HC Deb 30 June 1994 vol 245 cc993-1013 6.30 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

I beg to move, That the draft Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 14th June, be approved. How appropriate that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, should be in the Chair for this debate on animal welfare. The main purpose of the measure is to implement European directives and our commitments to the Council of Europe in respect of animal welfare. It is being introduced after full consultation with the industry, welfare organisations and other interested parties.

Although the size of the document may appear daunting, that is principally because, as well as making the necessary changes to the legislation, we have taken the opportunity to consolidate five existing statutory instruments. The House will note that there are four schedules to the regulations, relating to battery hens, calves, pigs and other livestock. Previously, anyone trying to establish the welfare requirements relating to pigs would have had to consult three separate statutory instruments, as opposed to the single schedule in the draft regulations.

I will now explain the main changes that we are proposing. First, I should draw the House's attention to the inclusion of a provision in the main body of the regulations which implements an important recommendation made by the admirable Farm Animal Welfare Council, to whose work I am sure the House will want to pay a warm tribute. The council was concerned that wording used in some welfare legislation could militate against a successful prosecution, particularly where a defendant denied knowledge of an animal's condition.

The draft regulation makes it clear that references to a person knowingly permitting livestock to be kept also encompass those circumstances where a person might reasonably be expected to know how that livestock is kept.

Schedule 1 on battery hens updates the previous Welfare of Battery Hens Regulations 1987, which implement the Community directive of 1986 setting minimum standards for battery hens.

I must now explain a complex problem which arose when the 1987 regulations were made. I hope that the House will enjoy the exceptional clarity of my explanation. The EC directive requires 450 sq cm of floor space for each hen—that is the minimum cage area. Normally, hens are kept four or five to a cage, giving as a minimum an overall cage size of 1,800 to 2,250 sq cm. This gives the birds some flexibility as to the use of space.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)


Mr. Soames

I am always happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cohen

I thank the Minister for giving way. Will he confirm that the floor space for hens that he has mentioned is about the size of a sheet of A4 paper?

Mr. Soames

That is perfectly correct. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my point—whereupon he will, I hope, be clearer about the matter.

Some cages exist in which three, two or one birds are housed. Clearly, 450 sq cm per bird is quite inappropriate when such small numbers are considered, because the birds cannot share space as they can in the larger cages. Our domestic legislation therefore requires 550 sq cm per bird for three-bird cages, 750 sq cm per bird for two-bird cages and 1,000 sq cm for single-bird cages.

Now for the complication. The height of the cage is regulated by reference to the minimum cage area. Although certain three, two or one-bird cages—mainly those known as A-frame cages—meet the requirements in all other respects, their height in relation to the overall floor area will be just short of the minimum required when the minimum area is the higher area specified in United Kingdom law. I know that my hon. Friends are following this closely.

We accepted arguments put forward by the industry to the effect that it would be unreasonable to make such cages illegal from 1995. The change in the regulations before the House will thus ensure that the cage height requirement refers to the minimum cage area set in the directive—450 sq cm per bird—and not that in our domestic legislation, thus permitting continued use of these cages.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

We do, indeed, appreciate the exceptional clarity of my hon. Friend's explanation. Does he agree that there is a small trend away from using battery cages, and that that is to be encouraged? I for one welcome it.

Mr. Soames

Any trends in modern farming in favour of more natural systems are to be welcomed. But there will always be a place for battery cages; they represent a big business. The House should be very careful before pontificating about other systems which are often even less satisfactory than battery cages—but I certainly take my hon. Friend's point.

The measure that we are introducing will, we estimate, save the industry £9 million at current prices without adversely affecting the welfare of the birds concerned.

I will take the schedules relating to calves and pigs together, as the changes proposed to existing requirements are similar. In November 1991, the Council of Ministers adopted Community directives laying down minimum standards for the welfare of calves and pigs. We are, of course, required to implement those directives and are somewhat overdue in doing so.

In addition to setting new space requirements for calves and weaner pigs, the regulations implement, from 1 July 15, a ban on the pig-rearing systems commonly known as sweat boxes. They also introduce certain new provisions which, although numerous, can be summarised as relating to the maintenance of good husbandry.

There are two important respects in which the requirements in these regulations go further than those in the directives. I refer, of course, to the ban on the use of veal crates and the phasing out of close confinement stalls and tethers for pigs.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Before my hon. Friend proceeds any further, can he tell the House when the other European Union countries will ban stalls and tethers?

Mr. Soames

If my hon. Friend will allow me to proceed in an orderly fashion, I shall come to that.

The phase-out of stalls and tethers was first proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who has a most distinguished record in this field. It was introduced by the Welfare of Pigs Regulations 1991, which allowed an eight-year phase-in period to the end of 1998—unlike the directive, which requires the phasing out of systems using tethers by the end of 2005 and allows the use of close confinement stalls to continue.

The United Kingdom requirements were in place before the directives were adopted and both were introduced for the soundest reasons of animal welfare. We do not consider, therefore, that, in implementing these directives, we should take a step backwards from our own hard-won and high standards of animal welfare. We voted against the two directives precisely because we were convinced that they did not go far enough, and we shall continue to press for their amendment.

The schedule concerning the welfare of other livestock brings together the requirements contained in the Welfare of Livestock (Intensive Units) Regulations 1978 and the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1990. The intensive units regulations were introduced in 1978 as a result of our commitment to implement the Council of Europe convention on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. That convention has now been amended, requiring contracting parties to amend the definition of intensive farming in their law. The old definition assumed that intensive livestock farming meant the farming of animals in environmentally controlled buildings and required that they be attended on a daily basis to ensure their welfare.

The convention now acknowledges that, particularly in the southern states of Europe, farming systems which are not in buildings may be equally intensive, and that the animals concerned may equally require daily attention if they are not to suffer. Although the change will be of little consequence to farmers in Britain—unless the present warm weather continues—it is necessary to enable us to ratify the amendment to the convention.

By way of clarification, I should explain that the requirements in the schedule are not applied to battery hens, calves and pigs, because, as I explained at the beginning of my speech, those have been catered for in the schedules relating to them.

