make the point that a hen can be bred which adores being in a battery cage. I do not believe that. Hens soon revert to what I would call more natural behaviour when they are removed from a battery cage. I accept that that point is valid, although I would not overstress it.
Such evidence emphasises the importance of research. I endorse the Committee's recommendation that research is vital. One should allow those with the greatest knowledge to go through such matters thoroughly. It may bring out surprises both for intensive systems and traditional methods. There is every reason for returning to square one to consider the whole matter again, untramelled by what has been done either in the recent or the more distant past.
I recognise my hon. Friend's great interest, but how does she visualise assessing whether an animal is pleased with its environment? That is the difficulty. It is a key question, to which research has not found the answer. It has related only to production.
I suggest that the application of a little common sense would do no harm. When an intelligent animal such as a pig gnaws unnaturally at the bars around it, something must be wrong Another important aspect of the report is the suggestion that there should be more prosecutions. I do not expect that suggestion to be particularly popular, but I am glad that it was made. I hope that the Minister and his officials will take due heed of it. The RSPCA, of which I am vicechairman—I therefore declare a non-financial interest—took out a prosecution with great difficulty against a poultry farmer on the grounds that certain regulations relating to intensive poultry keeping were not being followed. The regulations concerned a thorough inspection of the poultry.
That prosecution was brought because intensive observation of the farm made it obvious that, in view of the numbers of people employed and the birds kept, it was impossible for any inspection to be thorough. Such prosecutions should not be left to a voluntary body such as the RSPCA. Prosecutions should be brought and some regulations tested. I urge the Government to take note of that point. I mention it because animal welfare could be much improved in that way, even if no changes at all were made in existing regulations or laws.
Much mention has been made of stockmanship. Again, I endorse what has been said. It is important to attract into agriculture those with a real feel for animals as well as the necessary qualifications. In intensive systems, where a great deal of attention must be paid to technical aspects, it is possible to find technicians who do not have a real feel for animals. We should consider the kind of people who are being encouraged into farming and should build such considerations into their training.
May I clarify one or two points about stockmanship? As I said—I believe my hon. Friend was present—I went to a large farm where I found that the feel for the livestock was quite as deep as in the old days. I used to go to farm sales and so on where stockmen would talk about stock as theirs rather than the farmers. That feel must be encouraged. However, when I have visited intensive units it has been encouraging to find that stockmen there were youngish girls who had not only been trained but obviously had a great feel for the livestock. In my experience people go into the business because they want to be with stock and have a feel for it. Training in scientific aspects is important, but so is feel. I hope that my hon. Friend does not think that those who go into intensive units do not have the same feel as their predecessors.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has experience of such caring even in an intensive system. However, if one looks at the Agriculture Committee's report, when the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers was asked what features of intensive systems it found objectionable from the point of view of animal welfare, it will be seen that it said:
What appears to be an objectionable aspect of intensive systems is the tendency to cram as much stock as possible in the smallest possible area … Most farm workers appear to find battery cages objectionable. This objection is intensified when four or five are kept to a cage".
One point which has not been dwelt on to any great extent in the debate so far relates to some interesting information on tax concessions that was garnered by the Select Committee. I noticed with interest and some surprise that an extra administrative concession is given by the Inland Revenue so that intensive systems of farming benefit in a way that they otherwise would not.
That is particularly so in relation to capital allowances and capital transfer tax. I can only say, as an opponent of many forms of intensive systems as they are worked at present, that that is regrettable. I should like that concession to be taken away. I do not expect that recommendation to be popular but it might ease people in the direction in which I should like to see them go if they lost financial advantage. I hope that the Government will think again about that matter, as I notice that in their observations they brush it aside.
There is also the all-important question whether one should rely more on codes of recommendation—which are not obligatory, but which are there to give an idea of good practice—or regulations that can be enforced. Again, I believe that we should rely more on regulations as an incentive to make people more conscious of good practice. I am sorry that the Government seem to have overlooked that point and appear to wish to rely on codes of recommendation more than I think they should.
The National Farmers Union was kind enough to send me one of its briefs yesterday, in which it states that it is opposed to the introduction of statutory regulations. It adds a charming little gloss:
It would be unfortunate, for example, if a general improvement in a system was prevented simply because one measurement was marginally outside the regulations.
I would willingly take the risk of that happening if only we could have more regulations to make sure that minimum standards are kept. We should look more to regulations. After all, they can be changed if they become outdated. There is no reason why we should be stuck with old-fashioned regulations. It is relatively easy to put new regulations through the House.
What should the regulations contain? We have had a good idea from the Select Committee report and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. I shall not repeat all that has been said. The Select Committee took a sound view both in terms of animal welfare and in terms of what was practicable with regard to farming and economics.
However, I should like the Government to accept the absolute minimum recommended no less than 17 years ago by the Brambell technical committee. I make no apology for repeating what was said, although the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) gave a summary in her speech. It is well worth repeating. The committee said that
an animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty to turn round, groom itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs.
That is a minimum recommendation but it is still not incorporated as a base regulation to which we can add more details. It is high time that it was introduced. In a sense we are committed to it by the Council of Europe convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, which clearly sets out a set of principles that are allied to it. We have signed that convention. When we propose to implement it remains to be seen.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from this important point, with which I basically agree, will she tell the House whether she also agrees with the statement made in the report that
as a general rule we believe that further restrictions should not be imposed on United Kingdom producers unless similar restrictions are imposed throughout all the countries of the EEC"?.
No, Sir, I do not agree. I hope that I have made myself sufficiently clear. If necessary, we should act unilaterally. Of course I should like the European Community to work on all fours with us. As the Committee made clear in one of its early recommendations, I believe that we should give a strong, firm lead in Europe. That is most important. The more countries that we can bring into line with the best practices, the better for animal welfare that will be. I do not wish to see good practices confined to this country. We start here, of course, where we have direct responsibility, but the further that we can spread the gospel the better.
We should go further. I do not believe that we should allow, for example, veal calves to be exported live to be reared in systems that we find totally abhorrent, nor do I believe that we should import food produced in that way.
I should like to make some points about specific animals. With regard to veal calves, there is no doubt that it is possible to have a more humane system without the crating of those wretched little animals for their short lives. It is incumbent on the Government to introduce very soon a regulation phasing out the crating of calves. There should be regulations about their feed, to make sure that it is not deficient.
I agree with all the points that the Select Committee made about pigs. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) spoke about the need for docking tails and various other practices that I find objectionable. In many cases those aspects of husbandry arise from a basic fault in the system, which is to deprive animals of any interest in life. As a result, the animals turn to unnatural vices, or what might be a natural vice of a small nature becomes major. Therefore, I am not impressed by those arguments.
Pigs are one of the most intelligent of farm creatures. It follows that the more intelligent the animal, the more likely it is to be upset, frustrated and put under stress by not having anything to do. I am sure that boredom has a great deal to do with some of the objectionable practices in intensive systems, whereby farmers use methods that I find objectionable, such as the debeaking of poultry.
That brings me to the vexed question of battery hens. Of all the intensive systems that exist, that excites most concern. Certainly I am concerned. I recognise that there are difficulties in adopting alternative systems, whereas there is a reasonable hope of better systems for veal calves and pigs. The caging of between three and five hens in a very small cage is wholly objectionable. I do not care how good is the system of temperature control and so on. I have seen a good example of the system. The local NFU branch took me to one in Cornwall some months ago. The system was good of its kind, but nothing reconciles me to a system of unnatural confinement.
That is illustrated by a leaflet that Compassion in World Farming sent to me and other hon. Members. It shows the amount of space in which a battery hen lives. It is unacceptable. Research should be stepped up into alternative systems that would be both economic and more humane. I look forward to hearing from the Parliamentary Secretary what progress is being made at the Gleadthorpe experimental farm on other systems. We should set a time limit on the legality of battery cages; otherwise it will drag on for too long. The period of five years suggested by the Select Committee is reasonable. I might even go for slightly longer if I could be sure that we would see an end to that objectionable and cruel system.
I do not believe that all farmers are cruel. Such a generalisation would be utterly wrong and would fail to do justice to those compassionate and sensitive people who are worried about some intensive systems. Those already operating in the farming industry should be encouraged. If we condemn them all they will become more antagonistic rather than less. They are under no illusions about how I and many other hon. Members feel about some intensive systems. We should pay tribute to those people who are anxious and who would like a push in the direction of increased interest for animal welfare through regulations and codes of practice.
I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary answer some of the points that have been raised. I hope that I can look forward to something much more positive than lukewarm and anodyne Government observations on the Select Committee report.
I should like to endorse the sentiments expressed by other hon. Members when they thanked the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) for his excellent work in chairing the Select Committee on Agriculture. He has been sincere in his deliberations. It has been a thorough investigation and I thank the members of the Committee and the Chairman in particular.
The welfare of animals is an emotive subject at any time in this country, with much heated argument generated on both sides. That is why I should like to congratulate the Select Committee on Agriculture on its reasoned and balanced report on this difficult subject. I commend it as suitable reading for those involved in animal welfare throughout the farming community. The report contains some good recommendations, and I hope that the Government will not dismiss them on the grounds of cost. I urge the Government to take into account the growing awareness in this country of all aspects of animal welfare, and I remind them that a substantial section of public opinion is being mobilised against the unreasonable treatment of animals reared for food.
There has been a great deal of reaction to an early-day motion calling for a Royal Commission to look into experimentation on live animals. Such reaction is growing over the treatment of farm animals. I am delighted to see that over 70 right hon. and hon. Members have signed that early-day motion during the past few days. It seeks to persuade the Government to set up a Royal Commission to look into the moral and scientific need to experiment on live animals.
The vast majority of people in agriculture care about the animals they rear. However, there are certain sectors where more money should be spent to find better methods of production based on reliable scientific evidence. I favour grants and other financial inducements to encourage improved methods of farming. That could only be of benefit to the producer and the animals.
We are well aware that the Select Committee stressed the importance of trying to meet the behavioural needs of animals. I agree entirely with the sentiments and recommendations expressed by other hon. Members about the Brambell committee, which recommended that regulations should be brought in to prevent actual suffering. An animal should be able to turn round, groom itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs without difficulty.
I agree also with the sentiments of Julian Huxley and nine other eminent scientists when they wrote to The Times. Their letter has been quoted earlier this morning. They said:
It is the frustration of activities natural to the animal which may well be the worst form of cruelty.
