I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
We move on to what could be called the second half of the Committee—Labour’s animal welfare Bill. I suspect that there will be a division on new clause 7, which is about pigs. Schedule 8 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 allows female pigs to be kept in small metal crates for the period beginning seven days before the predicted day of their farrowing and ending when the weaning of the pigs is complete—a process that lasts around four weeks. This clause would put an end to the use of those sow farrowing crates.
Compassion in World Farming tells us that every year, over 200,000 sows are subjected to this procedure, the purpose of which is to try to reduce the risk of the sow lying on and crushing her new-born piglets. We acknowledge that that is clearly a problem for farmers. However, as a result of their seeking to achieve that aim, sows are forced to spend weeks in stalls, unable to turn around. Alongside the crate in the pen is a creep area for the sow’s piglets. The piglets are able to reach the sow to suckle, but she is unable to clean and interact with them.
Farrowing crates are also a major concern because they prevent sows from building their nests. Even if nest-building material is provided—sadly, that does not always happen—sows do not have room to build them. Not allowing sows to behave naturally can make them frustrated and stressed, and the sow is more likely to savage the piglets in farrowing crate systems. I do not think there is much dispute anywhere about the desire to find a way forward on this issue.
Alternatives to farrowing crates, many of them designed by British farmers and engineers, are already commercially available in the UK. We should support British ingenuity and pig welfare by requiring the use of these higher-welfare systems. Labour has long been committed to ending the cage age and banning sow farrowing crates, and many others from across the political spectrum are committed to the cause—including, it would seem, the Prime Minister, who claimed in the Chamber that as a result of Brexit, we would be now able to introduce such a ban. The issue was very close to the heart of Sir David Amess, who earlier this year brought forward a private Member’s Bill, the Pig Husbandry (Farrowing) Bill, that sought to ban the use of farrowing crates.
However, I am also mindful of the challenges facing pig producers, particularly at the moment. I have spoken about this frequently in recent months, and have urged the Government to give swifter assistance. As we speak, the culling of healthy pigs continues on farms, because despite the welcome announcements a few weeks ago, neither the temporary visa scheme nor the private storage scheme has yet come into effect. Sadly, it may be mid-December before the 800 skilled pork butchers arrive, and in reality, help may not come before the new year, so the situation remains very serious.
We will press the new clause to a vote, and are signalling our intention to bring in a ban when in government, but I reassure the industry that we will work closely with it to make sure that a ban is introduced in a way that does not damage the industry. We all want higher standards. This goes to the heart of the trade debate. There is no point imposing higher animal welfare standards here if the suffering, and the industry, is merely exported elsewhere. The Government have repeatedly told us that we should trust them on not allowing lower-standard food products to be imported. Frankly, we do not, but if we take them at their word, the amendment should not create a problem. I suspect many Government Back Benchers are not entirely persuaded either.
I note that the Government’s action plan for animal welfare says they
“are currently considering the case for introducing further reforms, on areas such as the use of farrowing crates for pigs”.
Here is their opportunity. It is time to move on and end the suffering caused by farrowing crates.
The hon. Gentleman, with whom I remember discussing this issue at some length during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, will know that we are very much of one mind on this issue. My difficulty is that the new clause would cause an immediate ban.
The Government’s action plan on animal welfare said that we are considering the case for further reforms in this area. Our stated aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary. We want any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets, but an immediate ban on the use of farrowing crates for sows without full consideration of the implications for animal welfare and the pig sector would have a significant impact on the industry. We spoke to Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, earlier this week. She said:
“To suggest an immediate ban”, as the hon. Gentleman suggests,
“on the use of farrowing crates would be the final straw for the majority of indoor producers and would trigger a mass exodus from the pig sector, thus exporting production to countries with lower welfare standards. Far better to work with the sector on a longer term transition, which we have already begun.”
Some 60% of UK sows are kept indoors and use farrowing crates, so moving overnight entirely to free-farrowing systems would require a fundamental change for pig producers, and significant investment. I am keen to ensure we have a realistic phasing-out period that is sustainable for the industry, so that we can achieve the welfare goals shared by Members from across the House. I do not consider this Bill to be the appropriate delivery mechanism, so I cannot support the new clause, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
The Minister is absolutely right: we sat here two years ago and had exactly the same conversation. The question is: when? That is the problem. I do not disagree with Zoe. I will speak to her about this in a few days’ time. I have made it absolutely clear that we would not make this change without working with the industry to ensure that the dangers the Minister mentioned, of which we are all aware, do not come to pass. This animal welfare Bill is an opportunity to take a stand. That is why we will put the new clause to a vote.