The regulations maintain our reputation for standards of animal welfare which are among the highest in Europe. Some hon. Members will no doubt be disappointed that we have not taken the opportunity to go further than the directive and impose new requirements for battery cages. I make no apology for that. The decision was an entirely deliberate one on our part.

The way forward, as my colleagues and I have stated on many occasions, is to seek to persuade our European partners of the importance of achieving satisfactory controls on a Community-wide basis.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Soames

I shall press on, if I may.

It may be necessary from time to time for the United Kingdom, in the most honourable manner, to take a lead in that regard. We await the Commission's proposals for amendments to the battery hens directive and will be pressing hard for improved standards.

It will be clear from my remarks that we believe that the Community still has some way to go in establishing satisfactory farm animal welfare standards and that we are ahead of the game in some respects. The ban on veal crates and the impending ban on stalls and tethers provide two examples.

I recognise, as will anyone who has anything to do with farming, that the measures impose extra costs on our farmers which the producers of imported meat do not have to bear. It is only right that those extra burdens should also provide, as I am sure they will, a marketing advantage.

I hope that the welfare organisations will use some of their well-developed publicity skills to emphasise to consumers that they can give real help to the welfare cause by insisting on food produced to the highest welfare standards when they shop or order in restaurants.

Mr. Pike

I should like to press the Minister on one point. I know that he is sympathetic on these issues. Can he assure us that these standards will be observed in the importation of livestock from outside the European Union? The hon. Gentleman says that, in some cases, the standards are still not up to those that we in Britain would want. But we know for a fact that, outside the European Union, standards are even worse than those in other parts of the European Union.

Mr. Soames

It is not possible for me to give that assurance. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to make the point. The standards for livestock in third countries—not third-world countries—are certainly not those that we would wish to see applied. Britain has an enormous amount to do to lead opinion in Europe on this matter. Our record is not blameless—of course it is not—but we have higher standards than anywhere else in Europe. Welfare organisations must work for change in the wider Europe, not simply concentrate their fire power and money-raising activities here. They should use their hard-won skills to influence the Governments of countries whose standards and cultural and attitudinal realities are not those of this country.

I conclude by reassuring hon. Members that we truly appreciate the concerns that have been expressed on behalf of those who are at the sharp end of the legislation—the hard-pressed British farmers. Statutory controls are truly an essential part of our programme for the protection of animal welfare. The requirements set out in many pages of the document, a number of which are new to our legislation, may appear onerous. But those who already respect and care for their animals—and that includes the greatest possible proportion of those in Britain concerned with livestock: the vast majority—have nothing to fear from them. I warmly commend them to the House.

6.44 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

It was Ghandi who said that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which it treats its animals. This is one of the few areas in which the European Union has something to learn from Britain about our standards of husbandry and the regulations that we have introduced. I welcome the regulations which consolidate a number of measures and bring about a few improvements in terms of stock densities and the keeping of animals.

That is not to say, however, that Britain should not constantly be looking at ways of improving the welfare of animals and the way in which we treat them, or that we should not constantly be pressing within the European Union for the sort of improvements that we know the public, the Labour party and the Government wish to see. Many farmers are constantly striving for such improvements, and their work should be recognised.

Let me deal first with battery cages. The Minister explained with some clarity the complicated change in cage height to no less than 40 cm, which is compulsory for only 60 per cent. of the first 450 cu m. All cage heights after that can be as low as the producer wishes. That may be an improvement but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) said, we are still talking about an area no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.

Battery hens do not constitute a satisfactory method of egg production. All the research on battery cages confirms that. As early as 1985, a study by M. S. Dawkins entitled "Cage Height Preference and Use in Battery-Kept Hens" shows that 25 per cent. of hens' head movements take place at a height above 40 cm. By reducing that height, one is affecting the hens' behaviour. As the Minister will be aware, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which does an excellent job and provides impartial and professional advice to the Government, has laid down five freedoms, one of which is the freedom to exhibit natural behaviour. Battery cages do not meet that criterion.

A recent study by Dr. Baxter, published in The Veterinary Record, concluded: The scientific evidence reviewed in this paper suggests that battery cages cause suffering in laying hens in at least seven different ways. I shall not quote further. Suffice it to say that that is a carefully researched paper which will be endorsed by many people of an independent scientific mind.

I recognise the point made by the Minister and the Select Committee on Agriculture in its recent report that battery cages cannot be banned overnight. That must be done over a phased period, and the case for it argued through the European Union.

The Labour party recognises that it is of no advantage to animal welfare for Britain to ban battery cages if, because of the Single European Act, we cannot stop eggs that have been produced in the very same battery cages that we have banned flooding on to our market. We should like to see the phasing out of battery cages, but we recognise that that would have to be done in conjunction with the industry and the Council of Ministers so that similar measures can be introduced within the European Community.

There are many alternative methods of egg production some—of them extremely efficient and semi-automated—that give hens a chance to behave in more natural ways. As we move towards the ban, I hope that the Minister will consider various cage-enrichment measures, work on which has been undertaken in respect of many different animals in recent years. For hens, such measures can include perches, scratching pads and dust baths. We want more research and development in that regard.

I appreciate that one cannot ban battery systems overnight, and that improvements must be argued throughout Europe, but Sweden is phasing out battery cages and Switzerland has already banned them. Sweden may become a member of the European Union, so I hope that the Government will seek its support in persuading other member states to move in the right direction.

As to schedule 2, it is a matter of pride for Britain that veal crates have rightly been banned, but this country has a huge export trade in veal calves, which will be put in the same crates that are banned here. It is imperative that Britain argues in the Council of Ministers for similar standards to apply. We could do more than we do positively to reinforce our own producers in banning veal crates in the economics of veal production.

In this country, veal is produced much more humanely than on the continent, yet British veal is not marketed there as being humanely produced. No resources appear to be devoted to that through the Meat and Livestock Commission or Food from Britain, to give British producers some support and advantage to reward the high standards that they encourage.