I am a practical farmer and I enjoy freedom. I was born in the hills on a 250-acre farm. There is no comparison between life in London and life in west Wales. In the cities we are often in each other's way. When I go home to my farm in west Wales or when the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) goes back to Scotland we find plenty of room to manoeuvre. Those of us who are born in such an environment are keen that the animals we rear should enjoy the same surroundings.
This morning we are debating good and bad management. I believe that those who rear animals commercially look after their stock well. If they did not, they would be unable to run a successful business. The majority of farmers believe in good management and husbandry, but there are a few bad farmers who do not look after their stock, and the argument is about the 5 or 6 per cent. of farmers who do not look after the interests of their animals.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I did not say anything to the contrary. We are discussing animals, but many parents in this country look after their children's well-being, but others do not, and we need to legislate against those.
I believe that in the years to come we shall produce much more from the land in Great Britain and Europe. About 20 years ago the American Government paid farmers not to produce from their best agricultural land. As Christians, we should disagree with such policies. There are millions of people starving throughout the world. I believe that we must produce more and that when there are surpluses of wheat and butter—we have a little in Europe, but not much and at present, we sell our food surpluses to the Russians at give-away prices—We should persuade our European partners to sell it, if not even give it away, to those who live in the Third world. We give over £1 billion annually to the Third world. In the short term it would be better to give the surplus food produced in Europe to the people in dire need.
The recommendations are in the report. Is the Minister giving a strong and sustained lead in the EC for better animal welfare? The public will pass judgment on whether the Minister and the Department are doing their utmost to persuade our European partners to look after animal welfare. Is the Minister satisfied with animal welfare in Britain? What are the plans to carry out our recommendations?
I endorse what the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) said about the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott). I also support what he said about veterinary surgeons and the veterinary service. Without the help of vets in private practice the Committe's work would not have been so successful. I pay tribute to the people who produced excellent papers and gave us their time. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North reviewed the Committee's work and mentioned those who helped us professionally but he neglected to mention the specialist advisers to whom we owe a considerable debt of gratitude. I support what my hon. Friend said, so I shall not repeat it except to emphasise that I wish to see an end to crate production of calves and that I support the introduction of small group pig farming, which produces more contented and better animals.
Our conclusions are based on the evidence that we took. One conclusion was that we require continuous research into the needs of domestic animals. Even the experts have gaps in their knowledge and we need to know much more than we do. A top priority is disease prevention among confined animals. Not all the systems used have eliminated the high risk of disease. We should consider disease prevention, husbandry and research and welfare almost in that order. We need a forum, preferably voluntary, to establish a consensus on how far an animal's needs come second to those of man. We accept that animals must serve men.
We also need a mechanism to enforce animal welfare legislation. Prosecutions are not necessarily the answer. Inspection can show where there is bad husbandry and persuasion may be effective. On our visits good husbandry was easy to pinpoint. Inspection without notice at the discretion of the local veterinary service would be of great benefit.
It is difficult to communicate new knowledge and practices to manufacturers of animal housing and equipment, stockmen, grant-giving bodies, vets and farmers. The variety of the list illustrates the problem of communication. The Committee recognised the problem and the fact, that the buck stops at the stockman. The report states:
It has been impressed on us over and over again that in any system the most important factor affecting the welfare of animals is the standard of knowledgeable, conscientious and sympathetic care for them which can be summed up as good stockmanship. Given enough skilled care, many systems are satisfactory; treated carelessly or unfeelingly, however good their outward surroundings, animals will suffer.
Even in the best of systems only good stockmanship resulted in good animal welfare.
I shall concentrate on the most difficult aspect of our task and the one which interests my constituents most after pigs—battery rearing of poultry. Intensive poultry farming developed over the past 25 years and we now have factory farming on a large scale. Vast quantities of eggs and poultry are produced and consumed. The process has been mechanised and fresh poultry and eggs are conveyed in huge quantities for sale to the housewife. The products are cheap and good and the housewife relies on them.
We considered alternative methods of poultry farming, such as the flock system, which allowed great freedom of movement among the poultry, but created many problems, mainly of disease. We also considered the deep litter system, where the floor can be all or part litter and part slats or wire mesh. The disease carried in the litter affected the poultry and there was a high mortality rate.
I appreciate that point, but is not the condition of battery hens appalling, when they are brought out of their cages for slaughter? Many of them have practically no feathers left. It is a question of balance.
I have kept fowl at home on an open range system and have observed their behaviour and natural defences. Of course, fowl moult and look pretty awful and bedraggled in the moulting season. That is natural. However, it is an extravagance, and unhelpful to the poultry industry, when moulting is induced to produce more eggs. I would much prefer not to see that. Moulting is induced to obtain a flow of eggs to the market throughout the year, because otherwise the supply of eggs would fluctuate. However, regular supply could be achieved just as satisfactorily and without moulting if day-old chicks are bought at different times and if fowl are kept in a different way. I am not in favour of inducing moulting because it is cruel and the animals do not look very good.
Another alternative system that we considered was the straw yard. The Committee's report says:
The straw yard systems of keeping poultry were widely practised in the United Kingdom prior to the development of the battery systems. Many problems could arise, particularly parasitic infections, and, in many cases, substantial vermin problems. Normally, the straw yard system was adopted by the arable farmer who had abundant straw and a selection of old and redundant buildings. Very little lighting control was practised with the result that output per bird during the winter months tended to fall substantially.
I want to try to hold the balance between a very large industrial system of producing poultry and eggs and the alternatives that we know at present. None of the options to which I have referred could in any way meet the market demand in Britain for eggs and poultry. Unless we were to introduce some form of import control and allow the price of poultry meat and eggs to go into the luxury bracket, it would probably be impossible to return to any of the older systems. Therefore, we are left with improving the cage. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North said, the getaway cage probably offers the greatest future.
As the existing cages represent a considerable investment to entrepreneurs, I regret that the write-off period for the completion of experiments and research and the introduction of any new system is as short as five years. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that enormous capital investment. Those who have made the investment should also be considered.
The free range is another alternative system. Free range has a great theoretical attraction. However, it is not a practical alternative. The free range system requires considerable skill in organisation and is, therefore, unlikely to be suitable for anything but very small units. The stocking density of birds kept in a free range system could never exceed 150 per acre, and should preferably be about 100 birds per acre.
I make a plea for my constituents. We have battery houses and keep many thousands of poultry in them, producing millions of eggs. The environmental conditions of those living adjacent to them are anything but satisfactory. I receive letters of complaint, asking if there is anything that I can do about the country smells, noise and other inconveniences that stem from them. If we were to advocate that my constituency should have a free range system to produce the eggs for the constituency of Thirsk and Malton, my constituency would probably be taken over by white Wiandot ducks, Rhode Island Reds and become virtually a bird farm. That would be unsatisfactory for my constituents and I hope that that will be borne in mind in the attempt to hold the balance.
One point has not been mentioned in connection with the laying hen. I refer to the severe limitation on any system other than the battery system. It is an offence for someone to wash an egg that is to be consumed by humans. In the battery system, an egg is not washed from the time that it leaves the hen until it is placed in the egg box. It has been handled only once and it is clean, but not washed. I do not wish to be extreme, but it is easy to imagine, in an open yard system, or even in the Pennsylvania system that we inspected, that birds that are in the open will not always go to the egg boxes to lay their egges. A high percentage of eggs are laid in dirty boxes, or are laid on the ground and become dirty. Hens themselves are foul. There is a temptation to wash the eggs and to say nothing about it. How on earth could that aspect of egg collection and distribution be policed?
I should like to pay our farmers a great compliment, because we expect the egg that is presented to us in the shop to be clean, wholesome and good. Can hon. Members imagine the blow to confidence if, instead of finding a nice egg, a purchaser found a diseased or poisoned egg? It would be a serious blow to the whole industry. The prohibition affecting the washing or oiling of eggs—which used to be done in the past—represents a severe limitation on any of the other systems that have been proposed.
From the evidence we concluded that at present no alternative system exists that can be tested on a substantial scale and that has been shown to have welfare benefits sufficient to justify its exclusive adoption at the expense of the battery cage. That does not mean that we should not try to find an alternative, but it means that there is no other option at present. I should be happy if research continued with a view to finding an alternative. However, until it has been found, the most constructive suggestion may be that the population of existing cages should be reduced, thus giving the birds an opportunity to be kept in less crowded conditions than at present.
I do not have a direct interest to declare, but as close members of my family are involved in agriculture I can at least lay claim to an intimate association with farming.
I am convinced that those who rear animals for food in this country are more conscious of their responsibilities for the welfare of those animals than are producers anywhere else in the world. However, that does not imply that there is no room for improvement. Some people object to using animals for food in any way, but for the vast majority, who expect to have eggs and meat supplied on a large scale and at a reasonable price, the important question is not whether there should be intensive systems of agriculture and animal husbandry, but whether those systems are acceptable in terms of animal welfare.
It is to be welcomed that the welfare of animals has become a matter of great public interest and concern, but it is sad that attitudes are sometimes based more on emotion than on information. The Select Committee is to be congratulated on having tackled this difficult area where deeply felt, sincere and often conflicting human emotions are involved. It has produced a valuable report which provides pointers for the future, but it recognises that many important questions cannot yet be answered, because of lack of information.
Judgments about animal welfare and the delicate balance between efficient production and the well-being of animals are, in the last resort, highly subjective and the Committee was right to stress time and again that it was important to have as much accurate scientific information as possible. Quite apart from the subjective emotions involved, not enough seems to be known about all the implications of the different systems of production and the choice between them is often not as simple as it may appear to the layman.
For example, there is a movement within the industry away from individual crate-rearing of calves towards group rearing. That is to be welcomed, but one of the first signs of illness—going off food—is more difficult to spot when a group feeds together than when individuals are fed separately. In other words, systems that are better in some or many ways may be worse in others and often not enough is known about all the comparative implications of change.
The Committee is clearly not happy about the battery system of egg production, but it has not been able to settle firmly on an acceptable alternative. The Committee says:
The 'getaway' cage is still experimental … Aviaries also are still experimental".
The Committee was impressed with the Pennsylvania system, but added:
There are however evidently disadvantages which are not apparent during a short visit.
The Committee points out that the deep litter system
needs very careful management to avoid disaster
and that strawyards
are worthy of more consideration".
The NFU claims that some poultry systems subject the stockman to levels of ammonia in the air that he breathes that would be illegal in a factory. Much more needs to be known if the right balance is to be achieved, and balance and compromise are the key in this matter.
