§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I beg to move, That the order for consideration of the Bill be discharged and the Bill be withdrawn.
I owe you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House an explanation for this action. I also owe it to the many thousands of people who have supported the Bill, not least the pig farmers who have campaigned for a long time for changes in the law because of the disrepute into which certain types of pig farmers have brought that sector of the industry.
This week, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food published regulations on pig husbandry.
During the past day or so, I have had the opportunity to read the draft, and I could find no differences of any consequence between those regulations and my Bill. Indeed, the regulations are largely the same as my Bill, almost word for word, in all its important parts. I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for what they have done—it is quite notable.
My right hon. Friend's action has put this country ahead of the remainder of the European Community. So often, we hear that Britain is lagging behind, and are told that we must wait for the men in Brussels to take the initiative while we drag our feet. In this instance, we are doing the opposite, and I wholeheartedly congratulate the Government.
There is no doubt that the majority of pig farmers entirely support what the Government are doing in these regulations. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has given ample time for consultation. Views have been expressed, and I am delighted that the Minister has paid good heed to the representations that have been made.
Moreover, I heard this week from DG6—only some of us know about that—which is a powerful body of people in Brussels, the department of the Commission which is concerned, among other things, with animal welfare.
Dr. Jansen, who is, I understand the chief veterinary officer of the Commission in Brussels has welcomed the regulations wholeheartedly and has said that if they go through, the European Commission will go ahead and approve draft regulations that will extend throughout the Community. That means that this country will have set the pace in animal welfare and it will probably be the first time that we have done so or that the Community has done anything about animal welfare.
Also, the Commission proposes to produce quickly draft regulations that are in line with the Welfare of Animals at Slaughter Bill, which has already passed through this House and which I introduced earlier in this Session. That Bill will soon be before the other place.
In matters of animal welfare, we shall certainly be ahead of the Community in two respects, and that is something worth recording.
In a letter that is coming to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Dr. Jansen has said that as soon as the regulations are enforced, his position will be strengthened 1371 and he will be able to put forward draft regulations. Let us hope that the Community will then follow our example. There is no reason why it should not.
Dr. Jansen and officials in the Commission take that view because there was a full conference in Brussels on the subject late last year. They reached the conclusion that there was no necessity for the practice of sow stalls and tethers, which have existed in this country for about 28 years. The practice originally came from Sweden and certain other countries are beginning to introduce it, but only on a limited scale. Therefore, the Commission hopes that the draft regulations will put a stop to any further introduction, in any part of the Community, of the close confinement of sows.
I had hoped that we would have some time for debate on the Bill because there are important issues to be discussed, but I recognise that certain hon. Members have made it perfectly plain that they did not wish it to be debated.
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) here because she has expressed her views on animal welfare on other occasions, and they are not unknown to a number of people. From what I have heard from farmers in the midlands, they do not altogether share her views.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), with his usual gusto and good humour, has done his bit for those of his constituents who now have huge herds of 1,000 sows and sometimes more.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
I am not sure how my hon. Friend knows what my views are on animal welfare. In the eight years I have been in the House, I have never spoken on the subject.
§ Mrs. Currie
As for the views on animal welfare held by farmers in the midlands, if there is an opportunity this morning I intend to express the views of farmers in my constituency on the animal welfare issues that are raised in the Bill.
§ Sir Richard Body
I am sure that my hon. Friend is not inclined to entice me to repeat what has been said by a number of people who have overheard her comments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Her views on the subject are known.
§ Sir Richard Body
It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that she has not expressed her views in the House—I agree about that—but she has expressed them right enough.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. There is a motion before us for debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will keep to it. Then we shall have fewer interventions from a sedentary position from all parts of the House.
§ Sir Richard Body
I could invite the House to take a tour around my constituency and consider all the road schemes that may or may not be pushed through. We listened to all that for about an hour, but I shall not do that. I intend to stick to the point, but it ought to be recorded that a few hon. Members tried to prevent any debate on the Bill. I had hoped that we might debate it.
I am not concerned about the Bill going through; as I have already said, the regulations are on the way and will be approved. We shall then have all that the Bill would have done, not only in this country but throughout the European Community, for the reasons that I have just given. The battle has been won. However, I had hoped that we might have a reasonably short debate on two points, the first being the European issue with which I have dealt. The European Commission is anxious to proceed along the lines of the Bill. I had also hoped that there might be an opportunity to rebut spurious scientific evidence about the 35-day period. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington would have quoted a few scientists. I had hoped to have the opportunity to show that that evidence is mistaken and that for every scientist that my hon. Friend could produce, there are many others who would say exactly the opposite.
Pig farmers overwhelmingly take a different view from that upheld by the small band of scientists who support the close confinement of sows throughout virtually the whole of their lives. I had hoped that it would be possible to explain that neither the Bill nor the regulations need prohibit the segregation of sows. All that the Bill and the regulations do is to prevent them from being so segregated and confined that they cannot move around.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many of us are here today to support the Bill that he saw through its Committee stage and that we are deeply disappointed that two hon. Members have sabotaged the Bill? Such a procedure is perfectly within the Standing Orders of the House. Nevertheless, it is deeply regrettable, as the Bill received its Second Reading after a clear majority of 118 hon. Members had voted for closure.
§ Sir Richard Body
Three hon. Members were involved and one or two others were going to come along later to help to sabotage it. However, it was a futile exercise because we shall achieve the aims of the Bill. Unfortunately, those aims will not be achieved in an Act of Parliament, and will not be debated in detail, as we had hoped. Had hon. Members raised scientific and practical points, their concerns could have been met.
The great majority of pig farmers who do not have 1,000-sow herds are in favour of the Bill and of cleaning up pig farming.
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
My hon. Friend really does not know east riding where there are pig farms of all sizes. I have not had one letter from a pig farmer opposing my stand on the Bill. I have had 100 per cent. support in opposing the Bill. I challenge my hon. Friend to come to east Yorkshire and address a meeting of my pig farmers. He will find out that he is wrong and that he does not have the support of pig farmers. Some of them are in the Strangers' Gallery. He is misleading the House. I am sorry that he is withdrawing his Bill without hearing the debate because we have the facts—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) was misleading the House? If that is the case, will he now withdraw that remark?