We welcome paragraphs 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13 of schedule 2, which make it clear that there is no possibility of reintroducing restrictive crating of the kind banned in this country. My only concern is that schedule 2 still permits tethering—although it rightly specifies that the calf must be able to stand, turn around, lie down, rest and groom itself without hindrance. There appears to be some contradiction, so I would welcome the Minister's comments.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman have any estimate of the number of veal calves exported to the continent?

Mr. Morley

A figure of 450,000 has been suggested —an enormous trade, with all the welfare implications that go with it. I should like it stopped—I make no bones about that.

Schedule 3 relates to sow stalls and tethers, and I place on record my admiration for the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who introduced the measure with all-party support. I am grateful, too, for the Government's support in announcing that sow stalls and tethers will be phased out by 1 January 1999.

Hon. Members may have received a brief from the British Pig Association, and I recognise its concern that the British pig industry will be disadvantaged because the European Union has announced that tethers will be banned. That will not occur until the year 2006. The Minister will be aware that the pig industry goes through particular cycles, and it is currently experiencing a difficult time.

There is evidence that some of Britain's main competitors are expanding pig production. Figures from the BPA suggest an increase in slaughtering of 54 per cent. in Denmark. In Spain, slaughtering has increased 24 per cent. and in France, 28 per cent. In the Netherlands, slaughtering has increased 97.3 per cent., while in the United Kingdom it has declined 5.1 per cent.

I was surprised to learn from a written answer that export refunds and private storage aid, which is available to all member states, totalled 2.6 million ecu for British producers in the provisional figures for 1993. Compare that with France, at 6.1 million ecu, and Germany, which received an incredible 33 million ecu. That shows that continental competitors are receiving a great deal of European funding. I hope that the Minister will explore ways of giving some support to the British pig industry in the move to alternative pig-rearing methods.

In my own constituency, which is a centre of the British pig industry, there has been a dramatic move towards field systems. A paper by Mike Varley at the department of animal physiology and nutrition of Leeds university estimated a 40 per cent. move towards field systems. The same paper demonstrates some of the problems. The number of farms with pigs has declined dramatically, having almost halved in the past two years from 22,000—farms to 12,000—but the average herd size increased. That for sows has risen from 37 to 62.

Concentrated animal rearing brings problems that the regulations address, including tail docking and tooth clipping. I appreciate that the industry wants the right to dock tails and clip teeth for welfare reasons. If those practices are supported by veterinary opinion, there is no reason why they should not be allowed—but they must not be viewed as the norm. Such practices should be adopted on an individual basis, depending on welfare reasons.

One cause of tail chewing is intensive rearing systems. If stocking is reduced, so is tail chewing. Some field systems have reduced welfare problems—although I accept that different systems bring their own problems and challenges.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider the age limit on piglets for teeth clipping. Organisations such as Compassion in World Farming and the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals hold that clipping should be done within three days.

We welcome and endorse the prohibition on pig sweat boxes after 1 July 1995, and I am sure that the industry knows that that must come. There is also a regulation on pig weaning, which we also welcome. However, that largely endorses existing intensive practice, and there may be a case for reviewing the weaning age on the basis that the current limit in the regulations is on the low side.

I welcome the Minister's assurance that there will be no going back on the time scale for banning tethering and stalls, although I have some sympathy with the British pig industry's position. The industry is largely unsubsidised, competes commercially, receives little support and has great regard for animal welfare. That is certainly the impression that I receive when visiting pig farmers in my constituency. The BPA's brief takes a somewhat defeatist attitude to welfare marketing. The BPA considered that a premium price could not be obtained for pork produced from pigs bred in fields where high welfare standards applied, but I am not sure that I agree. I do not underestimate the difficulty of marketing food produced in such conditions, however: we need measures to make the system work effectively.

The association raised some points that I think the Minister should consider sympathetically. For instance, it called for research into alternative ways of rearing pigs more humanely. I know that a great deal of work has been done on the idea of farrowing crates designed to minimise the stress suffered by farrowing sows. The pig industry would like more support for training to establish a high standard of stock keeping—perhaps we should reconsider the qualifications involved—and the development of skills. I think that Government have a role in that regard, through the Agricultural Development Advisory Service and other organisations.

Then there is the question of capital investment. Those investing in agricultural machinery can claim tax relief on some 25 per cent. of the investment, but I understand that investors in new buildings in which to rear animals can claim only 3 per cent. Could our laws, or European Community laws, allow 25 per cent. relief on animal rearing systems intended to meet new welfare standards? The Minister may wish to discuss that with his Treasury colleagues. Such action might encourage those in the industry who have made the reasonable point that it is unfair for them to be improving welfare standards in isolation, while their competitors do nothing. Although that should not be used as an excuse for failing to aim for the highest possible welfare standards, consideration should be given to the pressure that is put on producers.

As I have said, Labour welcomes the regulations in general. However, we want improvements in training and clarification of enforcement issues, and some related issues need to be resolved in the European Union. The treaty of Rome, for instance, defines animals as agricultural products, which we see as one of the problems of the attitude of some southern European states in particular to animal welfare standards. We want the definition to be changed to "sentient animals", which would imply a recognition that animals feel, suffer and need to be kept properly.

This country does not compare favourably with others when it comes to marketing and adding value, especially when high welfare standards are involved. The aspiration of many farmers is simply to export live animals to the continent, where they are slaughtered and value is added at the slaughterhouses. That is not good enough. Given all the welfare problems of animal transport, the loss of jobs in our slaughter industry and the implications for our balance of trade, it makes no sense: we need more support for marketing and this country's high production standards. The Government could perform such a role through organisations such as Food From Britain and the Meat and Livestock Commission.

That will work, however, only if food is labelled properly to facilitate consumer choice. The Minister made a fair point when he spoke of the lobbying and campaigning power of animal welfare organisations. That power should also be directed at supermarkets and other retailers, which should be encouraged to sell British goods whose production has involved high standards and to label them in a way that enables consumers to opt for them. Clear labelling would greatly benefit British producers, because consumers would then be on their side, using their buying power to reward good producers and penalise those in other countries whose standards are lower. So far, we are making little progress in that regard.

