New Clause 15 - Welfare of gamebird laying stock

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 26th January 2006.

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‘(1)The person responsible for an animal to which this section applies commits an offence if the animal is kept otherwise than in accordance with this section.

(2)An enclosure in which any pheasant is kept for the purpose of producing eggs must be of a kind which provides a minimum of one square metre of floor surface area per bird.

(3)Pheasants shall only be kept in a laying pen described in subsection (2) for up to a maximum of six months in any one year.

(4)After the laying period, pheasants which are not released into the wild must be moved to a separate enclosure which provides a minimum floor surface area of two square metres per bird.

(5)An enclosure in which any partridge is kept for the purpose of producing eggs must—

(a)be of a kind traditionally used for the keeping of partridges (commonly known as a partridge box), and

(b)provide a floor surface area of no less than 0.55 square metres per bird.

(6)Partridges shall only be kept in a box as described in subsection (5) for a maximum of six months in any one year.

(7)After the laying period, partridges which are not released into the wild must be moved to a separate enclosure which provides a minimum floor surface area of one square metre per bird.’.—[Paddy Tipping.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

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

I am pleased and somewhat relieved to have the opportunity to speak to this new clause. The issue has attracted a great deal of interest in the shooting press recently. I am delighted that the RSPCA and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation have worked together on the new clause. It has a good deal of, but not universal, support.

There is growing concern in this country about the use of intensive rearing practices and battery cages. The evidence relating to poultry suggests that overcrowding of birds can lead to stress and aggressive behaviour. That is one issue, but there is a wider issue for the shooting industry, which promotes its product as being free, natural and a valuable food source. That contrasts sharply with intensive rearing practices.

The new clause makes a stab at laying down minimum cage spaces: different ones for pheasant and partridge. I am not confident that the areas specified are the right size. The League Against Cruel Sports and Animal Aid support the general thrust of the new clause but argue that greater space is necessary. It is absolutely clear that we need greater research into the issue. I have had a helpful letter from the Game Conservancy Trust, an excellent body that does very valuable work. It suggests that it would like to be involved in research on the matter and also argues for the involvement of the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

I am pretty confident that the Minister will say that a code of practice will be introduced. I want to inform the debate on that code of practice and ask the Minister whether, in the run-up to the publication of the code, the necessary research can be carried out. One of the interesting aspects of the Bill is that it has proved a vehicle by which people with different views and interests have come together and begun a debate. Although there are important issues in the Bill, and to come in regulation, its true strength is that it will prove to be a catalyst and focus for debate, bringing together bodies that have traditionally held different views. I welcome it.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I should emphasise, as some hon. Members know, that I am not only a long-standing member of the BASC but a member of the Game Conservancy Trust council. Both positions are non-pecuniary, but I wanted to make that clear in the interests of transparency.

As the hon. Member for Sherwood said, there has been a lot of discussion about these issues for the past year or two, stemming from a video taken by Animal Aid of one or two game farms in the UK. It is important to emphasise that those cages were in conflict with the game farmers’ own code of practice, which has been published. If the Government were later to adopt the Game Farmers Association’s voluntary code as the statutory code, the farmers in the video who were using those cages would be open to prosecution under clause 8.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Rt Hon Alun Michael, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Of the game farms in this country, how many are estimated to be using cages that could be illegal?

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

For the benefit of the hon. Lady, I can say that it is estimated to be about six. I emphasise that the Game Farmers Association does not necessarily support this system, but it does exist. It has therefore developed its own code, which involves a system of enriched cages. That is why I said that the cages in the video would have been outwith the code.

Secondly, the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Sherwood—he and I agree on many of these matters, but I take slight issue with him on this—refers to the figures. He accepted that he does not know whether they are correct. They are figures that I am afraid the BASC has distorted in its campaign, because they relate to the square meterage for pens and are figures that the Game Conservancy Trust put forward some 30 years ago for a different rearing system for pheasants. That was for pens on the ground.

Raised cages, where the birds are on a wire floor, are a very different housing system, because clearly the birds will not be in mud or in their own faeces, so the issue of square meterage is completely different. The BASC was wrong only in translating a recommendation for an open pen on the ground to a cage. The second aspect of that, as I said, is that the figures are 30 years old and, frankly, were not based on much science at the time. They were the general practice and were reckoned to be all right, but that was a long while ago and it is time they were updated.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the Game Conservancy Trust has written to the Government asking that this matter be referred to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Incidentally, the Game Farmers Association has written direct to FAWC asking it to consider the issue. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that at this stage the Minister will say that, when he comes to develop a code, he will work with the whole shooting industry—not just with the BASC, which on this issue is on its own—and will make a commitment today to refer the matter to FAWC. When the statutory regulations are made we will then all be able to see independent advice from those appointed to   look at this issue, so that we can reach a conclusion on the basis of up-to-date scientific knowledge. I believe that all the rural community would support that.

I emphasise that we are talking about laying birds, not about rearing birds. I personally do not like the idea of keeping the latter in cages for the reason mentioned by the hon. Member for Sherwood—I believe that the shooting community should work more closely to nature than that—but we should base our decisions on expert information and scientific research. If the Minister can assure us today that he will refer the matter to FAWC, I will be very pleased.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The Government are sympathetic to the amendment’s purposes and share the concerns expressed over the use of barren, raised cages. I have said on the record several times myself that most people find it difficult to understand that a practice that we have banned for poultry we still allow for game birds.