§ Mr. Townend
I apologise. I will rephrase that remark. My hon. Friend made an incorrect statement when he said that the majority of pig farmers supported the Bill. I challenge him to have a referendum with the pig farmers on that. I have a file full of letters which all—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Let us keep the debate in good order. The hon. Gentleman asked for an intervention. I shall try to call him later, but if he has finished his intervention I would be obliged if he would allow the hon. Gentleman responsible for the Bill to speak.
§ Sir Richard Body
I might be out of order if I remind the House that the only reason why I was selected by my constituency some 25 years ago was that I spoke with authority about pigs. The only reason why I chose to speak about pigs at my selection conference was that it was the one subject that I knew a bit about and I thought that I could stand up for myself on that issue.
My hon. Friend might be right about meadow units. I accept that, but they are not representative of farming or the great majority of pig farmers. I have been in the pig business for a long time and I have been to east riding four or five times to speak to audiences of pig farmers. I must say that on the last occasion I went there, they did not seem much like the majority of pig farmers elsewhere. They all arrived in Mercedes and other large cars. They did not seem to know much about pigs, but they knew all about computers and management. Some years ago a farmer in my constituency gave up pig farming. I asked him what he was going to do next and he said that he planned to concentrate on vegetables, mainly cauliflowers. I said, "That will be a tremendous difference", and he said, "No, it is all marketing. The same principles of marketing apply to pigs as to cauliflowers." That constituent had the same attitude to animal welfare as some of the farmers in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever the attitude of the pig farmers of east riding towards his Bill, the public will not stand for those practices any longer? The public buy the pork that comes from the pig farmers of east riding and elsewhere and they are the principal impetus behind the worthy Bill that the hon. Gentleman is promoting.
§ Sir Richard Body
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, but it goes a bit further than that. The House has been discussing the matter for a long time. As long ago as 1981, the Select Committee on Agriculture spent a long 1374 time hearing all the arguments before producing a report that was against the use of sow stalls and tethering except under certain conditions—the kind of conditions embodied in the Bill and draft regulations. When the House supported the report in 1982, there was not a dissenting voice.
Ten years ago, there were no 1,000-sow units. Huge factory farms did not exist. They were about to appear and we thought that we should jump on them then. Unfortunately, however, we did not, and the result is that we now have some units with 3,000 sows. One man who telephoned me at the weekend has 10,000 sows on a huge mega-farm—if one can call them farms. That is almost unbelievable. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), but it is not only public opinion that is against the practice; the House condemned the system through its Select Committee and in a debate on the subject as long ago as 1982.
We are making progress. We are virtually there. The regulations are on the way and, as I said, the Commission has given the assurance that it, too, will be taking action. The House can be pleased with what has been achieved. It would seem that three hon. Members—perhaps one or two more—wish to sabotage our attempts. I am afraid that, in future, they will find that rather more difficult because of the Community. I am no supporter of the way in which the Common Market operates, but we must face the fact that, in future, many of our laws will be made not by this House but in Brussels. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes; the legislation on this subject and on slaughterhouses will be made elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say that this country is leading in Europe. We are ahead of the other countries, and they are following. That is an achievement, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he has done.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
In supporting the motion, I wish first to express my great sadness that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has been forced to move it. This is a sad day because the House is sending a signal to the country and to the European Community that the British Parliament will allow itself to be sabotaged—in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)—and will allow vested financial interests to stand in the way of minor improvements in animal welfare.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston. I fully acknowledge the support that he has received from the Minister for the principle of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman and the Minister are two honourable exceptions in the present-day Tory party. We have seen this morning that the Tory party is prepared to sacrifice minimal improvements in animal welfare for very marginal economic benefits. I recognise that other Conservative Members who have sponsored or supported the Bill are also exceptions, but we have seen the true face of the modern Tory party in the tactics that we witnessed this morning. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt)——
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend refers to the hon. Gentleman as a bookie's runner. I would not put a bet on with the hon. Gentleman and I certainly would not fancy 1375 him running. His tactics this morning showed neither courage nor integrity. He abused the procedures of the House. He did not wish to challenge the Bill that would now have been before us, choosing instead to subvert the procedures of the House to prevent the House from discussing and deciding on the matter. His actions were both undemocratic and anti-democratic. He would have done himself more service if he had been prepared to oppose the measure openly and frankly.
The debate and the Bill deal with a cause that has inspired millions of people. By his actions this morning, the hon. Member for Langbaurgh has brought disrepute to himself, the House of Commons and the Tory party. He was not alone. He was aided by those waiting in the wings. he was preceded by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who spoke for 18 minutes, and the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), who spoke for 27 minutes. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) was waiting in the wings, as was the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). They are all signatories to the amendments.
§ Mr. Davies
I will give way to the hon. Lady, because I have named her. However, first I wish to finish my specific point.
The amendments were not designed to improve the Bill or to allow us to debate its benefits or economic consequences. They were tabled for the express purpose of allowing those hon. Members to kill the Bill this morning.
§ Mrs. Currie
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that I signed the amendments to the Pig Husbandry Bill. He is wrong and I ask him to withdraw that.
§ Mr. Davies
The record will show clearly that I accused the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South of speaking for 18 minutes. When I referred to the amendments, I specifically referred to the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West and the hon. Member——
§ Miss Emma Nicholson
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I ask the Chair to confirm that I did not have my name down to speak in the previous debate, that my name was not involved in any amendment and that it is a figment of Opposition Members' imagination that I was waiting in the wings to speak in the previous debate.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Let us cool the debate. These are matters for debate and I hope to call the hon. Lady shortly.
§ Mr. Davies
I do not wish to cool the debate. I am particularly angry this morning because I have seen the practices—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member at the Dispatch Box said a moment ago that he was willing to give way in his own time. I am sure that he will do so.