I know that animal transport is not covered in the regulations, and I do not intend to go into detail; but it is important that we aim for high standards and try to minimise—or, preferably, eliminate—live transport for slaughter, especially where calves are concerned. There is no sense in it. Last week, at the Council of Ministers, the Government performed a dramatic U-turn, shifting from the so-called Greek compromise and backing the more progressive European member states. I hope that that attitude will continue, and that the Government will work alongside the countries—Germany, Holland and Denmark —which argue for higher welfare standards.

Above all, I hope that the Government will appreciate that all the improvements that we have discussed—which I suspect hon. Members on both sides of the House support —must be implemented, through Europe in many cases. That will require the support and co-operation of other member states. What this country must not do is continually isolate itself, thus forfeiting the help that we need to make such advances.

7.6 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I shall try not to be repetitious, although inevitably I shall repeat a little of what was said by the the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). I was slightly saddened by some of his closing remarks; until then, I intended to say that most of what he had said—as a prominent member of the all-party animal welfare group—was extremely generous and well informed. I associate myself with nearly all of it; I approved especially of what he said about the need for the best possible veterinary advice on matters such as the docking of pigs' tails.

My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned advertising. I should record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the stand that she took in Luxembourg over the transport of live animals. It is a great pity that before her negotiations she was subjected to personal attacks in the press; I find that especially disturbing because, when my hon. Friend the Minister was generous enough to find time to see me with representatives of some animal welfare organsations, he made it abundantly clear that our right hon. Friend would negotiate. It is on that small issue that I quarrel with the hon. Gentleman.

There was no U-turn. My right hon. Friend went to Luxembourg to secure the best deal that she could in the circumstances. As it turned out, she was able to secure every modest improvement that was on the table; they were indeed modest—we acknowledge that. Moreover, she managed to secure the United Kingdom's unique privilege of maintaining minimum values in regard to the export of live horses, which is invaluable. Most important of all, she managed to keep the door open for negotiations to continue under the German presidency.

It is a great shame that the animal welfare organisations which have told me that they wrote privately to thank my right hon. Friend for the stand that she took did not have the courage to make those thanks public. I am afraid that, with some cynicism, I have to conclude that there are perhaps more fund-raising possibilities and more bequests are available from shock-horror advertising than from saying thank you.

I am chairman of the all-party animal welfare group which has been determined to campaign responsibly in the way that you taught us, Madam Deputy Speaker, when you chaired the group. We shall go on doing that and it is important that we do so. It is important that, when progress is made, it is recognised by us. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know only too well, however, that will not stop us fighting fiercely for future progress. However, we are grateful for the stand that my right hon. Friend the Minister took.

Like my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, I pay tribute to the Farm Animal Welfare Council for the enormous contribution that it has made and continues to make to farm animal welfare. I will remind the House of the council's freedoms. They include freedom from hunger, freedom from thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, freedom from injury and disease, freedom from fear, freedom from distress and—this is most important—freedom to express normal behaviour. While wishing to be generous, I must say that by those standards the regulations fail, in many cases lamentably.

Any improvement in the welfare of battery hens is welcome, but the changes are minimal. It is now widely accepted that the battery cage is no longer acceptable as a means of production. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe referred to Dr. Mike Baxter's article in The Veterinary Record. Dr. Baxter is a foremost authority on the subject. In an extremely erudite paper, he has set out clearly the differences between the life style of hens in battery cages and those in percheries.

The House must draw a clear distinction between what are known as free range chickens—subject to all the disease, discomfort and predators that are found, literally, free range and in the open—and chickens in a perchery. Those of us who have taken a keen interest in the issue generally accept that, although percheries may not be ideal, they are the best way forward.

The battery cage does not allow for normal behaviour. It does not allow for wing flapping, perching, nesting, preening and dust bathing. Battery cages lead to brittle bones and leg injuries. The spaces referred to in paragraph 1 of schedule 1 are inadequate for birds to perform their natural behaviour. Assuming that we have to maintain battery cages, for groups of four or more hens, a space allowance of at least 650 sq cm is essential. That would allow colony housing systems to be at least commercially competitive.

Paragraph 9 states: The flock or group of laying hens shall be inspected thoroughly at least once a day. That is restated in the welfare codes of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is impossible in a battery system which may contain as many as 40,000 birds. I am told that to remove each bird in a system of that size would take three days. As a welfare requirement it is totally impractical.

I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe about marketing and, particularly, labelling. I believe that many housewives, househusbands and shoppers who purchase eggs labelled "new laid" or "farm fresh" in pretty boxes with pictures of wide open fields with sunshine and grass genuinely believe that the product is from free range hens, whatever that might mean to the purchaser. In fact, that is not so at all: "fresh" means battery farm fresh—we must get that message across.

More can be done. I know that there has been some criticism of the standards that will be set, but I am pleased to learn that later this year the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is to launch its freedom food campaign. Under the RSPCA freedom food label, which will be marketed in at least two chains of supermarkets, it is designed to make it clear that the product will be of a high welfare standard—not so high as I or the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe would like, but infinitely better and more clearly marked than anything currently available to the housewife.

I hope that, when that campaign is launched the purchaser will use the power of the marketplace to begin to dictate high welfare standards. If the purchaser determines to buy only humanely produced products, the producers will quickly realise that it is in their interests to go down that road. That will happen not just in the United Kingdom, but—this is what we seriously wish to achieve—throughout the European Union.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. Does he agree that such campaigns would not be possible if the level of welfare for pigs, calves and hens was not already higher than in most of Europe? The campaigners therefore have a solid base from which to start.

Mr. Gale

I agree entirely that, by and large, the United Kingdom has higher farm animal welfare standards than anywhere else in Europe. That is something of which we can be justly proud, but it is not something about which we can be complacent.

I have indicated at some length my concern about battery hens. When eggs become available under the freedom food label they will certainly not come from battery cages. There is a great deal of progress still to be made, but my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) is right that the marketing campaign would not be possible were there not at least some supplies of well-produced food.

