I congratulate Kerry McCarthy on leading this debate on the second petition we are considering today, and on the detail of her speech. I commend her for what she said and I agree with her completely. Science has shown that animals have the capacity to feel and have emotions, as was made clear in the previous debate, and it is vital that the UK Government recognise that.
I wish to pay tribute to Compassion in World Farming. The day before we left the European Union, I was in Brussels and I went to the Compassion in World Farming headquarters to discuss various issues. It does a first-class job. At last week’s dinner, which the hon. Member for Bristol East hosted, I was very impressed with the chief executive who explained how the organisation started, which was as a result of farmers. When the hon. Lady said that farmers do love animals, she was absolutely right. Many of them are what we could describe as big softies, so I do not think it is the House’s intention today to bully them. Great progress has been made but, as ever, I want them go further.
There is huge support on the issue. Without wishing to put too much pressure on my hon. Friend the Minister, the aspirations of more than 100,000 people will or will not be met, depending on how she responds to this debate. Like many colleagues, I am appalled by the cruel conditions in which millions of farm animals throughout the world are kept: in cramped and restricted cages, preventing them from performing their natural behaviours, and causing extreme frustration and suffering.
Pigs, hens and game birds are kept in cages that confine and restrict their movements. Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation figures show that there are currently 500,000 sows in the UK and 50% of them are in cages. Sows are placed in farrowing crates to limit their movements when giving birth, as has been said. In the following weeks, the metal frame means that they cannot turn around and can scarcely move backwards or forwards. The crates have been banned in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, and we must implement a ban here now. It is unacceptable that animals have to endure such horrendous conditions.
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation has called for a ban on farrowing crates. The use of farrowing crates is allowed and they are used routinely in the rest of the EU, except in the countries I have mentioned. However, there are commercially available free farrowing systems such as 360°, PigSAFE, and SWAP, which are acceptable alternatives. The foundation calls for a ban on farrowing crates that severely restrict the sow’s movement and her strong instinct to build a nest before giving birth—I do not know how many colleagues recognise that a pig tries to build a nest before giving birth. The farrowing crate is a small metal cage in which pregnant sows are imprisoned for weeks on end, usually from a week before giving birth until the piglets are weaned three to four weeks later. The sow is subjected to that treatment roughly twice a year.
The metal frame of the crate is just centimetres bigger than the sow’s body and severely restricts her movements. She is completely unable to turn around, can scarcely take a step forward or backward, and frequently rubs against the bars when standing up and lying down. Beside her cage is a creep area for her piglets. The flooring is hard concrete and some form of heating—mats or, more commonly, heat lamps—is used as a substitute for the warmth of the mother’s body. That really is not acceptable. Can parliamentarians imagine being imprisoned in a metal crate for weeks on end, unable to see the sun, feel a blade of grass or turn around? It is cruel beyond belief, which is why I support Compassion in World Farming.
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation also feels strongly about cages for egg-laying birds. My wife insists that when we go shopping, we purchase free-range eggs. Caging egg-laying birds causes immense suffering. Cages confine and restrict the hens’ movement. They prohibit many of an animal’s natural instincts, and they are a grim reflection on our society. Despite the obvious failings of these miserable cage systems, around 16 million farm animals are trapped in them every year in the United Kingdom.
We need a kinder future for animals. As someone who has kept chickens in reasonably large numbers in an urban area—I do not know whether the neighbours were always pleased about it—I know one can become very fond of one’s hen. Could I wring a chicken’s neck? It just would not happen. They are wonderful animals. I hope we can persuade the small minority of the farming community to stop keeping them in such a cruel manner.
Luxembourg has already banned the use of enriched cages—I know it is only a small country—and Austria and Germany are beginning to phase them out. In conclusion, in response to the petition on this issue last year—in fact, I think I chaired the proceedings and that the then Minister is now in the other place—the Government highlighted that cage bans have already been introduced where there is clear evidence that they are detrimental to the welfare of animals. Science shows us that the caging of animals is cruel and inhumane. Will the Minister reply positively and tell us that over a period, these outdated practices will be banned?