When the Committee considered comparative costs of production under alternative systems, it found that insufficient information was available. The report says:
When we came to look for actual figures we found less information available than we had at first hoped: relatively little work has been done on it, mainly, in the view of some of our witnesses, because concern for the welfare aspect of intensive method. is a relatively new phenomenon and there has seemed until recently little cause to pose the questions.
But the cause to pose the questions is with us now. The report stresses
that a great deal needs to be done and that more emphasis needs to be given to animal welfare in drawing up research priorities".
That is to be welcomed, but how much has been done, 16 months later? How seriously does the Ministry take this matter? I suspect that nothing like enough research has been carried out.
In 1980–81 about £81 million was spent on agricultural research. Of that, about £33 million was spent on animal research. How much of that was spent specifically on animal welfare research? Perhaps it was a few millions—probably enough only to scratch the surface, because this is an area where on-farm experimental research is colossally expensive.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council recently expressed serious concern
that animal welfare research has lagged so far behind other agricultural research and that much basic knowledge about the welfare of farm animals is not available.
This is a matter of major public anxiety and I ask the Minister to give it the priority that it deserves. Will the Ministry specify areas of research and make the necessary funds available?
In some circumstances systems may be less important than the quality of management. Often the key to animal welfare is good, sensitive and perceptive stockmanship and that may count for far more than the advantages or disadvantages of the method of production. It was illuminating to hear the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), the Chairman of the Committee, speak of visits to closely comparable units, using virtually the same systems, where in one case animals were contented and in good condition and in the other case they fell well short of that.
I am sure that there is much truth in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but will he accept that some practices cannot be made acceptable, however good the stockmanship? Does he accept that the close confinement of veal calves is unacceptable, however good the stockmanship may be?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was merely pointing out that there are times when management can override other factors, but that does not mean that the other factors are unimportant. I agree that some practices are unacceptable, regardless of the quality of management.
As I have said, there is an urgent need for more research and more information. The SDP fully supports the Select Committee's view that practice guidelines in the form of codes of recommendations are generally preferable to rigid regulations. For example, although deviation from the codes might well be relevant to a prosecution under the 1968 Act, it would be intolerable if minor technical deviations themselves became offences at law. If, however, codes prove ineffective, then and only then will regulations be necessary.
We also agree with the Select Committee that inspection and enforcement should remain in the hands of the State veterinary service, and we believe that the service's resources should be augmented for that purpose. Moreover, supervision should go hand in hand with advice and guidance. The industry is very willing to be led. Understandably, however, producers who often work to very narrow margins are deeply concerned lest the price that they have to pay for increased animal welfare is to be pushed into unprofitability.
I was delighted that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North emphasised the importance of the European dimension. It would be grossly unfair to impose on our producers restrictions that do not apply to their European competitors. Many European countries lag far behind us in their attitude to animal welfare. It is therefore in the interests of our producers as well as of the animals that there should be uniformity within the Common Market. I urge the Minister to strive for that.
Will the Minister give the important assurance that if a system of production that has been used in good faith comes to be deemed unacceptable the producers' costs in changing to an alternative system will be eligible for compensation or grant aid? If society wishes to impose more rigorous standards of welfare, which in itself is a good thing, society should be willing to bear its fair share of the cost not only in higher prices for the end products but in the often massive capital expenditure that changes such as the abandonment of battery egg production would involve. We have a responsibility to animals, but we also have a responsibility to the generally very dedicated people who produce our food.
We must be realistic about this whole subject. Factory farming has developed since the last war and there is no doubt that in certain areas it has produced cheaper food and a wider menu than people in this country previously enjoyed. We must also, however, give great consideration to the welfare of the animals involved.
One of the first aims of intensive farming is to restrict the movement of the animals, and the extent to which they are restricted has caused great concern for a long time. We must therefore address ourselves to that. Heat control is another aspect of factory farming. There are also different types of feeding, a number of which, although they may benefit the production of food, certainly do not benefit the animals. Moreover, the food concerned is not always produced for the mass population of consumers. The production of veal calves, for instance, is clearly aimed at the luxury market.
When I first became chairman of the parliamentary animal welfare group, a Dutch firm which produced a particular milk feed for calves sought to encourage farmers in this country to practise the veal production methods developed in Holland. As there were objections to this, I was invited by the company to see how the method operated, but I refused to do so unless I could take with me an eminent member of the veterinary profession.
We were horrified at what we saw. The calves were confined in wooden crates, the front of which was dropped when they were fed. In many production units, even the top of the crate was covered in. At no time did the creatures have any possibility of turning round. When they were led out for slaughter, they just about filled the crates so they could scarcely move at all. They were kept in darkness, and without iron or roughage in their diet, they were rickety. At first, the company wished to take us only to showplaces, but we refused to continue our tour unless we could stop at any factory unit that we saw.
We were so appalled at the conditions that we saw that we were convinced that this practice should never come to this country. The firm undertook to make some modifications to allow a daily period of light for the animals, but they were still denied the natural food of growing animals. There was no iron in their milk diet and the calves chewed the crates and anything else that they could reach in their desire and need to obtain not only iron but roughage, which is also a necessity. I am convinced that there is no need to produce white veal in this country in those or indeed any circumstances.
Paragraph 5 of the excellent second special report
Inspection and enforcement should remain with the State Veterinary Service, who should co-operate fully with voluntary bodies. The scale of inspection should be stepped up, and all premises where indoor intensive production is carried on should receive at least once a year a formal inspection specifically directed to welfare.
I hope that the Minister will say that that visit will not be known to the establishments beforehand. Does she really think that one visit a year is enough?
That is an obvious point. If the inspector finds that a practice is wrong, and makes a report, a copy must be sent to the farmer. If it was not, how would the farmer know where he had gone wrong?
With respect to my hon. Friend, if an inspector's visit is to be meaningful, he must ensure that the animals are kept in the conditions laid down in the code of practice. The welfare of animals must be a consideration.
The special report stated:
Ministerial and official thinking should give more weight to animal welfare than seems to have been the case hitherto
That is precisely what I am saying. I am sure that my hon.
Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) is with me on that. The report said:
The Minister should seek European Community agreement to measures which will being an early end to veal calf rearing in crates".
There will be some difficulty in achieving that. Whatever is done in the European Community, that practice is abhorrent to most people and especially to the Members of the Select Committee. It must be stopped as soon as possible. I am glad to see hon. Members who served on the Committee nodding in agreement. The report continued:
The revised code of recommendations should strongly discourage housing of calves in crates.
I have been greatly concerned, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), with the transportation of animals. Veal calves are exported to the Continent, a great many of them to Holland. The veal producing practice in Holland is abhorrent to us, and we must stop exporting to that country. The calves are subjected to conditions of rearing that we simply do not accept in Britain. Whatever the EEC may say, that practice must be stopped.
We have also been concerned about the way in which animals for slaughter have been exported in vehicles to France and the Continent generally. They have been forced to undertake extremely long journeys without food and water. RSPCA inspectors have followed consignments and were appalled at their suffering. I hope that the Minister will bring that matter to the notice of the Government. It should be brought before the European Community. The distance that animals must travel should be cut so that they can be properly watered, fed and rested. The long, interminable journeys often end in slaughter in abattoirs with low standards that we would not accept in Britain.
Many years ago the House made it clear that it objected strongly to the export of animals for slaughter to countries that did not practise humane slaughter. A restriction was imposed on such exports. I hope that it still prevails. The slaughter of cattle in Italy concerned us greatly because of the strong evidence that they were not stunned before slaughter.
I accept that we must fall in line as much as possible with the European Community. However, I was surprised when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Hudson Davies) implied that we must fall into line with countries with lesser standards of animal welfare because otherwise they would have an economic advantage that would be unacceptable to our farmers. That is an unfortunate view, and I hope that the Government will not accept it.
Britain has shown great revulsion against the export of heavy horses and vanners to the Continent for slaughter. A figure was set for their sale, beneath which an animal could not be exported. The idea was to impose a price that would make slaughter uneconomic. My hon. Friend will remember that there was some concern because categories were set that did not include ponies. I was fortunate enough to get the Ponies Act through the House. In the Act the price of ponies for export was set at such a figure that it would be uneconomic to slaughter them. Will the Minister say whether those regulations still prevail now that we are in the European Community? If the regulations remain in force, is there any intention to increase the prices so that it will still be uneconomic to slaughter horses and ponies?
I have been greatly encouraged over many years by the fact that animal welfare generally is a non-party issue. I was for 20 years chairman of the parliamentary animal welfare group. There is a broad consensus on how animals should be treated. Animals give us a great bonus as pets, as creatures from which we earn our living or as creatures which provide us with food. Therefore, it is our duty to treat them with respect and to ensure that in their short lives they are treated as well and as humanely as possible.
The Conservative manifesto for 1979 said:
The welfare of animals is an issue that concerns us all.
That statement applies to all of us in this House and to all the people in Britain, irrespective of political party. The manifesto continued:
There are problems in certain areas and we will act immediately where it is necessary. More specifically, we will give full support to the EEC proposals on the transportation of animals.
I have dealt shortly with that aspect. It went on:
We shall update the Brambell Report, the codes of welfare for farm animals, and the legislation on experiments on live animals. We shall also re-examine the rules and enforcement applying to the export of live animals and shall halt the export of cows and ewes recently calved and lambed.
Has the undertaking given in that last sentence yet been met? If not, I ask for it to be met.
Those were positive undertakings and there is still much to be done. I hope that the Government will ensure that, before the Conservative Party goes to the country, those undertakings will be implemented, or at any rate there will be very little left to do and there will be a positive undertaking to implement them in the next Parliament if the Conservative Party is successful at the next general election. Indeed, I hope that they will be implemented if the Labour Party is successful.
Let us try to keep animal welfare out of party politics. Let all parties in this House do their utmost to ensure that farm animals are treated as humanely as possible during their short lives.
There are many issues on which I profoundly disagree with the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden), but I agree with much of what he has said on this occasion and I take the opportunity to recognise the very important work he has done and with which he has been associated on animal welfare. As a member of the Select Committee, I believe and hope that the report has considerably advanced the causes that the hon. Gentleman has embraced over many years.
I pay tribute to our Chairman, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), who did a very good job in helping the Committee to complete its work on an important subject.
However, I am very disappointed with the Government's response to our report. Many arguments have been advanced and note should be taken of them, but the Government might have been more forthcoming than they have been to date.
Several hon. Members, both today and in the Select Committee, have talked about whether animals suffer, and about how we know whether they experience physical pain or any form of emotional stress in the conditions in which they are kept. I believe that it is accepted in all parts of the House that we should object to animals being kept in conditions which appear significantly to increase the pain and the stress that they experience. However, I take the view that, although it may be difficult at times to be precise about exactly what animals experience, common sense tells us that some of the conditions which prevail today in systems of intensive production are intolerable.