I am proud of the fact that we have banned the use of the veal crate in the United Kingdom. I know that there are those who feel that in doing so we have placed United Kingdom producers at a disadvantage to those throughout the European Union who still use veal crates. I do not believe that that is a reason for the United Kingdom not to take a lead. We should take pride in that. However, it would be foolish not to recognise that in one sense it has been a pyrrhic victory, as some 450,000 veal calves are exported each year to be put into veal crates and subject to even worse conditions on the continent than they would have been in the same veal crates in the United Kingdom. In fact, if veal calves are to be in crates at all, I would have preferred them to be in veal crates here where we can inspect and monitor them rather than on the continent.

On marketing, I was pleased and reassured to learn when I questioned the House of Commons Catering Department that the veal sold in this establishment is all United Kingdom produced. I wonder how many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members and how many people who may read or listen to this debate can put hand on heart and say that every time they go into an Italian restaurant or a butcher's shop they ask where the veal was produced. We know that frequently that veal will have been produced under conditions elsewhere in the European Union that we have said are unacceptable. We have the power to change that through the money in our pockets and the manner in which we spend it.

On advertising, I hope that we shall learn from some of the mistakes that have been made in recent weeks and that the animal welfare organisations which spend considerable sums on advertising will target some of that money and advertising on campaigns of education in the hope and expectation that the consumer will exercise the power of the bank balance and buy only humanely produced food.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) went into great detail about pigs, boars, sows and gilts, which form the bulk of the third schedule. I shall not repeat his argument, but I associate myself with all his remarks. It is particularly relevant that we should pay great attention to the best possible veterinary advice. There are genuine difficulties—it is not easy to strike a balance of welfare between sows and piglets while maintaining humane conditions. Matters of genuine debate and concern must be resolved. I still feel that perhaps the directive's provisions for space and bedding are less than adequate, but I am certain that we shall be able to make progress together on that.

I accept entirely that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food take these matters extremely seriously. As my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley said, the United Kingdom has the highest standards of any European Union country. We look to Ministers not only to promote our best standards throughout the European Union but to raise them, particularly in egg production.

I hope that we can make real progress on labelling so that those who want to buy humanely produced food can do so. If the housewife dictates the market, we shall raise farm animal welfare standards not only in the United Kingdom but much more quickly throughout the European Union.

7.21 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) not only because I agree with much of his speech but because I have the greatest respect for the work that he has done with the all-party group following your previous leadership, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary initiated the debate, for two reasons: first, because he now sees the industry as being peopled by "hard-pressed British farmers". Opposition Members and, no doubt, some Conservative Back Benchers, will repeat that phrase when we debate hill livestock compensatory allowances later in the year.

Secondly, his robust and realistic attitude on animal welfare is welcome to many hon. Members and, I am afraid that I must say, it is in contrast to the attitude of his Minister. On 24 February, I suggested to the Minister that she should address her mind particularly to the differences between the animal welfare standards that we seek to achieve in this country, which are on a different time scale to those that are being sought in other member states. That comment was made with particular regard to the pig sector. She replied: On animal welfare, the hon. Gentleman is right that our producers do not have a level playing field. I make no apology for that. I am glad that this country has a strong and well-developed animal welfare lobby. We must live with that concern, which is so strongly felt by British people. A few minutes later, in answer to a different question the Under-Secretary said: We remain anxious to ensure that an equal regime is in place throughout the continent."—[Official Report, 24 February 1994; Vol. 238, c. 420–23.] The core of tonight's debate is how to achieve that consistency. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will persuade his boss that that should be the core issue for us all.

It clearly would be absurd if hon. Members or, more generally, animal welfare organisations adopted a blinkered, little-Englander attitude that effectively was hypocritical, and that suggested that by just improving matters in this country we could persuade other countries in the European Union to follow our example. We are in a single market and it is absurd to imagine that that attitude will achieve any improvement.

As the hon. Member for Thanet, North said, it seems hypocritical for those who are concerned about the welfare of calves to spend so much time concerning themselves with conditions in this country that we do not use all possible leverage in the Council of Agriculture Ministers to achieve improvements throughout the single market. Cleaning up our act in the United Kingdom would simply be wasted energy if we did not, at the same time, try to make a real start on the Augean stable on the continent.

That is why the timing of the regulations is so important. Are we considering the regulations because Ministers feel that there is no real prospect of making major advances across the whole Union? After all, they are six months late; under the directives, they were due on 1 January. Are we doing so because we expect that, under the German presidency which starts at midnight tonight, there will be less or more progress in future? If we are seeking to lead, we must have a view about the best way to ensure that the regulations are replicated as soon as possible throughout the Union.

Of course it is to be welcomed that we are seeking to implement the directives, but the key issue remains: will the way in which we tackle the subject secure any real advance throughout the Union? It is true that, under subsidiarity, which is possible in this area, some member states can adopt stricter regulations than others. So be it —somebody must lead—but to be so far ahead that we are not leading anyone else at all would be dangerous.

There would be no point in any British Government leading from the front and merely taking British farmers along with them into the wilderness. Unfortunately, a balance does not seem to be struck in the regulations and in the negotiations that take place, of course, behind closed doors in the Council of Ministers.

On a number of occasions, the National Farmers Union has rightly said, "If you impose on British farmers regulations that they are simply unable meet on grounds of cost, you will merely drive them out of the market and let in others with lower standards in other parts of Europe." Animals in Europe clearly would not benefit from such a development.

The hon. Member for Thanet, North advanced a convincing argument on battery cages. I very much endorse his comments. We must be careful that we do not proceed so slowly by evolution—by tweaking here and tweaking there—that we end up with a cost that has no real benefit. Constantly amending and altering regulations may in the long term be more costly to the sector than the complete removal of battery cages according to a reasonable time scale. The most dangerous situation is that our industry is constantly having to adjust slightly at great cost, while other countries either lag right behind or are able to make a transformation in one step.

I very much endorse what the hon. Member for Thanet, North said about the total unrealistic attitude to inspection in schedule 1. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has made a good case on the matter and I hope that we shall not mislead animal welfare campaigners or, indeed, the poultry industry by suggesting that the schedule somehow is adequate.

