New Clause 27 - Rearing of non-native game birds: review and consultation

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 18 November 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must—

(a) undertake a review of the welfare impacts of the rearing and keeping of non-native gamebirds,

(b) examine the use of cages in the rearing and keeping of non-native gamebirds, and

(c) consult on regulation of rearing and keeping of non-native gamebirds.

(2) The Secretary of State must publish a summary of responses to the consultation under sub-section (1)(b).

(3) The Secretary of State must, no later than three months from the day on which the consultation under subsection (2) closes, publish a statement of future policy on the rearing and keeping of non-native game birds.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the welfare impacts of the rearing and keeping of non-native gamebirds.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

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

You will be glad to hear, Mr Davies, that this is our final new clause. I return to an issue that has long been a focus of Labour’s work on animal welfare as part of ending the cage age. New clause 27 seeks to establish a review of the rearing of non-native game birds, with a particular focus on the welfare of the birds and the use of cages.

I am advised that around 50 million pheasants and partridges are mass produced in the UK every year to be used for sporting purposes. I am grateful to the Labour Animal Welfare Society for commissioning its recent report from Professor Stephen Harris—it makes for fairly grim reading. Animal Aid estimates that tens of thousands of partridges and pheasants are confined in cages in England. It argues that the birds inside these cages suffer from feather loss, scalping and injuries inflicted by their stressed cage mates. It also reports that birds may have masks and other devices fitted to try to stop them inflicting injuries, and that large numbers of breeding birds are confined for most of their lives in so-called raised laying cages, which are left outside and exposed to the elements.

Such practices clearly pose significant welfare concerns for the game birds involved. The current code of practice for the welfare of game birds reared for sporting purposes is not legally binding. I am told that the code was due to be reviewed in 2016, but apparently that did not take place. The Minister has indicated in responses to parliamentary questions, however, that the Government are examining the use of cages for the breeding of partridges and pheasants—a lot of examining is going on in the Department. I am in no doubt that every member of the Committee wants to ensure that we end the suffering of kept animals. It really is time to end the cage age.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is true that a lot of examining of evidence is going on, but that cannot be portrayed as a bad thing. I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam for science-led policy making. We want action as well. That is why I said slightly tongue in cheek earlier that we get criticised when the hon. Member for Cambridge feels we are going too quickly, but then we get criticised when he feels we are going too slowly.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I know you do, Mr Davies. You are quite right—I do not know about the hon. Member for Cambridge.

As we are coming to the end of these proceedings—I hope, pleasurable though they have been—it is right that we accept that, yes, there is a lot to do in the area of animal welfare, but, yes, a lot is being done. We should take this opportunity to step back and to think of the poor people working in the animal welfare team in DEFRA, who are doing all this work, as well as those in the Public Gallery from the Bill team and those offline who drafted the Bill. Yes, animal welfare legislation is difficult. It requires evidence and it requires us to work out what would help and where, and what can be done in other ways through guidance or whatever.

Turning to the new clause, we are already reviewing how to improve game bird welfare, including examining the evidence on the use of cages for breeding pheasants and partridges. As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, we have a statutory code, in section 6 of which are set out the standards, including that enriched cages are a minimum. Breaches of the code may be used in a prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It is right that we review the situation periodically, and the plan is to do just that. We already have the power to make regulations in this area when we have the scientific evidence to inform future policy. I therefore ask that the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister, and delighted to get her cross at last—it is hard to make her cross. I hear what she said but, equally, I hope she heard what I said. We are moving to a different age, a different world, and while I absolutely want it to be evidence-based, there is a feeling in many parts of this country that we ought to move more quickly on these issues. In the interests of getting this done, we will not press the new clause to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I beg to move amendment 82, title, line 2, at end insert “; and for connected purposes.”

The amendment updates the long title of the Bill.

I thank you, Mr Davies, all Members who have taken part in the Committee, and the Clerks’ team and others who have worked so hard to get us to this stage of this important legislation.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr Davies. I echo those thanks. I also thank Government and Opposition Members. It has been a constructive and helpful discussion, conducted in good spirits. I, too, thank the Clerks, who often have the impossible task of translating our ideas into appropriate and acceptable parliamentary language. I thank all the organisations we have heard from, the witnesses and my team—particularly George Williams, who has had to do all this pretty much on his own.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

That is not a point of order, but it was a point of thanks.

Amendment 82 agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

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