I am reminded of what the late Clement Attlee said on one occasion when asked to give a definition. He said, "It is extremely difficult for me to define an elephant but I can always recognise one when I see it." Similarly, I believe that, although people may argue about the philosophical nature of animal stress and strain, it is clear for all of us to see, if we are frank, when conditions are totally unsatisfactory for the animals which are forced to live under them.
Can there be any doubt about the effect of the conditions which have been imposed on calves kept in pens and crates? As paragraph 65 of the report says, they have insufficient room in which to turn round and to groom themselves, and it is difficult for them at times to get up or to lie down easily. Sometimes they are kept in conditions of total darkness on slatted floors without bedding, which results in the animals injuring their feet, and they are fed on a diet which excludes roughage. Anyone who has any doubts about the nature of the suffering that is inflicted upon animals, regardless of all the philosophical arguments, seems to me not to be facing the facts.
Some hon. Members this morning have spoken about pigs. When I went to Denmark with the Select Committee I saw sows that were tethered for all their adult lives except when they were mated. I remember one animal whose back foot kept slipping between the dung-covered slats so that the joint had become raw, having been skinned as it went through the slat and was pulled out again and again. It was a pathetic sight. I do not believe that conditions of that sort can be accepted in a society which considers itself to be compassionate.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not want to mislead the House when he said that the sows were tethered for the whole of their lives except when they were mating. The sows were not tethered, of course, when were farrowing or rearing their young.
I made a slip if I stated that they were tethered all their lives. I should have said that they were tethered or kept in close confinement. Although they are not tethered when they produce pigs, they are still kept in conditions in which they cannot turn round. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out my slip. The essential point that I make is correct. I stand by it.
It is intolerable that as many as four to six birds can be kept in battery cages of a standard size of 50 cm by 45 cm. Do hon. Members honestly believe than an area the size of the Order Paper is adequate space for a hen to spend its life in? The proposed improvement would add sufficient area to the Order Paper for one hon. Member, provided he was not too eloquent, to put down an additional question. That is wrong. We should speak out strongly about the continuation of this system.
It may be true that birds do not suffer from the rain and cold, from predators or from lack of food when they are kept in battery cages. To comfort ourselves in this way is about as morally justified as arguing that the inmates of Belsen would not suffer from the diseases associated with obesity or be run over in road accidents. Those who defend the intensive system base their arguments on the impossibility of producing the equivalent volume of veal, pork, eggs or poultry in so limited a space other than by such methods. That is true. However, extensive areas of land are used to grow feeding stuffs and considerable sums of money are invested to construct intensive systems, frequently supported and encouraged by the tax system and also by subsidies and other financial inducements that are never properly set against the profits that can be made.
When the Select Committee tried to calculate comparative costs, it was clear that the assumptions made in any such calculations are open to great doubt and discussion. There was, however, a general view that any change to less intensive systems would lead to smaller units involving greater labour costs. When a large number of our people are unemployed, there might be something to be said for having smaller units in which more people could participate instead of being forced on the dole to do nothing of any use.
As labour savings are made, an increasing number of smaller producers are forced out of production. The Government should take steps to reverse the trend that has been followed in recent years. I do not argue that it is possible to keep domestic animals in conditions which their remote ancestors may have enjoyed in the wild thousands of years ago, but it is clear that domestic animals require more space than is permitted them under intensive systems. I believe that the Brambell recommendations represent the fair minimum below which such systems should not be allowed to function.
Although the potential of the domestic fowl may be different from that of its ancestors, I believe that the domestic fowl should be able to develop its potential in a way that is not possible when it is kept in extremely confined conditions. The domestic fowl should have room to stretch, scratch and run about. No one can accept as satisfactory a state of affairs in which the domestic fowl frequently does not even have room to stand upright except in parts of the battery cage.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the domestic fowl developing its full potential. Does he not agree that hens in battery cages develop their full potential there better than anywhere else?
I think that there is a difference between the hon. Gentleman and myself in our use of the term "full potential". I accept that the birds produce the maximum number of eggs, although some hon. Members may disagree. Even if it is accepted that they produce the maximum number under those circumstances, it is possible, I believe, to achieve those targets by less intensive means. The bird should be allowed to develop its potential in respects other than those purely as a producer of eggs.
The recommendations of the Select Committee represent a modest and cautious set of proposals which are an absolute minimum for improvement. I find the Government's response most disappointing. A recommendation that the minimum size cage for an adult laying bird should be not less than 750 sq cm per bird cannot be regarded as extravagant or irresponsible. I believe that it should be only an interim measure.
The Select Committee is right to recommend that the battery cage system should be phased out in five years. This would enable those involved in the production of eggs and the rearing of poultry to introduce other systems. The suggestion is not that the present system should end tomorrow. A period of five years is reasonable. If some limit is not set, the system will continue indefinitely.
If the phasing out was a unilateral action and not matched by similar restrictions within the EC, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the United Kingdom producer would probably be put at a disadvantage? Does he accept that the Government would be under some obligation to support the United Kingdom producer who suffered such an economic disadvantage?
I recognise entirely that it would not be morally justified for us to refuse to allow food to be produced in certain conditions in this country and then to import food from abroad that was produced in precisely those conditions. The Government should give a much more forceful lead on the Continent of Europe and within the EEC in changing these matters. We should be prepared to take unilateral action and to give necessary protection to producers who would be operating in different circumstances. There are a number of ways in which that could be done. Unilateral action should be taken if we cannot move in other ways. The Select Committee proposes that pigs should be given access to well-bedded areas, that they should not be kept in total darkness and that castration should be prohibited other than on veterinary grounds. It also proposes the development of alternatives to the close confinement of pregnant sows. These are not extravagant proposals. We also make reasonable and cautious proposals in respect of calves which the industry ought to accept. It is incredible that some people regard the Select Committee's recommendations as extravagant. In no way can they be considered extravagant.
I accept entirely what has been said about not allowing food into the country which is produced in conditions that we ban here. Having said that, I believe that the report proposes a reasonable way forward without which we cannot accept that the totally unsatisfactory conditions prevailing for many animals that are reared for food should continue for a long time ahead. The British public will not accept such conditions, and there are similar stirrings on the Continent of Europe. In Germany, the Green Party has gained additional support in recent years which demonstrates the growing concern there about many environmental matters, and that in due course will match what people from the animal welfare lobby in this country are saying. The Government should take notice and they should make much more positive proposals than those contained in their response to the Select Committee's report.
There is growing cynicism about parliamentary methods among the community at large. Many people believe that it is not possible to achieve change unless they resort to direct action. We now see people concerned about animal welfare introducing methods of direct action. If we do not wish those activities to increase, we have to prove that the parliamentary method works. It will not be regarded as working if, 16 months after a report has been prepared following very careful investigation, it is met by the pathetic response that we have from the Government on these issues.
The development of intensive systems of production has relegated animal welfare to a very low priority. That is not to say that the majority of farmers and farm workers are not compassionate, because they are. However, the dictates of the market have forced producers either to accept intensive methods and to suppress the natural compassion which the majority of them feel or to get out of production. In those circumstances, we must call upon the Government to redress the balance. What the Government say in their response to the Select Committee's report is not sufficient to do that.
Therefore, whatever the Parliamentary Secretary says today, I hope that she will take very seriously what has been said from both sides of the House about animal welfare and about the need to advance much more rapidly towards the abolition of many of these most undesirable methods of production than is envisaged at present.
The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) in his closing remarks seemed to say that the cost of food ought to go up in order to pay for more extensive methods of production. If that is not what he said, no doubt he will correct me, but I cannot see any other way of going back to extensive methods and abolishing all the intensive methods as he suggests.
I believe that the cost of food must go up to some extent if methods are to be improved in the way that I have suggested. However, there are many other ways of reducing the cost of food which we often discuss here and which could be achieved if we were not bound by the ridiculous dictates of the common agricultural policy.
I shall not venture into a discussion of the CAP. Instead, as a member of the Select Committee, I join others in paying tribute to the Chairman, the leader of the Opposition—if it could be described as "opposition"—the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), the Clerks and our advisers.
A happy relationship has grown up in the Select Committee, and it works in a constructive way. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harlow will agree that we have all struck up a friendship which in other areas would seem strange, as we disagree about so many topics. Of course, from time to time we disagree in the Committee, but we are still friendly.
I do not know whether I should declare an interest as a producer of livestock. I say at once that I have no interest in intensive production. The production in which I am engaged is about the most extensive that there could be. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) said that he had been brought up on a farm of 250 acres. I am not trying to cap what he said when I tell the House that I farm an area of 5,560 acres—I hasten to add, as a tenant.
It was interesting in the Committee to hear the thoughts put forward about the need for inspection every day if animals are to be looked after properly. I can tell the House from my own experience that in a wide-ranging, extensive system of farming it is quite impossible to see every animal every day. There is no physical way that that can be done. Despite trudging at least 12 miles a day over the hills looking at sheep, I still encounter sheep which have died the most grotesque and cruel deaths because they have not been found soon enough.
I shall be travelling more than 12 miles today.
If animals are kept in batteries or intensively inside, they can be inspected much better than they can if they are reared in the extensive way in which I farm.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) suggested that bar biting signified that pigs were not happy. I suggest that bar biting by animals is equivalent to nail biting by people. My hon. Friend talked about the higher intelligence of pigs and said that bar biting showed that they were dissatisfied with their environment. Humans may be even more intelligent—and which hon. Members bite their nails?
I congratulate the NFU on its booklet "Sense or Sentiment". I believe that in the past the NFU has been guilty of taking a low profile on animal welfare. Because of the many emotional aspects that are involved, the NFU felt that it should not start the argument and that too much would be said that was not factual. However, the booklet is helpful. The NFU also produced a film that is being shown throughout the country and is probably more helpful than the biased film—I did not see it—that was shown on channel 4 recently. The concern that is felt, particularly by the Scottish NFU, is manifested by the fact that one of my constituents, the chairman of the animal welfare sub-committee of the Scottish NFU, has travelled from Banff to hear this debate. I sincerely hope that he will be heartened by the constructive and balanced nature of our debate.
I shall confine my remarks, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, to the battery hen system. A few facts—not fiction and emotion—should be stated. Let us get the matter straight. The lifespan of a laying hen in a battery system begins with five months' rearing. The rearing part of the process could be in a cage with 30 or 60 chickens. As they grow, they are kept in smaller numbers. Also they can be reared in strawyards—a system of deep litter. Here there are dangers, because there is a natural tendency—whether through fear, or some other reason—for chickens to crowd together and smother one another. In the cage system that does not happen.