The schedule 2 regulations make it clear that the objective should be to ensure that calves should be able to hear, smell and see other calves, but the way in which the regulations spell that out will not implement that objective. Farmers have a right to be concerned that the cost to them has been anticipated and that the Government are prepared to put something in place to ensure that they are not out of pocket as a result.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to know why no effective action is being taken to prevent the export of 450,000 calves to systems that are clearly regarded by hon. Members and many others in the country as being inhumane. I endorse the comments that have been made by many hon. Members about labelling, but that is not sufficient to tackle the present problem. Clearly, United Kingdom regulations alone are meaningless if we seek such restrictions without at the same time tackling the conditions in which the calves will be treated when they reach a continental rearing system.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) said that he would rather see calves in veal crates in this country than in veal crates in Holland, because at least here we could be happier that they were being properly monitored. However, if I have understood the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) correctly, he is saying that we should have ways of stopping the 450,000 calves being exported to Holland and elsewhere, primarily in veal crates. How could one do that within the single market, other than by persuading the whole Community to give up crates? The hon. Gentleman seemed to accept that we should work towards giving up crates throughout the Community, but he also seemed to suggest that there was something that we could do on our own to stop the practice.

Mr. Tyler

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I agree that that has to be done within the framework of the single market and the European Union mechanisms. I was about to say—I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me—that it does not seem clever to me to take unilateral action and ban the export of calves, if by doing so we simply encourage livestock producers and those who are responsible for some of the conditions that we regard as inhumane in the other continental countries to expand their production. In present circumstances, if we were suddenly to ban the export of all livestock, including calves, the Germans would be laughing all the way to the bank. What would that achieve for the welfare of calves or for the livestock producers of this country?

Secondly, I do not believe that the regulations go far enough to ensure that calves are provided with clean and dry bedding. That seems a basic essential, and one that all those concerned with the issue have actively drawn to the Minister's attention. Nobody in the livestock sector feels that compliance would be too onerous.

Thirdly, I believe that the RSPCA's view that calves need to be fed at least twice a day for the first two weeks of their lives would be accepted by most farmers and livestock producers. They would regard it as sensible husbandry. There would be great support for that. The regulations insist only on feeding once a day, and I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us that that is really sufficient, and is not merely the barest minimum necessary to ensure freedom from hunger.

Much has already been said about pigs, and I do not wish to detain the House unnecessarily. We must recognise that there is a huge problem here and, as I have said to the Minister before, the pig sector, which has been going through a tough time throughout the United Kingdom, bitterly resents the fact that they are working not only to a different timetable but in a different direction altogether from their competitors in other member states. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to assure us that, following the change of presidency, he will press the new holder to take a much more active role to examine ways in which the other member states can come closer to our time scale.

With farrowing crates and weaning, there is a genuine dilemma. Those who know a little about the subject—I confess that I do not know a great deal, although my retirement job could be to keep pigs—tell me that it is a satisfying occupation, as a former Prime Minister would be the first to agree. At farrowing and at weaning there is a genuine welfare dilemma between the welfare of the sow and that of the piglets. I am not sure whether the regulations take that fully into account. They certainly do not spell it out, and I know that many farmers would agree with the concerns expressed on the subject.

As for tooth clipping, we can all argue about whether it should be done at three, five or seven days or older, but the critical question is: who is to do it? It should be someone who is competent and has the necessary experience, expertise and training. That raises a general problem not fully addressed by the regulations. I believe that all people who handle livestock should have access to a recognised system of training, testing and qualification. That should be the basic essential, and it would meet a lot of the public concern.

As the hon. Member for Thanet, North said, tributes have been paid to the Farm Animal Welfare Council and its five basic freedoms; yet we must admit that the regulations do not provide those five basic freedoms—nor, of course, do the current objectives of EC directives or of the discussions taking place in the Council of Ministers. We are a long way off.

It would be deplorable if in any way the passage of the regulations meant that Ministers were prepared to relax their efforts in the EU, and were prepared to say to their colleagues in other member states and in the states seeking to join the Union that the situation is now less urgent; less of a priority. The regulations represent a short step in the right direction, but there is a great deal still to be done.

The critical issue is surely the fact that we cannot expect producers in a single market to adopt higher and higher welfare standards at higher and higher cost to themselves, and potentially to their customers, if they cannot see real improvements among their competitor countries as well —that includes third countries outside the EU that are increasing their exports into the Community.

As has often been said recently, both by the Commissioners and by Ministers, they are trying to open up markets to other producers, especially producers from the former communist countries of eastern Europe. But in those countries welfare standards, like environmental standards, are way below ours. It would be unreasonable to raise that iron curtain at the risk of doing huge damage to our livestock producers.

I believe that the five freedoms suggested by the FAWC are important, and that we should keep them in mind. But I seriously question whether the role of the FAWC can be maintained if we pay lip service to those objectives yet go such a short way along the road towards achieving them. Perhaps the time has come to have an independent animal welfare commission, which many organisations outside the House, and perhaps hon. Members too, would feel had more credibility, and which would be able to speak out publicly when it felt that the Minister or the EU was not making sufficient progress towards achieving the five freedoms.

7.36 pm
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Before I say what I have to say, I must first declare an interest in the pig industry.

I agree with much of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I take issue with practically all of them when they say that standards will be changed by the various pressures that they describe. They have expressed many pious hopes, but I would like to illustrate my point with an example.

If we asked the chairman of one of the big retailers his view on animal welfare, we would get an answer that would please us. That is not unexpected, but we must bear in mind the fact that it is not the chairman of the big retailing company who actually buys the meat. The person who buys the meat is the meat buyer, who takes his instructions from a manager, who in turn has a clear directive from the board of directors of his company to make a profit. So, notwithstanding all the pious hopes expressed tonight, I have to remind the House that the commercial reality is that, with most of what is bought and sold—not only meat and meat products but other products freely bought and sold in the market—price is a very important consideration.

I want to draw the attention of the House to the parlous state of the pig industry. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) gave us the figures for pig production in the European Union. He explained how our production has fallen by 5 per cent. over 20 years, while that of our neighbours in Holland has increased by almost 100 per cent. in the same time.