§ Mr. Davies
Of course, I will. Faced with a lady who wishes to intervene and a lady in the Chair, I have no option but to give way. The charge against the hon. Lady is that she is a signatory to the amendment tabled for debate this morning. I refer her to the amendments—
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Lady must restrain herself. She was not present while we listened for two hours to the most tedious speech from her hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh, who is a partner in her crime. I, who have been listening for two hours, take it amiss that she has been in the Chamber for only five minutes and wishes immediately to intervene. She is a party to the crime of this morning's hijack of the proceedings. She wants her hon. Friends to be allowed to give it, so she must take it for a moment.
§ Mr. Davies
No, the hon. Gentleman should sit down. My point is that the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West is a signatory to the amendments—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady must restrain herself. The hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box said that he would give way when he had finished his point. Will she please restrain herself until he gives way to her?
§ Mr. Davies
My point is that the amendments were tabled for the express purpose of killing the Bill. The hon. Lady is a signatory to the amendments. If she wishes to justify that, or withdraw her name from the amendments, I willingly give way to her.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson
The hon. Gentleman is withdrawing from his earlier statement, when he said that I was a partner in crime and was waiting in the wings to speak in the earlier debate. Does he agree that that was incorrect? My name was not down to speak in the earlier debate. I came here to speak on the Pig Husbandry Bill. The hon. Gentleman is taking my name in vain. Indeed, he is turning out to be a classic Labour male chauvinist pig or, might I suggest, a real sorry bore.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to her view. The record will show that my point is clear and that it was clear when I made it initially. We have had one debate already this morning. It was deliberately prolonged by the hon. Members whom I have named precisely to ensure that inadequate time remained for this debate.
§ Mr. Davies
No. The hon. Lady must understand that when a Member is addressing the House he has a right to finish a sentence without these constant interruptions.
The hon. Lady is a party to this morning's attempt to kill the Bill. Her name is on the list of amendments. I am fully aware that she intended to come to the House to speak to the amendments to the Pig Husbandry Bill. All Labour Members know that the purpose or the amendments is to kill the Bill, as the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) made clear.
§ Mr. Davies
No. I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman now. There will be further opportunities for him to speak.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall give way to my hon. Friend because he was present for the Second Reading of the Bill. He has been in constant contact with the hon. Member for Holland with Boston and has shown himself to be supportive throughout all the proceedings of the Bill in this House, as have my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) and for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey). If any of them wishes me to give way to them, I shall certainly do so because I know that they are concerned about improvement in animal welfare standards.
§ Mr. Mullin
My constituents and I care strongly about this matter. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that those responsible for this morning's sabotage and the vested interests that put them up to it do not derive any advantage from what happened? Indeed, on the contrary, does he agree that it is important that they derive a serious disadvantage and understand that their actions this morning will be to the detriment of the vested interests that they represent? I realise that my hon. Friend is about to say that a Labour Government will certainly support such a measure in the European Community and, if necessary, through legislation. Does he agree that when the issue returns to the House we should think in terms of reducing the phasing-out period from 10 to the original five years? That would signal to the vested interests that the more they carry on with this sabotage, the harder it will get for them.
§ Mr. Davies
That is a powerful argument and I shall return to it in a moment.
I pay full credit to the Minister who will introduce regulations which will give effect to the particular purposes of the Bill. I have told him privately and will now do so in public that we shall do all we can to facilitate the passage of that legislation.
The present difficulty arises because this is a private Member's Bill and it would be inappropriate for the party to arrange any whipping or attempt to make a party political response to the Bill. All my hon. Friends who have supported the measure have done so as private Members. It is noteworthy that when the closure was forced on Second Reading, every Labour Member who voted, supported the Bill. It is true that the Labour party is absolutely committed to not only this welfare measure but others. I give full credit also to the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who represents the Liberal Democrats, who share our objectives in this matter. It is true that thus far we have been acting as private Members and that when the matter is introduced as a Government 1378 measure, we shall give it our full support. Inasmuch as this private Member's Bill has been wrecked, I undertake that when we have a Labour Government, as I am confident we shall in the not-too-distant future, we shall review these measures.
The hon. Member for Langbaurgh spoke for two hours this morning, but he has not had the courtesy to remain for this debate. However, he achieved one thing this morning: an incoming Labour Government will review the regulations. The attempt to hijack and sabotage the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston may have been successful, but that action may rebound on those hon. Members responsible. They will not be allowed to profit from their infamy.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Holland with Boston had the support of many of my hon. Friends and his colleagues when he sought to move the closure. The Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. Those hon. Members who killed the Bill this morning did not have the courage, integrity or the troops to call a Division against the Second Reading. They let the Bill go in the knowledge that they would attempt to subvert the will of Parliament at a later stage.
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston had the full support of the Government. They wanted the Bill to be amended to bring it into line with their objectives. I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that we had a constructive debate in Committee when we explored the relevant issues. A number of amendments were accepted with near-unanimity which took account of the representations made, the need for the Bill and the Government's reservations. There was unanimity about attaining those objectives.
We improved the Bill and it came back to the House for what we hoped would be a formal Report stage and Third Reading. Little did we know that those hon. Members to whom I have referred would set about their task of tabling wrecking amendments with the purpose of killing the Bill.
Those hon. Members have succeeded in killing the Bill and I suppose that that is a credit to their parliamentary tactics, but it is a discredit to them as members of the human race. They have done a personal disservice to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston, who is a respected member of their party because of his support for animal welfare. Although the hon. Gentleman is a man of integrity and commitment to the cause of animal welfare, it is clear that he does not have many friends in the present Tory party. Those hon. Members, by wrecking the Bill, have done a disservice to the cause of animal welfare as the British House of Commons has been shown incapable of accepting even a minor measure that would result in minor improvements in animal welfare.