After being reared for five months, the birds go into cages and produce eggs for 14 months. Therefore, we are talking of a lifespan of 19 months, unless there is enforced moulting. Enforced moulting means stimulating a natural function in hens so that they may live longer. They will be kept for 11 months in a cage, then force-moulted or encouraged to moult, and then kept for a further nine months to produce eggs—bigger eggs.
I shall give some of the production figures. On average, a free-range hen will produce 140 eggs per year. In deep litter, 240 eggs per hen per year is the average. In the battery cages system, the figure is 300 eggs per hen per year. The hon. Member for Harlow suggested that other systems would produce as many eggs. If there are other systems, I hope that he will tell us about them. I do not know what they are, and the Committee did not find out about them in its investigations.
That is for the market to dictate. The evidence that we heard from consumers was to the effect that they wanted a supply of eggs, and that is important.
I mentioned mortality when I spoke about the extensive form of farming that I use. The mortality rate in free-range hens is 25 per cent.—5 per cent. possibly as a result of predators which tear them limb from limb. It is interesting that often the same people who suggest that hens should be reared in the open say that foxes should be left alone and free to tear hens limb from limb. In my opinion, that is not the way to foster animal welfare and avoid cruelty, if we are to keep domestic poultry for egg laying.
I said that the mortality rate among free-range hens is 25 per cent., and among deep litter hens it is 20 per cent. Let us consider how and why hens die. It is in the dying that cruelty mostly occurs.
My hon. Friend said that we should be concerned about the way in which animals die. I suggest that if the conditions that are laid down for slaughterhouses are carried out, the animals will die humanely. Surely we should consider also the way in which the animals live.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillinghan (Sir F. Burden) misunderstood me. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I was talking about hens that die in the production period—the 19 months of life. How many hens, either in free range or deep litter, die an unnatural death for reasons other than disease, and certainly not old age?
If the mortality rate of hens in cages is 5 per cent., compared with 25 per cent. for free-range birds and 20 per cent. for birds in deep litter, then many hens in cages do not suffer violent or painful deaths. Hens are not kept as pets, despite the suggestion of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) that animals should be kept on equal terms with humans. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Spence) corrected that. We must decide whether hens are secondary in importance to humans.
I am interested in my hon. Friend's remark. However, most human beings are not in prison, unless one includes high rise flats and other dwellings in which humans now live in wholly unnatural conditions in urban environments with central heating and so on. Should farm animals and birds that are kept for their meat, milk or eggs, be kept in a better environment than the cave dwellings in which we used to live? It may interest the House to know that a hen only participates in the ham and egg breakfast, whereas the pig is wholly involved. There is a subtle difference.
As is demonstrated by the mortality rate, the health of hens in battery cages is much better. They are free from internal and external parasites. They are in an environment with a suitable constant temperature. They need not suffer the excreta of other hens in their food or water.
I am suggesting that 96 per cent. of British egg producers believe that battery cages are the most ideal environment that can presently be achieved. I am not suggesting that they are holiday homes. I do not think that a hen which had lived in the open would like to live in a battery cage. However, we must remember that hens in battery cages have never known the outside environment, just as many urban oriented people living in London have never known the pleasures of the green fields and hills of Wales or Scotland from which we have benefited. Nobody is saying that such people should be sent there, because they would be lost if they were.
Will my hon. Friend explain why, if battery hens are so well adapted to the new system, when they are removed from the cages they rapidly revert to their natural behaviour?
I cannot profess to be an expert on everything. The Select Committee did not see evidence of it being a common practice to take hens out of a battery environment and allow them to run free. No doubt some people have made that experiment. If any Committee members have had such experience, no doubt they will correct me. Perhaps my hon. Friend has that evidence, but the Committee does not.
Yes I do. A farmer friend of mine in Devon has on occasions felt so sorry for some wretched battery hens that he has bought them and kept them in a more open way. I know because I have talked to somebody who has done that on a regular basis.
I am interested in my hon. Friend's point, but how does she measure that the hens are happier? I put it to the House that laying eggs is a sexual function. Psychological attitudes can have a big effect on sexual functions. The fact that the hen produces more eggs proves as well as any other scientific evidence that it is as happy in that environment as anywhere else.
I cannot allow my hon. Friend to get away with such a fallacy without contradiction. He said that hens are left in battery cages for a relatively short time, the reason being that they produce more eggs that way, and then the production drops off considerably. However, in other less intensive systems it is possible to keep the hens for many years and they continue to produce a fair number of eggs. My hon. Friend's argument is hogwash.
I hesitate to describe the evidence given to the Committee as hogwash. We did not hear evidence that in battery conditions egg production dropped off suddenly.
The report, in paragraphs 21 to 25, emphasised that stockmen are most important for the prevention of cruelty. They can inspect and look after the hens more easily in battery cages. So much of the feeding, watering, cleaning out and temperature control is done automatically irrespective of whether the stockman is good or bad. the hens are kept automatically in good conditions.
I shall move on to another fallacy. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Drake will want to jump to her feet again. Many people speak about the necessity for a dustbath for hens. It is proposed that they should have "getaway" cages to do so. A hen has a dustbath to get rid of external parasites. However, we have discovered that in the battery the hen does not have external parasites. If people say that it is a natural function of the hen to have a dustbath, I suggest that it is also a natural function of a dog, when it is let off the lead, to roll in stinking excreta and over dead rats. It is ridiculous to suggest that that natural function should be provided for.
The World Poultry Science Association said that the Commission's proposals were
a triumph for common sense.
We heard a little about common sense from my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. It further stated that the proposals
seem to be more practical, reasonable and politically possible than the House of Commons Committee proposals where the Committee seem to have been somewhat unduly influenced by emotional views which have no basis in scientific fact.
I must make that point as I took a minority view on the Committee.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that those of us who went on the trips and saw the hens, pigs and other stock were not purely emotional in our conclusions. The Committee studied carefully the scientific evidence. There may have been disagreements between us, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not give the impression to the House that the majority was influenced purely by emotional considerations. As he knows, we came to our conclusions, although we differed, as a result of considerable research and investigation.
I do not say that the Committee was influenced purely by emotion, but who is not influenced by emotion? Many people who call themselves "welfarists" point the finger and say that those who keep animals under intensive conditions do not have compassion for those animals. I have lived among animals all my life. In my opinion, there should be a common sense approach to keeping hens in batteries and sows under intensive conditions with good stockmanship. I do not believe in keeping sows tethered if that is not necessary; neither do I believe in them tearing each other limb from limb.
I ask the House to give credit to people who look after animals in intensive systems for having compassion equal to that of anybody else, whether they live in urban or rural areas. Condemnation and criticism often come from ignorance, bias and—dare I say it—emotion.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) on his speech but I suspect that most people who heard it or who will read it in Hansard will be pushed in the opposite direction to that which he intended.
I welcome the Select Committee's report and the views expressed by the majority of the Committee. It is a well-balanced report, but I am disappointed that the Government's response has been so weak and lukewarm. I hope that the Minister will go rather further than the Government's printed reply.
We have to be careful to reach a balance in animal welfare. The way in which society has given human attributes to so many animals is sad. It was probably someone like Aesop who started it, but writer after writer has since enjoyed giving human attributes to animals. A. A. Milne did so with rats, which are rather horrid creatures that one does one's best to exterminate if they run around the kitchen. People have ascribed human attitudes to farm animals and believe automatically that they behave in that way. There is a danger in that approach.
It is dangerous to assume that the way in which animals were brought up 30 or 40 years ago is the way in which they like to be brought up. As a child I remember thinking that it was attractive to see a hen strutting across a yard with six or seven chickens behind it. One had to remember that at night three or four of those chickens would be taken by a rat. That was not an attractive picture. Nor was it attractive to see hens that were kept in a coop and allowed to run free terrorised by a fox and killed.
A balance has to be drawn between total protection and the way in which animals were kept in the past with a great deal of freedom that involved suffering. If my constituents were to be asked whether they would like to be warm and well fed in February rather than sent round the park to look for food, they would say that they preferred to be inside. We have to be careful that we do not protect animals so much that we prevent them from being animals and turn an animal seen on the farm in to the one seen in the zoo. We turn cereals into a form of food that people enjoy eating rather more. If we push up the price of eggs and chickens too much, demand and production will fall. My constituents benefit from cheap food. Recently in a school in Stockport I saw children eating only chips and gravy for lunch, as they now have to pay for their food. An added egg or bacon would have balanced their diet.
Not only animals are exploited in agriculture. We should improve the conditions for the workers, too. On some poultry farms I have felt as sorry for the workers as I have for the animals.
We should implement the minimum standards which the Committee recommends. Unfortunately, animal welfare groups may do themselves a disservice by exaggerating the situation. The public have come to believe that the examples that they are shown are the exception and not the rule. If the groups concentrated less on the exception and more on the generality they would win more friends. The key element in improving animal welfare is enforcement, and then improving standards.
The Select Committee did not pay sufficient attention to consumer choice. The consumer should be shown the conditions under which the food is produced. If supermarkets had to display on the veal counter a picture of calves in crates the vast majority of people would not buy the veal. The camera can be used to distort and the picture may look better than the reality, but that is not always easy to do. Boxes of eggs should display photographs of battery hens. I believe that many people would then choose to pay more so that the animals and chickens might be kept in better conditions.
The food industry displays idyllic pictures of hens strutting about, with perhaps some corn in the background. Many egg production units are located in cities and the industry cannot pretend that the eggs come from the countryside. One television advertisement shows a consumer in the countryside to foster the idea of the egg being a wholesome country product.
It would have a major impact if the producer had to show the real conditions of production. If British producers improved their standards and displayed the newer and better conditions in which the animals were kept, people could choose between their products and those of other countries where the animals might not be so well treated. We must let the consumer choose and show him the conditions under which his food is being produced. We should ask him whether he wants his food to be produced under such conditions. Most consumers, given the choice, would want at least the minimum standards recommended in the Select Committee's report.
Even if we achieved the minimum standards, many consumers would not want their eggs, veal, chicken or turkey if they knew the production conditions. Unfortunately, only occasionally are those conditions forced to their attention by animal welfare groups. People assume that such conditions are the exception rather than the norm and continue to consume the products. The advertising of such products should be controlled and we should tell people the truth about the production methods so that they can make their own decisions. There would then be much less cruelty to animals.