I draw the House's attention to some other statistics. The first interesting statistic is the index of producer prices for agricultural products in the United Kingdom from 1985 to 1993, which starts in 1985 with a producer index of 100. For pigs, the index had risen by 1993 to only 101.2—in other words, the figure had scarcely changed for eight years. There can be scarcely any other product bought and sold in the marketplace today for which there has not been a substantial increase in price, or certainly an appreciation in price far greater than that experienced in the pig industry.

I draw to my hon. Friend the Minister's attention the fact that the pig industry is technically very efficient compared with the industries in Denmark, France and the Netherlands. The number of pigs sold per sow per year is higher in this country than in the others. Our food conversion ratio is better and our labour costs are better. On so many counts, our industry is far more efficient than that of our competitors.

We have a food and drink trade deficit of about £6 billion per annum; we still import 50 per cent. of our bacon; and, as anybody interested in agricultural matters knows, we have a surplus of home-grown cereals. Those three facts are three compelling reasons for helping rather than hindering the British pig industry. If the regulations are enforced unilaterally, as seems likely, we shall almost certainly see the increased importation of pork and bacon and a bigger surplus of home-grown cereals. I point out that those cereals are likely to be lower in value than previously and we shall see a larger trade gap.

My hon. Friend the Minister, who follows these matters closely, will agree that there will also be a knock-on effect on the abattoir sector where there has been massive capital expenditure to comply with the latest EC regulations. That in turn has created serious overcapacity, which is the inevitable consequence of modernisation. Nobody moder-nises and reduces capacity. With the installation of more sophisticated machinery and systems, capacity is increased. Yet all the time, the abattoir industry suffers from a shortage of livestock. That is a feature of the industry that the regulations will accentuate.

Pig farmers are unlikely to upgrade when they are already losing money. The additional costs under the regulations are estimated to be between £2.70 and £3 per pig. As several hon. Members have already pointed out, our competitor nations are not following suit.

It may be of some interest to know that last week, I visited the largest pig abattoir in Europe. Its throughput is almost double that of any abattoir in this country. One of the major secrets of its success is that it has guaranteed throughput. The abattoir is geared up to and bears the overheads for the slaughter and processing of 50,000 pigs per week. Unless the abattoir processes that number, the economics of running it does not stack up. The Danes are in the happy position of knowing that each and every week roughly 50,000 pigs will go through the abattoir. No British abattoir can make that assumption, and that creates a huge problem for the industry.

The regulations will do nothing to stop the rush of public companies leaving the slaughter industry. The end result will be serious for the domestic pig industry and for the domestic meat industry. The end result will be that there will be no pig processors with the financial muscle to match their continental competitors.

The pig industry has seldom, if ever, asked for help. It has stood on its own feet. There has been no subsidy. I invite the House and my hon. Friend to compare that with the position in other European Union countries where there is state aid, as we know. Our pig industry has fought its own battles. I draw the House's attention to the fact that it has a pre-eminent position in the world in terms of its breeding and husbandry knowledge and technology. The pig industry has solved its own problems. I need refer my hon. Friend only to the action taken by the pig industry, at its own expense, to eradicate Aujesky's disease. The pig industry is content to go on standing on its own feet, fighting its own battles and solving its own problems.

What the industry does not need and what it cannot afford is to be made to carry an unfair handicap. The regulations are an unfair handicap because they are being implemented in this country six or seven years before implementation in other countries of the European Union.

The Minister knows my views on welfare. The role of Government and the role of politicians in this area is, without doubt, to strike a balance between what is demanded by the welfare lobby and the commercial realities of the industry. If the welfare lobby had its way entirely, there would be few home-produced eggs and scarcely any home-produced veal, and practically every last slice of bacon would be imported. In those circumstances, where would all those foods come from? The answer, which is a plain as a pikestaff, is that they would be imported from countries where the high standards of welfare that we want in this country, but which we are introducing prematurely, simply do not exist.

I urge the Minister to consider the practical benefits of a thriving pig sector in British agriculture: supplying a market in which the United Kingdom is not self-sufficient, consuming cereals for which there is no other demand, creating year-round permanent employment, sustaining a domestic abattoir industry and maintaining the United Kingdom's pre-eminent position as a leading exporter of breeding stock.

I urge my hon. Friend to give the House an assurance that the regulations will not be implemented unless and until the rest of the European Union does the same. I believe that failure to give that assurance means that the Minister will carry a heavy responsibility, the consequences of which will be with us for many a year to come. I ask my hon. Friend to be brave and resolute in defence of a vital British industry and to consider the requests and the pleas that have been made, not only by the British Pig Association, but by the National Farmers Union and other bodies representing the british farming industry.

7.47 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) made an excellent speech and I pay tribute to him. Labour is now radical on animal welfare issues.

Incredible and unimaginable cruelty is associated with intensive farming methods—none more so than with battery cages. I was disappointed that the Minister effectively said that battery cages would never be abolished. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe said that, under Labour, they would be phased out and that we would try to take Europe with us on that issue.

The A-frame cages are appalling; they are the size of a piece of A4 paper. There is no space for the birds to spread their wings and there is chronic overcrowding. The birds cannot exhibit natural behaviour and they suffer injuries and ill health, as has been said. Salmonella, chicken cancer and herpes-related diseases spread as a result of the overcrowding. In those intensive conditions, there is a prospect of those diseases spreading rapidly to other birds, which would also affect human health. There are alternatives to that process, so battery cages should be phased out over a clear time scale.

This is not the time to talk about the transport of live animals, but those freedoms to which the Farm Animal Welfare Council referred—freedom from hunger and thirst and from distress, and the freedom to behave normally—apply to transportation as they do to battery hens and to other intensively farmed animals. We are moving further away from those freedoms and actions against cruelty to appease Europe's peasant farmers and, indeed, the rich boys in the farming industry.

On issue after issue, especially the transport of live animals, we have given up our animal welfare provisions and got virtually nothing in return. The gap is exceptionally wide. On transport, for example, we had a limit of 12 hours before animals were fed, rested and watered. It should be eight hours, as the welfare organisations, such as the RSPCA, suggested. In Europe, the limit is 24 hours and the compromise, apparently, is 22 hours. Europe continues to use battery cages, and, as has been said, will export the produce. There has been no significant progress in Europe to get rid of battery cages.