How will such actions strengthen the arm of the Minister, committed as he is to argue for animal welfare in the European Community? The Minister may argue at the EC that Britain wants to enforce the highest standards and to improve animal welfare. How will he defend his case when those who do not want to adopt the supposedly traditional British standards of animal welfare turn to him and say, "Yes Minister, but what happened to the Pig Husbandry Bill?"
Where is the great British commitment to animal welfare when financial vested interests were used to hijack the British House of Commons.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that most hon. Members will be disappointed that the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has not succeeded. I must defend the integrity, however, of my parliamentary colleagues. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) alleged that they are acting for vested interests, but I am sure that they are acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their constituents. I am quite sure that if they had an interest in such matters they would have declared it.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is barely a point of order for me because I am sure that those hon. Members would, or will, declare their interests. I hope that they will have an opportunity to respond during the debate.
§ Mr. Davies
I am not suggesting for one moment that those hon. Members who killed the Bill will receive any personal gain from doing so. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) is wrong if he thinks that I made such an assertion. If I had done so I would have referred to the declaration of interests and I would have specified my charges. I have made no personal accusations, but vested interests have wrecked the Bill. Some of those vested interests represent the pig farmers whom the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West mentioned earlier and whom he considers with such disapproval. Those farmers might be the hon. Gentleman's constituents.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall not give way again. The hon. Gentleman raised a phoney point of order and he should give me the courtesy of his attention when I reply to it. I suggested that they had deliberately inspired hon. Members to kill the Bill. They did so because they did not wish to be involved in the capital expenditure that would be necessary to bring about the improvements. They believed, wrongly, that they would suffer a small financial disadvantage if the Bill were passed. That is why the Bill has been killed and that is why I make the charge. The Bill is about improvements in welfare standards and it has been killed because it would marginally infringe on the financial interests of those who would be affected. That is my charge and I do not withdraw it. I am glad, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you ruled that my charge was valid. I believe that the hon. Members who have killed the Bill have done a disservice to their constituents by their actions and they have demeaned the House and themselves.
The Bill was a small but important measure. It would have brought about minor improvements in welfare and in dry stalls by preventing a practice that has been widely recognised as cruel, unnecessary and unacceptable. The Bill was important not merely because it would have prevented the practice of using stalls and tethers, but because it would have been a message that the House was prepared to legislate and to demonstrate a commitment to be at least a first step in matters of animal welfare. That is why the defeat of the Bill saddens me.
The Bill was not presented as the personal whim or crusade of one individual. It had the support of everyone who has studied the practice of sow husbandry.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston agrees. It was widely supported on Second Reading when hon. Member after hon. Member testified to the strength of public feeling. Hundreds of letters were written and more than 100 hon. Members took it on themselves to come to the Second Reading debate to commit themselves to the cause of the Bill. There was not only support from those of us who are public representatives, but specific and specialist support from others who had considered the Bill. The veterinary profession was almost united—the hon. Member for Holland with Boston will challenge me if I am wrong about that—in advocating the Bill. Academics who have studied husbandry have supported the Bill, as did the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Compassion in World Farming—whose Bill it was—and the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which was established to advise the Government on animal welfare and the European Commission. The Government support the principles behind the Bill even if they do not support the precise form in which it has been drafted.
Although the Bill has received broad support, it has been destroyed by the vested interests to which I referred, ostensibly to further economic interests. I believe that hon. Members who have spoken so far and who believe that they have served the financial cause of their pig-producing constituents have done them a disservice, not only for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) but for another reason: I believe that the British pig industry will be disadvantaged because consumers will begin to show a preference. The hon. Member for Bridlington may mock, but I look forward to a proper system of food labelling so that our constituents, when they do their weekly shopping, will be able to express support through their purchasing power for non-intensive systems and for systems that rear animals in conditions which they consider acceptable. The hon. Members to whom I refer therefore, have done their constituents a disservice in the financial sense.
One benefit of the Bill has been a proper debate about the impact on sow and pig rearing of the stall and tether system. All the evidence from the academics and veterinarians who have studied the matter is that the alternative systems which the Bill would encourage are more efficient pig producers than the stall and tether system. The alternative systems give a greater opportunity for breeding at a marginally faster rate. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that litter sizes and the growth of piglets are superior under the alternative systems.
§ Sir Richard Body
The hon. Gentleman mentioned academics and veterinarians. Does he agree that stockmen share their view? Just over a year ago, I took part in the launch of the National Herdspersons Society to try to raise the standard of stockmanship. Members of that organisation are wholly in favour of raising standards and of ending the sow stall system because it has driven out of farming so many good stockmen. They say that one cannot be a good pigman unless one likes pigs, any more than one cannot be a good shepherd unless one likes sheep. They say that one cannot support and condone the system of sow stalls on its present scale if one has any feeling for or wish to work with pigs. That view has been repeated many times by professional stockmen for many years. It was emphasised to the Select Committee on Agriculture in 1981. The prediction was made on behalf of the stockmen 1381 that good stock men would get out of the pig industry if the sow stall system continued. We have had to learn that lesson.
§ Mr. Davies
: The hon. Gentleman is correct in the matters to which he has drawn our attention, as he is in so many other matters relating to farming.
The express concern of the hon. Members who have killed the Bill was that Britain would be out of step with Europe and that British interests would be jeopardised. I do not believe that. There is now clear evidence—the Minister may wish to address the point—that the Commission would have accepted the standards in the Bill and that it would have ensured that the standards were adopted throughout Europe. The cause of animal welfare in Europe has been weakened by the decision this morning.
There is some consolation in our debate. At the end of the day, victory will go to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston. He has ensured that we have had a full debate, that the public are aware of the issues, that the public have had the opportunity to express their concern and that the wide range of specialist and scientific opinion to which I referred has been given the opportunity to present its case to the House. I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that his hon. Friend has ensured that when the Minister tables the regulations, stalls and tethers will be phased out. Those of us of all parties who are prepared to argue the case for animal welfare will have to acknowledge our debt to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston. I pay full tribute to him.