I agree with the general theme behind the speech made by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). However, the Bill that he introduced not long ago would end the experiment that I have tried to carry out in extensive farming, and I hope that he will reflect on that.
We have spoken about animal welfare, but I should like to say something about the welfare of farmers. The practices mentioned in the report cannot be reconciled with the welfare of farmers. If the word "agriculture" means anything, it means the cultivation of our land. We have been debating not agriculture, but food processing and the means by which one type of food, grain, is converted into another type of food, meat, by what Ruth Harrison called animal machines. That process requires a lot of capital. It attracts enormous tax allowances and is increasingly available only to those who are "agri-businness" men.
I hope that those who speak on behalf of the National Farmers Union will consider the direction in which we are moving. Years ago, when I started with pigs, it was possible to start a small farm with only a few pigs. Over 20 years ago, when I reached 20 sows I was thought of as being involved with pigs in a big way but it is nothing now. Nowadays, someone would have to have 500 sows to be involved in a big way. The opportunities for young men who wish to go into farming are minimal. Intensive forms of farming—so called—are making it more difficult year by year for young men to get into farming. It is weakening the whole system of farming. I hope that that point will not be overlooked in any consideration of farmers' welfare.
Farmers depend upon the good will of the British people and that must be so as long as such a high proportion of their income comes from the taxpayers' pocket. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has established that the support given by taxpayers to farmers represents 166 per cent. of their incomes. If farming is to be supported on that scale, it must depend on the good will of the Brush people. We all know of farm workers who have lost jobs and thousands of livestock farmers who have gone out of business. They are going out of business at the rate of hundreds, if not thousands per year. They hold strong feelings against intensive farming. Therefore, I hope that all of us who are concerned about the welfare and good name of farmers will pay due regard to those facts.
I have no practical experience of commercial poultry-keeping and I had not intended to say anything about the subject, but in order to get here for the opening of the debate I had to get up extremely early, when it was still dark. Bleary-eyed and tired, I forgot to let my chickens out. I hope that someone has now done so. While driving at high speed to the station, I reflected that even if my chickens are kept in all day they will still have at least 10 times as much space as any hen in a battery cage.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) will not accept what I have to say, but we have free-range eggs at home because we believe that they taste much better than the battery variety. I must challenge what my hon. Friend said about battery birds. The farm that I used to run is let to tenants who have a few free-range birds. They always get the birds from battery cages and over the years I have seen those chickens arriving at the farm, apprehensive, fearful and looking bad. Anyone with any feel for livestock knows that they look in a bad way, but within a fortnight they are transformed creatures.
The birds may have lived much of their lives in battery cages, but after having been liberated and allowed to live in more natural conditions they become different creatures. I have seen that happen time and again and nothing will persuade me that the claims of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff are correct.
Paragraph 16 of the Minister's response to the Committee's report states:
The Government do not accept the implication in the Committee's report that grant and taxation policies encourage undesirable methods.
I hope that it will be agreed that undesirable methods include keeping veal in closed crates. All the members of the Committee who saw veal calves on the Continent two years ago now decline to eat veal. I was put in a difficulty a year ago when I visited friends in Sussex. Some meat was put in front of me and I was not sure what it was. When the hostess said that it was veal I was about to try to think of a tactful reason for refusing it, but she said that it was grass-fed veal. I had never previously eaten grass-fed veal and it as almost the best meat that I have ever eaten. I had no compunction in finishing it.
At home, we have started an experiment with grass-fed veal. It has been successful and would be profitable but for the tax allowances. I know that I am supposed to address the Chair, but I hope that I will be forgiven for putting my next remarks in rather banal terms, so that even a child can understand what I say. I feel that I must do that for the benefit of those who were responsible for drafting paragraph 16 and putting those words into the mouth of the Minister. I cannot believe that my right hon. Friend would have drafted that extraordinary sentence.
Grass-fed veal requires grass fields. One cannot rent them, so one has to buy them—at about £2,000 per acre. To be effective, one requires about 50 acres, which will cost about £100,000—a very large sum, which will probably have to be borrowed from the bank at a very high rate of interest. There are no tax allowances for such purposes. Nor should there be. However, if I wish to raise a similar number of veal calves in crates on one acre of concrete, the story is very different.
I think that my hon. Friend is misleading the House a little when he says that one cannot rent grass fields. One can indeed rent such fields, and the rental can be offset against tax.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend. If he is prepared to rent 5,000 acres, I as a mere smallholder touch my forelock to him. I certainly cannot rent 5,000 acres, or indeed any acres where I live. There may be odd bits and pieces of land for rent in some areas, but in general it is not a practical proposition.
I shall not be diverted, as the Government have clearly not taken on board the important point about taxation. The land will cost £100,000 and there is no tax allowance, but if I put the same number of calves in crates on an acre of concrete I receive a tax allowance on the buildings of 30 per cent. in the first year and 10 per cent. for each of the succeeding seven years. I can write off the entire cost against income tax. In addition, the cost of the crates, the feeding equipment and the rest can be written off against tax within 12 months. In other words, it is an entirely different story.
The experiment that I have undertaken in rearing grass-fed veal is completely economic in ordinary terms, but it is made hopelessly uneconomic because one cannot compete with those rearing the same number of calves with the assistance of tax allowances. If anyone disagrees, my books are open for my hon. Friend the Member for Banff or anyone else to see.
The same applies to pig rearing. A neighbour of mine keeps about 200 sows out of doors, and I defy my hon. Friend the Member for Banff to see those sows and claim that they are not perfectly content. Any stockman can see that they are alert, healthy and generally as they should be. My neighbour, however, needs about 50 extra acres to keep his sows in that way. Again, that means £100,000 of capital investment on which, rightly, there are no tax allowances. If, however, the same 200 sows were kept in buildings, at roughly the same cost, the entire cost could be written off against tax.
Tax allowances play a major part in the whole question of intensive farming, so I hope that the Minister will reconsider this aspect. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) is clearly anxious to reply to what I have said. He should have at least 25 minutes in which to do so. As was pointed out in the Select Committee, to keep all the battery birds in free-range conditions would require an area the size of my native county of Berkshire. According to my calculations, the cost of buying up all the agricultural land in Berkshire would be about £600 million. The tax allowances to agriculture in any year, however, are far greater—almost £1,000 million per year.
I shall not follow the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). He was a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles), especially when he ribbed him about his acreage. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff explained fully that his farm was extensively hill land and moorland. It is possible to rent sections of land throughout Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston was unfair to him, and I hope that he will reconsider his remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff represents a view that should be put in the House, and he did not express himself only as a large farmer.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) and his Committee on their work. I do not agree with all of the report, but the Committee investigated the matter thoroughly and effectively and the House should be grateful. It was an important and necessary inquiry.
There is considerable concern about factory farming in Britain, but agricultural producers feel equal concern about some of the criticism of their methods of production. I do not simply sit on the fence. I share both concerns. Animal welfare is of paramount importance in a civilised community, but at the same time reasonable food prices—such as we now have for eggs and pigmeat—are essential to the consumer. I tackle my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for questioning whether eggs were necessary. They are one of the best foods available. They are cheap, easily prepared and good for health. Eggs must be produced in a modern world at reasonable prices so that many people can benefit.
I wholly reject some of the criticisms about the farming community. It needs to be said loudly and clearly that such criticism is an absolute disgrace. Ninety-nine per cent. of all farmers not only care about, but actually love, their stock and are concerned about their welfare. I wish that some hon. Members took a little more interest in the care of children. I do not have the figures, but I believe there to be more battered and unkindly treated children than there are ill-treated animals. We must be careful about what we say when we condemn British agriculture. I feel strongly about that, and I am upset that some of my colleagues take such an attitude.
I am not giving way because I have only a short time in which to speak.
It is all a question of balance. We must get it right, and the Government have tried to do that in their response to the report. The balance must be constantly adjusted. I am in favour of reviews of methods of production and adjustment in the light of new evidence and research. Most farmers are prepared to accept the need for review. They care for their stocks and are intensely humane. The lack of reality in many of the arguments used against methods of production are a source of amazement to most farmers. They cannot understand why some people say they want cheap food and at the same time are not prepared to use modern methods.
It is a quesion of balance and I think that the Government have got it exactly right. I do not accept for a moment the argument that it is a wishy-washy reply. It is a practical reply that is related to the present situation when the Government say:
There is no justification for any farming practice which gives rise to unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress.
I wholeheartedly agree with that.
The Government believe that, whilst the cheapest methods of production may not always be the most appropriate, the likely effects on prices to the consumer must be taken into account both in setting welfare standards and in the timing of any change in standards.
There is a great deal of double-talk from Opposition Members. They want cheap food yet they want to change the methods of farming that have brought about the reasonable price that we pay for our food. I repeat:
There is no justification for any farming practice which gives rise to unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress.
I should like to highlight one or two matters in the Government's response. There is the question of scientific knowledge and the role of the veterinary profession. I would greatly deprecate any reduction in the funds for animal research and welfare, should such a reduction be made. Those funds must be maintained. I pay tribute to the veterinary profession for what it has done to help in animal welfare and to ease the lot of animals. It is a tremendous advance from the days when I started farming. Animal suffering has been reduced on a great scale through modern methods and techniques which farmers accept and practise. Of course, they do it not only for the welfare of the animals but for reasons of profitability. We must be honest about that.
The eradication of warble fly has ended great suffering. Animals used to have great warts on their backs, with enormous maggots coming out of them. The animals could be seen chasing up and down in the fields because of the pain caused by the warble flies and their maggots. Warble fly infection is almost a thing of the past because of the use of modern methods and techniques.
I recall the terrible problems of scour and dysentery in pigs and poultry. As a result of modern methods of injection and routine prevention, those are things of the past, and there is less and less suffering for the animals.
Farmers have accepted modern methods in their intensive production, so that animal welfare has been greatly improved and suffering reduced. One never hears a word about such matters from those who are opposed to modern methods of farming. It is very sad that they do not put that side as well.
There is not time for me to go through all the various methods of production but I think that the Government's response is about right. However, there is one area about which I am unhappy, and that is veal production. Animals are enclosed in very small pens and subjected to almost forced feeding. That is wrong and it should be phased out. I see absolutely nothing wrong in feeding a calf individually in a small pen in order to be reared for breeding or fattening later on, but where calves are kept under the intensive method, perhaps without any sunlight, that is totally wrong. It is one area of intensive production that should be curtailed and phased out over a suitable period.