I will certainly reflect on the suggestion that the hon. Gentleman has just made. As game birds are not considered to be farmed animals, I ask myself whether the matter would be within FAWC’s remit. I have just been advised that it is a borderline matter, but that does not mean that I should not discuss with FAWC whether it could take the matter into its remit. I should like the codes to be based on the best possible scientific advice. If that requires further research, the commissioning of research or drawing on other countries’ research, I should be happy to facilitate that.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I suggest to the Minister that there is probably enough ministerial discretion for FAWC to look into the matter. This may sound like special pleading; it is not meant to. If he comes to the conclusion that FAWC cannot consider it, he might consider formally requesting the Game Conservancy Trust, which is widely accepted to be an expert in that field, to carry out the research. It has not done so for more than 30 years, and we need that scientific evidence.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I appreciate that, and there is one other thing that hon. Members may wish to consider: game birds are not farmed animals, so they are not subject to EU legislation. I am concerned to try to avoid an uneven playing field in the EU, whereby we ban a practice or introduce a regulation in this country which stops a practice that continues on the continent, allowing the cheaper breeding and export of young birds that could damage our game-rearing industry. We have formally asked the Commission to look into that whole area, so that we can try to ensure that whatever happens, it happens on an EU-wide basis. Following those comments, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood will not press the motion.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and for the helpful comments from the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. The Minister is right to argue that an EU dimension is needed. One driver for such cages is imports from   France, where the system is used. I am also keen to stress that further research is needed, and that science should inform a code of practice. The Minister has picked up on that point.

There is a case for FAWC considering the matter. The Minister has influence over it, and I hope that he will talk to it and others with expertise in the area. The shooting industry and animal welfare organisations jointly want to make progress, and the Minister has made it clear that he wants to make progress, too. Given that, I am delighted to beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I said to the Committee at the beginning of our sittings that I was a Standing Committee virgin, so I hope that I have not got this wrong; however, I think it falls to me to offer some formal thanks at the end of our sittings. Thanks first to you, Mr. Gale, for the excellent way in which you have chaired and kept us moving along nicely, so that we should just hit our deadline. Many thanks also to your fellow Chair, Mrs. Humble, to the Hansard note takers, to my officials, who work very hard, to the Front-Bench spokesmen from the Opposition parties and to all members of the Committee.

It has been a constructive and pleasurable initiation—for me anyway. I thank the people in the Public Gallery, too, some of whom have sat through almost as much of this Committee as we have, if not all of it. It has been a great pleasure, and we look forward to debating the Bill on Report.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May I add my comments to those of the Minister? It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. You have gone the extra mile to ensure that the Committee has done its job properly and effectively. It has been a pleasure to serve under Mrs. Humble, too, although she did dock—to use a term—one of my interventions early on. Apart from that, she has done a fantastic job, and I am sure that she was absolutely right to dock me.

This Committee has been very important. I have done many Bills, and it is most helpful when the Minister takes seriously the efforts to which all Committee members go to ensure that their amendments are helpful, constructive, and constructed in a way that is both useful to the Government and makes sense. I am grateful for the fact that when I asked the Minister on Second Reading not to become entrenched, he did not become so. He took all our amendments seriously and he also agreed to reconsider a lot of difficult areas, for which I am most grateful.

It is not much fun tabling 100 amendments and then having to withdraw them one by one. Everybody will have gone through that at some stage. It has been helpful to have a Minister who is prepared to listen and to go away and reconsider matters, but who has also been extremely firm in his decision making. He must be congratulated on that. I know that this is his first   Committee in this role and I look forward to serving opposite him in future if the opportunity arises. He has done a good job, but he has a lot of work still to do. That just leaves me to point to the Whip and say, “Look how much time we are going to need on Report, because there are an awful lot of important issues that we need to discuss.”

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

At least.

I also want to thank all my colleagues on the Opposition Benches for their efforts. They have fought a valiant fight, whether it be for greyhounds or for any other facet of the Bill. I am most grateful for their support. As a Committee, we have done exactly what we are meant to do. We have considered every ounce of detail in the Bill and done our best to improve it. We have made some progress in some areas. I congratulate the Minister on his first Bill and thank the Chairs and all the other people, from the Clerk to the police, who have worked so hard to make this the best possible Bill for animal welfare.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I heard mention of two days for the Report stage—and that is just for the hon. Member for Cleethorpes. I look forward to a full allocation of time on that occasion.

Thank you for your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. It is always helpful to have somebody in the Chair who understands the issues and who chairs sittings well. You have done that and it has been immensely helpful. I thank the Minister and the hon. Member for   Leominster for the helpful way in which they have undertaken their duties. It helped that there was a common purpose across the Committee: we all had the same objective in the end. We might have disagreed on how to get there, but we all wanted the same end, which has been useful.

It has been a pleasure to serve on a Committee in which, almost for the first time, Government Back Benchers have made major and significant contributions. Sometimes that does not happen. The fact that it happened on this occasion was helpful and made the discussions more worth while. It is a pity that we have not had the votes from Government Members, but we have had the arguments and I look forward to their being followed through on Report.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Happily none of those comments is a matter for the Chair. I express my appreciation, on my own behalf and that of Mrs. Humble, to the Committee for the courtesy and good humour with which matters have been conducted. I often feel that it is a shame that people outside this place see the bear garden that is the Chamber on occasions and few people see the real work being done in Committees such as this. Thank you to each and every member of the Committee and my congratulations to the Minister on his first Bill. Thanks also to those hon. Members who have been serving on a Bill Committee for the first time. I thank the staff and Officers of the House, without whom we could not possibly do the job that we are required to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at twelve minutes to Four o’clock.