I understand that the Government have put the regulations out to consultation in almost final form. I have not yet had a chance to look at the proposed regulations in detail, but I understand that they will give full effect, if in a different way, to the proposals in the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on that. The regulations will have our full support when they come before the House and we will do whatever is necessary to facilitate their passage through the House.
The hon. Members who have attempted to kill the Bill this morning will not be allowed to profit from what they have done. One of the earliest acts of an incoming Labour Government's Ministry of Food and Farming will be to review all farm welfare measures. We shall then look, as a matter of Government policy, at whether the regulations now being tabled should be continued.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean)
I shall be brief to enable other hon. Members to take part in the discussion, and I hope that I can restore some of the harmony and consensus that existed on Second Reading and largely in Committee.
I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has had to withdraw his Bill, and I understand why he has taken that step. There was a great deal of consensus in Committee. All the issues were widely explored, particularly the vexed question of when the end of the phasing out period should be. Amendments were proposed to bring the date forward and to bring it in line with the Government's position. It is remarkable that hon. Members on both sides with deeply held views on 1382 animal welfare concluded that the phase-out period which is now in my hon. Friend's Bill, and which will be the same in our regulations, was an appropriate time.
I thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) for his kind words and, at the outset, I wish to put on record firmly that the Government agree with the objectives of the Bill. As I said in Committee, we take, and will continue to take, the matter of pig welfare seriously. On every occasion I have spoken about the Bill I have said that the Government would rather the objectives of the Bill were achieved by way of regulations made under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. The House will be aware that the Bill, as amended in Committee, contains a number of tortuous formulae which are necessary only because we are working with primary legislation.
I also made it clear that we would have preferred our regulations in the first place, but, because the Bill was considerably amended in Committee, it would have had the support of the Government. We welcome it and could have lived with it. I would also have told the House today, had we dealt with the amendments, that the Government could not have accepted any of them as tabled and would have wished the Bill to have passed as it stood. But I shall not go into any of those details now. I suspect that we shall cover them when we debate the regulations, which will be laid and be dealt with under the affirmative resolution procedure.
As we have no Bill, we can have regulations instead, and I intend that that shall happen. Those regulations can be introduced quickly and relatively easily, and they will have exactly the same effect as the Bill. Officials in my Department are maintaining a draft version which mirrors the progress of the Bill. The latest version was issued for brief comment on Tuesday of this week, with a short period given for further comments to be made. We kept that measure ticking over because we believe that regulations could be better than the Bill.
We wanted a fall-back position in case this eventuality, as happened today, occurred. We gave a commitment that the Government intended to introduce regulations if the Bill fell. It now seems that the Bill will fall, so we intend to introduce the regulations.
I should give a slight warning. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston quoted the support of the Commission. I understand that although the Commission has not put a block on the regulations, the deadline for notifying the EC has not yet expired. We have until 6 May, and it is possible that there will be objections to them. If the Commission is giving us the green light, that is excellent news. If we get the Commission fully on our side, while that is good news and will allow our regulations to proceed unhindered, it will not mean that all other EC countries will fall in line pdq.
We will have a tough fight on our hands to persuade other EC countries, with the full support of the Commission if we have it, that they should follow the British lead on animal welfare. I can assure the House that when our regulations are in place—if the House agrees to them—we shall press most strongly in Brussels and other EC countries for similar legislation to apply there so that we are not at a competitive disadvantage and animals in those other countries are not at a welfare disadvantage.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said that the will of the House had been frustrated today. May I say on the Government's behalf that the will of the House will 1383 not be frustrated today. Many hon. Members agreed with the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston and the Government would agree with it if it were amended. The regulations, which we have put out for consultation, mirror that. I give a clear undertaking that we intend to proceed with those regulations and, barring any hiccup from the Commission or our parliamentary procedure, they could and should be law by the summer.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Hon. Members will appreciate that there is little debating time left. I hope to call all hon. Members. If they apply common sense and speak briefly, I may be able to do so.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)
I shall speak for the fewest possible moments because I know the keen interest of other hon. Members to ensure that their voices are heard.
I warmly welcome the Government's adoption of measures identical to those proposed in the Bill. I read carefully everything that was said on Second Reading, for which I was present, and in Committee. I supported the Bill and its principle on Second Reading. My views on it are on the record. I asked the sponsor no fewer than five times if I could be on the Committee so that I could make some other points. He was unable to hear me in that context, which is the sole reason why I put down my name to speak today. I was glad to put my name with those of other hon. Members in support of the amendments. They are important amendments which should have been heard in Committee, and if I had been fortunate enough to be a member of the Committee I would have spoken to them then.
I am a lifetime supporter of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The deputy chief veterinary officer of the RSPCA was, at my instigation, the only speaker at a meeting of the constituency farm council of Torridge and Devon, West more than a year ago when we discussed other aspects of intensive farming.
I proposed the Slaughter of Deer Bill which, I am sorry to say, was blocked by members of Her Majesty's Opposition. It was a private Member's Bill and I accept that it was not blocked by Front-Bench spokesmen; Members of both major Opposition parties blocked it, for which I am sorry. I have a track record of speaking on animal welfare matters in the House and have put forward my own Bill.
I am glad that the Minister spoke so strongly in favour of the principles and practice of the Bill. I am also glad that he will now have time to consider the points made in the amendments. We shall perhaps have another opportunity to discuss those points with him. I welcome that and look forward immensely to working with him.
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
I have no vested interest in the pig industry. I see that the "Oxford English Dictionary" defines someone with a vested interest as someone with a personal interest in the state of affairs with an expectation of gain.
1384 I am sad that the Bill has been withdrawn. If my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) had not withdrawn it, we could have had a debate of an hour and a half and I would have had an opportunity to propose the amendments in my name. They were not wrecking amendments; I did not intend to wreck the Bill and I made an offer to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston to withdraw my opposition if he would accept my amendment dealing with the 35 days issue. We proposed that amendment on the basis of welfare as well as economics. As other hon. Members wish to speak, I am sorry that I will not have the opportunity to make those points.