Hon. Members should be careful about how far they go down the road of banning production of poultry in cages or intensive pigmeat production. The consumer would suffer. Prices would rise rapidly. I hope that I cannot be accused of sitting on the fence when I say that there is need to ensure that standards are improved and that they are enforced. I support the National Farmers Union in its call for better inspection and severe penalties for those who abuse the welfare codes. Some of us in agriculture are fed up to the back teeth with criticisms that have been made when a first-class job is being done in feeding this country.
In the past the Government have shown an insufficient readiness to adopt regulations. My view is that regulations are desirable. They define fairly exactly what people can or cannot do. I do not believe that codes are an adequate substitution. A number of practices could be prohibited immediately by the Government. I have in mind beak trimming, except under veterinary supervision, and the practice of withholding food and water from poulty for periods in excess of 24 hours. These practices should be prohibited by regulation.
Those hon. Members who served on the Select Committee were disturbed by the reluctance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to prosecute in appropriate cases. It is not proper to restrict the instrument of prosecution to those cases where wilful disregard can be established. The Ministry should be more ready to prosecute in those cases where there is clear evidence of recklessness or carelessness.
The response of the Government to the Select Committee's report states that persuasion is better than compulsion, but no time limit is placed on persuasion. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There should be more enforcement by the Government and a limit on the period of persuasion, as opposed to compulsion, to try to introduce better conditions for animals.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. I agree with him.
I hope that the House has noted the firm statement in paragraph 3 of the report to the effect that, as a general proposition, further restrictions should not be imposed upon our farmers when they are not imposed on farmers in other EEC countries. The Select Committee had in mind further restrictions that imperil the economic viability of the producer. A number of restrictions could be imposed unilaterally that would not have that effect. Beak trimming is an example. I do not believe that it would be right to change the nature of the farming industry unless restrictions are also imposed in competing EEC countries.
The greatest satisfaction can be derived from the fact that there has been absolute condemnation by hon. Members of the methods of veal calf production in Holland. I do not think that the Dutch will agree to abolish the trade that they have established. We must therefore ensure that it is not carried out in this country.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall be discussing veal production in a moment.
My basic argument is that we should not impose further restrictions on the United Kingdom producer which affect the economic viability of his operation unless similar restrictions are matched in competing countries.
In the end, the House may take an alternative view and decide that we must act unilaterally. I do not share that view, but, if that is the view of the House, it is important for right hon. and hon. Members to face the economic implications, which must be that financial support is given to those farmers who are obliged to produce under less favourable conditions.
There is another aspect to these financial difficulties. Even if we pursue a policy which is designed to match restrictions imposed elsewhere, there will necessarily be a phasing-out period, the effect of which will be to impose upon United Kingdom farmers quite substantial cost burdens. It would be right for a Government of any complexion to appreciate that and to give financial assistance to the farming community to meet those costs.
I support what my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) and for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) said about veal. It is now clear that it is possible to produce veal economically without using the crate method. All members of the Select Committee were satisfied about that. If so, there is a compelling argument for phasing out the crate method as a permitted method of producing veal. I should support it and, if necessary, I should support regulations designed to achieve it.
I am certain that alternative methods of husbandry are available, but the development of those alternatives—for example, to the battery hen system—will be expensive and will require a great deal of research. This is an area to which the Ministry should be prepared to devote more resources than at present.
When sitting on the Select Committee, I had the impression that perhaps animal welfare was not at the forefront of the Ministry's mind. I hope that that is changing.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, but does he not agree that in future we shall need a common welfare policy to look after the interests of animals in the EC?
Yes, I agree, and that was my first proposition. I moved amendments to achieve that when the Select Committee was drafting its report. I suggested that we should not impose restrictions on the United Kingdom farmer which were not matched by similar restrictions in the EC. I should like to see my right hon. and hon. Friends using their collective ingenuity and persuasion to take the lead on these matters in the EC.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) for the way in which he chaired the Select Committee. It was not an easy task. There were diverse views represented on the Committee, and my hon. Friend reconciled those differing views with charm and great courtesy.
Although it is entirely right that society should always take the interests of animals as a primary consideration and impose upon farmers such requirements as can be justified by the criteria of animal welfare, it is also right that the farmer should not be solely responsible for shouldering the costs of adopting standards imposed by the House. If we want to improve animal welfare, as we must, we should also recognise that the farmer has a financial burden to carry, and we in this House, as representatives of our constituents, should be prepared to help in the discharge of that financial burden.
We have had a fascinating debate, and I apologise that I was absent for a short time when I was meeting visitors.
I thank the Select Committee's Chairman, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), for his kind words about me. I am in some difficulty because I served on the Committee for about four months of its deliberations, and I am delighted that my successors did a better job than I would have done had I remained.
The two statutory instruments which are relevant to this debate illustrate the problems of those of us in this House who are concerned with animal welfare. The first instrument, which was laid three days ago, lowers from three months to two months the age at which bulls may be castrated without the use of an anaesthetic. The justification for that is held to be that it brings it in line with the age for sheep and pigs. Can we really accept that it is allowable in this day and age to castrate a bull, a ram or a pig without anaesthetic at two months? To bring the age down from three to two months may be a step in the right direction, but it is not a sufficient answer. The obscene use of rubber rings and other methods should be outlawed as of now. To go for that improvement in the belief that it is sufficient is to delude ourselves.
The second statutory instrument illustrates our other problem. It relates to the requirement that the removal of the snood of a turkey that has reached the age of 21 days and the removal of the comb of a fowl which has reached the age of 72 hours can no longer be carried out by a layman. The operation must now be carried out by a qualified vet. We agree, but why do we so keep turkeys and fowls that it is necessary and desirable to remove the turkey's wattle or snood and the fowl's comb? Is there not a suspicion that our methods of husbandry are forcing us to use vets to perform those operations?
When I raised the matter, I was intrigued to discover from veterinary sources that one of the reasons for removing the snood from the turkey is not just that they fight with each other and that infection may result, but that turkey snoods are highly prone to frostbite, and that wintering turkeys are at risk if they are not removed. A balance has to be drawn between a practice which, at first sight, appears to respond to methods of keeping and something which contains elements which are desirable from the point of view of the good health of the turkey, the fowl, and so on. Such thoughts went through all the proceedings of the Select Committee.
I totally agree with the Committee that the rearing of veal in crates is objectionable. Those hon. Members who made an enjoyable visit to Normandy will never forget the obscenity of that vast veal house where British calves which had been subjected to inhumane transportation, had their noses stuffed for the few poor months of their lives into plastic buckets with the bottoms taken out and fed on nothing but slops, not allowed to lie down, turn round or do anything. Three years later one still revolts at the fact that we are prepared to allow that to happen.
I am appalled at the close tethering of breeding sows. It is clear that the bullying between breeding sows can create difficulties. However, as has been pointed out and as we saw, the unnatural behaviour induced by overdose tethering is more repulsive than the injuries induced by natural behaviour, however unlikely and unpleasant we find that. Therefore, I strongly recommend the Government to reconsider their response to the close tethering of breeding sows.
The Parliamentary Secretary and I debated the Committee's proposals for battery hens some months ago. It would not be proper to remind the House about the relationship between the size of the Dispatch Box and a battery cage. It is clear that the overwhelming will of the House corresponds with that of the Select Committee. The sooner we stop keeping hens in batteries in order to produce eggs the better. There would be overwhelming support for it. Let us set a date for that as soon as possible.
There is evidence that other methods can be used to supply the needs of the British egg consumer and that other provisions can be made to protect the economic livelihood of the British egg producer. That will be possible—here the Government's response is weakest —only if the Government show their will by spending money on research into alternative methods and the dissemination of its results. Unless that is done, British egg producers will not be able to fulfil demands at a reasonable price. Alternative methods would render it unnecessary to use an area equivalent to the county of Berkshire to produce eggs.
With the exception of the hon. Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills), the Minister may find herself a little short of people who believe that the Government's response to the Select Committee report is the finest document to emerge from the Government. It omits any comment on three quarters of the Select Committee's recommendations. They are simply ignored. Comments on other points are at best half-hearted and far too frequently antagonistic.
A difficulty arises when one considers the Government's response in paragraphs 19 to 21 on research and what the Government have done to the grants for the Agricultural Research Council. Paragraph 20 states:
The Government recognise that research in the welfare field is important both in itself and because it contributes towards the shaping of animal welfare standards which may be set in Europe in the future.
If they believe that, why reduce the expenditure in real terms on the Agricultural Research Council so that it is inhibited from doing what the Government accept in their response? Paragraph 25 states on poultry:
The Government do not believe that there exists at present any alternative system which has been tested on a substantial scale and has been shown to have welfare benefits sufficient to Justify its exclusive adoption at the expense of battery cages.
At no point in the Select Committee was there a proposal that a specific alternative should be adopted exclusively. Therefore, the argument that that could not be done exclusively, meaning that nothing could be done, gets a little thin. The Government's response is niggardly, insufficient and has taken too long to be brought to the House for debate.
I come to my final remarks to give the Parliamentary Secretary the longest possible time to reply because I know that many hon. Members will want to question her. If any of her replies hint that the Government are hiding behind the skirts of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, that will be unacceptable. If one sets up a group of persons to advise on welfare matters because of their known excellence, it is curious that, having received their advice, one returns for more consultations, as a means of delaying the making of unpalatable political decisions.
I fear that too often the Farm Animal Welfare Council's views are put through the ginder and put out for further consultation not because there is a technical or physical problem but because the Government want to make a delayed political decision that might be unpalatable.
I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is not here. I commend to the Minister his comments on food labelling. He said that the welfare of animals would benefit if there was pressure for the method of production of food to be part of the necessary labelling procedures. In the Select Committee I listened to my hon. Friend's views with sympathy. He made a closely argued point about differential taxation between intensive methods and extensive agriculture. The Government's response to that is wholly inadequate.
It was a great privilege and an enjoyable experience to serve on the Select Committee. A recent seminal paper was given by one of our specialist advisers, Professor Spedding, which was published in the Veterinary Record on thinking about animal welfare. I recommend strongly that the Minister should take the earliest opportunity, if she has not already done so, to read the paper. With the Select Committee report, which we wholly endorse, it makes one think much more deeply about the nature of the problems and their solutions.
This has been an extremely interesting and wide-ranging debate, which has included some matters a little outside the Select Committee's report. That is hardly surprising in view of the thorough and stimulating report that the Committee prepared on animal welfare in poultry, pig and veal calf production.
Several hon. Members have congratulated the Committee and its Chairman on the report, and I was glad to receive the report, which was one of the first documents on my desk when I was appointed last year. I should like to make some general remarks before I reply to specific points raised by hon. Members.
