HC Deb 01 February 1996 vol 270 c1117
13. Mr. Robert Ainsworth

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the annual cost to British pig farmers of the welfare regulations on sow stalls and tethers; and what action he is taking to assist them in meeting these costs. [11278]

Mr. Douglas Hogg

It is impossible to estimate the cost of the many alternatives to sow stalls and tethers. Less than 25 per cent. of sows are housed in them and many would have needed replacing irrespective of the ban.

Mr. Ainsworth

Does the Minister agree—I am sure he does—that it is not acceptable that our industry should be expected to convert itself to welfare-friendly systems without financial assistance, help with promotion or a level playing field with other European Community producers?

Mr. Hogg

It is extremely important that we try to create throughout Europe a common set of rules; the British Government are seeking to do just that. In the first part of his question, the hon. Gentleman is saying that, whenever operating procedures are changed, assistance has to be provided by the Government. That would be an extremely dangerous precedent. I will wager that the hon. Gentleman has not discussed that proposal with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown).

Sir Donald Thompson

None the less, have not pig farmers with stalls and tethers—as did the veal farmers—led the way in the welfare of British animals, with the result that our welfare system is paramount in Europe? Are not they entitled, therefore, to some compliance costs?

Mr. Hogg

The Government have put in place an exceptionally beneficial tax regime for agriculture—most notably, though not exclusively, the right to average incomes and profits over two years. That is a most important contribution to what my hon. Friend has in mind.