It is right that we have a veal crate ban and that is a credit to the Government, but the countries in the European Union still use them and there will be pressure on us to lift that ban—commercial pressure at least. We do not transport live horses for slaughter, but, again, there will be enormous European and commercial pressure for that to come about. We are not carrying Europe with us.

The Government refuse to use any muscle on the issues that matter, yet the European Community directives are unacceptable. We should be using the veto on many of the associated issues until an agreement which has animal welfare as a high priority is hammered out. That is the only way in which the United Kingdom can take the lead.

The Government should commit themselves to the Amendola report, which redefines animals as sentient beings and not as agricultural products. I urge the Minister to make that commitment.

7.51 pm
Mr. Soames

I shall try to deal properly with the points raised. This has been a well-informed debate in which hon. Members have spoken not only with knowledge, but with passion.

I noted the views of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) on battery cages. The Government do not consider that a ban at this stage would be appropriate, for reasons which the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. It is also fair to say that I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises, although sometimes I am a little concerned about what he knows and what he does not know about the agricultural world—I am sure that he knows—that all systems of egg production carry some welfare risk. It is extremely difficult to discriminate between one system and another.

We have a good programme of research in that area and we are seeking, and we shall continue to seek, changes. Since the hon. Gentleman asked, I especially emphasise the nature of the change that we want. For battery cage systems, we are seeking an increased area per bird. We are also seeking environmental enrichment of cages by, for example, including perches and scratching bars, which is one of the points rightly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). We also expect the proposals to take account of the welfare needs of those laying hens which are not kept in battery cages.

By and large, the hon. Gentleman made a reasoned, sensible and well-informed speech, until the end of his remarks, and I shall deal with that matter in a minute.

Taxation is, of course, a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, but I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's views are drawn to his attention. I do not expect that the hon. Gentleman knows, but it is accepted that any non-therapeutic procedure, such as tooth-clipping and tail-docking of piglets, always gives cause for concern. Anyone who deals with pigs will know that it is not always possible to limit the effects of aggression by other means.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about marketing. Food For Britain is an extremely important and successful operation dedicated to exporting British agricultural goods abroad. It is doing a very good job. My right hon. Friend the Minister has made marketing the absolute top priority for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I also note the further points that the hon. Gentleman made on that matter.

The only truly fatuous part of the hon. Member's speech was about animal transport. It is a matter of regret that my meeting with the welfare lobbies led to what is, fundamentally, a major breakdown in trust between them and my Department. For instance, I do not think that I shall be able to take the Compassion in World Farming organisation as being a credible witness on any of those matters again in the future.

The picture that the hon. Gentleman portrayed of my right hon. Friend's position at the meeting in Luxembourg was quite ridiculous. My right hon. Friend negotiated there, she saw the situation move in our direction, and she rightly took the opportunity to move along those lines. It is quite plain that we have now made progress and that there will be further progress in future.

Mr. Morley


Mr. Soames

No, I shall not give way.

Let me now deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North. Along with other hon. Members, I wish to pay tribute to his work as chairman of the all-party welfare group, because his comments were measured, humane and sensible, but extremely robust. He is also totally straight, and we know where we are with him.

On the transport of animals, my hon. Friend portrayed the case exactly as it happened. The tribute that he paid to my right hon. Friend the Minister is entirely justified. Of course, I accept that my hon. Friend, with his strong views, and with the dedicated and principled stand that he takes, will not be fully satisfied by the regulations. I listened carefully and made a note of what he said, and I especially note his views on battery hens.

I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the RSPCA and its food labelling initiative. However, on the general point of labelling, marketing is, essentially, a matter for the industry. It is not a principle of general United Kingdom food labelling law that information about methods of rearing or the type of animals should be required on food labels. However, voluntary indications of rearing methods are permitted, subject to the general provision—the point made by hon. Friend—of the Food Safety Act 1990, which prohibits the use of false or misleading descriptions of foods.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about some of those matters. I give him my word, at this Dispatch Box, that he may be reassured that we shall promote the very best standards of this country throughout the European Community, and that is the declared aim and intention of my right hon. Friend the Minister and of all of us who are involved in animal welfare matters.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) talked about hypocrisy. Whenever Liberal Democrats start talking about hypocrisy, I am reminded of the man who talked of his honour, but the more he talked of his honour, the faster we started counting the spoons.

There is not a hair's breadth between my right hon. Friend the Minister and myself on the matters before us. She has been doing precisely what every hon. Member in the House would want her to do—proceeding in a robust, but sensible and pragmatic manner and trying to make realistic achievements in a very difficult forum. I note the points that the hon. Gentleman made about schedule 1, about calves' bedding and feeding practices and I shall draw them to the attention of my hon. Friends who are responsible for those matters.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what other welfare measures we are producing. We are proud of our presently high standards, but, of course, it would be complacent to suggest that they are not capable of further improvement. We have undertaken—I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) will be pleased—not to introduce any new measures on a unilateral basis if that would undermine the competitive position of UK producers. As a member of the European Union, we see the way forward as being through pan-European legislation and our aim is to see our own high standards accepted and adopted by our European partners.

In a bit of unbelievable waffle, the hon. Member for North Cornwall talked about the need for an independent commission on animal welfare. There already is one: it is called the Farm Animal Welfare Council. It is an independent body made up of members representing many areas of interest. It has total freedom to report, to recommend and to publish all that it does.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow made an important speech. I accept and understand his concerns, and those of the farmers whose interests he spoke about today. However, I do not accept that high standards of welfare are inimical to profit. Indeed, at the Norfolk show today, I was shown by a major supermarket some excellent welfare-friendly pork which is achieving remarkable results in its stores.

I note my hon. Friend's views about the pig industry and I endorse them. It is a splendid operation and we value it. My hon. Friend is right to mention the difficulties in the abattoir sector. I note all the points that he made, and I can assure him that we will bear them in mind.

I urge the House to adopt these important regulations which will be of great benefit to animal welfare in this country. I thank hon. Members for taking part in such an interesting and well-informed debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 14th June, be approved.