When the Government came into power in 1979 they came, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) said, with a manifesto commitment to update the Brambell report and the welfare codes of recommendations for farm animals. We are well on the way towards fulfilling that obligation.
One of the first acts of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, together with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, was to set up the Farm Animal Welfare Council with the greatest possible remit to keep under review the welfare of farm animals and to advise Ministers of any legislative or other changes that might be necessary. I refute the comments made by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) that the Government were hiding behind the council's skirts or deliberately delaying action upon the matters it placed before us.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council has been a valuable source of independent advice to Ministers. I am delighted that three or four of its members have sat through today's debate. We were pleased to note the support for the council's work which was contained in the Select Committee's report. Last year the council advised Ministers of the need to control certain mutilations of farm animals and on revisions to the welfare code recommendations on pigs and cattle which were last revised and published with the authority of Parliament in 1971.
We have made and laid this week two of the statutory instruments to which the hon. Member for Durham has referred. They implement part of the council's mutilations report. We hope to lay soon the drafts of two further statutory instruments, which will complete the implementation of the mutilations report. We hope also to lay soon draft revisions for the welfare codes for pigs and cattle, which will incorporate many of the Committee's recommendations. The Farm Animal Welfare Council is working on a number of other matters which will, no doubt, emerge as I deal with points raised by hon. Members.
Will some similar order be laid to stop the terrible inflictions of cruelty on veal calves that my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) enumerated in his speech when live animals are sent to the Continent to be tortured?. Would it not be more humane for them to be slaughtered at the point nearest to production?
I shall deal with the transport of live animals, which includes veal calves. The codes will also cover that aspect.
Internationally, we have wholeheartedly supported the work of the standing committee under the European convention on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. We have pursued with vigour a European agreement on minimum standards for laying hens kept in battery cages.
The Government welcome the Agriculture Committee report as a wide-ranging and careful consideration of an area in which there are many pitfalls for the uninformed and a great deal of scope for argument, even among experts. It is easy to criticise battery rearing and sow stalls but less easy to decide what should be done. As individuals and as a society we have a responsibility to the animals in our care, but we must not make simplistic or hurried judgments. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), in a fascinating contribution, and other hon.
Members, made the point about balance and avoiding simplistic or hurried judgments. As the Committee stated, before condemning particular husbandry systems out of hand,
it is wise to think carefully about what is likely to replace them and to be reasonably confident that the remedy will not be worse than the disease.
The Government endorse the Committee's view that judgments about animal welfare should be based on as much scientific knowledge as possible and on full consideration of all available evidence, taking account of the economic consequences for producers and consumers before imposing new welfare requirements.
When I come to deal with the research that is being undertaken it will be clear that we believe in research into alternatives to be applied throughout Europe.
We shall continue to do our best and considering alternative systems is part of that process. We agree with the Agriculture Committee that it is as well to ensure that any replacement for battery systems is a positive improvement. The Commission has called for a report on research in Europe by the end of 1983. In that way, I hope that we can refute the comments that the situation is ongoing and indefinite. It is positive and urgent.
I may not go through the points raised in the order in which they were raised but I hope to cover them all. Mutilations have been mentioned and I am sure that all hon. Members are familiar with the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council concerning the need to control certain forms of mutilation. Two orders are before the House today and two more statutory instruments will be laid in draft form shortly. That will conclude the council's recommendations.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Hudson Davies) comes from a farming family. I tried to write down his words and I hope that he will forgive me if I do not quote him, but I think that he said that people in Britain probably looked after their farm animals better than most nations but that that, rightly, was no reason for complacency. He also asked whether compensation would be paid to producers if systems change. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) also mentioned that. However, it would be unwise to suggest that there could be such compensation and the answer to that question is likely to be "No". The hon. Member for Caerphilly and other hon. Members referred to the funds for research into animal welfare. It is difficult to give a precise figure, because much of the livestock research has a welfare dimension. Page 366 of the Select Committee's report shows that 19 per cent. of MAFF poultry commissions with the Agricutural Research Council were directly related to welfare and that 60 per cent. of the pig commissions were directly related to welfare. That is a fairly high percentage. Since then, more work has been commissioned. However, if he wishes, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with the exact details.
I shall not reiterate the deep appreciation, felt on both sides of the House, of the work of the Chairman of the Select Committee. He referred first to veal. That exercises and concerns many hon. Members and members of the public. Veal consumption in Britain is fairly low and much of the meat is imported. However, we agree with many of the Select Committee's comments on veal production. The use of crates has rapidly declined in favour of loose housing systems and it is estimated that about 90 per cent. of systems for raising veal do not use such crates. There will shortly be new codes saying that the width of the pen for a single penned animal should not be less than the animal's height at the withers, and that effectively rules out crates.
My hon. Friend has just made the important point that 90 per cent of veal produced in this country is not produced by the crated system. We must assume, therefore, that it is economic to produce it in other ways, in which case there should be no difficulty in getting those who currently use the crated system to transfer to a more humane system, with the crated system going out of existence.
I have tried to make it clear that the code will effectively remove the use of crates.
A number of hon. Members referred to the importance of stockmanship. I appreciate that if they wished to change an ill-advised system they would not regard stockmanship, good or bad, as relevant, but the proposed revisions of the welfare codes reflect the importance of good stockmanship.
The need for adequate training is fully appreciated. It is, first, the responsibility of the employer, but excellent courses are run by the agricultural training board and the National Proficiency Tests Council, and my officials have discussions with both bodies to consider whether and, if so, how training should take further account of the needs of welfare.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) mentioned Gleadthorpe, which houses the aviary system. The first year of trials has been completed and the aviary house is being modified in the light of experience. There have been some problems in the first year. I observed on a visit there that it was not unknown for chickens to peck off each other's feathers, which I found a little disturbing. However, we are persevering with that work and with investigations of other systems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) mentioned getaway cages. I understand that work on those cages at Celle in Germany has run into problems, but much research into battery hens is being done throughout Europe. We can cover large areas of research and get together to discuss the results.
I can give hon. Members an idea of the scope of the researches into battery hens. Investigations are being conducted into the social space around a laying hen, trials are taking place on the effect of group size and social space on egglayers in deep and shallow cages and a study is under way into the effects of rearing conditions on the behaviour and production of laying hens kept in battery cages and on litter.
Other work includes a study of the behaviour of laying hens in the aviary system, an assessment of getaway cages for laying hens, investigations into nest site selection by the domestic fowl and investigations into feelings of the domestic fowl and improvements of poultry cage design. Research is taking place into an aviary system at the North of Scotland college of agriculture and into a free-range system at the West of Scotland college of agriculture, and projects on straw yards and deep litter systems are planned to start next year.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) referred to research and the hon. Member for Durham suggested that any change in the amount of money available for research would affect animal welfare. Ir this context, I am able to tell the House that, despite real problems about overall research resources, within the total we are increasing the amount spent on animal welfare research. I think that hon. Members will agree that that is a proper allocation of resources within the total.
I am pleased that the Minister is increasing the money available for animal welfare research. That is certainly good. Is she, however, robbing Peter to pay Paul, so that other sections will suffer a diminution in research, which might be a bad thing? Would it not be better to increase and certainly not to cut the money available for such vital research?
Within the allocation, we are increasing the money spent on animal welfare research because we are assessing priorities within the allocation. Our insistence upon obtaining overall European codes means that we are helped tremendously by having the results of research in the other Common Market countries.
So far as I am aware, the money spent on animal welfare research within the total will be increased. My hon. Friend the Members for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and for Gillingham have considerable reputations in the House for care for animals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Drake referred to research, I hope that she will regard the increased amount to be spent on animal welfare research within the total as a proper response to a priority.
A number of hon. Members referred to prosecutions and stressed the fact that codes are not regulations. In fact, the Farm Animal Welfare Council is currently examining the matter to see which points in the code it would recommend for regulations. Having set up the council, and regarding its advice as extremely good, I hope that that will reassure those hon. Members who take the view that codes are not wholly satisfactory.
In this context, I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Caerphilly and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton express their belief that the number of prosecutions was not the most important aspect, although I take the point made by those who believe that the number of prosecutions is evidence that inspections are being properly carried out. Here I draw attention to two recent cases, one of which was reported in The Times only last week and in which the defendant was banned from keeping sheep for life. There may not be many prosecutions, but I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton that persuasion, advice and guidance are extremely important in securing animal welfare.
I am heartened to learn that the Farm Animal Welfare Council will consider which codes of practice can be turned into regulations. I would be reassured if my hon. Friend could give an undertaking today that the Government intend to translate the council's recommendations into action.
I must see the recommendations first. I know that my hon. Friend will not expect me to answer a hypothesis. She has been a politician for too long to expect that. The council has examined the codes and is trying to decide which should be turned into regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) referred to taxation. It is interesting that the Select Committee was not convinced that tax advantages were a decisive factor in the adoption of intensive methods. The Committee merely invited the Government to keep that aspect of financial policy in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham raised several important and interesting points. He asked whether the halting of exports of cows and calves, which was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment, had been carried out. I am happy to tell him that that was done within weeks of the 1979 general election. He asked about the movement of horses. The minimum export values for live horses and ponies are regularly reviewed and uprated when necessary. The arrangement effectively prevents the export of horses for slaughter.
It is a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) is not in the Chamber, because of a constituency engagement. He was distressed about the movement of horses in the European Community. I emphasise the need to ensure that there are improvements not only in Britain but throughout Europe.
We have certainly pushed in the Community for improvements in many of the areas raised by the Select Committee, especially with regard to battery hens. We want to obtain standards similar to those in Britain. Not only is it better to secure the wider removal of ill-treatment, it is economically right for our farming system. Competition should not be distorted by differences in the behaviour of different countries.
Several hon. Members referred to the behaviour of pigs in intensive systems. Research and development are being undertaken through a number of projects which study the behaviour and husbandry systems of pigs. Pig behaviour and alternative husbandry systems are being studied at the East of Scotland college of agriculture. There is an alternative system for sow housing and feeding at Newcastle university. The North of Scotland college of agriculture is studying environmental design for piglet protection. I hope that the several research and development projects will convince hon. Members that alternative systems are being researched not only in Britain but in many other European countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham referred to welfare visits, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Grantham and for Thirsk and Malton in their interventions. All ADAS officers are required to watch for animal welfare pointers, but they make specific welfare visits and make reports, often of a monitoring nature, so that they can observe, after advice and guidance have been given, that it is followed.