My other main amendment would have prevented the Bill from coming into operation until there was equivalent legislation in other Community countries. I was saddened to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister said. When my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said that he wished to withdraw the Bill, I thought that there would be rejoicing in east Yorkshire tonight. The pig farmers realise that their livelihoods are at risk. I tell Labour Members that as a rural Member of Parliament, it is my job to represent my constituents—just as it is the job of mining or textile Members of Parliament to represent their constituents.
There has been a clear change of Government policy——
§ Mr. Townend
With respect, other hon. Members wish to speak and my hon. Friend has had a good crack today. I have been waiting all day to speak. I was prepared to speak for three hours and I would have talked out the Bill because it would undermine the British pig industry.
In March 1989, the former Minister said in a Ministry document:It is clear that any legislation should be on a Community-wide basis.The major objection of the pig industry is that, when moving towards a single market, the Bill would not allow them to compete on a level playing field. The Government now intend to impose regulations that will make their position very difficult.
On Second Reading, the Minister accepted that the Bill would disadvantage British trade, so I do not foresee objections from other EEC countries. He also said that the Bill had to be enacted within five years, or we would be flooded with pigmeat produced under the system that we had banned. That is likely to happen at the end of eight years because the revenue differential will be the same.
The Minister also said that the new proposals would increase running costs becausethey must have a higher quality of animal husbandry and better qualified pig men. The level of the additional costs will depend on the type of system used and the value of additional inputs."—[Official Report, 25 January 1991; Vol. 184, c. 617.]We expect the Labour party not to back British industry, but we expect the Conservative party to defend British industry and British agriculture. The Minister says that he will attempt to obtain EC regulations. I do not think that there is a cat in hell's chance of that. Some 90 per cent. of pig breeding in Denmark is under the dry sow system, as is 80 per cent. in Holland and more than half in Belgium, France and Germany, and the system is expanding rapidly in Spain. In Holland, it would be practically impossible to move to loose houses because it does not have the straw.
1385 European Governments back their farmers for political and national reasons. If we legislate as the Government suggest, our pig farmers will be at a disadvantage. Can the House imagine other Common Market countries introducing legislation to lessen the advantage to their farmers? Can the House imagine the French introducing legislation that would place further burdens on their farmers while giving our farmers an advantage? It is inconceivable.
I know that we are up against it, but we shall continue the battle. Whatever regulations the Government may introduce, if they are imposed on our industry and not on our competitors, we will oppose them. There has already been one example of that on veal calf crates. They have been abolished in Britain, so when the calves are born they go to Holland, where they are fattened in the very crates that are illegal in this country and the veal then comes back to Britain.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said that British farmers had lost an opportunity. Does he really believe that if the Bill had been passed and the cost of our pigmeat increased, the ordinary punter in the supermarket would be prepared to pay a premium for British bacon over Danish bacon? Labour Members do not live in the real world. It is difficult enough to try to sell British bacon in competition against the long tradition, heavy marketing and high quality of Danish bacon and we have made a lot of progress. However, if one attempts to appeal to a niche market—to sell to the sort of people who will make that decision—one will condemn oneself to a small part—10 or 15 per cent.—of the market.
There is a deficiency of £6 billion a year on our food account—larger than that for cars. The Government are introducing an initiative to reduce that deficiency and to increase exports of food products and decrease imports. Considering our balance of payments problems in the past 18 months, we certainly need to do that.
How can one expect our food industry to increase exports if it cannot compete on a level basis? When my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston talks about pig farmers in my constituency, he does not know what he is talking about. They vary from the smallest to the largest pig farmers. We have the largest concentration of pigs, and we are the major producers of pork in the country.
The reason why British bacon has been gaining market share is the quality and price of the bacon produced by those farmers. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston wants to go back 25 years to the old farmer in his muddy boots. He does not think that they should have desks or computers. Why have they come to meetings in nice cars? Because they are successful. One thing that the former Prime Minister did for this country was to show that we have to be successful if we are to survive. When I hear all this claptrap I think that it is a criticism of successful farmers who are able to produce more. For years the Government have been calling on farmers to produce more and to reduce imports. If they have been successful and have invested the money, they will have made profits. Therefore, they have a right to a good car, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston has a good car out of his parliamentary allowance.
I am ashamed of what has been going on and of the way in which pig farmers have been treated. I shall fight and fight again to make the Government change their mind.
§ 2.6 pm
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
The arguments used by the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) did not do pig farmers a good service. I probably represent a level of pig production comparable to that which he represents. In the past few weeks, I have sat down with large-scale pig farmers and their advisers in my constituency and I am well aware that they are concerned about welfare.
If there has been a full debate on the Bill today I would have been prepared to engage in that constructive debate and to ensure that their concerns were taken into account as we move into the transitional phase. That is legitimate, as the Government have said that they will introduce regulations and I think that farmers' worries need to be considered. However, I do not in any way withdraw my support for the Bill.
One of the reasons why I support the Bill is my belief that public opinion is demanding this change of our farmers, and it does farmers no good to have representatives such as the hon. Member for Bridlington telling them that he is not interested in what the British public want or what Parliament wishes as regards animal welfare demands. Essentially, that is what the debate is about and that is what we should have been debating this morning.
I welcome the fact that the Government have said that they will introduce their own regulations in a similar format. I hope that the Minister will not regard this as a discourtesy, as it is not intended as such, but I think that his position has become clearer, and was put in more forthright way, than it was on Second Reading. Our debates on the Bill have helped to crystallise his Department's thinking and to raise the standard of the debate within the European Community.
We have to accept that there is a north-south divide within the European Community on animal welfare matters. The hon. Member for Bridlington simply says that because of that divide we have to accept that the argument must be lost. I am pleased to hear the Minister say that he does not intend to lose that argument, but will take it to the heart of the European Commission and make Britain the member that will lead the demand for improved animal welfare standards—a demand which ultimately has to penetrate the entire market. In due course, I believe that these matters will even become of greater concern outside the United Kingdom.
I hope that the Government accept that there are those involved in the industry who accept that there should he change but who say that if change must come, their ability to adapt, the time scale, the costs involved and the necessary research should all be taken fully into account. The Minister will be aware of the concern about pigs in large-scale units. However, things can happen to free-range pigs, too. They suffer from udder biting and from broken backs and legs during the lactation period. I am sure that those points would have been made in support of the amendments of the hon. Member for Bridlington, had he moved them. I should not have supported the amendments, but I would have pressed those arguments. The leading pig research unit in Scotland is in my constituency. It has said that if change is to come about—it accepts that it is the will of Government that it should come about—it will need to find ways to separate the pecking order out very early on to avoid such incidents.
§ Mr. Maclean
Perhaps I could reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that we intend to continue with a lot of research into this and other matters relating to alternative welfare systems for pigs during the phase-out period, to the end of 1998, and that we shall probably continue with research beyond that date.
§ Mr. Bruce
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that, which was all that I was looking for in the context of this short debate.
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has done a great service by introducing the Bill. It is a matter of great regret that he has been forced to withdraw it, although I accept that he did so in the context of regulations that are to be applied in any case. It is never satisfactory when Bills are frustrated by procedural means rather than by an honest exchange in debate and a vote on the issue, for that is when the will of Parliament determines what is to happen rather than tactical procedures. It will anger many people in the country who lobbied hard and believed that they had won the day on the Bill. The only saving grace is that the Government have had the integrity to honour the provisions of the Bill. Provided that they continue to do so, those people may be satisfied and mollified. Frankly, though they will not think much of Parliament. I could not defend Parliament's behaviour to them and I would not attempt to do so.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
I, too, am sorry that the Bill is being withdrawn. I wanted to speak on behalf of my constituents. I took part in an earlier debate this morning on an issue that affected my constituents. My name is also down to speak in the debate on the Registered Homes (Amendment) Bill because I have an interest in that. I take amiss some of the remarks that were made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), and also the uncharacteristically ungracious remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) as I came into the Chamber.
My interest has always been human welfare. Part of that has to be the provision of clean, cheap, safe food. That includes the welfare of people who work with animals. Animal welfare is of great importance. If my postbag is anything to go by, I suspect that some of those who write to me on animal welfare issues—whales, dogs or whatever—are frequently more agitated about those matters than those who write to me about human welfare issues.
The problem is that some of the animal rights proposals, which might have formed part of the Bill and might still yet form part of the regulations, are anthropomorphic. They assume that animals have the same feelings and needs as we have. They tend to forget the brutality that some species show to each other, expecially at certain times in the reproductive cycle. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) referred to that point, and it is one to which I should like to return.
I ought to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who introduced the Bill, that any pig farmer who supports the Bill's provisions does not need the Bill. He could introduce new rearing methods all by himself. There is no law that says that he cannot introduce different methods. He can indulge in whatever form of husbandry he is happiest with and that he feels his stock is happiest with.
1388 There is a substantial pig farm in my constituency. I am well acquainted with Mr. John Robinson, the manager of Midland Pig Farms. I have visited the establishment on a number of occasions. It is expanding. There has been a substantial amount of investment in it, and it produces some of the finest quality meat to be found anywhere in Europe. I am very pleased that it is there. The farm does not use girths or tethers, but it does use stalls for breeding sows. The boars have plenty of room. The fattening sheds are large and comfortable. The gilts run outside. Clearly, therefore, there is a technical reason why the sows are in stalls. There is plenty of room for them not to be in stalls. That is not the problem. I understand that the main purpose of the stalls is simply to prevent the sows from rolling on the piglets, which is what would happen naturally. No doubt the animal rights people would have a fit about the death of baby pigs, and that would be the cost of changing the system.
The hon. Member for Gordon was correct in saying that there are other problems in breeding sows when put with other sows. The pig farmers in my constituency tell me that the animals fight and go in for unpleasant habits like vulva biting and general bullying. I was told that sows are not very sociable and that a sow's worst enemy is another sow. I was advised that losses of sows under the system being proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston could be as much as 70 per cent. higher than in stalls—for example, in loose housing or cubicle housing. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take those issues on board. If that is right—I can think of no reason why my constituents should tell me a lie—and if losses under the system proposed by the new legislation are 70 per cent. higher—and by losses I understand deaths of animals—what has happened to animal welfare? I stand here as an ordinary Back Bencher asking where is animal welfare if the changes intended to promote it result in the deaths of more animals and changing the system results in more cruelty.
I take on board the points that have been made about making sure that the changes proceed at the same speed throughout Europe. I am always pleased when Britain leads Europe and when we are able to show that our standards are higher than those in the rest of Europe and encourage the rest of our European neighbours to follow suit, but it is worth remembering that in Spain large numbers of stalls are being put in. We know that, because the stalls are being manufactured in Britain. We may well find ourselves importing meat produced in other countries when we have introduced regulations that restrict our own farmers.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston has seen fit to withdraw his Bill, but we look forward to what the Minister and the Government propose in future.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
I shall be brief, as I hope that we shall salvage something from the wreckage of this morning and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) will be able to introduce a measure that will be of great benefit to his and my constituents.
I am particularly sorry that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) found it necessary to make the Bill a partisan matter. I have the honour to be the 1389 vice-chairman of the all-party animal welfare group. The chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) is not known for her socialist leanings, but that group stoically and consistently has given support to the measure brought before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). It is not a partisan matter; it is an all-party matter and the all-party animal welfare group counts among its numbers large numbers of hon. Members from both sides of the House.
I am particularly sad that my hon. Friend has found it necessary to withdraw the Bill this morning, not because we have lost the measure—we have not, and I hope that the public will understand, because of the statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister, that the measure will go forward—but because the wrong message may go out from the House to Europe. It is our proud boast in the House of Commons and in the country that we blaze a trail in animal welfare matters and that we have not been afraid to go before the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament and to say that we will not tolerate unpleasant practices that do no service to the health and welfare of the animals that we seek to protect. That is why many of us gave our forceful support to the Pig Husbandry Bill and to the measures being put forward to implement the minimum values rule on the exportation of live animals, particulary equines. Many people in the House and the country feel extremely strongly about that. It would be a tragedy if a message went out to the European Commission, the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament that suggested for one minute that we were going soft on any of these issues.
Despite what has happened this morning, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will go to the Council of Ministers and the Commission and say, with all the force that he can muster, that the United Kingdom will continue to blaze a trail in Europe on animal welfare matters. I hope that he will be neither ashamed nor afraid to say that long and loud and that we will never tolerate practices that do not coincide with animal welfare.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks.)
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) will recall from the Second Reading debate that my principal concern about the Bill was that it might introduce unfair competition. It was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about the initiatives that may come out of directorate general 6. That is most encouraging. If there were real determination in the European Commission and across the Community to tackle the issue as one Community, we would all happily accept and support any initiative that resulted. But some of us are still a bit sceptical—as the House heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend)—whether such unity of action will be forthcoming, and my hon. Friend the Minister urged caution in that respect. It is easy to get the Commission to talk about things. It is much harder to get it to agree on them and enforce them throughout the Community. Certainly what we have heard from Italian Ministers and other Italian sources in the past couple of weeks has not in any way suggested that it will be easy to achieve European Community agreement on these matters.
1390 We look to my hon. Friend the Minister to press the matter in Europe before he introduces regulations in place of the Bill. We look to him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) said, to blaze a trail and say that if we are to take action, we expect the European Community to fall into line and adopt the same procedures—otherwise, as the Minister implied, British farmers will be at a competitive disadvantage.
It is because some of us were, and remain, worried about that, that we tabled reasonable amendments to the Bill which would have been considered had my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston not sought to withdraw it. We have every right to resent the remarks of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), who accused us of tabling wrecking amendments. The hon. Gentleman also spoke disparagingly of my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) on the grounds that he left the Chamber when he had finished speaking. The hon. Gentleman has now done exactly the same himself. The hon. Gentleman accused my hon. Friends and me of representing vested interests and of committing a crime by tabling amendments in an attempt to defend our constituents' interests. We are meant to defend our constituents' interests; that is one of the reasons why we come to the House. I hope that if, in a few years' time, the hon. Gentleman tables amendments to legislation that threatens businesses in his constituency, he will not be accused of committing a crime or of representing vested interests just because he is attempting to alleviate matters. The hon. Gentleman's speech was foolish and intemperate and, following it, he has sunk in stature as an Opposition spokesman. He must have been taking too many lessons from the Leader of the Opposition, who often displays a similarly intemperate and ineffective manner. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had remained to hear my remarks. He will have to read them instead.
My hon. Friend the Minister should press as hard as he can in Europe for a common European agreement. I urge him also to meet again those of us who are concerned about the effects of the regulations to discuss whether there are other ways in which they can be improved. It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of fair competition—a level playing field, to use the cliché that we hear so often in agriculture debates these days.
There is a serious danger for the pig industry in Britain. It has not had any special support. It has not relied on subsidies. It has had to cope with a free market in recent years and it has done so without the support of the taxpayer. The industry would be asked to compete with one had tied behind its back if the regulations were passed without European Commission agreement on them. We would probably see more pigmeat imported into Britain, produced by the very system to which people have objected—the stall and tether system.
I am sceptical about the argument that the consumer will lead the way by looking for meat that is produced in a better way. We are short of evidence about that. Price still dominates, so the importance of European agreement is high. If we did not have European agreement, we would once again have shot ourselves in the foot. We always seem to be more keen—rightly so—than our European Community partners on enforcing regulations.
The Minister has already reassured the House, but I want him to take away from the debate the message from many of us that we look to him to press the matter with the utmost vigour in the European Commission and the 1391 Council of Ministers. I hope that he will also pay attention to the misgivings that many of us have—they were the reasons behind one of our amendments, although it was not a wrecking amendment. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Caerphilly back in the Chamber. I have been talking about him in his absence and now he has come back to listen to the rest of what I have to say. I remind him that our amendments were not wrecking amendments. They were designed to improve the legislation in the interests of our constituents.
One amendment dealt with the first 35 days after weaning. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take account of that amendment and listen again to the arguments. The first 35 days are a particularly important time in the 165-day cycle of the sow. The greatest problems of stock management and welfare arise in the first 35 days after weaning, if one does not have either a good stockman —my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston knows a great deal about good stockmanship—or a stall system. It is in the first 35 days that the stockman's skills are most often required. One needs ease of access to the sow, easy identification of the sow and calm conditions in which to look after the sow. A good stockman can provide those things, but the skills are in short supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston gave good reasons why they are in short supply. But the fact is that they are in short supply and that is the position with which we must deal. Perhaps we do not disagree on that.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will listen to the arguments about the vulnerable time in the cycle of the sow. Certainly, that is the point about which pig farmers in my constituency are more worried than anything else. 1392 Their opinion is that enormous damage would he done to the industry if the measure were adopted in this country but not in other European Community countries, and that the greatest damage would be due to the implications for the first 35-day period. The condition of sows in that period varies greatly. They often require individual attention. They have lost their strength from the milk that has been drawn out of them in previous weeks and they need to be looked after individually. It is also important——
§ Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have the Minister for Health here. This morning 600 job cuts were announced at Guy's hospital. Now this afternoon we hear that 300 more jobs are to go at the Bradford hospital trust. The Government are standing by doing nothing while their business managers are cutting the national health service. The Minister is here; will she come to the Dispatch Box?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Lady makes her point at 2.30 pm, I shall deal with it then.
§ Mr. Hague
It is also important that people understand that during that 35 days serious injuries can often occur. Sows bully and become aggressive towards each other as they try to establish a social hierarchy. That is another reason why particular attention must be paid to the first 35-day period. Again, I hope that my hon. Friend listens to that argument.
Normally towards the end of that 35-day period farmers carry out a pregnancy test, for which they require sows to be still. They use what appears to be head-bone apparatus—
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.